Fantastical painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1563
In This IssueWHAT'S NEW IN ATLANTA? by John Mariani and Suzanne Wright
NEW YORK CORNER: Piano Due by John Mariani
by John Mariani and Suzanne Wright
Like any big city its size, Atlanta is always seeing the coming and going of new restaurants trying to capitalize on a young, affluent crowd eager to find the next big thing. Here are two reports on where you may find them.
Globe (75 Fifth Street NW; 404-541-1487; www.globeatlanta.com) is one of those rare restaurants whose ambitions fall short of its very high quality. Here is a smart, handsome, sleek restaurant, with tall ceilings, gauze curtains, a terrific zinc bar, Formica tables, and colorful shelves full of green San Pellegrino bottles, that seems to have achieved exactly what owner Govantez Lowndes wanted—a casual place for the local crowd with a menu of easy items well made. All of which is wholly commendable.
The problem is that Chef Joshua Laban Perkins cooks at such a high level of excellence that I would like to see a more sophisticated menu of dishes I suspect would be among the best in Atlanta. Indeed, you might well be persuaded by the simple one-page menu of starters, “main plates,” sandwiches, and desserts that Globe is an attempt to compete with the city’s famous and still very popular Buckhead Diner for primo prole food honors. And it does. I just have a strong feeling that Perkins is capable of much, much more. And the wine list needs a whole lot of improvement.
Nevertheless, taken on its own terms, The Globe is impressive from start to finish. I began with a truly fine chilled gazpacho—not the watery kind with chunks of raw vegetables floating around but a real broth of tomato and pureed vegetables with the sprightly addition of a scoop of green apple sorbet. White Gulf shrimp cakes with corn were quickly sautéed to stay juicy inside and marvelously crisp outside, served with a mango salsa. Very tasty indeed was a finger food item of chorizo croquettes given the bright taste of sage. “Belgian fries” came in a cone, and, while the potatoes themselves had flavor, they lacked the requisite crispness.
For main courses I was amazed by the simple but direct savoriness of a plate of spaghettini dressed with crispy pancetta, red onion, and tomatoes, one of those dishes that remind you of what a delicate balance of impeccable ingredients you need to bring off the simple goodness of an Italian pasta.
As someone who has scallops served to him relentlessly, I applauded The Globe’s rendition—sliced sea scallops cooked just to translucence on the inside, with arugula, dried berries, and a syrupy balsamic caramel. Herbaceous, slow-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted garlic sauce could not have been better.
When desserts came, everyone at my table dove in, for the food looked, and tasted, irresistible, from a very southern strawberry shortcake with as much fresh-from-the-oven and fresh berries aroma as it had perfect texture. A mixed berry cobbler was warm and gooey delicious, and rum-glazed pineapple upside down cake with vanilla ice cream was scrumptious in the way the best southern desserts can be at their best.
The Globe is aiming at a certain mid-level of casual dining, which it does with enormous panache. I hope that they will aim even higher, perhaps at dinner, put tablecloths on the Formica, improve the wine list, and let Perkins really fly. The guy shows great talent.
Prices for starters run from $4 to $7, sandwiches $7 to $8, and main plates $12-$19.
Often overlooked in the shadow of glory garnered by the Ritz-Carlton Dining Room in Buckhead, the downtown Ritz’s Atlanta Grill (181 Peachtree Street; 404-221-6550. click here) does not aim for the culinary sublime but neither is it typical of the kind of all-day, three-meal restaurants so many hotel restaurants are forced to maintain. For while there is a definite dinnertime nod to the steak-and-potatoes crowd, Chef de cuisine Jean-Luc Mongodin and exec chef Eric Damidot are doing some really marvelous dishes that fall outside the mainstream here.
The room itself has a clubbish feel, with big wide booths, lots of fine wood accents, even an intimate “Cheater’s Room,” curtained off in the tradition of those days under Prohibition when Atlantans could only get a drink in a sequestered space in a restaurant’s premises. There are also exceptionally fine murals of people dining out, by California artists.
The service at the AG could hardly be more southern in its hospitality, from your first greeting by the hostess to your reception at the table by a young waitress. (If you think you’re seeing double, one hostess and one waitress are twins.)
