The general feedback I got from friends and from reading reviews going into my dinner at Atera was that there was a lot of technique on display, but not everything was tasty. After my dinner there a few weeks ago, my verdict is exactly the same.
I liken the experience to paying for IMAX 3D to see an arthouse film. When people pay extra to go see a movie in IMAX 3D, they tend to want to see an entertaining blockbuster. Something that excites and entertains from start to finish Similarly, when people pay top dollar for high end dining, most are looking to be wowed by a meal where they can say, "This is one of the best ::whatever ingredient:: dishes I've ever had!"
Atera, however, is very much like an arthouse film. It's about the chef's unique vision and his journey that he wants to take you on. While they cater to allergies and dietary restrictions, they will not cater to dietary preferences. There's a lot of visual beauty and technique that one can geek out on, but you have to be really into the genre.
Overall, it feels like there is much less of an attempt to connect and relate the vision with the diner than at other high end restaurants around the city. If you're a foodie that can appreciate all that's going on at Atera, you might have a good meal. But if you're saving up to go out for one big delicious, celebratory night out, you could easily walk out of there disappointed and be like, "What just happened?"
I've had tomato ice before, but the grilled flavor really comes through here and makes the dish unique.
FEATURING SUMMER PURSLANE
The dish was well balanced across sweet, sour, nutty, and salty flavors.
The cold herb infusion combined with the buttermilk was light and refreshing. You would think those flavors would highlight the sweetness of the crab, but that wasn't the case here. Perhaps the crab just wasn't that sweet to begin with.
The lamb tartare was quite good. Topped with some lamb fat or oil, it tasted fresh and was not gamey at all.
This came with the tartare to provide a crunchy texture, but I'm much more used to malt flavor in sweets.
The bread was quite good, and the extra salt on the crust was a nice touch.
The butter is brushed with the rind of a cheese, carrying a cheesy richness in its soft texture.
FEATURING ANISE HYSSOP
Not only did these noodles not look like ramen (they look more like udon noodles), I could immediately tell these were squid strips on first bite. I thought this was a complete fail. The dish was neither tasty nor creative nor successful in its attempt to be whimsical.
FEATURING ANISE HYSSOP
Our friend who couldn't have the squid had this instead, which seemed more successful. Atera does very good things with a wide array of vegetables, but seems a bit weaker in coaxing concentrated flavor out of a main protein ingredient.
This was one of the best dishes of the night. The duck heart was amazingly tender while the vegetables and spices filled the range of textural senses and sweet, sour, and bitter tastes in perfect harmony.
One of the more interesting things I found was that the balance in some of these dishes was extraordinary. While Thomas Keller's approach is to leave the diner "wanting one more bite", the approach here resulted in a feeling that every portion was exactly enough. While that is a marvelous feat, it does take away from some of the excitement of keeping the diners on their toes.
One of the best things of the night, just a gut bomb that puts even Momofuku's gut bombs to shame. Especially if you go for the overkill by putting some of that cheesy butter on it.
FEATURING TROUT ROE
This was probably the only dish of the night where I thought, "This is one of the best ::whatever ingredient:: dishes I've ever had!". This was a brilliant preparation of beet, with the smoky charred exterior flavor matching well with the sweet vegetable, creamy crustacean sauce, and the salty roe.
I think I had fish with honey before at WD50, but I wasn't a fan of it either time. I also wasn't a fan of the fish's texture, which was more stringy like bacalao as opposed to something that resembled flesh.
FEATURING GARLIC CHIVE
It is rare to get barbecue sauce in a fine dining meal, but here it was. It wasn't bad, but was a bit overpowering. I thought the best part of the dish was the garlic chive.
FEATURING LOBSTER MUSHROOM
The beef is aged about a month, and everything in the description sounded amazing. And yet, while this tasted good, there was no wow factor. This should have been a wow dish, but ended up underwhelming amid the expectations.
FEATURING SEA ROSE MALLOW
I thought this was too tart for my tastes, but my dining companions thought it was fine. Another example of elaborate preparation, with the rose water frozen and reformed to look like a rose.
Another guessing game where they asked what we thought the fruit was. I got it immediately that it was tomato. It's an interesting combination, as I kept thinking that it tasted good while having it feel weird in my mouth at the same time.
It was nice at this point to have something that was more of a straightforward sweet treat. The bourbon, almond, and vanilla flavors worked well together.
FEATURING WHITE CARDAMOM
This dish to me is the epitome of what I feel is wrong with Atera. I bit into this to discover it had kind of a tough, chewy texture. When I commented out loud about the texture, the server, who's in on the joke, quipped, "Oh I'm sorry, did we give you a stale one?" He then explains that it was not a regular churro as we know it, but rather it was made of salsify through some elaborate process. While that was cool, it was still tough and significantly worse than a real churro. Maybe they were hoping that I'd be sitting there pondering this salsify creation, but the only thing that popped into my mind was "WHY THE FCK WOULD YOU SERVE ME A STALE FCKING CHURRO?"