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Wood-grilled swordfish with cipollini onion, hedgehog mushrooms and lemon

An Illuminating Experience

by Wendell Brock | Photo: Austin Holt | The Atlantan magazine | April 23, 2013

On a dusky evening, the patio doors of Seven Lamps are wide open. People outside are sipping libations with names like Fizzy Lifting Drink and Field of Dreams. It is barely spring. But at Seven Lamps—the new restaurant that marries the warmth and vitality of chef Drew Van Leuvan’s ingenious cuisine with the cool, electric chemistry of Beverage Manager Arianne Fielder’s cocktails—it is easy to cut loose.

I know this the minute I smear a decadent streak of crème fraîche across a tart cucumber spear from the plate of pickled nibbles that appears on our table. No boring bread basket here. This may be a fun and exciting restaurant with a late-night vibe, but Van Leuvan wants to whet our appetites with something as time-honored and handmade as grandma’s relish tray. Seven Lamps, tucked in the corner of Shops Around Lenox, doesn’t seem to take itself all that seriously, and, yet, the cooking is rigorous and thoughtful. You can enjoy a long and luxurious dining adventure, where nearly everything—from pasta to cured meats—is crafted from fresh ingredients by Van Leuvan and company. Or you can meet a friend for a quick sip and a few little bites: oysters, savouries, charcuterie or artisan cheeses.

Designed by ASD (Piebar, Bhojanic and Room at TWELVE), the stylish gray and brown room has a casual, Miami-like, indoor-outdoor feeling that invites relaxation. The communal tables, made of rustic old planks, are beautiful. But if sitting with strangers isn’t your thing, look for the pair of intimate two-tops off to one side of the pouring station where Fielder makes magic with bubbles, beer, whiskey and, yes, even Cap’n Crunch. (It’s a “drinkable dessert” using rye that’s infused with the peanut-butter-flavored kiddie cereal.)

Nibbling vinegary young carrots and haricots verts off the pickle plate, we pucker our lips and peruse the creative libations and intelligent menu. My friend starts with The Golden Child, a “beer-tail” of corn whiskey, orange, saffron-infused honey, Boker’s bitters and Terrapin Golden Ale. (An intense and deliciously complex child, I’d say.) A bourbon boy myself, I love the way the Smoke and Mirrors—a heady concoction of Four Roses, red vermouth, cherry liqueur and Memphis Barbeque bitters—rounded out the whiskey with a mellowing sweetness. Fielder previously worked at Southern Art & Bourbon Bar, and she knows her stuff.

Our thirst now quenched with cocktails, we soon divvy up a cute little lobster bun—a steamy, springy, Asian-inspired brioche roll stuffed with lobster meat slathered in tarragon- and celery-infused mayo. I could eat this every day. Known for using a touch of sweetness, even in his savory dishes, Van Leuvan is serving a special of cornmeal-crisped chicken livers with caramelized onions and blueberries. It is an intriguing combination that ultimately works, but I’m not sure I’d make a special trip for it. Sautéed Nantucket Bay scallops, on the other hand, are clever and visually stunning—tender sea morsels cupped in mock shells (thin slices of watermelon radishes) and scattered with sausage, celery shavings, crunchy Marcona almonds and a dab of pea-shoot pesto.

As much as I enjoy these first bites, I am floored by the plates that follow. I’m also delighted that our superb and enthusiastic server, John, paces everything in a way that allows us to soak up the ambiance around us: Van Leuvan, wearing an athletic jersey with a 7 on the back, checking each dish as it comes off the line; the jars and jars of put-ups that line a wall by the kitchen; napkins folded into pockets so that the knife and fork have opposing top and bottom cradles for each utensil; the use of small white bowls instead of appetizer plates.

After taking it all in, we focus on the black linguine tossed with braised rabbit legs, white Bolognese sauce and loads of bread crumbs that have just arrived. I practically crawl inside the bowl. The charred hanger steak is cooked to pink perfection and rigged up with white beans, fava beans, asparagus and pickled Brussels sprouts: exceptional. The wood-roasted pheasant is the best I’ve ever tasted—wonderfully smoky and perfectly matched with grits, turnips and English peas.

We top it off with bites of warm figgy pudding, paired with sticky toffee and Fernet ice cream, and almond-milk panna cotta.

Seven Lamps takes its name from an essay by 19th century critic John Ruskin on the seven virtues of architecture: sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience. That’s pretty heady stuff, and, for those willing to indulge the senses, Seven Lamps is an exciting journey of virtues—from pickles to pudding.

Seven Lamps
3400 Around Lenox Road

Mon.-Thu., 11am-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 11-2am; Sun., 11am-10pm

Appetizers and small plates: $4-$18; pastas and entrees: $10-$29

Who to Bring
This bar and restaurant keeps late hours and caters to a lively crowd, yet the chef brings rigor and craft to his cooking, so bring your foodie friends.

What to Order
Hit the menu section called Salted, Cured & Whipped and pistachio macaroons are spread with housemade mortadella mousse.

What to Wear
Super casual, but, by all means, dress to the nines if you are out on the town.

Where to Park
Abundant and free, in Shops Around Lenox and Lenox Square lots