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Fall 2011 Dining Guide: Distinctive Culinary Voices

Lobster Carpaccio from Tomo Japanese Restaurant represents chef Tomohiro Naito's handiwork (credit: Becky Stein)

Lobster Carpaccio from Tomo Japanese Restaurant represents chef Tomohiro Naito's handiwork (credit: Becky Stein)

A little history: Last summer I began reviewing restaurants again for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after more than five years away from the job. And so I began to eat. And eat. And — Hey, you gonna eat that? Because I really need to try everything and I’d hate to see that go to waste.

After about four months of concerted face-stuffing, it began to occur to me that I was in a very different dining town than the last one I power-chowed my way through. I loved the profusion of casual, affordable restaurants that had opened, and the newfound focus on Southern farms and flavors.

But I found so much of this food safe and predictable — even boring. I missed the motley crew of mad geniuses and crackpots who used to set the tone here. I missed the variety of ambitious culinary styles on the table, and the raw audacity that used to mark the opening of new restaurants.

The tacit message used to be: “Here’s something new for Atlanta.” It turned into: “And now here’s our pimento cheese.” Atlanta was becoming a town where few chefs took chances.

So this past January I wrote an open letter to Atlanta’s culinary brain trust and implored its members to up their game with a list of 10 challenges. Now that I’ve been back in the reviewer’s seat for more than a year, I’m thrilled to give kudos to 10 of the region’s distinctive culinary voices who embody each of these issues and make Atlanta a better place to eat.

(Note: Where applicable, I’ve indicated or updated the star rating of each chef’s restaurant.)

  1. Precise Execution: Tomohiro Naito, Tomo Japanese Restaurant
  2. True Wit: Ryan Smith, Empire State South
  3. Supreme Saucier: Marc Sublette, Viande Rouge Steakhouse
  4. Casual Style: Paul Luna, Lunacy Black Market
  5. Dazzling Finesse: Gerry Klaskala, Aria
  6. Healthy Perspective: Stephanie Panek, Rise N Dine
  7. New Fusion: Guy Wong, Miso Izakaya
  8. Real Specialist: Candice Reynolds, Red Queen Tarts
  9. Master of Surprise: Robert Phalen, One Eared Stag
  10. New POV: Billy Allin, Cakes & Ale

26 comments Add your comment

carla roqs

September 22nd, 2011
9:28 am

i give up, i cannot keep up with you. if i were to sample all of the deliciousness you are writing about…

Debbie

September 22nd, 2011
2:44 pm

Where is Ron Eyester on this list?

gold dust

September 22nd, 2011
3:10 pm

You should make a google map of all of these places. I’ve heard of a lot of them, want to go to all of them, but I don’t know where they all are and I’d like to see that in one place.

kat

September 22nd, 2011
4:01 pm

gold dust, did you seriously just ask a newspaper to use google for you? Really? You don’t know where they all are. You must have had helicopter parents. Here’s a start: http://www.google.com/search?q=tomo+japanese+restaurant+atlanta&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

gold dust

September 22nd, 2011
4:04 pm

Haha, ouch. Who wants to click on all those links?

Weena

September 22nd, 2011
4:28 pm

Let’s face it, every city in the US has restaurants similar to these, some better, some worse. If you want to play the food game and say foolish [redacted] like “power-chowed”, then best to head to NYC. Yea, Aria may be good, but it aint no Madison Square Park. Try a dose of southern humility with that squid foam reduction Mr.Kessler. I can hear, the comments now, “then leave, why dont you”. It’s 68 and lovely in NY today and the Shake Shake burger hits the spot.

John Kessler

September 22nd, 2011
7:03 pm

That is true. I never take off my shirt and lie down and sunbathe at Aria, though I might catch some rays off that chandelier. Eleven Madison Park — where I recently had a fabulous meal — ain’t no Piedmont Park, either. :)

Ron C

September 22nd, 2011
11:23 pm

Debbie -

You seriously asked why Ron Eyester wasn’t on the list???

I guess I coiuld thank you for making me laugh, but I am more inclined to blame you for making me spit coffee all over my keyboard.