The wine list is pretty fair, and lunch pricing constitutes a real bargain, with a two-course “Corporate Lunch” available at $18 or $23, with a wide choice of items, from excellent she-crab soup to a lobster club sandwich. At dinner things get pricier, with appetizers from $8-$21 (for foie gras terrine with poached apple) and main courses from $27-$42. The beef is certified Black Angus, with a filet at $36 and a NY strip at $37.
A simple but delicious Atlanta Grill salad was a good portion of greens with Maytag blue cheese, spiced pecans and grapes, and tuna tartare made for a fine starter, couched on thin slices of dressed cucumber. A Thai shrimp soup was thin and needed spark.
Very juicy chicken breast came with BBQ roast potatoes and a very fine reduction of pan juices, though a filet mignon (8 ounces) had a faintly liverish flavor. Best of all the entrees I tried was a “catch of the day”—a superb piece of red snapper filet of marvelous succulence, served with delightful fresh chanterelles and peas, again in a Port wine reduction that spoke volumes about French precision.
Desserts offer a “southern dessert sampler” I urge you to try, which might include bread pudding, crème brûlée with blueberries, a lovely little baba au rhum, and chocolate items, all worth a bite or two, or three.
The long-awaited Quinones (1198 Howell Mill Road; 404-365-0140), from Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, who gave Atlanta the truly superb Bacchanalia, have tried to go upscale in a frippity way with a multi-course menu concept that might be amusing were it not for the dreary, low-lighted ambiance of the place, which is located in an odd, industrial-looking courtyard site where Bacchanalia has long been. Named after a dear, departed friend who'd worked at Bacchanalia, Quinones has just 38 seats within a very formal brown dining room (left) of Venetian glass chandeliers and sconces, antique mirrors, and wood paneling--which is in total contrast to the light airiness of Bacchanalia, with its lovely sheer curtains and bright modern art.
There is no à la carte menu at Quinones, whose chef de cuisine, Drew Belline, offers only lengthy tasting menus at $75-$95, depending on the ingredients of the season, with wines, $120-$160. You will be served at least 10 courses, not counting amuse gueules like a tempura-fried white anchovy or a demi-tasse of tomato soup. What followed for me when I dined there in mid-summer was an array of very finely tuned dishes, from superb cured wild Yukon salmon with local pickling cucumbers and dill, to very well-rendered seared foie gras with eggplant and Tupelo honey. There was also a delicious herb custard with summer truffle butter, and my favorite dish of the evening, loup de mer with heirloom squash and its blossoms. An Alaskan King crab salad with summer beans was pleasing if not right for mid-way through the meal, and roast leg of lamb with chanterelles was a bit dry and came tepid to the table that evening.
There was also a cheese course composed of teeny cubes and a tomato-grape salad with basil that overpowered them. The two desserts that followed--roasted peach with chamomile ice cream and local blackberries with crème fraîche blancmange showed beautifully, finishing off with cinnamon basil truffles, which did not: Basil may be minty, but it's not mint. .
My applause for much of the food at Quinones was tempered by the atmosphere, which was tellingly quiet and lifeless, with certain pretensions of service that always seem a part of a lengthy tasting menu where everything seems to require a lengthy description by the waiter. If they brightened the place and perhaps changed the banquet-room style of decor (those chairs have to go!), I think that Quinones would take its place among the most exciting culinary experiences in Atlanta right now.
Prices run from $4-12.
You gotta love the slogan of Taurus (
Taurus is located above the
The wine list has 90 bottles in price tiers of $26, $36, $46, and 30 wittily named cocktails. Sadly, my favorite gin was not available, nor was my next favorite, so I settled for Beefeater. Disappointingly, I had to send the martini back—it lacked a steely edge. Things improved when we asked for wine pairings with our meal, but a couple of choices were still a bit off for my taste buds. Let’s just call the bar young and hope for some tweaking from the sommelier in the months ahead.
