The resurrection of historic properties such as the White Provision Co. building and the Miller Union Stockyards have transformed the former industrial neighborhood along the Westside’s rail lines. One of the most recent restaurants to arrive, next to Donetto and catty-corner from Miller Union, is Aix, built on the loading dock of those former stockyards.
Like the Meatpacking district in Manhattan, the tony development that houses Aix (called—surprise, surprise—the Stockyards) makes us forget its blood-soaked past with flashy architectural features and large bay windows. Aix and its adjacent sister operation, the more casual, wine-oriented Tin Tin, were both conceived as an homage to the South of France. But, as anyone who’s visited the charming town of Aix-en-Provence can tell you, there’s very little about the Stockyards that projects the warmth and relaxation of that beloved region.
The most Provençal detail at Aix may be the wall of cochonnets—small wooden balls used as targets in the game of Pétanque—strung on wires between the dining room and the bar. Other intended nods to Provence are lost in translation.
Born in Bermuda to a half-French, half-British mother and an American father, executive chef Nick Leahy is more of a modern-leaning cook than a guardian of traditions. Yes, he spent many vacations at the homes of his parents and his great-aunt near the French Riviera, but a peripatetic cooking career that took him to London and Atlanta is as important to his development as his early encounters with duck confit and Mediterranean lamb. Last seen running the kitchen at Saltyard, the globe-trotting small-plates restaurant in Buckhead, Leahy has now acquired a deep-pocketed silent partner, whom he met doing charity work. Completing the team is general manager Pat Peterson, an advanced sommelier.
Rather than trying to procure ingredients indigenous to the South of France, Leahy embraces the philosophy of all local, all the time. The results vary. His riff on bouillabaisse—clams, fish, scallops, and shrimp arranged on the plate, with a fish fumet reduction perfumed with saffron poured over them tableside—is far from faithful to the dish that embodies the Mediterranean, yet it’s a valid reinterpretation. On the other hand, his cassoulet—a fussy, dry landscape of red and white Sea Island peas, crisped pork belly, and breadcrumb croquettes flavored with duck broth and topped with carrot fronds—boggles the mind of anyone expecting the rich, unctuous, white bean casserole au gratin.
The well-composed poisson du jour, often snapper, served with Hakurei turnips, balsamic beets, and sun-dried tomato relish, doesn’t feel particularly like regional cooking. Neither does the fancy duck confit crepe with a soft duck egg, roasted grapes, and foie gras brown butter, nor the crispy chicken livers “à ma grand-mère” with fried polenta, marinated mushrooms, and dark chicken jus.
Bread service is important at a French restaurant. Aix bakes its own, delivering crusty epi and sourdough on a board alongside housemade cultured butter and a whole head of roasted garlic. It’s one of the best things to emerge from the kitchen. Also impressive are the classic foie gras au torchon with brioche, raisin jam, and red onion and the grilled lamb loin with chestnut dumplings and cabbage puree, both of which have a convincing Gallic accent.
Pastry chef Kendall Baez bakes a limited number of tartes tropeziennes made of sweet brioche filled with creme patissiere each day, because they are highly perishable. Grab one if you can. Aix’s unorthodox, cookie-like tarte au citron decorated with dots of meringue or its almost unspeakably rich and deconstructed Ferrero Rocher should also be on your list.
Order a Pernod on ice before your meal and a sweet Banyuls as a digestif, both delightful reminders of Provence. Intelligent cocktails, including a Last Train to Paris with a warm breath of cognac and star anise–flavored pastis, are among the high points on the drinks list. Aix’s wine list offers unusual bottles from southern France, and every wine available by the glass next door at Tin Tin can be ordered as well. Trust Peterson to recommend and persuasively describe the wines he’s curated.
Popular design team ai3 uses materials such as white plaster, gray stones, and copper accents to evoke historic Provence, but the overall feel is decidedly of the moment. The private wine room and the prettily lit bar offer pockets of intimacy in a space that’s more glam than cozy.
Either you know Provence and question chef Leahy’s exactitude, or you don’t care about faithful renditions and enjoy a restaurant that speaks French with a strong American accent. Either way, expect to drink better than you eat—and don’t be surprised if the atmosphere more closely aligns with Westside Atlanta than the South of France.
★ ★ ★ ★
956 Brady Avenue,