Review: A well-traveled chef brings in Chamblee’s most promising newcomer, the Alden
A Chamblee address doesn’t have the cachet of nearby Brookhaven or Buckhead, but new mixed-use developments, especially along Peachtree, are nudging the once-modest city toward the splendor of its neighbors. When it comes to Chamblee’s food scene, ethnic restaurants have long been the draw. But that’s changing, too. The most promising of the newcomers is the Alden, an ambitious restaurant that blends elements of worldly fine dining with a dose of hometown comfort. Well-traveled chef-owner Jared Alden Hucks is making bold moves here, including a seven-course tasting menu offered exclusively at the chef counter. Nevertheless, service smacks of a general lack of experience, which Hucks must address if he wants to retain the well-heeled clientele who wander in.
Hucks grew up less than five miles from the restaurant, but he has carried his knives to gigs in Spain, Thailand, Australia, and Denmark, including one at Noma. In Atlanta, he is most widely known as the chef behind the now-disbanded Dogwood Table, the arty supper club he cofounded with gifted bartender Adam Fox. Hucks’s stints as apprentice, private chef, and pop-up maven haven’t exactly prepared him for the complexities of running a full-fledged restaurant; the Alden feels understaffed, and the staff it does have appear to be haphazardly deployed. But he is slowly assembling a small posse of worthy helpers to support his implementation of the recipes and techniques he collected abroad.
Tweezer food, a labor-intensive style of modern cookery where highly technical garnishes are deposited on the plate with the help of precision instruments, is commonplace in many of the restaurants where Hucks has worked. But integrating items such as dehydrated strawberries, razor-thin pickled ginger, flash-fried herbs, burgundy red wine gelee, and microdiced vegetables into the chef’s twist on Southern cuisine isn’t without difficulties. Order the tasting menu (a more-than-fair $75, available by reservation), and you will get the menu’s highlights in good-sized portions. The first course—a plate combining American prosciutto from La Quercia, oddly smooth pimiento cheese flavored with smoked paprika, and toasted slivers of unimpressive housemade sourdough bread—lacks the drama of later dishes, such as the wondrous, pan-Asian, sous-vide egg with baby bok choy, pickled radish, and crackers seasoned with turmeric and ginger.
The delicacy of pristine Maine scallops with sunchoke puree, Russian kale, and blood orange is juxtaposed by the rich complexity of hickory-smoked New York strip trimmed with summer squash, black onion jam, watercress, and a crystalline wine jelly. The overwrought shrimp and grits burdened with an excess of chermoula and harissa is a hot mess, but there is other evidence of the kitchen’s deftness with seafood: the almost custard-soft, steamed steelhead trout (the menu calls it a salmon) and the mussels expertly steamed in coconut-lemongrass nage. The small dessert menu includes a refreshing, if a little thick-crusted, lemon tart.
Despite employing Fox, now vice president of sales for Domaine Select Wine and Spirits, as a consultant, the restaurant suffers from a lack of reliable talent behind the bar. The cocktails often feel slack, and the wine recommendations can be weak.
There are pockets of intimacy within the sleek minimalism of the space. Hucks’s brother, an artist and glassblower, is responsible for the light fixtures, a sculpture, and some of the paintings in the restaurant. The patio shielded from the parking lot and the chef counter overlooking the spanking-new kitchen are the two best spots in a restaurant that can be a little cold aesthetically.
The absence of an established routine can be an asset or a setback in a small and ambitious restaurant. For now, it tips toward the latter at the Alden—but the quality and originality of the food suggest that the operation will get better.
★ ★ ★ ★
5070 Peachtree Boulevard, Chamblee