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NEW TWISTS Smoked Old Fashioned made with rum, orange, bitters and hickory smoke ($13)

Drift Away

by Wendell Brock // Photography by Heidi Geldhauser | The Atlantan magazine | April 5, 2016

The cocktails arrive with a puff of smoke and a poof of fire.

The first one, a riff on a classic Old Fashioned, is made with aged Venezuelan sipping rum and comes to the table with a theatrical flourish: The server removes the lid from a large glass beaker filled with puffs of hickory smoke and sits a beverage before us. Behold, the Smoked Old Fashioned. The next drink, Boxing the Compass, is a tiki-style concoction fueled with two kinds of rum. It is garnished with a little hollowed-out lime that’s half filled with raw sugar doused with vodka. The server clicks a lighter, and the sugar ignites into a blue flame.

For a place that bills itself as a “fish house and oyster bar,” this is a pretty flashy beginning. But that’s not to say that everything is smoke and mirrors at Drift, the new seafood restaurant that chef-owner Doug Turbush has docked at The Avenue East Cobb in Marietta. Joining the Turbush fleet that includes Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar down the road, Drift is a continuation of his noble mandate: to make East Cobb a dining destination as adventurous as anywhere else in town. And judging by the scene (a capacity crowd on a Wednesday night of the first week of business), Bar Manager Jose Pereiro’s fancy drinks and the contemporary cuisine crafted by Turbush and Executive Chef Brendan Keenan, this new addition to the chef-restaurateur’s armada is already going full sail.

Sure, you can find fish and chips, peel-and-eat shrimp and parkerhouse rolls at Drift. But make no mistake: A surf shack this is not. Designed by ai3, it’s a big, 5260-square-foot room with oars hanging from the ceiling, a collection of antique oyster pots, metal “patio” furniture and a seductive bar. To eat, there are dainty lobster rolls; tuna poké; wood-roasted oysters; and fish perked up with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian flavors.

To go along with the aforementioned firewater, we suggest a round (or two) of smoked oysters. No, not the nasty tinned specimens that Aunt Eloise keeps in her cupboard. These lovelies come packed in a little jar with cutely updated oyster-house accouterment. Hot sauce? Check. Saltines? Check (only they are housemade and butter-toasted). Basic cocktail sauce? No check. Instead, you get a ramekin of horseradish-tinged creme fraiche. Add a dollop of this and splash of that to the smoky, ceviche-like brined oysters—and yowza! They are so good, y’all.

As for other appetizers, you can’t go wrong with the bourbon-cured salmon (on benne crackers, with apple, jalapeno, radish and a scattering of herbs), or the baked oysters, topped with a luxurious mound of anchovy-garlic butter, breadcrumbs and Parmesan. The lobster roll is a small but decadent bun-wich filled with chunky lobsta—plus crispy fries on the side. Though an entree, Georges Bank scallops (from that strip of water east of Cape Cod) would make a good plate for sharing. Impeccably cooked and caramelized, the shellfish are dressed up with apple soubise, celery-root salad and brown-butter vinaigrette—though they need almost nothing.

Among the main courses, we were quite smitten with the branzino. The delicate fish was wood-grilled, perfectly fileted and plated with the herby Moroccan sauce known as charmoula and a springy fresh salad of seven herbs (mint, parsley, basil, opal basil, parsley, cilantro, dill and fennel fronds). The Drift team knows that superfresh fish needs little or no help, and this preparation was a smart way of enhancing—and not overpowering—the pristine catch. Block Island (Rhode Island) swordfish was a little more ambitious and rich: a burger-shaped hunk schmeared with anchovy-garlic butter, topped with snips of mint and basil, and plated with a delightful sweet-savory caponata (Japanese eggplant, currants, fire-roasted peppers, pearl onions, balsamic, olive oil and herbs.) Very nice, captain.

So what do you eat after a seafood feast? Here, Pastry Chef Addison Dudek comes up with a clever response—keeping it light with French silk pie, pineapple upside-down cake and a very pretty Key lime tart. A lovely take on the standard, this sweet-tart citrusy wonder was topped with perfect pillows of meringue, fresh raspberries and a bit of sauce made from the same fruit. Well done, skipper.

And, so, here we are—“Drift”-ing away on a cloud of smoky cocktails, sampling from a menu anchored in the past but gently gliding into the light of the present. Who says you can’t have great seafood in landlocked Atlanta? With nods to New Orleans; Charleston, S.C.; New England; and other places both exotic and familiar, Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar takes us on a spirited, around-the-globe adventure, ultimately arriving at a place all its own. You’ll want to make it your business to be on board.

DRIFT FISH HOUSE & OYSTER BAR
4475 Roswell Road at The Avenue, East Cobb, 770.635.7641

Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm

Starters, $8-$15; Entrees, $13-$28; Dessert, $4-$8

Drink It All In
Sommelier Jason Raymond also heads up the wine program at owner Doug Turbush’s Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar. At Drift, Raymond stocks a nice selection of Old World and California whites, reds, rosés and bubbles—with an occasional excursion to Mendoza, Argentina. Beers are appropriately on the lighter side, with selections from Wild Heaven, Three Taverns, Second Self, Creature Comforts, Orpheus and other local craft breweries. Mixology wizard Joe Pereiro has devised 15 wildly creative craft cocktails, from the light and refreshing Catch & Release (Benedictine, sparkling wine, passion fruit and lemon, $9) to the whiskey-based Brooklyn (Four Roses, Amaro del Sole, Luxardo maraschino and sweet vermouth, $12). If you are in the mood for a booze cruise, he’s got you covered. This Venezuelan native pours with a strong hand.