When you think “sushi in Atlanta”, do you think “Park Tavern“? It’s probably time you do.
My (limited) experiences at Park Tavern have included rehearsal dinners and weddings, apps and beer on the patio, not for sushi and never did I expect the uber-cool evening we had last week. My hubby and I were badly in need of a date night, since we tend to be work-aholics and date nights often consist of dinner on the couch…with our laptops. We’d heard a lot lately about Chef Chapin Vilasineekul’s Salt Block Experience and, frankly, we were intrigued. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of a searing-hot salt block inches from your fingertips at dinner?
Since we were on a mission to try the Salt Block Experience, we ordered right away. The Salt Block Experience starts with a fresh, crisp green salad with a salty, gingery, light dressing (no bowl of iceburg lettuce with orange “ginger” dressing, like you’re normally served pre-sushi) and a heaping plate of edamame (and by heaping, I mean more than any two people can possibly eat…except that we did), while the chef is preparing the salt block and all its accompaniments. Chef Chapin came out to greet us and also recommended one of his signature sushi rolls – the Piedmont Roll (spicy hamachi and asparagus roll topped with tuna tataki, jalapeno, crispy rice, avocado and spicy soy – pictured above)- his own creation. park-tavern-500-10th-street-atlanta-ga-chef-chapin-salt-block-experience-1 He earned his first points that night with this colorful, tasty roll, that packed more than a little heat but without letting it completely overwhelm the flavors and for being personable, friendly, and clearly passionate about his food.
By the time we finished our salads and starters, the Salt Block Experience was ready to begin. First the Himalayan Salt Block is brought out – it looks like a large marble trivet. It’s been heated to 700+ degrees in the oven and then on the stovetop in the kitchen (it truly is HOT – if you don’t believe me, as the diner who walked by and park-tavern-500-10th-street-atlanta-ga-salt-block-experience-hand-roll-chef-chapin – you guessed it – touched it). Chef Chapin explains that the salt block creates a perfect sear on meat. The ingredients he places on the table or such high quality that only a light sear is desired (in other words, don’t leave them on the block too long!) The proteins are a 100% Wagyu beef and three fresh, sushi-grade fishes: big-eye tuna, Hawaiian walu and Tasmanian salmon, accompanied by a colorful array of possible toppings such as fried garlic, cilantro, real wasabi, ginger, sesame seeds, cucumber, avocado, rice and of course, seaweed wraps. The Wagyu beef was easily my favorite – it had a rich flavor and was tasty wrapped with fried garlic, cucumber, avocado and little rice. The fish was so fresh it was almost a shame to cook it at all, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to play with the salt block (after all, that’s why it’s there!). Making the hand rolls was an adventure, but all part of the fun!
Chef Chapin chatted with us throughout the meal, filing us in on little tidbits of information that you may not readily know, just from being a diner at Park Tavern. For example, Park Tavern is the only restaurant on the East Coast to carry 100% certified Wagyu beef. (He later presented us with a certificate proving that it truly is 100% Wagyu beef and tracing the bloodline of the cow we just consumed back to Japan – sadly, it even states the name of the cow we just consumed, which happened to be LMR Itozurudoi 813T. I’m trying not to compare it to my dog’s AKC papers…) Also, though chefs have been using salt blocks in their kitchens for years, Chef Chapin is the one who brought it out to the table, creating this unique interactive dining experience.
As a side note, if you’re not totally stuffed after your Salt Block Experience, then I highly recommend dessert. Chef Chapin’s homey apple fritters (pictured) combine apples and cinnamon, rolled in panko bread crumbs and flash fried, served with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It’s heaven in a bowl – and you may not want to share.
The verdict on the Salt Block Experience – a great date night, especially a first date. It gives you something to talk about, something to do with your hands (that is, ahem, socially acceptable), and something to explore together. Also a great girls’ night out or celebratory dinner (think birthdays, anniversaries, boss’ day). We even saw a few families sharing the experience when we were there! At $29.00 per person, it’s an afforable and super-enjoyable night out!