You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Review: Linger over tapas at Under the Cork Tree in Sandy Springs


Under the Cork Tree and Hammocks Trading Co. would seem to have only two things in common — their Sandy Springs locations and chef William Sigley (who owns both spots with partner Jason Sheetz).

Hammocks is a spiffed-up seafood shack on Roswell Road. It’s so breezy-beachy, it feels like there should be sand on the floors. Nobody, meanwhile, is wearing flip-flops to Under the Cork Tree, a sexy Mediterranean restaurant in the Prado shopping center.

The place is full of tufted leather loveseats and banquettes, some the color of chocolate, others the deep green of wine bottles.

Speaking of, there’s wine everywhere, and a list so voluminous, diners have to scroll through it on a tablet. Also on this device, you can watch the old cartoon version of “Ferdinand.” The classic story of the peacenik bull who would rather smell flowers under his favorite cork tree than spar with matadors, inspired both the restaurant’s name and its logo, which depicts the reclining bull sniffing at a wine goblet instead of a blossom.

Which is to say, there actually is a touch of Hammocks’ happy-go-lucky vibe here. There’s an easiness, even a coziness, to Cork Tree’s upscale glamour. One night, I observed a diner abandon his chair to snuggle with his date on the cushy banquette. Someone from another table jumped up to give us his napkin when we had a water spill, then he stayed for a moment to chat.

Cork Tree’s menu also has entrees galore: pastas and bouillabaisse, steak and paella 30 minutes in the making. But the intimate vibe seems to call for lovely little dishes to be shared: tapas. So that was the part of the menu on which my group focused. Well, that and the $5 glasses of red and white sangria, which were delightful — lightly fizzed, fruity and finely balanced. They tasted like distilled sunshine.

There were times, as we dug into our generously portioned tapas, when I wondered if Ferdinand’s zen had been translated too literally into the food. A salad of compressed watermelon, shrimp and feta, for instance, tasted fresh and light and summery. But nothing jumped out and made me say, “Wow!”

And, yet, that sweet salad would not be dismissed. The more bites I took, the more I enjoyed its fresh simplicity. Each element was perfect: plump, sweet and cool — but not overchilled — shrimp; heirloom tomato chunks that lent just a hint of acid; basil and red onion to give a mild bite and plenty of aroma. Together, they created, not fireworks, but a fragrant garden, one where a certain gentle bull would feel very much at home.

I felt the same way about a diver scallop ceviche, a sumptuous pile of shellfish, greens, avocado and red pepper niblets and tiny, crisp pepitas, scattered with a golden pepper vinaigrette and just a hint of lime. It was a casually beautiful composition.

In the end, these dishes that I’d discounted at first won the day, especially over spicy but slightly muddy chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, or fried artichokes that were wonderfully salty and crisped, but drowning in oil.

And then there were the tapas that had both zip and the simplicity I’d admired in those first salads. Take the crispy lamb ribs — amazingly tender meat crusted with a precise layer of charred, spicy-sweet glaze. Served with a pile of thinly sliced, tartly pickled cucumbers, the ribs were bold and fun.

Some of our tapas had a single ingredient that made them sing: the splash of pomegranate on a spicy red pepper dip called muhamarra; the seasoned salt dressing up the crust of very nice margherita pizza; the bits of preserved lemon zinging up a sedate white bean salad on the side of octopus a la plancha.

But, even without these moments of wit, most of these tapas would have been solid. The proteins — especially that tender, saltily charred octopus and the sweet, clean scallops — were beautifully prepared. All the veggies were of-the-moment and treated with reverence.

If every dish here doesn’t wow, they still are worthy of a special night out. And, with Cork Tree’s massive menu, you have a lot of options. You could go big and bold with your meal by, say, ordering a platter full of jamon serrano, chorizo and bresaola, some huge goblets of Malbec and maybe a $34 lamb tagine.

Or, you could do as Ferdinand the bull would: “Sit just quietly and smell the flowers” under the cork tree. Here, that would mean lingering over succulent, seasonal tapas. It’s food that doesn’t need to wow to impress mightily.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

Another classic diner turns off the grill, a victim of rising rents

John Vasilopoulos and Nick Tragaras stood before an assembly line of egg sandwiches. Tragaras slid the eggs and bacon from the griddle onto the buns as Vasilopoulos followed to wrap and stack. It was a familiar rhythm for the owners of Cup & Saucer, a diner on the eastern edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown. But on Monday afternoon, after more than...
In Atlanta, first-rate food leads to second chances
In Atlanta, first-rate food leads to second chances

Work starts early for those at Gathering Industries. Each weekday morning before 7 a.m., Ryan Williams opens the kitchen on McDonough Boulevard, just a block from the United States Penitentiary. He likes sports analogies and if you ask for a job title, he says he’s a “utility player.” “I leave the cooking to the professionals...
Atlanta’s coffee shops serve up java for Gens X, Y and Z
Atlanta’s coffee shops serve up java for Gens X, Y and Z

When I think about the bad old days of coffee in Atlanta, when you could still get away with selling a cup of hot black water fit for a gas station and call your place a cafe, I’m afraid I sound like an old man talking about walking 5 miles uphill both to and from school. To young ears, it might not sound real. A decade ago, you might have found...
Review: Jai Ho could use a little focus in showcasing flavors of India
Review: Jai Ho could use a little focus in showcasing flavors of India

When I first came to Atlanta in the ’80s, Little Five Points was where you went for Indian food. Then it seemed that all the city’s Indian restaurants were clustered around the intersection of Moreland and Euclid avenues. Every place had a similar menu of North Indian classics, and a cheap, set-price lunch menu that began with a cup of...
In Bristol, England, a restaurant goes back to rustic basics
In Bristol, England, a restaurant goes back to rustic basics

Some chefs serve commercial mayonnaise. For Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, the chef and an owner of Paco Tapas, and Dave Hazell, the head chef, making mayonnaise is a two-day process. Crab shells are roasted and then infused in vegetable oil for 48 hours. The flavored oil is blended with ingredients like cider vinegar distilled from apples grown in nearby...
More Stories