Curious

September 23rd, 2011
6:08 am

Where do you find the people who can afford these restaurants? Most of us are barely above water paying rent/mortgage; gas, electric and buying gasoline for our automobiles. Oh I get it, on the elites and high income are welcome at these places.

Curious

September 23rd, 2011
6:37 am

meant only the elites and high income people are welcome at these places.

Debbie

September 23rd, 2011
9:38 am

Weena – do you mean the Shake Shack? If you’re going to brag about how swell NY is, then at least get your facts straight.

Ron C – it was meant for the laugh I got out of you (and probably others) and the eye-rolling I probably got from Kessler.

Debbie

September 23rd, 2011
9:40 am

Curious – perhaps you should click on the link for Lunacy Black Market or Rise and Dine before you make the assumption that all of these are high dollar restaurants.

carla roqs

September 23rd, 2011
10:37 am

life is too short to not make time to dine out at least every once in a while, even if it means getting lost trying to find the place. #gpsismyfriend.

Barbara

September 23rd, 2011
2:16 pm

Weena — What’s your problem? As a native New Yorker and self proclaimed lover of food, I feel fortunate to live in such a vibrant food city as Atlanta and I am sick and tired of people dissing it. Eleven Madison and Aria shouldn’t be compared. They are two completely different restaurants each with their own terrific point of view. I have enjoyed many a meal at both of these restaurants. If you’ve eaten at both as you claim then you would know that. Guess what? Atlanta is not New York. That is why it is spelled A-t-l-a-n-t-a and our area code is 404 not 212. That being said, that doesn’t mean we don’t get inspired and spectacular food here too — just different. Thanks John for the list….

Lost in Atlanta

September 23rd, 2011
2:18 pm

I’ve lived here half a century and I’ve never heard of ANY of the 10 restaurants mention.

I need to get out more.

HEELSHOUSE

September 23rd, 2011
2:18 pm

Weena, it is Shake Shack you moron!

Nick

September 23rd, 2011
4:20 pm

Lost in Atlanta – Your not missing anything. Trust me.

Jose

September 24th, 2011
8:18 am

Mr. Kessler:

I find it quite ironic that you do not place any black chefs in your 10 inspiring stories(looking at the pictures in the print edition)… Atlanta, being such a diverse city, surely you could have found some BBQ, Southern-Fat back vegetable cooked food outlet that inspires you… makes me wonder…. How about some love, bruther….

jack trent

September 24th, 2011
9:42 am

jose – it’s about talent not color brutha. don’t ruin this article just because you feel the need to have a bruther on the list to represent. why BBQ gotta be associated with black folks?? stop being stereotypical. the race card is so overdone.what does it make you wonder? if kessler is racist? get over it brah.

Marla G

September 24th, 2011
7:56 pm

John, we are truly blessed to have you visiting all of these restaurants and writing such interesting and informative articals for all of us in this city.

ATL Cook

September 25th, 2011
2:18 pm

Eat at home. Chicken and dumplings, fresh green beans, and squash for Sunday dinner.

Not Alton Brown

September 26th, 2011
10:34 am

Sorry but I don’t get it..After reading all the review I don’t still don’t feel inspired….

HDD3

September 26th, 2011
11:29 am

Why is my Sept 23rd comment regarding Rise N Dine “awaiting moderation”?

Are you sure?

September 26th, 2011
10:43 pm

your ego is out of control!

John Kessler

September 27th, 2011
1:32 pm

Jose – Truthfully, the same thought occurred to me and the editors and page designers here can tell you that I fretted about not having a better mix of faces. I will tell you that I very seriously thought about several chefs around town for this list, but didn’t find anyone that quite fit the ticket in terms of cooking style and approach as I would have liked.
If you’d like to see some more of writing on this subject, I wrote an article for the Oxford American magazine about the dearth of African-American chefs in Southern kitchens, and it will be anthologized soon in the latest edition of “Cornbread Nation” from the University of Georgia Press. Thanks for reading and speaking up. John K.

Jose

September 27th, 2011
8:51 pm

Mr> Kessler:

I Appreciate you responding back. Keep up the good work, and I will look for your piece of writing on this subject…
Jose