A few friends and I dropped into One Eared Stag early in the evening last week for a few drinks and snacks. It was that casual kind of night where everyone agrees to order something slightly different (a salad, a meat, a finger snack, and so on) to share while ordering all too many cocktails. Right as we were taking our first sips, a bowl of Hammock Hallows heirloom tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, tomato water, radish, and edible flowers landed on the table and everyone’s jaws just about hit the floor.
Produce isn’t the kind of thing that one necessarily thinks of as striking, but here it was: this strikingly beautiful bowl. The reds and yellows of heirloom varieties, a few herby leaves, the bright, sharp specks of colorful flowers, and a dab of white foam all atop a creamy, mild bed of bufala mozzarella. When we finally stopped oohing and ahhing about the beauty of the thing (and, of course, taking cell phone pictures), we found out what a great dish it is, too. The mozzarella, the foam, the presentation – all of that comes together to deliver the crisp flavors of ripe tomatoes. It’s like eating a fresh bowl of summer.
Incidentally, I woke up this morning to see that the AJC’s John Kessler has re-reviewed One Eared Stag, raising the restaurant to a four star rating. Interestingly, when he had the salad, which he called “stunningly good,” it had cucumbers from the same farm, rather than tomatoes. It speaks to chef Robert Phalen’s intelligent style that he knows when to get out of the way of his ingredients and let their flavors speak for themselves. On his constantly changing menu, that could be cucumbers last week, tomatoes this week, and something entirely else next week.
Our photography director Caroline Kilgore dropped in to shoot some photos of the dish for the magazine this past weekend, because cell phone pictures don’t do a dish like this justice.