First Look: Grain
Feeling comfy and cozy at the new Midtown hangMonday January 26, 2015 04:00 am EST
At 10:30 p.m. on a rainy Friday in January the crowd at cozy new Midtown eatery Grain morphed from tables of couples to groups of staff recognizable from other Midtown restaurants, now grazing and letting off steam after work. Some sat around a large communal high top table next to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking West Peachtree Street. Imagine a restaurant smaller than a Waffle House, but with swagger like a contemporary cocktail bar. Grain has soul, and, to the delight of industry workers fresh off of work, it's got a late-night menu available until 3 a.m.
Grain is a collaborative effort from the folks behind nearby Cypress Street Pint and Plate and Seven Lamps in Buckhead. Located at the base of MidCity Lofts, Grain resembles a chic storefront on first glance. Inside you'll find a mixture of concrete, steel, and rustic wood touches. The kitchen is tiny, what you'd imagine a submarine galley looks like. A bar stretches the span of the restaurant. Candles flicker on wooden tables that jut out every few barstools or so. The setup is good for talking and mingling, but also to watch the drink-making at the bar.
Grain's snacky menu is under the direction of chef Drew Van Leuvan. Food here is divided into four categories: raw, charcuterie, cheese, and savories. Some offerings are more substantial than others, but nothing here really counts as an entrée. Oysters are a pivotal.. They're listed on a separate, sushi-style menu, with space to tick off your choices. Grain keeps its oysters visible at the end of the bar, arranged on a heaping pile of crushed ice with sticks of kindling bearing wood-burned names marking each type/origin. Bonus is the oyster fortune at the bottom of each sheet. Ours read: "Smiling makes you feel good. Spread the word."
Van Leuvan does most of his prep in the Seven Lamps kitchen, where the charcuterie is cured as well. Assemble a board of 1, 3, or 5 ($7, $18, $25) meats or cheeses. Thin slices of spicy urfa chili salami come fanned out next to sweet and sour grapes aigre doux. Dainty mortadella mousse macaroons — airy Sicilian pistachio cookies filled with bologna-esque cream — are just as delightful here as they are at Seven Lamps. Accompaniments include the likes of SweetWater 420 beer mustard, assorted pickles, candied nuts, and plenty of crusty bread.
From the Savories section, warm potato zeppole ($6) like fluffy little savory Krispy Kremes, come swimming in velvety crème fraîche flecked with bits of country ham and a confetti of green onions. It's as if Van Leuvan turned sour cream and onion potato chips into a composed dish. His bacon and eggs ($5) is a decadent version of deviled eggs with tangy egg-Dijon mousse, sweet and spicy bacon jam, shallots, and crispy, salty strips of Serrano. At $14, the love-it-or-hate-it stone crab toast is the most expensive single plate on the menu. It's a slab of sweet brioche loaded with fresh crab, slices of avocado, sharp Mexican crema, and a kimchi apple slaw.
Grain’s desserts hone in on interesting flavors and techniques. Go for the house-made ice cream trio. Ours came with Fernet, bourbon, and mezcal ($6) — each tasting exactly like its namesake. Nitro salted caramel popcorn ($4) is like a gourmet version of Cracker Jack frozen with liquid nitrogen tableside. It melts in your mouth and creates perma-grin.
Celebrated barman Kevin Bragg, formerly of 4th and Swift, manages the drinks. Grain's small wine list is carefully curated with an emphasis on old-world sips. The rotating beer list is diverse in style and price with lots of local selections. Herbs and spices permeate Bragg's cocktail menu. The garnet-colored Madam Esther looked dainty in a martini glass, but turned out to be a robust, spicy fusion of bourbon, cayenne, lemon, and a homemade red wine reduction. There are a couple of draft cocktail options, too. The Bindle made with scotch, vermouth, and dry curacao would charm the pants off Ron Burgundy. Bragg also has a few edible cocktail thingies up his sleeve — think cucumbers that taste like a Pimm’s cup.
If you live within walking distance to Grain, consider yourself lucky. Finding street parking in Midtown these days is tricky, but that shouldn’t keep you from a visit. And those bar tables really are the coolest. Call me crazy, but I’m a fan of anywhere three friends can sit at the bar and have an actual, audible conversation.