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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Top Dishes of the Year

Gene has published his list of the best dishes of the year. Now it’s my turn. I should point out that Gene and I went about this a little differently. While he picked his favorite restaurant dishes without qualification, I limited myself to only those dishes I ate for a restaurant review.

Also check out Shane Harrison’s Best of the Big A feature on top picks from all the critics.

KESSLER’S TOP PICKS:

cakesburrataBurrata at Cakes & Ale: Vermont burrata — that cream-filled bundle of tender mozzarella — comes with a pale green herbed walnut salsa and a chiffonade of curly kale in zippy cranberry vinaigrette. Hot, buttered toasts come on the side, encouraging you to build piles of head-exploding yum. Serious awesomeness here. 155 Sycamore St., Decatur, 404-377-7994.

Duck breast with Thai risotto at Rathbun’s: You know those food photographs that show the main ingredient in sharp focus but blur at the edges? That’s the way the flavors work at Rathbun’s. What a pleasure to saw at this ideally crisped and defatted skin and plump, pink breast with a steak knife. The rice? It provides the right sweet, garlicky tang as a backdrop. 112 Krog St., Atlanta, 404-524-8280

Peking duck with steamed buns (photos by Becky Stein)

Peking duck with steamed buns (photos by Becky Stein)

Peking duck at Golden House: What fun to dig into a whole Peking duck, glossy and burnished, that a waiter wheels to the table. He masterfully carves the meat and skin onto a platter, and serves it with julienned cucumbers and leeks, hoisin sauce and warm, fluffy steamed buns to split and stuff. The skin, while not as shattery crisp as some, sings with flavor. For a surcharge of $10, you get two more courses from that duck: the legs and final shreds of meat find their way into a peppy stir-fry with bean sprouts and chives, while the ribs and back enrich a steaming tureen of soup outfitted with tofu and bok choy. 1600 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, 770-921-2228 (no website)

Paloma de Mezcal cocktail at Escorpion: This thrillingly weird mix of smoky pineapple-infused mezcal with citrus and soda needs its salt-crusted rim not to cut the sugar but to ramp up the oddball flavor. Those who knock back this drink will hate it; those who sip tentatively will slowly fall in love. 800 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 678-666-5198

Meatloaf meatballs

Meatloaf meatballs

Meatloaf meatballs at Table & Main: This appetizer doesn’t exactly break new ground, but then again it does. Three tender and exceptionally well-seasoned mounds of ground beef come with a ketchupy, vinegary glaze in a classy cast-iron casserole. It’s comfort food elevated, and exactly the kind of dish on which a Southern bistro like Table & Main makes its name. 1028 Canton St., Roswell, 678-869-5178

The stage is set for a blending of cultures (photos by Becky Stein)

The stage is set for a blending of cultures (photos by Becky Stein)

Lunch buffet at Inchin’s Bamboo Garden: If you are the kind of person who finds ultimate comfort in rich, spicy glop, then I’ve got just the ticket. One side of this bodacious buffet holds a selection of Indian-Chinese dishes from the menu: great mounds of Hakka noodles (stir-fried vermicelli), tangy cilantro rice, gobi Manchurian (fried cauliflower in glossy ginger sauce). The other side brings a selection of Indian dishes from Tadka next door: mutter paneer (peas and cheese in curry), dal makhani (creamed black lentils), fried pakoras, goat stew. You will go back for fourths. 11105 State Bridge Road, Alpharetta, 770-622-1445

110411KesslerPumpkin crème brûlée at Chicken and the Egg: I suspect we’ll be hearing more about pastry chef Karie Brown in coming years. Her desserts are familiar, but her flavors are often dynamic. Case in point: this warmed custard, sweetened with a cautious hand. You taste spice, cream, egg and pumpkin, not sugar. The banana pudding with wafers soaked in Woodford Reserve bourbon is also noteworthy. 800 Whitlock Ave., Marietta, 678-388-8813

Spaghetti with Georgia white shrimp (photos by Becky Stein)

Spaghetti with Georgia white shrimp (photos by Becky Stein)

Spaghetti with Georgia White Shrimp at No. 246: I literally wanted to inhale this boldly seasoned pasta, bristling with garlic, Pequin chilies and crunchy bread crumbs. It’s rich, so consider a half-portion as the most satisfying starter around. 129 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 678-399-8246

Profiteroles at La Fourchette: I appreciate the nods to classic French technique at this Buckhead bistro, which extend to the welcome dessert list. These small cream puffs arrive crisp and brittle (as well they should), filled with hazelnut ice cream and moated with salted caramel sauce. Crunchy bursts of toffee hide in the ice cream for a sweet surprise. 3133 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, 404-748-1229

stagRabbit at One Eared Stag: A braised then fried rabbit leg, as melted as it is crunchy, needs only its bright parsley-caper and squeeze of lemon to make you revel. But when you poke your fork about the plate you discover a tender grilled rabbit loin. Lagniappe! 1029 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta, 404-525-4479

bacchvegTasting of Spring Vegetables at Restaurant Eugene: The most brilliant vegetable in town varies with the season, as you might expect. But count on a metal casserole brimming with hot items and a wildly inventive salad alongside. When I try it, the highlights include golden beet puree with balsamic sorghum walnuts, creamed kohlrabi, braised Vidalia onion stems and velvety cranberry beans. 2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, 404-355-0321

