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Spring Dining Guide: Splurges and Destinations

Spring vegetable plate at Restaurant Eugene (photo by Becky Stein)

Spring vegetable plate at Restaurant Eugene (photo by Becky Stein)

Spring has sprung! Will you?

Are you ready to spring for a memorable meal?  Maybe that means an excursion to find that hamburger or Mexican restaurant you’ve heard so much about? Maybe that means finally making a visit to that restaurant your neighbors are talking about. Maybe that means a blowout: one of those once-a-year dining experiences you won’t ever forget.

However you choose to spring, we have some suggestions here in our Spring 2011 Dining Guide.

Jenny Turknett travels all over the metro area to find the most babysitter-worthy restaurants in each neighborhood.

Jon Watson tells you where you need to go to find the best barbecue, pizza, fries and sandwiches in the metro area.

Gene Lee takes a look at the scores — if not hundreds — of Mexican, Indian and Korean restaurants around town and tells you which ones to put on top of your lists.

And I talk splurges:

“It’s our anniversary…”

“My parents are coming from out of town…”

“I’m only going to have one night out in Atlanta, and if I could eat any meal…”

More than any other inquiry I field as the newspaper’s restaurant critic, I get asked about where to splurge.

Often, the question is put this simply: “What is the best restaurant in Atlanta?”

I take the request seriously because I know my response will leave the asker several hundred dollars poorer.

Normally I try to ask a few questions of my own to find out more about this particular diner’s benchmarks. Is he or she looking for a deep wine list? Pampering service? Southernness? Three courses of dessert? Caviar? Based on the answers, I usually end up recommending either Bacchanalia or Restaurant Eugene.

These two destination spots have survived the recession’s fine-dining shakeout and emerged as the new standard-bearers in a remade city. They set the tone for a dining scene that aspires to be more rooted and less cosmopolitan than in years pasts. Bacchanalia’s Anne Quatrano, with her inimitable seasonal aesthetic, and Restaurant Eugene’s Linton Hopkins, with his evolving intellectual exploration of Southern cooking, have established themselves as the city’s two eminent chefs.

But how is their food these days? Truthfully, I hadn’t sat down to a full meal in either place since before the recession, and restaurants — particularly those at the high end — evolve constantly. So I decided to make side-by-side visits to see how they stack up.

Bacchanalia re-review.

Restaurant Eugene re-review.

A note on the star ratings for each.

21 comments Add your comment

Don Fry

April 28th, 2011
11:02 am

Who cares? Atlanta restaurants are dressed up Applebees food.

goode girl

April 28th, 2011
11:27 am

@ Don Fry–You obviously need to stop going to Applebee’s. It’s affecting your judgement.


April 28th, 2011
11:55 am

Have you been to Woodfire Grill lately? We went on March 5th, and all four of us were floored, absolutely amazed by the innovative, challenging tasting menu. I hadn’t dined there since Chef Touhy departed, and I was really impressed. So nice to be presented with a meal that’s wonderful without being safe and tame!


April 28th, 2011
12:15 pm

ECCO in midtown – it is what i would recommend for anyone who really enjoys food and wine especially if they are splurging.


April 28th, 2011
12:15 pm

I think BLT Steak needs to be on here. I went for the first time last week, and loved it…and found out why. Let’s just say that it has now replaced Joel as my favorite restaurant in Atlanta right now.


April 28th, 2011
12:19 pm

Eat at Tantra restaurant…. For sure you will be surprrised. And it’s will not
Cost as much as the 2 restaurants that named above..


April 28th, 2011
1:10 pm

@ Don Fry- Don’t be such a tool; there are some outstanding restaurants in Atlanta. If you don’t like it here you are always free to leave.


April 28th, 2011
1:47 pm

@Don Fry – I totally agree with KF … if you don’t like fabulous Atlanta, please do us all a favor and leave a quickly as possible. Oh, what’s that? No other city wants you? Okay then…shut up and sit down somewhere!


April 28th, 2011
1:57 pm

Please someone give me the names of more restaurants in Atlanta or sorrounding areas that have good food and are not that expensive. I am tired of o’charleys,red lobster,applebees etc. All who reply I really appreciate it. Thanks

Mr. Ed

April 28th, 2011
2:09 pm


Buford Hwy is host to a plethora of restaurants on the cheap. Mostly Asian and Latin fare. Just bring your imagination and sense of adventure.


April 28th, 2011
2:46 pm

Sorry but I still don’t like your star system. When I saw a 1 star for the Japanese place John recently reviewed, I didn’t even bother reading it at first. Yet when I looked at it later, it wasn’t a horrible review, which you might expect of a 1-star place. To me a 1-star restaurant is the same as a 1-star movie…I wouldn’t bother with either.


April 28th, 2011
3:18 pm

@ABC..i agree…i know Mr. Kessler would never change his rating system, but it seems unfair to have “5″ be the best restaurant in the southeast and “1″ be a place that is pretty good but not worth a long drive to eat there…what about the really bad places? do they get “0″?

[...] The AJC Spring Dining Guide came out today. There are a ton of lists of don’t-miss places from writers Jenny Turknett, Gene Lee and Jon Watson.… [ Read more ] [...]

M. Johnson

April 28th, 2011
5:10 pm

@Help: What part of town?


April 28th, 2011
5:37 pm

Nice little arrangement you got going on Kessler.

You get to eat at the ritzy joints while the rest of the shlubs on your staff have to choke down the burgers and tacos.

Scott Anderson

April 28th, 2011
7:00 pm

I would have to say Matthews in Tucker.

Except they dont open on weekends, and the food has been steadily going downhill. Try to eat that Southern Pecan pie or banana pudding from a can without remembering your not in Kansas anymore Toto.

And adjust that schedule to stay open all day instead of that weird closing schedule that no one can remember.

Come on you can do better.


April 28th, 2011
11:20 pm

With the shortage of sushi-grade fish, where’s the place I can have the best chance at an omakase that’ll be worth the money?

up north

April 29th, 2011
8:19 am

The Hudspeth report is more informative.


April 29th, 2011
9:56 am

KoPP: I’ve found the omakase at Circle Sushi in Sandy Springs to be a fantastic deal…


April 29th, 2011
11:00 am

Recently had a birthday dinner for my wife at Canoe, got there a little early to enjoy a cocktail by the river. Dinner and service were wonderful, all of my family have at some time or other spent time in the upscale dinner world and we had a lovely meal, great service and the price frankly was a lot less than I thought it would be…Kudos’s Canoe!

Urban Xperience Atl

April 30th, 2011
2:23 am

Check out Urban Xperience Atl on Facebook and twitter!!!!Urban Xperience is an interactive restaurant review guide for Atlanta. Connecting local restaurants to the community by sharing your restaurant experiences. We even give special dining discounts to our fans!!