Monday, March 15, 2010

March 12, 2010 - Aja Restaurant and Bar

Aja Restaurant and Bar
One Alliance Center
3500 Lenox Rd, Suite 100
Atlanta, GA 30326

As part of Buckhead Restaurant Week, we sampled the $25 prix fixe menu at Aja (inexplicably pronounced "Asia"), part of the Here to Serve family of restaurants.

The Good:
o The open kitchen, possibly a holdover from when this space was an Emeril's.
o The four-course tasting menu was well executed and definitely worth the prix fixe.

The Bad:
o The decor. We were seated directly below a giant Buddha. It was strange to be eating dinner and staring up at the statue's lap.
o The lighting. My current pet peeve is restaurants that have dim lighting provided by candles, making it difficult to see your food. I got up to go to the restroom at one point and almost had to feel my way around the tables.
o The loud music. Maybe it's a Friday night thing, but there was a DJ playing loud music. It was focused towards the bar area, but the sound reflected back and was still too loud for the dining area. I cannot imagine bringing a business client to the restaurant or having any sort of meaningful conversation over the din.

First course
o Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and yuzu soy sauce
The fish was extremely fresh, although the sashimi pieces were a little thick for my taste. I could not really enjoy the piece without chewing heavily. However, the flavor of the dish was nice, with the yuzu soy sauce providing tartness.
o Wagyu beef tartare with Indonesian sweet soy and spicy mustard
The beef was wonderfully prepared, but I have to admit, I'm not sure I could tell if this was wagyu or traditional beef. Perhaps that's the danger of preparing the dish tartare. The spicy mustard reminded me of wasabi (more sharpness than heat) and the soy cut the spicy heat of the beef.

Second course
o Spicy Thai green papaya salad with toasted peanuts and mint
Refreshing and quite sour. A hint of mint and peanuts were not overused. A good palate-cleansing second course.
o Chilled shellfish salad with ponzu dressing and shiso leaf
An average dish. The seaweed salad did not seem special and the pieces of shellfish were ok. This really could have used more flavor all around.

Third course
o Beef short rib with chow fun noodles and shaved green apple
The short rib was cooked well without being overly braised. It still had enough firmness to it without requiring a steak knife. The chow fun noodles were well cooked (not sticky) and the green apple added a nice sour note to the dish.
o King crab hot pot with kaffir lime, bok choy and jasmine rice
Well-cooked crab with a wonderful red curry soup. It reminded me a bit of porridge. The kaffir lime and curry balanced well, with the bok choy and straw mushroom adding some texture. The spicy heat created a base for the dish rather than hitting you at forefront. (I felt my body heating up, not my mouth burning). Great flavor despite the heat. However, neither the waiter nor the menu mentioned that this was EXTREMELY spicy, forcing my dinner companion and I to trade dishes.

o Japanese doughnuts with passion fruit glaze and bittersweet chocolate
Light, not overly sweet. The bittersweet chocolate sauce was a little too thick so that it did not coat the doughnuts very well. However the passion fruit glaze was a great sauce for the doughnut.
o Coconut rice pudding with mango sorbet and exotic fruit
There was still some bite to the rice cooked with the gentle, sweet flavor of the coconut. The mango sorbet was very tart and the exotic fruit (kiwi, mango, strawberry) gave a nice texture when you could find pieces of fruit (I wish there had been more). A lovely finish to the meal.

In trying to cater to the business-chic crowd, they took away from my enjoyment of a good meal. It was difficult to look beyond the fusion Asian d├ęcor, mood lighting and dance club sound. The prix fixe menu was a good deal, but everyday prices seem a bit high. So despite enjoying the food, I'm not sure I feel the need to visit this restaurant again.

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