Last week I dined at downtown Atlanta’s new Asante Restaurant and Lounge, who’s owner is celebrity chef Marvin Woods. Woods claims to fame include Emmy-award nominated television host of Home Plate, a best-selling cookbook author of Home Plate Cooking and The New Low Country, and lead chef for First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, among others.
The theme of the restaurant is “Coastal Soul.” This means applying ingredients, herbs, spices, sauces, cooking methods, devices, and techniques that hail from the coastal soul areas such as Kenya, New Orleans, Colombia, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, and South America.
Ambiance of Asante is simple and elegant. It looks like an upscale restaurant with white tablecloth and attentive service, clean white walls dotted with hand painted art bursting soulful colors.
Mixologist James Brim takes us on a cocktail journey around the world, describing his personally created concessions – Asante Sour with rye, amaro, honey, ginger and merlot drizzle; VertaMae with rice infused vodka, St Germain, wild rice syrup and sparking rose; Derby Marrom with novo fogo aged cachaca, grapefruit and brown sugar soda. Each liquor represents a different national or culture.
The wine list is carefully constructed with wineries that match the theme of the restaurant. Handcrafted wines from a California based family winery Esterlina Vineyards and several selections from Oregan’s Mouton Noir winery are seen on the menu.
We start with one of the Coastal Specialties – Piri Piri Nigerian King Prawns, a dish that chef Marvin tasted in South Africa. He wasn’t able to import the King Prawns (which by the way were 9-10 inches long), but found a way to source them through Nigeria. Two pieces of King Prawns were cooked to perfection, with a sweet and tangy sauce. I also devoured the thinly sliced and lightly salted sweet potato chips. If there is only one dish you eat at Asante, this had to be it!
The server informed me that the Asante Spiced Crispy Okra Matinees Verde took 3 days to prepare as the chefs seasoned and dehydrated the okra till it got dry and crispy. I had to find out what this was about. I love the hearty crunchy texture of a regularly cooked okra, but these reminded me more of okra chips – one you would get in a bag – at the veggie chips sections.
The Maryland Style Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes were exactly just that. All fresh crab and no breadcrumbs – simply melted in my mouth. It was served with a light salad dressed with White Wine Nage.
There were too many enticing options to choose from entrees, and I settled on the Caribbean Seafood Sancocho. The waiter warned me that this would not be identical to the Dominican style seafood stew, but one inspired by global influences. While the broth was dense, it was the buttery fresh monk fish, shrimp, clams and mussels that brought its flavors to the surface. Homemade coco bread was a nice add-on so I could use my fingers and dip into the sauce.
The Dark Chocolate Flourless Cake was presented beautifully and definitely had a distinct dark chocolate bitterness to it. I preferred the comfort of the Warm Bread Pudding with juicy fried Maduros and the sweetness of caramel sauce.
I ended the culinary journey with a glass of port and made a mental list of things from the menu I wanted to try the next time. Until then “ASANTE” [ah SAWN tay] meaning “Thankfulness,” or “Gratitude” in Swahili.