Atera – I thought we were going to eat lichen?

The first time I saw pictures of the food at Atera, I thought: moss and rocks.

I’ve never had the pleasure of feeling like someone else’s guinea pig, though if you’ve eaten at our place, you’ve probably been mine. It was a lot of fun. Some dishes were absolutely brilliant, and others were a bit like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. But there were enough great dishes and interesting concepts that I kept on sticking my hand in the cookie jar. In the end it was worth it.

The restaurant is in a building with a few other businesses who had all decal’ed their names in blue and white on a dirty door. I would have walked right past it if it weren’t for the hanging plants in the window that didn’t quite match any of the businesses listed.

The waiting area, like the restaurant itself, was 8 seats around a bar with a small area for 5 people. You might imagine my confusion when we were led there. I thought we were going to eat off bar stools. In any case, the drink menu was rather interesting. I would have had the marshmallow root if it weren’t mixed with nicotine. I went for the buckthorn instead.

Mmmm… buckthorn.

The kitchen area was more spacious than I thought.

Beer foam macaroons with caviar and creme fraiche: 10/10 Absolutely brilliant. The consistency of the macaroons were *perfect* which is really amazing because that art hasn’t successfully crossed the Atlantic. Most places that specialize in macaroons and even many famous French chefs on American soil cannot get it right.

Flaxseed cookie with pine nut butter: 3/10 It was like someone made a Triscuit ginger snap covered in butter. I didn’t have the coordination to hold onto this thing as the butter melted in my fingers. pass.

Rutabaga in beeswax: 6/10 The rutabaga was delicious, but the wax was too thick. It stuck on my tongue a little, and the flowers couldn’t quite scrape it off.

Amaranth toaste with trout roe and ramp: 7/10 Was this the lichen?! No, amaranth is a grain. It looked like lichen, so I somewhat liked it better. My problem with this dish is that everything tasted exactly the way they should taste. I am not sure if any of the 3 ingredients did anything to compliment the others.

Lobster roll with yeast meringue: 9/10 The yeast meringue was really clever and as light as air and as soft as a soufflé. There was a little too much mayo on the lobster, but still really yummy!

Sunchoke cannoli with butter cream: 3/10 I thought they said butter cream, but I tasted a really heavy sour cream. Also the chips were much too hard. I understand the progression from the previous dishes (all the salty plays on dessert), but the texture, the flavor, everything was all off.

Beef tendon chicharron: 7/10 Great concept, but season away, Chef Lightner! Maybe this is the right way, but I like mine with some spices, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Pickled quail egg and pigs blood wafer duo: 8/10 We were told to eat wafer, egg, wafer. But that’s easier said than done when the wafer is very hard, and the creme in the middle is practically liquid. I got creamed pigs blood all over my fingers, so that’s -1.5. The quail egg was actually a deviled egg encased in some milk-based thing that had the same consistency, color, and was almost the same size as egg white that had been cooked to somewhere between soft and hard boiled.

Bone marrow: 7/10 The bone marrow were cooked on slices of hearts of palm to look like bones. It was fun and creative, but it was way too hot. My fingers hurt for 2 courses. Food at a restaurant of this caliber should never be served at the wrong temperature. Everyone who picked one of these up within minutes of serving had to put it back down.

I love bone marrow. I wish then had put more on top of the hearts of palm so that I could taste more of the marrow!

Swordfish deli: 6/10 Really interesting concept. Got me thinking about how this was done for a while… then I decided that I don’t actually like swordfish cooked this way. It tastes like turkey?

Fluke tartare with leek and a buttermilk and vinegar ice: 7.5/10 Great tartare, and the ice was very refreshing. I like having a palate cleanser built into the dish.

Razor clam, garlic, and almond salad with razor clam vinaigrette: 9.5/10 I was a little worried about the number of garlic pieces at first, but I could have only killed a baby vampire bat afterwards. I loved that there were three items that tasted so different in every which way, and complimented each other so incredibly well, and yet they all looked the same! The presentation probably required an extra sous chef.

