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New favorite: Bocado

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Avocado and roasted carrot salad with cumin vinaigrette

A few days ago someone turned to me and began, “I bet you get asked this all the time….”

I knew exactly what was coming next.

“So, what’s your favorite restaurant?”

I do get asked this question often, and I never have a great answer. I love Bacchanalia, but that’s more a birthday and anniversary kind of restaurant. Kyma is great, but it has a certain high-gloss ambiance that doesn’t necessarily match my standard wardrobe or attitude. I have a bunch of Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese joints I really like. When I impetuously spend more money than I should on dinner, that usually means sushi.

Usually, though, I will say Cakes & Ale or Pura Vida Tapas — the two restaurants that my wife and I like to steal away to when we can go out for a nice dinner that won’t necessarily mean a three-digit bill. They are both small, personable, chef-run and have menus that change often. We know that we can walk into either place, peruse the menu and get that happy-happy feeling of wanting to order everything.

Chef Todd Ginsberg

Chef Todd Ginsberg

As I was answering the question, a third restaurant came to mind. Bocado, on Atlanta’s west side, elicits in me the same reaction. I think its co-owner, Todd Ginsberg, is the best under-the-radar chef in Atlanta.

Like Cakes & Ale’s Billy Allin and Pura Vida’s Hector Santiago, Ginsberg is a hands-on chef who pops into the dining room in his kitchen whites, often hand delivering a plate. Like them, he has a great gift for conceptualizing dishes — small plates, entrees, sandwiches — that have uncommon pitch and integrity. Each dish tells a flavor story.

The salad above ($7)  is jewel-like, but also very, very interesting. Ginsberg resists sharpening this already-bright collective of ingredients with too much salt or acid. He wants your tongue to tease out the restrained, toasty musk of cumin and let it make the bridge between the sweet batons of carrot and the creamy half moons of avocado.

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Flounder with artichoke barigoule, fennel, carrot and saffron

Though Ginsberg, the former chef at Trois, is cooking in neighborhood-bistro mode these days, he still brings European training and experience to his food. It can be remarkably finessed.

This moist fillet of Carolina flounder ($19) sports a golden egg batter (called francese, or “French-style” in Italian) that imparts a softening flavor as well as a lacy rim of micro-crunch — so nice against that brassy saffron bath and those sweet spring vegetables. Each little wedge of artichoke heart is a treasure — cooked to that pleasing angular softness of a canned artichoke but with a wholly different flavor. The fennel and carrots follow suit — sharp-edged, more tender than crisp, and absolutely maxxing out on flavor.

At other meals, I’ve found plenty more that impresses me with Ginsberg’s cooking. He makes wonderful soups in which each ingredient pops with distinction. His rich dishes never seem excessive. His portions are always on the mark. He has an instinctive sense of how to soften or sharpen flavors.

The food aside, I think Bocado has some feng shui issues. The valet takes your car by a locked front door, then directs you to a side door. The bar is too high to dine comfortably at. The setting sun streaks the minimalist room oddly. The HVAC lurches on loudly from time to time, and you may drop your fork in response. But the back patio is now open, and it feels like a pleasant place to dine.

And wherever you sit, I suspect the food won’t disappoint.

14 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Kessler, BlackTieBBQ. BlackTieBBQ said: Still thinking about this meal. http://bit.ly/d9kbUf RT @jdkess [...]

Lisa

April 16th, 2010
1:24 pm

I agree — Todd doesn’t get enough of a shout-out. I’ve always had a great meal or bite and drink there. Plus — he is understated and friendly. (Not that we have any snooty chefs in town that I can think of)

I was once told that I “insulted” Hugh Acheson by calling him a good fish cooker. But he IS a good fish cooker. And so is Todd.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Green Olive Media, Anna Sexton and BOCADO, John Kessler. John Kessler said: New favorite: Bocado http://bit.ly/bfr9SR [...]

R MItchell

April 16th, 2010
1:39 pm

I went here for the first time a month or so ago and was VERY impressed. I’ve been back three times since – taking different people every time. Whether it is the Cuban sandwich (the best one I’ve had in town since Mr. Ildefonso Ramirez closed Kool Korners and departed for Alabama) or something seemingly more complicated, everything has been done to a high standard that you would not expect from such a comfortable, casual restaurant and at such reasonable prices.

bevino

April 16th, 2010
1:47 pm

Doing Pura Vida for the first time next month and am very excited- Bocado will be next!

jennifer

April 16th, 2010
2:27 pm

I have been to Bocado several times and have always walked away impressed. It is such a great addition to this neighborhood. Just reading this review has me craving the decadent pimiento cheese sammie.

Steve

April 16th, 2010
2:40 pm

Bocado is great! My favorite thing on the menu is actually the chocolate pudding. Its not your typical take on the classic dessert, but it sure is delicious. Give it a try if you haven’t already!

Chelsea

April 16th, 2010
2:59 pm

I love the chocolate pudding! I’ve only been once, but I’ve been itching to get back since!

Beelzebubba - Demon of the South

April 16th, 2010
3:45 pm

Also, I like the snackbar at Six Flags.

gator32301

April 16th, 2010
3:55 pm

love bocado, great burger and the cuban is fantastic. they source their bread from H&F which is a plus

Joanne Ginsberg

April 16th, 2010
6:06 pm

TODD, WHAT CAN BE SAID ONLY THAT YOU ROCK!! YOU’RE AWESOME. WE CAN”T WAIT TO COME INTO TOWN JULY 4th AND HAVE ANOTHER FABULOUS MEAL. TODD WE LOVE YOU DEARLY AND MISS OUR CHEF. CONGRATS YOU DESERVE IT !!!!!

Jay

April 17th, 2010
2:02 pm

Bravo Chef! Since Ginsberg has been in Atlanta he’s never received the accolades he so well deserves. For those lucky enough to have experienced his extraordinary food creations at the long gone Asher’s in Roswell, Kessler’s comments come as no surprise. In my view, he has always been among the best chefs in Atlanta.

KDog

April 21st, 2010
2:28 pm

GREAT food but agree that the ambience could use a tweak or two. I don’t know quite why but the orchids in the cheap plastic containers (terra cotta ones are NOT expensive) with the plastic twist ties (raffia or ribbon isn’t expensive either) holding them up drives me nuts.

Mel

April 21st, 2010
7:12 pm

will have to put this on the list to try next, as my husband and I adore Pura Vida and Cakes & Ale. We would put them in our top 2 as well.