The food, however, was close to impeccable, including the perfect pretzel bread before the culinary parade began. We sampled the oak-roasted veal rack served on African squash, a veg that turned up again in a velvety soup with roasted apples, peekytoe crab and a hint of nutmeg. Crispy quail came with apple jam, while steak tartare was punctuated with capers and G-1 sauce (Mennie’s answer to A-1) and a rich cauliflower gratin. Grilled lamb t-bones were accented with bacon, and superb, briny oysters were prepared two ways--à la Rockefeller and in an onion mignonette.
Prices run from $4 appetizers to $28 for entrees.
Hugging Kevin Rathbun is like snuggling into a mountain; I like it. In addition to giving great hugs, Rathbun gives great food. Krog Bar (112 Krog Street; 404-524-1618; www.krogbar.com), opened in late September with his partners Cliff Bramble and Kirk Parks, the g-m and pastry chef, respectively, only makes me like him more.
Adjacent to his smash-hit Rathbun’s (one of Esquire’s top new restaurants for 2004), the snug Krog Bar features a menu of Mediterranean-style cold small plates and communal dining. Tapas, sadly, is a term that has been bastardized in the
The compact menu (which Rathbun plans to expand by 10 or so items over the next month or two) features antipasti, crudi, carne, tramezzini (crustless finger sandwiches) and cheeses; the vino is from
Rathbun took time—and a recent tour of the three-state region he is paying homage to—sourcing and buying top-notch ingredients he respects, teasing out their authenticity with minimum tinkering. A fat Serrano ham perched on the bar (my pal calls it the “ham clamp”) is the restaurant’s perky pink mascot, waiting to yield satiny slices. A new discovery for me is lomo, paprika-cured pork loin, in gossamer thin rounds dribbled with good olive oil to amp up the pronounced seasoning. The couple at the end of the table (both in the food business) offered us translucent slices of mojama, sea salt cured tuna.
What follows is a parade of excellent dishes, with not a false note in the bunch: silky chicken liver-truffle pâté served with springy bread (Conde de Valdemar, a rioja reserve stands up to the rich flavor); bright basil pesto and tetilla sandwiches cut into dainty quarters; idiazabal cheese, a lightly smoked, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese and cabrales blue; meaty yellow tail crudo with piquillo peppers; fennel with sun-dried tomato; and perfect boquerones, white anchovy filets kissed with lemon. Gelati are created daily, but we opted for the dark chocolate bruschetta with its sprinkle of sea salt and a leathery Bellum Monastrell Dulce “stickie” for dessert.
It was a blissfully simple, satisfying meal—and I left with the phone number of new friends, which is exactly the environment Rathbun wanted to create with this intimate neighborhood eatery. With food this true and this affordable, I see myself as a regular.
I've heard a lot of kvetching about the interiors at Table 1280 (
The generous space is divided into a lounge serving tapas (what else?) and two dining rooms on either side of the open kitchen. The space is largely comprised of white, high-ceilinged walls, undecorated except for mirrored discs that remind me of shiny hubcaps of yesteryear and a horizontal lighting fixture (left) that spans the length of one long wall and evokes Pez candy memories (neither of the artists mentions either of these objects as inspiration) and wine bottles encased in glass. The wait staff wears slate gray with red accents that coordinate with the seating upholstery. The tables are frosted acrylic, the floors are polished wood and the noise level rises as the room fills. It’s all high-concept, but though some have termed it austere, I find it wholly appropriate, given the setting. I am happy we finally have a dining option for the city’s preeminent cultural facility—and even happier to report it stellar, for such a striking setting requires equally assured food.
Chef Sean Doty, who sold his Mid-City Cuisine, has assembled a fine, well-edited menu that offers enough contemporary culinary conceits (foams, artisan products) without edging into pretentiousness. The daily menu offers eight or so starters and mains with a couple of sides. We let Doty choreograph our meal (there’s also a $28 prix fixe pre-theater dinner) and we were mightily pleased with the results.
