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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

The Atlanta 50: The Readers Have Spoken

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Our print book and e-book versions of the dining guide are loaded with extras. Click on the book cover, above, to order.

Good Monday to you!

I have gone through your comments thus far on my choices for the Atlanta 50 in our Spring Dining Guide, and I will try below to excerpt your opinions and answer your questions in a way that can make sense of this complex but interesting dialogue.

Major thanks to commenter Ryan who made this awesome checklist for folks who want to make the rounds.

Here’s what I’ve got:

Questions about procedures:

  1. “Will you publish your rankings in order?” (David): No way. The nice thing about a list of 50 is its breadth and inclusivity.
  2. “You’ve got 38 3-stars, and 7 4-stars — wouldn’t all 3-stars make the list, then? For example, La Fourchette would fulfill your French quota.” (RK): I chose to highlight some of the best 2-star restaurants to make the list look more like Atlanta. There are some absolutely spot-on neighborhood places that serve crowds well, put out a consistent product and create a memorable environment. Are they worth driving across town for? Maybe not, but they help define their neighborhoods.
  3. “I can’t understand how you can have 50 nice eating places and not one of them gets a 5 star rating. Surely there are one or two restaurants here worthy of 5 stars?” (Gerald G): Bacchanalia and Restaurant Eugene may be worthy of 5 stars. I need to rearview them both.
  4. “Excellent list and reviews however I think that you and other reviewers in the city do Atlanta diners a disservice when speaking about prices in a fine dining restaurant and it leads to the dearth of High end fine dining restaurants in the city. In the city with the size and growing influence on the regional dining scene to have only 3 fine dining restaurants ([Restaurant Eugene], Aria and Bachanalia) is absurd. In NY you don’t hear Frank Bruni complaining about the cost of Per Se, 11 Madison etc because that’s the expectation, they are judged on what they are and strive to be, a dining destination and an example of the highest levels of food and service in the area.” (James) Honestly, I wouldn’t feel right about sending readers to Restaurant Eugene and then having them discover that many of the à la carte entrees cost more than $40. It is not a restaurant for everyone. I would also refer you to the most recent reviews in the New York Times for Per Se and Masa. Both spend considerable time discussing price.

What’s Missing from this list:

  1. “Only ONE place south of I-20? You’ve got to be kidding. Your anti-south Atlanta is showing.” (Tom): I would LOVE to offer more selections on the Southside. We certainly considered Pascal’s Bistro, The Feed Store, Wines & Grinds and the Pecan and are happy to consider these restaurants as well as any others that might make the cut. All suggestions welcome.
  2. “Local Three It is innovative, great ingredients, and doesn’t take itself too seriously except for striving for delicious food. An excellent addition to Atlanta food scene. Looking forward to the explanation.” (Barbara) Many readers expressed dismay that this restaurant didn’t make the cut. My experiences with it are of a friendly, often delightful and often inconsistent restaurant. As there are several contemporary Southern bistros on the Westside, I decided to cut it. But it was a tough call. Certainly one to rethink.
  3. “Guy Wong [at Miso Izakaya] is a truly creative and one-of-a-kind chef. We’re lucky to have him, and his restaurant is a consistent delight.” (Soupy Sales): After Local Three, Miso Izakaya was most often cited as an omission. I like this spot quite a lot, but perhaps not yet as much as its ardent fans. It was one of several excellent Japanese spots that I left out to make room for more variety.
  4. “I have to put a plug in for Floataway [Cafe]. Agree that there has been some instability in staffing and they have had their ups and downs, but in general you’ll always get something there that is top notch, on par with anything that [Miller Union], [Empire State South] or 4th & Swift produces. Still, what has completely blown my mind is the new wine list there. It is an unbelievable value currently.” (Mark): I went recently and experienced those inconsistencies. I really love this restaurant and go frequently, but it doesn’t feel tight. I do need to pay closer attention to the wine list. I was a guest on the last visit, so I didn’t look too closely.

