- Elizabeth Lenhard For the AJC
Kitchen Six has got a numerical shtick that I entirely approve of. On the menu there is a rotating roster of six comforting “bites,” six starters and six entrees. The desserts? Well, those are six, split: there are three.
I love a tight, focused menu like this. Not only does it make the job of ordering easy, but also a chef with a small menu has the time to make every dish stand out.
So that’s why I’m a bit surprised by the other numbers game going on at Kitchen Six.
Out of the four seasons that chef Jason Jimenez could have mined for inspiration, he mostly seemed to choose one: fall.
Almost everything about Kitchen Six has an autumnal vibe — the plaid-or-leather-upholstered booths and rustic exposed beams, the dark brick walls, and countless golden pendant lights that cast a very dusky light.
On the unseasonably warm February weeknight that we dropped into Kitchen Six, the menu, too, felt like it was meant to be read by a hearth with an eye on fattening for winter. Apples and winter squash appeared a few times. So did heavy accoutrements like the cherry Madeira sauce on a grilled duck breast and the creamy grits rimming the grilled pork tenderloin.
This is really a half-complaint because most of our dishes were quite tasty, if often over-reliant on salt and sugar for their big flavors. It’s just that by meal’s end, I had a mild case of Fall Fatigue.
But let’s start with the happy beginning, aided in large part by a host who threatened to turn our no-reservation party away from the almost-packed Oak Grove storefront, but then managed to squeeze us into a corner booth. (The dining room is small but cleverly laid out.)
Our server, too, was a pro with a cheerfully confident answer for every query and an efficiency that managed to also feel laid-back.
The most notable of our small plate starters was a thick apple and kabocha soup, a daily special. The heavy silkiness of the pureed soup was broken up by crunchy pecans and crisp-fried sage leaves, while the squash’s velvety sweetness was countered by tart apple bits and a sharp splash of olive oil.
Likewise, the best of our entrees — pan-roasted corvina served in a plentiful puddle of butternut squash lentil stew — was delicious because the dish danced gracefully between sweet and savory, between very salty, earthy lentils and a handful of tart-sweet candied golden beet batons, between sugary nubbins of squash and a couple of nicely bitter sprigs of broccolini. All this framed a flaky, mild fish fillet that was tough at parts but a mostly pleasant protein.
Our grilled duck breast and pork tenderloin were even better, tender and moist and perfectly pink.
The duck was draped in the aforementioned cherry Madeira sauce — tart and syrupy. Tossed in, with charmingly casual composition, were snow peas, roasted sunchokes, shiitakes and walnuts. That’s a lot of elements, all on the sweet side, and the duck was a bit lost in it.
The grilled pork was more assertive with a spicy clove aroma to the meat. And its accompaniments had a welcome sharp edge. There were tart, nicely cooked collards dusted with crunchy toasted cornbread bits and a streak of poppy apple mustard that tempered some very rich grits.
Was there a bit too much going on in these entrees? Maybe, but that creative effort was preferable to some small plates that felt a little too generic.
The hush puppies, for instance, were crisp and salty outside, moist and fluffy inside, but they needed some onion or spice to liven them up; their dipping sauce of very mild poblano cream didn’t do the job.
That cream was also served with some fries (very brown, very salty and very good according to this crunchaholic), along with two other dippers — a chili mayo with not enough zing and an equally lulling truffle mayo. Too subtle to pack a punch, they were easy to ignore after one dip each.
The mushroom ravioli was also just meh, though bathed in butter, microgreens and a dollop of very creamy fresh ricotta. The pasta was way too firm and the filling had little mushroom flavor. (The last time we checked in, though, this had been replaced by a — summery! — fried green tomato dish.)
A snack of pimento cheese bites was blah at its core. The cheese was too smooth and had no flavor to speak of. There was much more personality in the pastry-like crackers and fruity pickled cucumbers and peppers that sandwiched the stuff.
Of course, we mostly ordered that pimento cheese because it had a whiff of this early spring about it. The same impulse drove us to order a berry shortcake dessert. Unfortunately, that sweet was a three-part disappointment — a dry biscuit containing fatty-tasting white chocolate mousse with over-sugared mixed berries.
I probably should have gone with the Christmassy white chocolate and cranberry bread pudding or the dessert our smart server recommended — a raspberry chocolate “decadent cake” with chocolate oat crumb.
Which is to say, at Kitchen Six, the best thing to do is fall in with all the fall. It might be a little one note, but it’s the note this restaurant plays best.