The lineup included an autumnal squash soup with chestnut foam and pumpkin seed oil, the vegetal creaminess of the squash subtle and satisfying, but not filling; Maine razor clams with fired garlic, beautifully presented in their slender shell; snails with soft poached egg and fried parsley, crisp and succulent—the comfort food your mother never made; poached lobster nesting on a dice of creamed porcini mushrooms, the earthiness of the seafood beautifully matched with the woody fungi; garnet-hued blue fin tuna with salsa verde and tapenade; roasted foie gras with poached sickle pear and orange cumin sauce, a brilliant interplay of lingering, rich notes; pork chop with acorn squash and cranberries, just a tad tough in some spots; artisanal cheeses with raisin brioche; the tart tease of Meyer lemon bar with 40 miniature toasted meringue peaks and warm sugar donuts with three sauces (I’d like to see a very bitter chocolate variety offered).
The artistry doesn’t come too cheap--appetizers run $9-$16, main courses $18-$34--but like a fine symphony, every note is perfectly tuned at Table 1280. Bravo.
Piebar (2160 Monroe Drive, Atlanta, 30324; 404-815-1605; www.piebar.com; lunch and dinner) is the latest offering from restaurant impresario Bob Amick and partner Todd Rushing, the team behind One Midtown Kitchen, Two Urban Licks, and the forthcoming Trois (got the naming trend?), who seem to have an unfailing knack for reading the city’s fickle culinary pulse. The gimmick here? It’s in an ultra-cool circular building and nothing on the extensive menu tops $14. Melissa Fedroko, formerly of the Cloister at Sea Island, is chef.
Located in an abandoned 1962 bank building visible from I-85, the structure was on the 2003 list of endangered building compiled by Atlanta Preservation Center. The fabulous (and I mean that in the positive, exclamatory way that interior decorators use the term) design compliments the mid-century modern building. A 50-foot sign catches the eyes of interstate commuters; inside there are white chairs with blue seats and black stone bar, and outdoor rooftop seating under Denver airport-like blue tensile “teats” (my description, not in the official press release.) Originally, the pod-shaped landing was designed to cover the teller’s drive-through windows. Now, you can cruise the drive-through for a pizza and bottle of wine to go.
Amick’s eateries are happenings that attract well-garbed modsters, from single Sex and the City-type gals on the prowl (distinguished by low-cut tops in bright shades and matching purses and shoes) and the middle-aged, khaki-clad men who chase them (note to said men: kneecaps are not appropriate in fine dining establishments; keep your khakis full length unless you are at a backyard barbecue) to Georgia Tech students and the gamut of humanity in-between. Need I mention that the city’s gay population looked the most effortless? I thought it was odd that the Braves were on the plasma TV; in fact, I thought a TV was unnecessary, given that the place was packed and wicked loud, sound reverberating off the curved walls. Kudos to an observant manager who, noting my companion had left his chair to join me on the banquette so we could converse, swiftly moved our table from the vertical to horizontal position.
There are washcloths for napkins and drinks are served in plastic glasses. Wines are value-priced (all reds go for $7 a glass/$28 bottle; whites for $5/20). We each ordered a suntini, rather like a Long Island iced tea with a refreshing spike of basil, a ideal drink to counteract the dog days of Hotlanta’s summer. The waiter apologized that there were no limes to garnish our drinks—they had run out (there’s a 600- seat capacity).
The menu is described as “sun food,” from the warm climate regions of Mediterranean: pizzas, antipasti, crudi and “micro” plates for sharing. Piebar boasts the largest pizza oven in Southeast, evident the July night I visited, since the place was roasting (they have since boosted the AC output). You can build your own thin crust pie with offbeat ingredients like caviar or quails eggs, or stick with a ready-made pizza. I ordered the wild mushroom, goat cheese, onion and white truffle pie and thought it tasted . . . well, like paste. Far superior was the sausage, tomato and fennel pollen pie. The duck confit, balsamic onion, blue cheese and grape pie had one too many ingredients (the grapes pushed it over the edge for me), but otherwise I liked the melding of the flavors, and the crust was crispy without being burned. At these prices you can risk the occasional misstep without breaking the bank.
