It's very rare to have the experience of being served a truly perfect meal. I can count on one hand how often I have enjoyed an absolutely flawless restaurant experience, from the service to the drinks to the food.
Last weekend, the 5&10 provided me with my first perfect meal in Athens.
Should I be surprised? After all, 5&10 is famous for a reason. Its owner and chef, Hugh Acheson, is known for his five star restaurants across the state of Georgia, not to mention he's also a bona fide Hollywood star, frequently appearing on the only reality show I have ever enjoyed, "Top Chef". He's definitely a rock star of the culinary world. As for the actual restaurant itself, it's pretty much on everyone's "Must Dine at in Athens" list. I've had the opportunity to eat at the 5&10 four times now, but this was the first time in its brand new location. I have to say, the change in environment really made a difference. Where the old residence felt a bit cramped and bland, the new place feels intimate and vibrant. The atmosphere finally matches the food. My last three meals at the 5&10 were always close to perfect, but there was always one course that just quite didn't meet expectations. Not this time; it's as if the new home of 5&10 has inspired the food to become even greater.
When my husband and I arrived at 7:30 for our reservation, we were immediately seated, which is always a nice surprise in Athens. Our waiter introduced himself as Bob, and it became quickly clear that this guy loves his food and loves his job. I absolutely adore it when I am blessed with waiters like him; it makes the meal that much more of a great experience. We decided to trust Bob in helping us choose all our dishes, from the dessert to our cocktails, and we were incredibly glad we did. Bob knows his stuff.
We started off with cocktails, of course. I ordered the Flora which was made with gin, rosemary cranberry syrup, lemon, and cava. It was light and refreshing. My husband stuck with his old faithful, a Sazerac which he enjoyed immensely. We were given complimentary bread and butter to nosh on while looking over the rest of the menu. The bread was baked perfectly, chewy and warm and tasty. While enjoying our bread, Hugh Acheson stopped by our table to ask how we were doing, which might have made me swoon just a little. After that, we got to enjoy watching him race around the kitchen and dining room throughout our visit, giving us a lot of confidence in our impending meal.
We debated between the charcuterie as an appetizer or the roasted beet soup. I wanted the soup, but my husband's longing look at me when Bob described the charcuterie convinced me to go with the meat. We ordered the "charcuterie for one", and we found it to be the perfect amount for two, in terms of a light appetizer.
For my entree, I listened to Bob and ordered the Georgia Wild Blue Catfish, despite the fact that I have never really liked catfish, nor was I a really big fan of sauerkraut, which it was plated on.
Well guess what? Turns out I love both catfish and sauerkraut...as long as Hugh Acheson has his culinary hand in it. The whole entree was absolutely delectable. The fish was cooked perfectly: slightly crispy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside, with a wonderfully delicate flavor. However, it was the sauerkraut the fish sat upon that blew my mind the most. I never knew that sauerkraut could have such a savory depth. Not to mention, the whole entree just looked gorgeous.
My husband ordered the Pork Loin, with brewer oats, quince, pecans, apple butter, and yogurt.
I don't think I have ever seen him enjoy a meal more in my life. I swear his eyes rolled back in his head after every bite, and every now and then he'd stop eating, look at his food, and just smile lovingly at it. He was enjoying it so much that Hugh actually stopped his rush around the room to watch my husband take a bite. My husband was kind enough to share a little with me, and it really was phenomenal. Just the beautiful contrasting textures alone made the dish noteworthy, but each flavor from each element shined independently while somehow making all the other elements shine brighter too.
For dessert, Bob highly recommended the chocolate cake with pecan praline and cherry sorbet. I was dubious; I have been burned by chocolate cakes and tortes at many fine restaurants. Dessert seems to be where most 5 star restaurants drop the ball for some reason (and most cheap restaurants tend to score big). However, once again, my worrying was for naught, and it was another perfect course.
The chocolate cake was moist and rich, and the pecan pralines made the dish pop and shine. The cherry sorbet added a perfect balance to the whole dish. It was so good that I'm adding it to my Top 10 Desserts Ever list, which is a tough list to get on.
We weren't going to have any after dinner drinks, until something caught my eye: Limoncello handmade by our very own server, Bob. I asked him about it, and he proceeded to describe how he picks local flora in Athens to infuse the with the limoncello. Intrigued, I found myself ordering one infused with persimmon. It was, of course, absolutely delightful. It was slightly frosty, which made for a wonderful texture, and it had beautiful hints of persimmon in the aftertaste. It was a perfect end to a perfect meal.
We left the 5&10 in a food heaven haze. Everything about the meal, from the cozy ambiance to the handmade persimmon lemoncello made me feel like I had been transported out of Athens and to a food mecca like Charleston. But this was Athens, and after a meal like that, I'm entirely confident that Athens is on its way to becoming one of the best places in our country for interesting, well-executed, creative cuisine, with the 5&10 leading the way.