Bacchanalia shows ambition with a shift to five-course format

I talked with Anne Quatrano last evening, just as service was beginning at Bacchanalia, about her decision to switch the restaurant’s prix fixe menu format from four courses to five. The change went into effect this past Monday, and the price remains the same: $85 per person. Quatrano said the change was largely made to keep Bacchanalia competitive as the best restaurant in the city. “We don’t want to be first with a close second,” she said, referencing both the review I gave in our Top 50 restaurants story in the magazine’s current August issue and John Kessler’s recent review. My piece in part said, “Being a leader bears responsibility. Bacchanalia does indeed offer the city’s most memorable dining experience, but the kitchen needs to push itself beyond the safe zone into which it’s recently fallen…Our luminary restaurant needs to drive the culinary conversation for those of us looking to be surprised, intrigued, and educated.”

“We want to serve the most interesting and intricate food in the city,” said Quatrano. “For me, that means more courses that are slightly smaller and more elegant.” She said the kitchen will be evolving the ideas around the menu as it settles into the expanded structure, but the essential format currently is a cold appetizer—say, yellowtail crudo with melon from Quatrano’s farm, or foie gras torchon with local celeste figs—followed by seafood (a Dungeness crab salad has been paired with a smaller portion of the restaurant’s signature crab fritter, as one example), meats (grilled New York strip, sweetbreads, lamb, pork three ways), cheese, and dessert courses. The kitchen also prepares vegetarian options nightly for each of those courses.

For the cheeses, all paired with local vegetables or fruits, Quatrano has decided to go local: every option is made in the South. The decision also helps promote Star Provision’s new cheese-of-the-month club, called Cheese & Crackers, developed by cheesemonger Tim Gaddis and launching next month. Each installment will include one to one-and-a-half pounds of three types of Southern cheese around a general theme: Georgia cheeses, aged Southern cheeses, goat’s milk cheeses, etc. Pricing will be $200 for three months, $375 for six months, and $775 for twelve months.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing how Bacchanalia’s kitchen—under the direction of chefs Daniel Porubiansky and Andy Carson—shows off its reenergized ambitions with this new format.