Cooks & Soldiers has been open for a few months now, and I recently tried it for the first time. The bar area of the West Midtown establishment is open and bright, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows that make up the front wall. The main dining area is pretty large, although the tables seemed a bit close to one another. As luck would have it though, we were seated at the beautiful marble private dining table adjacent to the bar.
Cooks & Soldier’s basque-inspired menu is broken down into two main sections: pintxos (small bites) and asador (grilled meat, seafood, and vegetables). The portions are large enough to share, but small enough to leave you wanting more. We may or may not have ordered a second round of one or two of the plates.
Our server provided a really nice (albeit long-winded) overview of the menu, and recommended some of his personal favorites.
We started with two of the pintxos tradicionales, which are essentially duos of toasted bread with various toppings. The first was topped with jam, goat cheese, caramelized figs, a slice of prosciutto, and a drizzle of balsamic. The flavors worked really well together, mostly savory with a hint of sweetness from the jam & figs.
The second was simpler: fresh tomato, prosciutto, and a sprig of cilantro. It was probably the least interesting thing we tasted all night, and could have used a drizzle of olive oil, in my opinion.
Next we moved onto the pintxos especiales, which is where things really started to get tasty. The croquetas de gambas were served fresh out of the fryer over a tangy garlic aioli, with a dash of malt vinegar on the side. The crispy little fritters were comprised of shrimp, roasted corn, peas, and piquillo peppers, for a little pop of heat.
The atun y frutas dish was definitely my favorite. The seared tuna was served with an heirloom tomato medley over a buttermilk crème fraiche. There were also a few interesting cubes of melon gelee. Although the tuna was delicious, the tomatoes were the real star of the dish, and that little drizzle of olive oil really enhanced their flavor. As for the crème fraiche, well, that goes well with anything.
The chistorra in a blanket were, as the name suggests, fancy pigs in a blanket. And they were delicious. The croissants were crispy, flaky, coated in a cider glaze, and dusted with sea salt. The slightly spicy sausage was so tasty with a dip of the sweet and mapley mustard aioli. If only there had been four of them.
The grilled octopus was another seafood delight, although I have to disagree with our server about it being the best in Atlanta (St. Cecilia’s still wins that prize). The octopus was charred and served over a chickpea puree with bits of chorizo and smoked marcona almonds. The textural contrast of the puree, the octopus, and the crunchy almonds was spot on, and the olives added the perfect touch of salt.
The bikini, also known as a grilled cheese, was deliciously savory and cheesy. Layers of white American cheese, prosciutto, and black truffles were oozing out of this sandwich. As an added bonus, the white bread was absolutely drenched in butter (yes – this is a good thing). I will say, though, I was a little confused about the name. I didn’t really want to be anywhere near a bikini after enjoying this decadent bite.
I was pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness of the veal cheek, because it honestly didn’t look that appetizing. The braised veal was tender enough to cut with a fork and had so much flavor. The mashed potatoes were the perfect way to mop up every last bit of sauce.
We couldn’t decide on just one dessert, so we ordered three. Naturally. The chocolate tarte was a no brainer. The rich and decadent Valrhona chocolate sat atop a graham cracker crust and was sprinkled with sea salt. It was accompanied by a corn gelato and a little lump of creamed corn, which I did not understand nor care for at all. Why ruin the chocolate by adding corn? The tarte was absolutely delicious, and the corn remained untouched on the side of the plate, where it shouldn’t have even been in the first place.
The gateau basque was sweet and simple, but I’m not really one for fruit desserts. A layer of pickled strawberry compote sat beneath the slightly-savory almond crème fraiche cake. The cake itself was perfectly cooked – far from dry on the inside with a crispy crust.
The lemon-goat cheese cheesecake was the most beautiful and the tastiest of the three, and it’s not easy to win over a chocolate tarte. I loved the slight tanginess of the goat cheese, and it definitely made for a much lighter and fluffier-than-normal cheesecake. A poached peach slice and a peach granite accompanied the cake, to sweeten up the savory goat cheese.
I have to say, I was extremely impressed with the food, pace of service, and presentation at Cooks & Soldiers. I never felt rushed throughout the dinner and I loved that they served all the dishes on slate boards. I didn’t try one dish all night that I didn’t like, and that’s quite impressive given that we ordered eleven of them. There were only a handful of items on the menu that we didn’t try, and you can bet I’ll be back to order them soon.