bacchcheeseCheese with pickled anchovy at Bacchanalia: I always love the point in the meal at Bacchanalia when you get to the “cheese and contrast” course — that reflective symphonic movement before the rousing finale of dessert. Earlier this year I was thrilled with a plate that pitted slivers of Zamarano (sharp, dry sheep’s milk cheese) with celery, boquerones (pickled white anchovies), greens and minced egg. It was one of those dishes where each bold flavor polished the too-sharp edges from the others and made for a dynamic mouthful. 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, 404-365-0410, www.starprovisions.com

swiftWood-roasted Venison at 4th & Swift: Gorgeous, rosy slices of this lean but meltingly tender meat arrive on spiced kabocha squash puree with sweet pomegranate jus lapping against the sides. It’s one of those dishes that tastes engineered to make you go “ooooooh.” You’ll want to find a great wine pairing off the fine list to put this over the top. 621 North Ave., Atlanta, 678-904-0160

heirloomSpicy Pork Sandwich at Heirloom Market BBQ: Berkshire pork from Georgia’s Riverview Farms first takes a dip in a marinade of Korean gochujang chile paste, then is slathered with a sugary rub and smokes for hours over hickory and fruitwood. It arrives chopped — a heap of crusty, black-pink porkiness on a toasted potato bun with kimchi coleslaw. How do you say “oink” in Korean? 2243 Akers Mill Road, Atlanta, 770-612-2502

13 comments Add your comment

Sucheta

January 3rd, 2012
3:13 pm

Bamboo Garden is my favorite! I went there to celebrate my new year’s day dinner. Also agree with you on No. 246 & Escorpion. Will have to try your other recommendations. My reviews on http://www.goeatgive.com

PapaDoc

January 3rd, 2012
3:54 pm

Had Korean BBQ sandwich at Heirloom today. Consistently awesome. What a great couple who deserve their popularity. Thanks to you for tipping me on this!
And, where can I find Pequin peppers? saw it referenced by CheF Besh. Can’t seem to find it.

KenBud

January 3rd, 2012
4:18 pm

Heirloom has become my #1 BBQ place … passing Sam’s BBQ1, which I never thought would happen. Sam’s is so traditional (which is good!), but I’m LOVING the experimentation Heirloom is doing with meats and sides. Three words: Korean Sweet Potatoes. Next up for them … A BIGGER PLACE.

Also, wish more people knew about 4th and Swift, an incredibly underrated restaurant.

Helen

January 3rd, 2012
4:45 pm

You can find pequin peppers at Buford Highway Farmers Market. They are sold dried and are back with the bulk spices in the back of the produce department.

George

January 3rd, 2012
9:35 pm

The bourbon street chicken at the Golden Corral, hands down. The one in Peachtree City just kills it.

Kim Kim

January 3rd, 2012
9:59 pm

Enter your comments here

rebelliousrose

January 4th, 2012
9:47 am

My love for Heirloom BBQ knows no bounds- I’ve learned to keep a folding chair in the car in case I have to eat outside unexpectedly- and I can walk to it, so I can pretend the meat orgy is negative calories!

GoaskBK

January 4th, 2012
10:44 pm

Another “yeah” for Heirloom…truly a treasure.

As much as a pain as it is, the location is part of the charm…I only hope that by Spring, they will resolve the permit issues and put tables on the deck. Beyond that, don’t change a thing….

Cesar Egel

January 5th, 2012
5:35 am

Like video tapes and DVDs, the Internet has proved popular for distributing free porn because it allows horny guys to view pornography without anyone knows in the privacy and comfort comfort and privacy of their homes. It also allows access to porn content by people whose access is by other means restricted for legal or social reasons.

PapaDoc

January 5th, 2012
10:46 am

Thanks Helen re; pequin peppers. Are the available in jars already prepared?

Foodie!

January 5th, 2012
7:42 pm

Please tell me the Golden Corral reference above is a joke. Please.

On topic…

The pulled pork sandwich at the 5 seasons brewery off Marietta street is far and away the best pulled pork sandwich I have had at a restaurant in Atlanta. It’s not so much about the pork itself, which is good, locally raised meat, but it’s their BBQ sauce that makes it special. Absolutely excellent BBQ sauce, it’s spicy, not too acidic, and not too sweet either. Perfect combo.

As for duck, look no further than Top Flr off Ponce. Their duck is amazing and ever so kissed with a jasmine au jus. Absolutely outstanding and perfectly pink. Don’t forget the Mac and Cheese either. It is a treat.

Speaking of Mac and Cheese, look no further than Prohibition in Buckhead. Requires special means to get through that red phone booth, but once you get in, get their Mac and Cheese. It is out of this world. Thick, spicy, and balanced well with plently of cheese. Awesome. Also while you’re there, try the old fashioned. A classic whiskey and orange liquer.

And that’s it. You’ve just been served.

east atlanta

January 6th, 2012
10:23 pm

AJC or Kessler recently mentioned a place in East ATL that opens 10pm til 3am for quality appetizers at fair prices. I believe 531 Flat Shoals was indicated as the address. But i find no such place or anything similar nearby. Does anyone know? Link to article?

Heirloom Rocks

January 6th, 2012
10:40 pm

I totally agree about Heirloom, that Spicy Korean Pork Sandwich rocks my face! Their Tempura Sweet Potatoes are a perfect match. Now if only they would expand to sit more than 12 people inside!