I don’t care how well curated your whiskey cellar is, or that you’ve got a list of pre-prohibition inspired cocktails on draught. I cringe upon finding my cloth napkin folded up like the Sydney Opera House as I return to the table from the restroom. Now don’t get me wrong, yeah I think it’s alright, but a 2,500 bottle wine cellar won’t keep me warm in the middle of the night. This isn’t the opening rant of a one star Yelp review, I just don’t care for that stuff. I just want to eat well. I’m not low-class and I’m not wealthy, and it’s great to be a discerning eater, but you don’t need a thesaurus to communicate your magnificent dining experience.
At Eat a Duck, the food is the single most important part our reviews. The entire system of stars, spoons, plates or whatever gold plated flatware you choose, is inherently flawed, as it’s too broad a brush to paint an accurate picture. We do it by writing words of jubilation, while disappointment bears silence in our approach. So the fact that I’ve already typed 228 words before even mentioning the restaurant in question means that I love Haven, the successor to the much-loved and sorely missed SideBerns. Back when I dined there for the first time almost a decade ago, I was impressed to see such a modern and experimental approach to cuisine in my area. Until then, I felt that this kind of attention to detail was only available in the big cities. I remember lusting over their happy hour menu, featuring delicious pork terrines and fantastic moules frites. On a good day you could get a nice pre-dinner snack with a glass of wine and get out of there for no more than $20. To this day, the best dessert I’ve ever had, came out of the Sideburns kitchen. A domed lemon cheesecake with an amoretti and candied pine nut crust, drizzled with basil simple syrup. Little did I know, our 13th wedding anniversary dinner, last April, would be our last chance to dine at SideBerns.
One of the reasons the community was in shock, was because they aren’t used to successful restaurants closing without facing some sort of tragedy. When a building owner or majority investor says they’re taking things in a “different direction”, the public reads that as failure. Yet, this kind of thing happens all the time, just not here. My all-around favorite place to eat, Abattoir in Atlanta, just closed after nearly a decade of consistently being one of the most popular places in town. The owner simply felt that the concept had run its course and wanted to try something new with their available resources. Of course it hurt to see both of these places go as I obviously have fond memories of each. I’ll never forget that Korean bulgogi poutine Anne Quatrano.
Haven though, is a chance to make some new memories, and it’s a really great concept for the neighborhood that it’s in. Whoever planned the build out pretty much measured every detail to a tee. Each department head seems to have designed their area of responsibility with precision. The problem is, I don’t care about anything but the food. I’m the guy who walks up to the bar and asks for the food menu before the cocktail menu. I don’t even care if Pappy Van Winkle himself was reincarnated in holographic form to be my master mixologist for the evening. I’m still just going to order an unsweet tea with lemon almost every time.
My first visit to Haven was shared with nine other people; an ideal number when you want to explore the full breadth of a menu. It was obvious to all in attendance that the large cured and encased meat sampler platter, as well as a cheese board boasting eighteen different selections, were automatic orders. As far as criticisms on their meat and cheese selections, there really is nothing to discuss. They’ve simply put to shame any cheesemonger or charcuterist in the area. Haven is now the gold standard on both fronts, as was to be expected since the two are the main vein of the food menu. A couple of my meaty favorites, both made in-house of course, were the foie gras and beef tongue terrine, which balanced between subtle and brash by putting together something so luxurious (foie) next to what some still deem to be food waste (tongue). I also really fancied the duck summer sausage which gave a humble nod to the traditional Polish kielbasa. Nice snappy casing served with sauerkraut, grain mustard, horseradish and some crusty bread. If you don’t have any friends who want to sample, I suggest you start with those and maybe an order of wild boar and cherry country paté, oh and a small ration of lardo. Fortunately, the wait staff padded their tip by placing all the meat right in front of me. Unfortunately, that meant my cheese intake took a hit as my table mates hoarded that board at the other end of the table. Sure, they passed me a couple of pity slivers of something aged and nutty, but I wasn’t privy to what I was actually consuming.
As far as appetizers and mains, there really aren’t any except an exorbitantly priced cold smoked Delmonico steak. I fear many, including myself will pass, never giving a second thought to ordering it. I’m not wealthy and I’m not low-class. I’m a discerning eater that likes variety. The entire menu is wide open, which means that for around $40-$50, you can order 2-3 meats and/or cheeses and a couple of their “nontreé” sized, yet adequately proportioned for sharing offerings, ranging from $7-$24. My favorites included the cobia carbonara, veal loin with salami puttanesca, and General Tso’s duck tongues which quenched my ongoing desire for kitschy food done by expert hands.
Please, when you go, don’t forget the vegetables. One thing that has been passed seamlessly between SideBurns and Haven is the way they treat vegetables. For a place that is admittedly meat-centric, a few of the more memorable menu items were the whole roasted cauliflower, a study of corn prepared about ten different ways on a single plate, and the wild roasted mushrooms which swam in a buttery wading pool of Worcestershire, thyme and okra pickle juice. Once the mushrooms exited the bowl, we placed crostini in said bowl to soak up the liquid. They floated for a moment like Jack Dawson, struggling to hang on for dear life after the sinking of Titanic. Only, this time I play the role of Rose DeWitt Bukater in the scenario, and I actually had the strength to save my love (the mushroom juice logged crostini) from drowning if only to eat them up once the life boat arrived.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to like this place when I walked in. I’m not really looking for such tender care when I’m chomping down on fried gouda fritters. The menu is fantastic, actually it’s close to perfect for my needs. The service is too good for the gastropub fare, but honestly I don’t care. I don’t care about that my iced tea was refilled every time I took a sip. I don’t care that the simple syrup that goes into their cocktails is barrel aged behind the bar. If you want really, really good service, probably the most efficient in town and need pampering to positively impact your dining experience, you’ll have an even better time than me. All I want is great food. My arms were crossed, ready to pick apart every detail that didn’t work, because the emptiness of losing SideBurns still hurts. I mean no disrespect to the Haven people, I simply have a different view of what’s important in a restaurant and you have what I need, magnificent food. Nonetheless, they softened the blow and did justice to the space that once was a favorite of mine. The hurt will never go away but the soothing sensation of multiple choices involving foie gras always helps!
Still wondering if Haven is for you? See if you fall into these demographics. Even if only one falls into your wheelhouse I think you need to go.
Haven is for:
A. Those who appreciate sleek design and attention to detail.
B. The serious drinker (There’s a broad highway between a fan of spirits and an alcoholic.)
C. People who like being pampered to excess.
D. Food lovers of all sorts.
Haven delivers top-notch service, and even though I’ve said I don’t care over and over, I also say, more power to them! As long as it doesn’t impede Haven’s wonderful food from reaching the starting point of my digestive system!