Almost opalescent, the sea scallops with citrus, olive oil and sea salt was ceviche-like and brackishly good. Stuffed clams with chorizo, green apple and parmesan served in their shells were presented on uncooked yellow grits served on a silver tray. In addition to looking gorgeous, the flavors were well-balanced, with nothing predominating. The antipasti tray was a bit of a let down (the mozzarella bland, the bresaola not pronounced enough) but the “accessories” (the menu term) such as the warm honey eggplant and cold, pickled saffron cauliflower were inspired. All are served atop granite stands that are like statuary—and whisked away rather too quickly (is there a shortage of them?).
For dessert, there’s a choice of housemade gelati such as olive oil black pepper, coffee cardamom or Nutella lollipop made by pastry chef Jennifer Atchison (who has since returned to Buckhead Life Group’s Pricci, to work her wonders on the dessert menu). We opted for a peppermint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich, which had real mint flavor and a sugary chocolate crust. Yum.
Prices at Piebar run from $4-$14.
Since it opened in 2002, what’s new about Woodfire Grill (
Although you can order off the main menu, which changes daily based with what inspires chef-owner Michael Tuohy, the Café has its own tightly focused menu of light fare such as house-cured and artisan salami and meats, olives, panini, soups, pizzas, salads and burgers. I sampled the cheese plate of some unusual American varieties: Great Hill Blue, a dry and crumbly cow’s milk from
I’ll know next time to order the "Painted Hills burger" rare next time; I asked for medium, and dryness leached some of the flavor from it. But pommes frites were unimpeachable and the accompanying pickles were a revelation, spiked with cinnamon and star anise.
A peach-colored Basque tuna salad with roasted potatoes and capers was like a fresh breeze off the ocean, and I could smell the Margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil and garlic before it appeared on the table, its crust well balanced, salty and chewy, and not too thick.
Upside-down peach cake in a balsamic reduction served with lavender ice cream had an expected grilled flavor that enriched the fruit without the cloying sweetness. I capped the meal off with an ice-cold limoncello from
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
151 West 51st Street
For years now the two-level space that once housed the revolutionary Italian ristorante Palio has been vacant, including the downstairs bar with its spectacular 1985 mural of Siena's Palio horse race by Sandro Chia (left). Happily that is no longer the case, and the refreshed mural has never looked better. Upstairs Piano Due ("second floor") has opened under Chef-owner Michael Cetrulo, whose work I was very impressed by when he took over the old Bouley space in TriBeCa in 2000 and refitted it as Scalini Fedeli, whose polished, vaulted ceilings are repeated as a motif here in midtown (in the same building as Le Bernardin and Café Americain). Still, Piano Due's dining room color scheme lacks the warmth of Scalini Fedeli and the high sophistication of Palio. The colors here are pale--gray and beige, with some welcome touches of deep red. Nevertheless, it is a 100-seat dining room (below) with generous space between tables, lovely banquettes, and a very fine service eager to make you a regular, whether you're on business at lunch or in for a leisurely dinner.
You can always tell when a chef cooks with passion and personality, for while there are many classic Italian dishes on the menu, each gets the Cetrullo treatment, while others are wholly new renderings of modern Italian ideas sprung wholly from his talent for balancing flavors and textures with just enough spark to make them memorable.
Ecuadorian shrimp are grilled with fresh rosemary, with a tomato-white bean sauce over bright green, bitter-salty escarole, then sweetened with pignoli and raisins. Brioche pastry is layered with smoked salmon and buffalo mozzarella in a roasted red pepper sauce.
Italian restaurants always shine brightest with their pastas, and Piano Due is no exception, especially with dishes like risotto alla pescatora that provides the right equilibrium between tender, spiced Italian rice and shellfish. So, too, the heartiness of a wild game ragù cooked with barolo wine is toned down with a little cream as the sauce for fresh pappardelle. Torsione alla bolognese is pasta with braised veal shank with its marrow, zested up with orange, lemon, and the enrichment of mascarpone--a heavy but sublime dish.
