Alpharetta Neighbor Review by Joan Durbin


Thanks to Joan Durbin for reviewing Bite in the Alpharetta Neighbor.
You know how sometimes things seem too good to be true? That was my initial fear about Bite.

After a lunch there last week, I was euphoric. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a meal in which I couldn’t find something I wasn’t altogether pleased with.

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But what we’d eaten at Bite had been flawless. Was it a fluke? Could this tiny, newly opened café truly be as exceptional as it seemed?

As a test, we ordered some take-out. Surely when we got around to consuming the food hours later, it would disappoint.

It didn’t. It was almost as good as if it had been fresh from Bite’s kitchen. I began to believe that Bite’s chef and owner, Leif Johnson, and his sous chef Jason Morgan might really have their act together.

Another visit confirmed it. Johnson and Morgan scored points across the board in taste, presentation and creativity. The plated dishes were visually delightful, the flavors bold and enticing and the culinary choices made in composing dishes were intriguing.

Take the red chile pork taco. I’ve had many good pork tacos in my day and thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. There are many, many layers of unexpected flavors to this dish.

First, Johnson rubs a pork shoulder with ingredients like ancho, smoked paprika and cumin. He then smokes it for 12 hours, bathes it in house-made mole sauce and adds a dab of his apple and tomato barbecue sauce.

In assembling the taco, Johnson uses goat cheese rather than a more traditional Mexican variety. The slight sourness of the tangy, creamy cheese and the mild zing of pickled jalapeno slaw complemented the pork perfectly. It is totally delicious.

The creative spin on the traditional “kind of encapsulates what I’m trying to do here,” the 35-year-old chef said. “I want to offer thoughtful food constructed by people who have informed ideas on how they want food to taste, using progressive seasonings and layered flavors.”

His fish tacos are also worth noting. Johnson said he uses only quality fish such as grouper, sea bass or mahi mahi. On the day we ordered them, it was fresh grouper, paired mango salsa and the aforementioned jalapeno slaw. They’re a worthy example of the genre.

My culinary informant, Deep Stomach, had sung the praises of Bite’s lobster roll here, and he was absolutely correct. It’s chock full of chunks of freshly cooked, sweet and tender crustacean, held together with just a kiss of mayo and seasoned with tarragon, celery, chives, parsley and lemon.

The soup of the day was peach gazpacho. The chilled soup was a silky smooth blend of fresh peaches and tomatoes spiked with shallots and tarragon. Texture came from some small bits of peach and a light, crunchy hunk of toasted ciabatta. Drizzled with balsamic syrup, this refreshing soup was packed with flavor.

Menus always make flatbreads sound good to me, but when I get them they are usually lackluster. Not here. We loved the fig and prosciutto with mascarpone cheese, arugula and a dash of balsamic, which mingled for a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The lightly crisp flatbread had a snap but didn’t crumble when bitten, nicely supporting the rich melted cheese.

Johnson has one of the most unique takes on the classic pimiento cheese I’ve come across. He smokes white cheddar cheese for the mixture, which imparts a subtle depth of flavor to the otherwise simple ingredients. Rather than pimientos, he mixes in minced peppadew peppers for a little more pizzazz.

But there’s more. He layers the pimiento cheese in a sandwich with honey glazed ham and house-cured bacon, tomato and lettuce on sourdough bread. This spiffed-up version of a down-home comfort food could quickly become addictive.

Speaking of addiction, don’t try the street corn unless you want to be in total thrall to this insanely delicious item. It’s a section of grilled sweet corn rolled in lime aioli and cotija, which is the Mexican version of Parmesan cheese, then judiciously sprinkled with ancho chile.

Johnson moved to the metro area from California, where he was hospitality director and executive chef for the winery that produces Toasted Head wines.

He has built a very successful catering business, but wanted the challenge of his own restaurant. Open just a month, for lunch only, Bite begins dinner service this weekend.

Though he is still in the process of obtaining a pouring license, Johnson already is talking about expanding into the space next door to install more tables and a full bar.

Let’s hope that enough enthusiastic diners discover him and his kitchen wizardry to make his dream a reality.

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