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Archive for November, 2009

30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Cafe Sunflower (Buckhead)

Eggplant lasagna

Eggplant lasagna

“I’ll come back and take your drink order whenever you’re ready,” the waitress informs us in a voice so soft and soothing that I feel like I’m about to get a massage.

At Cafe Sunflower in Buckhead, the lighting is dim, the colorful walls glow softly and gigantic paper lanterns hang from the ceiling like mood-altering orbs. I feel so like I’ve walked through a wormhole into 1978, and I have to say I like the feeling.

Cafe Sunflower has only been around since 1994, yet it evokes an earlier age of vegetarianism — one that suggested meatlessness is the first step on a path to enlightenment. It makes you think you can sit purposefully, look deep into your soul and find the powerful energy emanating from a chakra that whispers, “Try the zucchini and tempeh burrito.”

The food tastes of an earlier era, as well. On the one  hand, it has nothing in common with the exciting, fresh, locavore-tastic cooking happening at Dynamic Dish in the Old Fourth Ward. On the other …

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Samosas at the National in Athens

Nice vegetarian option on the restaurant’s Middle Eastern-inspired menu. Lamb kefte with tomato jam, yogurt and caramelized onions on pita was great, too.

Posted via web from ajcfoodandmore’s posterous

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Gladys Knight Chicken and Waffles Bistro closes

mvf_430_atlantaThe third and by far swankiest installment of the great soul singer’s namesake restaurants closed up shop last month in Johns Creek. Knight and her son, Shanga Hankerson, opened this branch with a stage for live entertainment, an outdoor patio and seating for 120. The Lithonia and downtown locations are still going strong.

The last time I went to the downtown restaurant (called Gladys Knight and Ron Winans Chicken & Waffles) was with a friend who had tried Watershed’s fried chicken on my recommendation and found it too salty and greasy. So she took me to Gladys and Ron’s for a “Midnight Train” plate of four crispy-fried wings and a waffle. I liked it a lot but still give props to Watershed.

I also liked the heavily seasoned collard greens, fried corn and green beans at Gladys and Ron’s.

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: The Original El Taco

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Mixed tacos with grilled corn in lime mayo

When the Original El Taco first opened about a year ago, I was eager to try it. I would often drive past the building in Virginia Highland and think that a couple of tacos and a margarita sounded like a fine prospect. 

Problem was, we always decided to go on the spur of the moment (”look, tacos!”) but could never get in.

The hostess would invariably suggest we wait in the bar, which was stuffed like a car full of circus clowns with a noisy singles set drinking “Fro Mos” (frozen mojitos). I saw where this was heading. People would tank up in the bar and then spill over into the dining room to sop up the sweet booze with tacos. I wanted a quick, cheap meal — not a scene.

So, we waited a year, and guess what? 

It looks like the bib and stroller set has moved in.

The night we visit the bar is mostly empty, but families are at just about every table, and parents traipse through the dining room to accompany curious preschoolers to …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: La Pietra Cucina

Spicy Calabrese sausage "dip"

Spicy Calabrese sausage "dip"

If you like Italian food, and you have the resources for a reasonably expensive meal and you’ve never been to La Pietra Cucina, then you must rectify that situation right away.

I’m not going to go so far as to say La Pietra is the best Italian restaurant in the city (it’s too weird for that distinction) but it is the most original. Some of the food here — particularly the pastas — will put you in that yummy-yummy rapture place. That place where you make little grunts, snorts and ululations ulululations of non-verbal approbation. I love that place.

Chef Bruce Logue trained at Babbo — the Greenwich Village restaurant that turned Mario Batali into a superstar. If you’ve ever eaten at Babbo, you will recognize both the spirit of edgy hominess as well as some the dishes. But Logue is no copycat: his food shows a personality all his own, which is why I have appreciated  (if not particularly liked) the several near-misses I’ve eaten here. I keep going …

