Let me spill the beans right away: after tonight’s 26th course a man with spiky hair and a white soccer jersey came over to our table.
“How was everything?” he asked.
“Wonderful,” I said.
“Amazing,” said Lauren.
“Good good. Well,” he continued, “I’m Richard Blais.” He shook our hands.
For a sense of how accomplished Chef Blais is, check out his profile on the Blais Atlanta website. He has worked at the finest restaurants in the world: The French Laundry, Chez Panisse, and El Bulli to name a few. Now he was hovering over our table.
“It’s so nice to meet you,” Lauren said.
“Everything was delicious,” I said.
Now up until this point, we had the sneaking suspicion that the restaurant thought I was a food critic. Granted, in a very minor way I am a food critic, but writing a few reviews on the internet seems incredibly minor compared to the work of our nation’s real food writers: William Grimes, Ruch Reichl, John Kessler. We thought the suspicion stemmed from the fact that I was taking pictures of every course as it was brought out.
Lauren continued: “It’s really great how laid back it is here. Everyone is so friendly.”
“Yes,” I said. “Just a few months ago I went to Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and had an awful meal; everything was so formal.”
“Yes,” said Chef Blais, “I know.”
An awkward pause.
“How do you know?” I asked, incredulously.
“I read your review on eGullet,” he answered.
My stomach was in my throat. Say what!?
You see, several months ago–after our Charlie Trotter’s disappointment–I wrote a somewhat scathing review on eGullet–that launched a 12 page debate over the merits of my amateur perspective on fine dining. As exciting as this was, it always seemed a very contained esoteric debate in a cultish foodie world. Now this star chef was saying he read my review?!
“I actually read it to my staff here when we opened,” he continued. “So that they wouldn’t be so formal.”
Lauren burst out laughing.
“We also told the waiter not to follow you to the bathroom tonight,” he laughed, “even though we usually do that, because you wrote about that in your review.”
My ego, at this point, floated out of my body and began dancing the dance of the cocky monkey.
“Stop it, Ego,” I said.
Chef Blais lingered a little more. It seemed clear that he knew I would be writing a review. Was he nervous? Did he fear me? How powerful I had become!
And yet he had nothing to worry about. Lauren and I both found everything up until that point (and after) to be beyond spectacular. Our dinner at Blais was among the best I’ve ever had, and surely the best meal I have had in Atlanta. I say that having eaten at Seeger’s (which was cold and overly formal) and Bacchanalia (a vague distant memory that conjures very little in the way of nostalgia). Each course was a magical sensory experience–the most dazzling flavors melded together in ways so imaginative that each tiny course was an event.
“Well,” I said, “I’m kind of freaked out right now, but thanks for reading my writing.”
“No problem,” he said as the waiter placed down our 27th course.
“I’ll let you finish your meal.”
* * * * * *
So with that ego-trip out of the way, let us shock you with our food consumption. According to our waiter (who, by the way, was also fantastic: incredibly friendly, helpful and informative–appropriate since the chinese tattoo on his wrist is the word for “teaching”) the kitchen was shocked that we ate everything. “They were taking wagers back there,” he said, “as to when you would conk out.”
“Not us,” said Lauren, “we’re troopers.”
And for your visual pleasure, I captured every single course in the 31-course line-up. If you do the math, I think it will fall a little short but that’s only because some of the courses were served at the same time. And to be honest, I could not have put another thing in my mouth if they paid me. Since describing each course to you would take an eon, I will simply label each picture and let you enjoy the visual stimulus that was our meal. Suffice it to say, dining at Blais was an incredible treat and a dining experience that I highly recommend. And I’m not just saying that because I know the chef.
THE 31 FLAVORS MENU
Quail Egg, Maple Flavor
Crispy Chicken Skin, Gravy, Pickled Collards
Shrimp, Polenta, Amaretto
Asparagus, Parmesan, Caramel
Sweet Tea in 3 Textures
Salmon Eggs, Vanilla Caviar
Oyster, Cocktail Sorbet
Tuna Belly, Frozen Wasabi
Veal Jelly, Vermouth, Horseradish
Sweet Potato, Ranch Ice Cream
Fried Squid, Smoked Paprika
[Not exactly sure. The menu they gave us says “Inflated Salt Cod” but I think this is a clam.]
Barely Smoked Hamachi, Yuzu
Sea Scallop, Edamame Ravioli
Turbot, Almond Gnocchi, Orange Rind
Wild Striped Bass, Short Ribs
“Pink” Duck Breast, Aromatic Vapor
Slow-Cooked Lamb Loin, Cashew, Coconut
Cheeseburger, Foie Gras Milkshake** (This was the highlight of the meal! So funny and absolutely delicious.)
Egg Cream, White Truffle/White Chocolate, Sesame Creme Brulee
Olive Oil, Lemon Sorbet
Warm Parsnip, Ginger (Sorry, I started eating this one before I realized I hadn’t taken the picture yet)
Oozing Chocolate, Black Olive, Red Wine (and Birthday Well-Wishes)
And, the final note struck was perfectly charming and perfectly funny. A square of gelled Tang floating on a white plate.
Thus ended our birthday meal adventure. Excuse me now while I keel over and die a happy death.