The Christiane Chronicles: We have a ways to go when it comes to smelly restaurants

Plus, how Atlanta is overlooking chef Allen Suh
August Christiane Chronicles
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Odor Eater
Most restaurants ban smoking, and that’s good news for anybody who appreciates tar-free lungs and fewer trips to the dry cleaners. But we still have a ways to go when it comes to unpleasant dining odors. Thanks to open floor plans and kitchens, smells previously confined to the back of the house now freely reach those in the front. Who wants to eat steak while smelling fish? I like the cocktails at Amer, but must the entire bar smell like a grilled cheese? Please, get a better vent hood.

Some restaurants embrace their funk. Both Highland Tap and Brick Store Pub are as pungent as a frat house basement—and about as busy as one on most nights. Cho Sun Ok is one match away from a spontaneous Korean barbecue grease fire. Dive bars are proud of their musty scene. But there are limits, like decade-old carpet and overflowing trashcans. Just as bad are aggressively sanitized spaces reeking of scented candles, Windex, and chlorine. When these sour scents overpower the food that’s in front of you, you’ve got a problem.

Allen Suh
Photograph by Savanna Sturkie

Our David Chang
Twelve years ago I tried a new noodle bar in Manhattan’s East Village. The restaurant’s name was catchy, the food unorthodox, and the chef-owner was a Korean American who had worked with star chef Tom Colicchio. Who could have guessed that a decade later David Chang and his Momofuku brand would have taken over the world?

Today I worry that we’re overlooking our own David Chang. I see much of his punk rock spirit in Allen Suh, the Houston-born Korean American chef who, like Chang, previously worked in high-end kitchens (Restaurant Eugene) and has a knack for turning Asian food on its head. Who else serves silkworm pupae in rich kimchi juice or makes his own instant ramen?

Cities like Los Angeles and New York throw their full weight behind young Asian chefs challenging both American traditions and those of their ancestors. But Atlanta? Suh’s abrupt departure from Gaja in June is yet another sign that we aren’t as open-minded as we like to think. So please, the next time Suh opens a new concept, give him the attention he deserves while we still have a chance.

Field notes

  • Thank you, Kevin Gillespie, for reimagining the chicken casserole as a loose patty served with a cream sauce at Revival.
  • Everybody goes straight for the Cuban sandwiches at Hector Santiago’s El Super Pan in Ponce City Market. I’m just as interested in the Spanish lager and sotol, a distilled alcohol that resembles a less rustic mescal.
  • If Ikea can serve a decent hot dog for 50 cents, why pay a local chef who wants to charge me $7?

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.