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Preview Party at Bistro Niko

photo-10I spent a few minutes at the opening party for Bistro Niko — the full-tilt-boogie French restaurant that the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group has opened in the new Sovereign Buckhead building on Peachtree Road. It is quite the looker, a fact you will not ascertain from these blurry phone photos. The Johnson Studio came up with a design that feels both very Buckhead and true to a great train station brasserie in Paris. You want more lousy photos? ‘Cause I got ‘em: photo-9See? Notice the terrible lighting and composition? This is the seafood counter in front of the tiled kitchen. You walk right past the kitchen as you enter the dining room, which is a reassuring feeling here because it looks so spotlessly clean. Inside, the dining room is large, with a zinc bar in the rear behind the wall of wine pictured above. Blurry, antiqued mirrors line the walls and groovy swirls on the ceiling frame glowing amber light bulbs. The most amusing detail is a mural that depicts every monument in …

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Stella to close

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AJC Staff

Owner Rick Chey sent a note to patrons today to let them know he would turn his pizza/pasta joint into another branch of Doc Chey’s by year’s end:

I want to be the first to personally tell you that Stella will be closing at the end of the year. Although we are sad about this news, we are excited to  tell you that Doc Chey’s Noodle House will open in its place.

We’re sending this announcement in advance to give you a chance to get your

Stella fix a few more times before the doors are officially closed on December 30, 2009 at 10 p.m. The location will be closed for renovations for a short time (about a month) before opening as Doc Chey’s sometime in February.

No need to say goodbye to your friends at Stella; Doc Chey’s Grant Park will be run by the same friendly crew that you’ve grown to love at Stella. The restaurant will continue to operate on the same principle of serving made-from-scratch food at affordable prices & fostering good karma by playing a …

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Lunch at Abattoir: Duck meatballs

 photo-17When Abattoir first opened, everyone was excited to visit but they weren’t quite sure how to spell the name, which is French for “slaughterhouse.” And so people were posting a lot about their meals at “Abbatoir.” That tickled my funny bone.

Abbatoir: a hermetically sealed room where “Dancing Queen” is played on an endless loop.

Anyhow, the good news is that Abattoir is now open for lunch. In fact, the restaurant is open straight through from noon through 11 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays, so it’s a perfect place to go for one of those mid-afternoon-escape-the-world lunches. The bad news is that Abattoir serves the same menu at lunch and dinner, and the prices that seem on the edge of reasonable at night come off as a little steep at lunch.

I ordered these duck meatballs ($16), made with duck confit and ground  mirepoix (presumably the classic mixture of onions, carrots and celery), served in a sticky glaze over parsnips and bok choy. The flavor was deep and interesting, albeit …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Mary Mac’s Tea Room

marymacsignBefore we even get to the vegetables (fruited Jell-o, pickled beets, chicken-less dumplings) at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, may we stop and admire the cocktails?

It’s such a perfect pick-your-poison list: Mint Julep, Hurricane, Martini, Bloody Mary, White Russian, Mimosa, “Georgia Peach.” Or, if you’re a teetotaler, you can get a cool glass of buttermilk. Not me. One of these days I will go to Mary Mac’s, get tanked on White Russians and wander the dining room reciting lines from “The Big Lebowski.” Until that day comes, I will eat my, um, vegetables.

I have to admit that during the 12 years I’ve lived in Atlanta, I have only been to this 62-year-old classic once. Why? I don’t know. There’s something about feeling like a tourist in your own town that’s a turnoff, and for whatever reason, Mary Mac’s has always seemed just a teensy bit like an Epcot Center restaurant.

marymacmenuMaybe it’s the carpeting, or the antique-ish sideboards, or the endless mullions, or the gift case, or the loudspeaker …

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Front Burner: The word of the week is “opening”

Note: Today we begin a weekly feature — a roundup of restaurant news and doings around greater Atlanta. Do you have any tips? Then please email me at jkessler@ajc.com and I will be your friend forever.

niko3I don’t know if this is a sign the recession is over, but for the first time in recent memory the week’s news seems to be filled with restaurant openings, not closings. Tops on the list? Bistro Niko, the first major Atlanta offering from the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group since Kyma in 2001 (concessions in Philips Arena and a Chops/Lobster Bar spinoff in Florida notwithstanding).It officially opens on the 5th.

niko2In design and menu, Bistro Niko evokes a Parisian belle époque brasserie. Look for a friendly menu of French classics, such as tarte flambée, quiche, tournedos au poivre and frites cooked in duck fat. With Bistro Niko right across the street from the Intercontinental’s Au Pied de Cochon, we can expect a cross-Peachtree Gallic showdown.

May the best tarte au citron win. …

Continue reading Front Burner: The word of the week is “opening” »