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Atlanta chefs to watch

Five culinary names to follow this fall

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COURTESY HOLY TACO
  • Courtesy Holy Taco

ROBERT PHALEN

Robert Phalen should be on your radar not because he's slated to open any new venture or because he's destined to be the city's next celebrity chef, but because what he's quietly putting out at his East Atlanta taqueria is some of the coolest, most interesting food around. I use the term "taqueria" loosely. Yes, Holy Taco (1314 Glenwood Ave., 404-230-6177, www.holy-taco.com) serves tacos, and some damn fine tacos at that (chicken hearts, anyone?). But Phalen comes into his own with the more original dishes peppered throughout the menu, many of them Spanish influenced.

Confit mushrooms with lardo and garlic on toast remains one of the city's most patently delicious dishes, the slivers of silky fat melting into the caramelized garlic and the juicy burst of the mushrooms, all of it soaked up by crusty bread below. A niçoise-inspired tuna salad pairs a generous mound of high-quality conserved tuna with fingerling potatoes, pole beans, caperberries and a boiled egg. It's beautifully simple; the very essence of a classic dish at its most humble. A recent special of potatoes with trout roe was shocking in its inventiveness, but also its salty starchy harmony. Phalen is a cook who successfully reaches far beyond what his audience expects of him, and that makes him worthy of our attention.

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