Fat langoustines might have had fewer items accompanying them, from a mustard-basil broth over glazed figs with buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto, and there is a tendency to pile on side dishes and condiments. But usually the whole plate works in texture and balance. Thus, Colorado lamb chops come over farro with onions, pancetta, tomato, and sweet frutta di
There is no stinting on the desserts, which are all imaginatively conceived, from a praline of Gianduja and crispy meringue topped with white chocolate mousse to a caramelized peach torta on phyllo with almond cream and amaretto gelato. For those who cannot bear an Italian meal without cheesecake, Piano Due does one with both Italian and American cream cheese, baked with a ginger-almond crust and served with blood orange sorbet.
Piano Due's list is a strong one, with sufficient bottlings below $50 of good quality to ease the budget.
Prices for antipasti run $11-$16, pastas a very reasonable $15-$18, and main courses $26-$38. The restaurant is open for lunch (Mon.-Fri.) and dinner, closed Sunday.
FOOD WRITING 101: EARLY JOAN DIDION DIVISION
"Foam green and jagged, the Wiltern building on the corner of Western and Wilshire looks like a block of crystallized magma that has erupted from the sea. Even though its office tower is only 12 stories, the 74-year-old building has an epic scale. Like Bullocks Wilshire to the east, the Wiltern is a reminder of Wilshire Boulevard's early days, when it surged with a neon rush, ran for miles through open country, and finally established that the unfenced West could also be urban. Today the sight of these buildings conjures Los Angeles at its most romantic. Juxtaposed with the soulless, airtight structures that followed, they suggest the frosted-glass door, the chipped gold-stenciled investigator's name, the heavy black rotary phone ringing with the breathless clue. Their art promontoires and weathered capstones transport us to a city of fedora and pumps. One glimpse and you're in two eras at once."--Opening paragraph of a review of Opus Restaurant in "Mid City Modern" by Patrick Kuh, Los Angeles Magazine (July 2005).
WHY THERE'LL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND
London's The National Trust launched a campaign on Thursday to find the country's ugliest vegetable. Gardeners were encouraged to submit anything "from two legged carrots to corkscrew runner beans, which often taste great but are rejected because of their looks." The Trust, which looks after many of the country's historic gardens, said it hoped the campaign would counter a trend among retailers for stocking perfect-looking fruit and veg, regardless of its taste. Entrants have nearly a year to produce something ugly.
* From Nov. 11-13 the Hotel Bel-Air in
* Washington DC Chef José Andrés will hold three special dinners to celebrate the publication of his new cookbook, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, at all three Jaleo locations: Nov. 10 at
* On Nov. 15 NYC’s Fleur de Sel celebrates its 5th anniversary with a 6 course Anniversary Dinner by Chef/Owner Cyril Renaud. with 50% of the proceeds donated to the
* From November 16-20, Poggio in
* On Nov. 16 U. of
* On Nov. 18 & 19 in
* On Nov. 19 Chillingsworth in Brewster, Mass, will celebrate the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau, with dinner and the wines of Georges DuBouef. $105 pp.
* On Nov. 19 & 20 in Woodinville, WA, Woodinville Women and Wine and Willows Lodge present “Girlfriends’ Weekend,” a celebration of food, champagne and holiday spirit, incl. a reception, seminars on creating festive decorations for the home and a holiday luncheon, a 6-course dinner with enjoy Boizel Champagnes prepared by Barking Frog executive chef Bobby Moore. Sunday morning, Christina Longo, pastry chef at the Barking Frog, will present holiday chocolates and desserts. Call 425-424-3900 or visit www.willowslodge.com. From $340 pp.
* On Nov. 19
* The Hilton Head Marriott Beach & Golf Resort’s offers a “Dine Around” Package, from only $169 per room, per night, incl. dinner at one of seven of the finest island restaurants, incl. Antonio’s, Frankie Bones, Boathouse II, Harbourmaster’s Ocean Grill, CQ’s, Marley’s and Old Fort Pub. Call 843-686-8400, or visit www.HiltonHeadMarriott.com.
* From Nov. 19-20 a “Parent and Child Cooking Class” will be held at Sofitel New York, with Master Pastry Chef Vincent Mary from the world-renowned
* From Nov. 25-27 the 23rd annual Wine Country Thanksgiving will be held to give visitors a chance to explore the scenic beauty of the
* El Bizcocho at Rancho Bernardo Inn in
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Lucy Gordan, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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