Uni and sweet potato: 9.5/10 Visually stunning, extremely fresh ingredients. Not super creative, but I can’t deny that it was very fun to eat. Also at this point I think I had about half a liter of wine, and I remember thinking about how this particular dish went really well with the pairing, and did a great job of overcoming the lingering garlic.

Diver scallop on sauerkraut and hazelnut butter: 8/10 I thought he said live diver scallop, but clearly it was no longer alive as it had been cut crosswise. At this point I did wait for it to wiggle, but it didn’t. The sauerkraut is a tad on the heavy side, but no matter, the play on textures was great, and the tiny blob of hazelnut butter turned out to have the flavor of a handful of hazelnuts. Pretty fun to eat.

Salmon with pork jowel and meringue of licorice: 2/10 *really* *salty*

Peeky toe crab in milk skin yuba ravioli, grain soup: 10/10 The milk skin tasted a little bit like bean curd, but much softer. The grain soup was like barley tea. Peeky toe crab filling was absolutely perfect.

Bread and butter! The butter had a texture that was obviously butter, but had a flavor that was obviously aged cheese!

Cuttlefish vermicelli: 9/10 The most tender cuttlefish I have ever had. It was only slightly firmer than real vermicelli, and the taste of the cuttlefish was very subtle. Because of thin strands, the noodles picked up the delicious light (possibly a different grain based) broth.

Asparagus in walnut consomme: 6.5/10 I’m not a great vegetable eater. I didn’t think that the green and purple asparagus were properly highlighted. I tasted more herbs, and is that seaweed?

Pork roll! Did it have pork inside the tiny roll? NO! Did it taste deliciously of pork fat? YES! Was it soft and fluffy? NO! But did I ask for another? YES!

Fouchu lobster with corn powder and lobster butter: 10/10 This dish might look kind of ugly, but it is the best lobster I can remember, which is pretty much my highest accolade.

Sure I’ve had very fresh lobster in Maine, but if I had this dish in Maine I think I’d end up buying a house there. The lobster was a few seconds on the raw side of perfect, but that helped preserve the sweetness. Apparently because it was from the deep sea (they were not able to clarify how deep), it was supposedly sweeter? But anyway, It was just short of raw so that it was still easy to bite through, and the corn powder crust got rid of any raw fish feel.

Roasted breast of squab with ragu and spring garlic: 6.5/10. That last dish was hard to follow, but certainly it could not be done with a piece of squab the size of my thumb. It was a little dry, and the ragu was way too sour and disproportioned. Maybe they dropped a bird in the back.

Lamb with crispy sunchips: 7/10 Good, but fatty. I don’t like to do the extra work of cutting the fat off. I have no problems with fatty meat… I just like my fat to be evenly distributed and incorporated into the muscle fibers.

Rhubarb juice and gelee: 5/10 Good, but a little too sour for me. I couldn’t think of any other word for it.

Egg: 6.5/10 Ice cream with egg yolk jam and a hard candy shell. Really creative, but in terms of flavors, it wasn’t the best ice cream.

Walnut sundae: 4/10 not a fan of too much walnut. This tiny little dollop was like walnut overkill.

Trio if ice cream sandwich, black walnut truffles, and chocolate pretzels: 7/10 really fun!! In particular, the pretzels were tiny but filled with caramel. I only had a tiny nibble of each because I was much too full after some 30 food items.

Overall it was a fun experience. I really wish I had lichen instead of amaranth. I was also hoping that the massive vine that I was sitting next to was edible. I definitely recommend the restaurant. I don’t know why it’s so hard to get in, but I guess if there’s a will there’s a way!

I hoped that for being an obedient and appreciative guinea pig, they would give me a jar of maybe vegetables or grain that looked like fruits or something, but I got an envelope with most of the dishes and wine pairings, which isn’t so bad either.

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