Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
700 Drayton Restaurant
Savannah, GA
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Wraith6, dieFledermaus

This place is located in a building which can fool you into thinking it might've been built in the late 19th century. The fortress-looking building takes up most of one side of Forsyth Park, which is the largest and most away from the river of the many "squares" which make up Savannah. This is an old town, and its usually hot and humid here, so it's not a bad thing to have open air pockets throughout the city. This is a town where houses were built with "sleeping porches" for those days when it was simply too hot to sleep inside.

It's also considered one of the capitals of the "Old South" (the other being Charleston, SC; Atlanta is apparently the capital of the "New South"), and there is still plenty of evidence of that. If you go to the Savannah River, there are many remnants of the wharf culture from the days when cotton was king, lots of warehouses, cobbles, etc. And if you take time to walk around the 14 or so squares, you'll see houses so grand that you cannot imagine how the original owners could have ever afforded to build them. And then there are the really big mansions!

"The Mansion at Forsyth Park" is a hotel owned by the Kessler Collection, and was built to sort of blend into its environment, though it looks more like a rather forbidding and defensible terracotta castle than the traditional mansions found in this town. It's deliberately a low building rather than a skyscraper (which may not even be allowed in Savannah, after all), with many touches of "elegance" inside and out. They try hard to balance between opulence and elegance, and generally succeed. It is a little different in that now and again, they go for something "New York" or "Elay," which is a little jarring. But it all certainly does look expensive. "The Mansion" also houses a swanky looking art gallery, too.

The house restaurant is called 700 Drayton, which is the street address of the hotel. We had heard reviews of this place, which were frankly mixed-to-negative. Now, we understand, this is the Old South, and one may wish for things to be a fantasy mix of luxury and opulence. It would be justified to serve swanky food at the restaurant in either Old or New Southern manners.

What they do instead is actually very curious and does not pay homage to any of Savannah's traditions. The ballroom is called "the Vienna Room," and the chef specializes in Austrian dishes. Not to knock the Austrians — who after all did push opulence to rarified heights during their stint as an Empire — but Austria and its various imperial remnants are not exactly lauded for their food. Maybe their desserts (if you ever see the word "schlaug" in the name of any dish, it means gobs and gobs of whipped cream) perhaps ... but not their food. Okay, we like spaetzel ... but given a choice between boiled pasta-like dumplings which are then panfried, or some other carbohydrate, the choice is usually clear.

"The Vienna Room" feels rather retro in a way, though we doubt they intended it to be. I think they hoped it was swank in an Old World sense? Table settings are rather over the top, though we doubt any "European sensibilites" ever came to play here, but it was meant to evoke both the Vienna woods and the opulence of the Austrian-Hungarian palaces. There were a lot of gilded branch-like sculptures, heavy metallic treatments, and many, many candles.

Some of you will recall that some of the Hutties ended up loving an Austrian-born and trained chef Daniel Angerer (formerly of "fresh.," and Wolfgang Puck is no slouch either. So maybe this chef has equally successful Austrian karma?

We were part of a large group, as part of a "catered" event. This should have been easy for the kitchen, since that means they knew how many of each thing to serve, when to serve it, etc. Of course, sometimes one suffers a bit of mediocrity when one is being fed en masse, but we figured that this is the type of place which should be able to handle it.

The dinner started out in the pool courtyard with huge shrimp and other cold appetizers laid out on a tiered block of ice. There were also passed hors d'oeuvres. The food that they didn't have to do much to was very, very good — the poached, shelled shrimp was delicious, even without cocktail sauce. The ceviche seemed to be mis-spiced, and the passed hors d'oeuvres were bland and frankly kind of icky. We took some every time the servers went past because they had to get rid of the food ... and we liked talking to them. The servers were very nice and very efficient, even if the food was haphazard.

Alas, dinner in the formal dining room, was worse. The food was served too cold, too bland, undercooked, and in one case, they RAN OUT of a course and scrambled to make one remaining portion into three! That's really unexcusable. Not that the people who didn't get full servings were missing anythings: the soup was tasteless and was so cold that that the dollop of cream to be placed in the center just congealed and floated around the very green liquid.

And the food was "Austrianesque" in not-good ways, in that it was heavy and starchy. Rack of lamb was served so undercooked that it couldn't be cut. This was not so for everyone — some of us got it perfectly cooked. The side dishes were pretty good, however: spaetzel, red cabbage, spaghetti squash. We wish there were more — that skimpy plate shown in the photograph was the portion available from the "family style" platters.

A different wine was served at every course, and if you didn't finish your wine, they took it away, even if you LIKED the wine a lot. This was practical, maybe, but annoying. Nothing else was offered to drink, so if you're not a wine drinker, you needed to ask for water.

There were swanky touches like a sorbet between the cold soup course and the skimpy main course. And dessert was what is commonly referred to in the wedding industry as a "Viennese dessert table," which is kind of like a dessert buffet. There were different parfaits, chocolates, cakes, cookies ... and the problem with dessert buffets is that all sweets taste the same when presented this way.

It was a shame, because a lot of effort went into the display. A friend had warned us that the chef here is largely into display over flavor and is a perpetual show-off. Even celebrity chef Bobby Flay and his wife were reported to have whispered to one another, "Where's the South?" when they were given this old-time European fare. Nothing was written about Flay's experience at this restaurant in an article which actually extolled the greatness of Savannah, so we have to assume there was nothing good, either. It's a pity — there is no reason the food should not have been exquisite, even in its mediocrity!

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