We recently had an incredibly enjoyable meal at Satterfield's Restaurant in Cahaba Heights, sitting at the chef's counter.
It was fascinating to watch the dance of chef, sous chef, line cooks and the guy whisking away dirty pots and pans in the compact stainless-steel kitchen. We had a great spot, right next to where the food goes out to the dining room. We were afraid it might be a bit warm sitting right up there by the kitchen, but a very clever ventilation system actually makes it one of the most comfortable seats in the house, temperature-wise. Only when someone had the door of the wood-burning grill open to stoke the fire did we get a blast of heat.
Chef Haller Magee and the line chef who was plating entrees in front of us both piped up frequently to answer questions and respond to comments, some of which we just made in conversation between the two of us. There were also a few tastes of this and that -- a spoonful of silky pureed white sweet potatoes, a fried pig's ear crackling succulent with the taste of lard, the tail end off of a stuffed chicken breast "Rockefeller" (which was some of the best-tasting chicken we'd ever had, by the way, and we're not usually big on ordering chicken out.)
Magee, a Mississippi native, is a talented and creative young chef who exudes a down-home enthusiasm along with painstaking attention to detail. We watched as he instructed the line chef on the most attractive way to spoon sauce around an entree, made sure the fresh thyme sprig garnish was standing straight up on another plate, and wiped off any extraneous drips of sauce around the edges of plates before they went out. And when one steak came back overdone, he made it quite clear to the kitchen staff that he expected far better.
Our meal was all delicious. There was roasted cauliflower soup with applewood-smoked bacon bits and herbed truffle oil, which was rich with cream; delicious tender quail (I could have eaten more of the port-poached apple that came with it for dessert); veal tenderloin with crispy fried sweetbreads, the aforementioned white sweet potatoes and braised greens; and "Porkology: A study of Pork," featuring falling-off-the-bone pork osso buco, butternut squash risotto, bacon-brased cabbage, ham hock broth and pig ear cracklings. (Haller told us this was inspired by a visit to Cochon, La., which means "pig" in French.)
Haller also gave us a great wine recommendation (our server, unfortunately, knew very little about the wines and had to go keep asking Kevin Moore, the general manager) -- a very affordable Spanish red, Can Blau, a blend of carignan, syrah and granache from the Montsant area of Spain. Delicious!
For more about Satterfield's, visit their web site at www.satterfieldsrestaurant.com, and if, like us, you're fascinated by how really wonderful food is prepared, make a reservation for the chef's counter.