Hey, folks — I’m going through all your comments on the big 50 with a fine-pronged fork and will recap them in a post.
Here is my column that ran in the Sunday paper on some of the very good restaurants I visited that did not find a place on the list.
Atlanta has at least two great things going for it as a food town. First, it has — as the largest metropolis in the Southeast — become a crucible for chefs, restaurateurs and all kinds of smart people with good palates who are rethinking Southern foodways and traditions. Is there any question that Southern cooking today has become the most robust and influential regional cuisine in America?
Second — as one of the country’s most international metro areas — Atlanta has an incredible breadth of world dining options. From Brazilian bakeries to Korean noodle joints, from Oaxacan taquerias to Sichuan spice-o-ramas, this city keeps giving and giving the more you explore it.
So how do you survey hundreds of very good restaurants and narrow the list to 50, as I just did in our Atlanta Spring Dining Guide this past Friday?
Here are some notes on a few of the places I visited while researching this dining guide that did not make the list.
Nan Thai Fine Dining and Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro: These two sister Thai spots have got all the fancy sewn up. You can count on finding rather expensive Thai dishes presented with much panache and sprays of live orchids. Do the dishes really stand head-and-shoulders above the other Thai restaurants around town? Not really. As much as I enjoyed both restaurants on recent visits, I’d be hard-pressed to make the case for these soups, salads, stir-fries and curries over the many other perfectly good options around. Of the two, I prefer Nan for its really beautiful setting and the more grandiose items on the menu, such as kra pow pla kra pong — a whole sea bass fried on the bone and curled head to tail in a feat of piscine engineering.
Nan Thai Fine Dining: 1350 Spring St., Midtown. 404-870-9933, nanfinedining.com
Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro: 1197 Peachtree St., Midtown. 404-873-4888, tamarindseed.com
Atmosphere French Bistro: I very much wanted to get a French restaurant on the list, and I thought this converted Morningside bungalow might fit the bill. I love its old-school pokiness — the sponged yellow walls, the basket of warmed rolls, the escargot. I liked the food, particularly a coarse rabbit terrine and an endive salad with toasted walnuts and blue cheese. A mountain of mussels served in a creamed broth with shallot and garlic satisfied. I wanted more flavor from a mega-rich cream of root vegetables and a stuffed pig’s foot that was, for all intents and purposes, a pasty mound of porky shreds with buttery-soft breadcrumbs. With a little updating to the menu and the wine list, this could be the smart little bistro Atlanta needs.
1620 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta. 678-702-1620, atmospherebistro.com
BLT Steak: I’ve heard good reports about the direction this restaurant — the local branch of a small chain of high-end steak houses — has taken since Cyrille Holota took over the kitchen. The former chef at Joel Brasserie has proven himself a hugely finessed cook, and he prepares a daily roster of specials that veer away from the steak house formula. I liked his chicken galantine with chorizo — a kind of savory poultry loaf. But I wondered if a $42 lobster pasta special of penne with creamy bisque and a lot of refrigerated-tasting lobster meat was more of a quick way to use up expensive ingredients than a well-considered dish. Think I need to give this place another try.
45 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta. 404-577-7601, www.e2hospitality. com/blt-steak-atlanta
Muss & Turner’s: This thoughtful take on a neighborhood deli could so be the lunch sandwich joint of my dreams. The wine and beer lists rock hard and the kitchen really goes all out with an amazing selection of sandwiches and a variety of house pickles (from half sours to green tomatoes) to have alongside. (At night it morphs into more of a full-service restaurant). But I don’t love the sandwiches here as much as I want to. The Torta de Too Much Delicious with smoked brisket, guajillo chile sauce, red onion, cotija cheese, cilantro and totally great crumbled pork rinds ends up being a little less than the sum of its parts because of its wiggly, fatty meat. It’s tasty, but not $10 tasty. The Crispy Hippie falafel features firm little falafel balls that stick to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter. I have had better sandwiches here, but I want to feel the love.
1675 Cumberland Parkway, Smyrna. 770-434-1114, mussandturners.com
JCT. Kitchen & Bar: I do always enjoy this lively spot and know I can count on great service in an energizing setting. I do like going at dinner and enjoying the fruits of the fine bar program. I also think the kitchen shows its best side at night, when its menu achieves a kind of rib-sticking elegance. The Carolina Gold rice fritters with butternut squash puree and crispy Brussels sprout leaves, followed by sticky lamb shoulder over creamed spinach with garlic chips and preserved lemon, will definitely send you out in a pleasant food stupor. I like this restaurant a lot, but it’s also one where I always have to consult my notes and menu afterward to remember precisely what it was I ate.
1198 Howell Mill Road, Midtown. 404-355-2252, jctkitchen.com
La Tavola Trattoria: I really look forward to seeing where new chef Brent Banda will go with the focused menu at this terrific little trattoria. He really has some nice ideas: tender grilled calamari matches well to garlic roasted cauliflower and pickled red onions. Chestnut pappardelle with wild boar is the kind of pasta you want to eat in a private place so you can moan in pleasure. But a pretty dull mushroom bruschetta with lots of leathery bits falling off and an unfortunate, parching-dry version of bollito misto (the feast of boiled meats in broth) make me think he needs to work some ideas out.
992 Virginia Ave., Atlanta. 404-873-5430, latavolatrattoria.com
As always, I look forward to hearing your opinions.
If you like the Spring Dining Guide, you’ll love our new book, “The Atlanta 50: Where to Eat.” Loaded with extras not in the newspaper or online, it will feature expanded reviews on each restaurant, with commentary from dining critic John Kessler on excellent options in every category beyond the 50 listed. Pre-order the book for $19.99 (print) or $4.99 (e-book). The book will ship within 30 days.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog