Friday, June 29, 2012

Up on the roof at Ecco

Open kitchen at Ecco, Midtown Atlanta. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

On a busy Saturday night in midtown Atlanta, you know it's going to a memorable meal when the chef comes to your table and asks if you'd like to see the rooftop garden. When you look up from your cocktail and say, "why, certainly!" he says, "well, let me go get the ladder and I'll be right back for you."

Ladder to the rooftop garden, Ecco. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Ecco Sous Chef Justin Jordan didn't lead my husband and me along the primrose path, he led us up the ladder, to the roof, around the air-conditioning units and very close to the edge (at least it seemed that way for this slightly phobic ~ hubs would argue that point ~ writer) of the restaurant's roof. On this triple-digits-in-the-shade June afternoon, we savored a view of Midtown's skyscrapers above and the restaurant's valet parking below, with raised garden beds in between.

Chef Justin Jordan at Ecco's rooftop garden. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her books

 Ecco is the kind of restaurant where “source” is a verb, not a noun. As in “we source as much local produce as we can,” according to Chef Justin. With bounteous sunshine and a clever irrigation system, the rooftop garden is part of Ecco's response to the local and farm-to-table commitment. In addition to purchasing organic produce from local farmers, with a little planning, it’s simple enough to just grow vegetables and herbs yourself. After all, what could be more local than the roof of the restaurant?

Chef Justin shelling peas. Lucy Mercer, A Cook and Her Books

The a/c units that I walked around are essential to the garden. Condensation runoff is piped to the beds, so the plants are continually watered, necessary in Atlanta’s drought/deluge weather patterns.
Chef Justin showed us the lush heirloom tomato and chile pepper plants, pea plants, and the summer squash blossoms and fragrant basil, a preview of the meal to come. Before leaving the rooftop, Chef Justin snapped off a peapod and showed me the cowpeas that are nearing maturity. I’ve heard of cowpeas; usually they’re called black-eyed peas or field peas. These, however, look like Holsteins:

Cow peas. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Back downstairs, in the blessedly air-conditioned restaurant, Chef Justin fed us well, beginning with a fried squash blossom drizzled with chile oil. The blossom came adorned with a paper-thin fried basil leaf. (I stuffed pumpkin blossoms last summer and I now what a labor of love these delights can be!)

Fried squash blossom. Ecco. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

We tried the grilled Piri Piri squid served with a fried egg and an olive emulsion. I like the crispy tentacles, where the spice concentrates.

Grilled Piri Piri squid with olive emulsion. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Next up, a dish I could eat all summer long ~ sea trout a la plancha with luscious romesco and a summery salad of green tomatoes, cukes and a snap of mint. A side of local beans, slender haricots verts, blanched and served with shaved torpedo onions, opal basil and dressed with sesame oil is my must-duplicate-at-home selection.

Sea trout a la plancha with romesco. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The beautiful green bean dish...

Local green beans with shaved onion, basil and sesame oil. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

From our table in the middle of the restaurant, we could view the wood-fired pizza oven and Chef Justin presiding over the plates. The action is diverting and reassuring, background buzz for a busy Saturday night.

Chef Justin Jordan @ Ecco, Saturday night. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Ecco is located at 40 7th Street, Atlanta 30308. 404.347.9555.

~ Thanks to Ecco and Chef Justin for a lovely meal and the tour of the rooftop garden. (The meal was comped, but the opinions expressed here are my very own.)

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.


Lynn Coulter said...

Lucy, the food looks delish, and i love the rooftop garden! a tip of the (sun) hat to any gardener who can take care of plants on top of a building in the city. look forward to your next post!

Lucy Mercer said...

Lynn, this rooftop garden would make a terrific post for your Home Depot gardening blog! Thanks for visiting!

Lucy said...

How fun! I love Ecco, haven't been there in a while though. Looks like a yummy dinner.

Lucy Mercer said...

Thanks for visiting, Lucy! Ecco was fabulous ~ I hope you get there soon!