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The ups and downs of a weekend in Midtown

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Let me start by saying that this board has been one of the most valuable resources I have ever stumbled across. From Eugene in Buckhead, to Spago in Beverly Hills, just about every great restaurant I've been to in the past few years were a direct result of this board. Please, please, please... keep up the great work. Hopefully I can contribute more soon.

My loving wife and I decided to spend an abbreviated weekend in Midtown to celebrate our coinciding birthdays roughly two weeks ago. We were in town all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday, but only had one night for dinner. We weren't looking to break the bank at Bacchanalia, and we knew we wanted steaks. But we also weren't interested in the nearest Outback, nor did we want to go to somewhere we had recently been (like JCT). The following is a review of our meals. My sense of humor (or lack thereof) is not for everyone, I'm aware of that. But I assure you that none of the following is embellished.

Lunch Saturday - Vortex.
Excellent as always. The place was packed, even at 2pm, but we were sat immediately. After sharing a cheesy-cheese goo appetizer and a couple of draft beers, we decided to split the Lone Star Tex Melt. We compromised to medium (For burgers, I prefer med rare and she prefers med well). Burger was juicy and cooked perfectly. Service was fast, attentive, and without incident. I highly recommend that burger to anyone passing through.

Dinner Saturday - Highland Tap
What a debacle! This was actually a recommendation gleaned from this board, but in retrospect, I should have known not to trust a rec from 2011. This was literally one of the worst dining experiences I've ever had the "pleasure" to partake in.

We arrived in the always busy Virginia Highlands district to find that the complimentary valet lot that Highland Tap shares with some of the other local establishments was full. Fortunately, there was one (literally, one) spot left in the parking lot across the street. $6 later we were walking in the restaurant.

Reservation was at 8:30pm. We arrived at 8:25 and was told by the manager that it would be about five minutes. Seemed fair enough. The official hostess was not there (she showed up later) so the manager was pulling double duty. For those of you unfamiliar with the establishment, the restaurant is also a bar. Or perhaps the bar is also a restaurant. Either way, you have to walk through the bar to get to the hostess stand. And there is no where to wait if your table isn't ready. We stood, for 25 minutes, in a corner of the bar hoping that someone would come get us when our table was ready. During our unexpected wait, we were privileged enough to witness one of the restaurant employees buying drugs from a bar patron. I won't say what this employee's actual job function was, but suffice to say that he was not low in the corporate hierarchy. Honestly, the vices of other don't particularly offend me. I've been around the block a time or two myself. That said, it didn't set a good tone for the rest of dinner. At 8:50pm we were finally sat.

Our server, Becky, turned out to be par for the course. Completely apathetic. We waited 10 minutes before she swung by the table to inform us that the menu I was holding was the "drink menu". No shit, Becky. And here I was thinking that the apple martini was an entrée. A half dozen minutes later she comes back to take our drink order. When asked about soups, specials, and "what the restaurant is known for" she had nothing to offer. So we took a stab in the dark.

Appetizer: Lump crab cake. The outside was perfectly crusted and the filling was almost entirely crab. And the spicy aioli was rich and flavorful. Unfortunately, the filling was also cold. Not luke warm... Cold. My guess: the cook sautéed the cake at too high a heat, and as a result, the outside crust was done well before the center had a chance to warm. We let it slide.

Entrees: My wife had the prime rib. It was cooked properly (medium rare), but it was bland and nothing to write home about. Maybe Highland Tap considers itself "purists". I too don't see the point in marinating steak in Moores, Dales, or some other overpowering concoction for hours on end. But this thing needed salt and pepper, in the very least. Her mac n' cheese was okay. The sauce was a little runny, but the flavor was not lacking.

I ordered the 8oz. filet, medium rare, with a side of au gratin potatoes. The steak was well done. Not a spot of pink to be found. Thankfully, our friendly host/manager happened to be walking by and asked how things were going. When I showed him the steak, he quickly whisked it away and apologized. Steaks sometimes get overcooked. I get it. Not the end of the world. Unfortunately (again) the replacement filet wasn't much better. It was close to medium rare, but arguably medium. More importantly, it was the flattest, most pathetic looking thing I'd ever encountered. I assume that the cook, in a hurry to replace my overcooked steak, found the thinnest cut he could, cooked it on the highest heat he could, and smashed it throughout the process. It was dry and tasteless. Charred on one side and barely brown on the other. The au gratin potatoes were also a wreck. The cheese topping tasted like it was airlifted off of a Papa John's cheese bread and dropped onto a starchy, unseasoned glob of potato casserole. The potato layers were completely devoid of cream or cheese of any sort. Again, salt was sorely missed.

During this entire time, we've yet to see Becky again. Another server brought out both our app and entrées. The manager checked to see if we were happy. No Becky to be found. We were starting to get worried about her. About half way through dinner we also notice that everyone around us is enjoying bread. No bread for us. Had Becky stumbled upon another drug deal while fetching our loaf? God, I hoped not.

After choking down most of our entrees, Becky returns. What a relief. Cancel the amber alert. Becky apologizes for the steak and asks if we would like dessert - On the house. Yay! So we ordered the chocolate mousse cake. Becky informs us they are out of that. Crème Brulee it is, then. Again, the kitchen seems to be in a rush. The caramelized sugar crust is practically non-existent, and what little could be found was burnt from being torched too directly and too rapidly. The custard was overcooked and too firm.

Leaving was our favorite part of the meal. Thank God the dessert was gratis. I'm willing to pay $110 for a crappy meal, but I draw the line at $118! Won't be going back anytime soon - unless I need a dime bag.

Brunch the next morning was at West Egg. We usually go to Murphy's but, quite honestly, it was too close to Highland Tap. We couldn't bring ourselves to go back over there. West Egg was delightful. As good as any brunch I've had, in my opinion. We had to wait about 45 minutes for a table, but we were warned beforehand, and the wait was no longer than promised. We had the usual brunch stuff: chocolate milk, OJ, eggs, bacon, biscuits, Belgian waffles, potato hash, etc.... Everything we ate was heaven. The staff was kind, quick, and helpful. The food was prepared properly, with care, and with a focus on flavor. A lovely end to a marginal culinary weekend.

As a final aside: the weekend wasn't all bad by any means. I don't mean to paint it as such. We had a great time. Highland Tap was the lone dark spot. As a matter of fact, the Marriott Midtown Renaissance upgraded us to the Presidential Suite. Can't stress enough how friendly the manager at the hotel was. We greatly appreciated it.

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  1. thanks for thje post--we like to know the bad as well as the good.There are so manay very good steak places in town,MCKendricks,Rathbuns,Bones.Chops--its a shame you didnt go to one of those--For sure theyre are priceier than where you went but they are consistently very good.Even Long Horns sounds alot better than your experience

    1 Reply
    1. re: bobstripower

      Thanks. We ruled out Chops and Bones due to them being up in Buckhead. Like I said, we were staying/drinking in Midtown and the thought of a cab fare to Buckhead isn't too appealing. Rathbuns escaped my mind. That definitely would have been a wiser selection.

      McKendrick's, I am wholly unfamiliar with. I'll be sure and check it out. Add it to the ol' brain repository for next time. We'll be staying in Buckhead in May and again in June. That will give me a chance to try some of these more northern locales.

      thanks again,

    2. If you're looking for other recs, try Empire State South and Ecco.

      1 Reply
      1. re: carolinadawg

        Thanks for the good future advice. Empire, I am familiar with, and it is close to the Renaissance. Ecco is new to me. I'll check it out. Like I said, though, we were hunting red meat. We'll know where (not) to go next time.