If you have to choose between two similar spots…

  1. “I would put Gu’s Bistro ahead of Tasty China, for sure. Gu’s food is more nuanced and much less salty and oily, but still brings the heat and flavor.” (Zeus) I’ve tried Gu’s a couple of times and have had the opposite reaction. But thanks to y’all, I have a shopping list of dishes to try for my next visit. Others have complained of slippage at Tasty China. I really loved everything on my last visit (and I’m sure I wasn’t recognized), but I’ll certainly keep my eye out for inconsistency.
  2. “No Fox Brothers? How could you possibly rate Community Q above Fox Brothers? Everyone we have ever taken to Fox Brothers is immediately addicted. We tried Community Q but were not impressed.” (SC): Barbecue restaurants are so tough to judge because barbecue is a thing that happens, it isn’t a product to keep warm to wait for customers. So they are bound to be inconsistent, which is how my last couple of visits to Fox Brothers have been. I found the meats dry and  the chicken wings too aggressively seasoned. I’ve also had some amazing meat at Fox Bros. and hope to again. Community Q sometimes suffers (in my experience) from meat that is a bit mushy or not as smoky as I’d like, but it’s been more consistent for me. I also like their sides a lot better.

You picked WHAT?

  1. “Taqueria [del Sol]: Standing in a twenty minute line to get sneered at when I order a couple of mediore tacos — I’ll pass.” (Grasshopper) I knew this choice would divide readers. And there were scores of comments from folks whom I could imagine rolling their eyes, shaking their fists and snorting derisively. Some of us love it, some of y’all hate it. The Taqueria divide.
  2. “Having World Peace Cafe on this list is a joke.” (Brian): This is by no means a sophisticated restaurant, but I always feel like I mindfully here. There’s a focus on the shapes, textures and ingredients in the food that always gets me to slow down and pay attention.

And, finally:

  1. “Tantra Restaurant in south buckhead isn’t exactly authenticity Mediterranean, but has a lot of influences from the region. They also serve some pretty delicious roasted carrot soup with cumin.” (TD)
  2. “For a nice Middle Eastern/Persian experience, try Sufi’s in SoBuck. I’m about to try the new IstanBlue on Pharr Rd in Buckhead. I hope it measures up to its claims of authenticity. Some other places in Atlanta that claim to be Turkish are simply posers and aren’t worthy of a second look.” (Edward)
  3. “Veni Vedi Vici is consistently delicious, quite attractive, always crowded and has above average service. As a foodie and a frequent traveller to Italy, I believe Veni Vidi Vici is a more than worthy candidate for your top 50 list.” (Randall Williams)
  4. “I hope to see No. 246 on the list in the not too distant future. Menu is maybe a bit limited, but the food, space and vibe are outstanding. One test was the Margherita Pizza that I shared as an app – without doubt one of the best tasting and prepared I’ve had outside Italy (and yes, I’ve eaten at them all in Atlanta).” (Bob From Accounttemps)

19 comments Add your comment

JB

March 26th, 2012
2:26 pm

The Varsity. Nuff said……burp.

jimmy

March 26th, 2012
2:59 pm

“Barbecue restaurants are so tough to judge because barbecue is a thing that happens, it isn’t a product to keep warm to wait for customers. ” – Spot-on explanation, John.

Edward

March 26th, 2012
3:38 pm

John, I think the Local Three and the Taqueria del Sol issues are similar, just from different perspectives. You can’t see what we see and thus cut Local Three, and many of us just cannot understand your devotion to TDS, especially when there are any number of markedly better variants available, even nearby. But, you’re the one making the list, so your biases prevail. :-)

John

March 26th, 2012
4:01 pm

James is two behind in his New York Times restaurant critics. Current one is Pete Wells, who followed Sam Sifton, who was preceded by Frank Bruni. Atlanta doesn’t have sophisticated enough palates to support a restaurant anywhere near the quality of Per Se or 11 Madison Park. If Restaurant Eugene’s Applebee’s-like service (”Hi, I’m Eric and I’ll be your server . . .”) and mediocre food (deep fried sweetbreads that taste like McDonald’s chicken nuggets) pass for “fine dining,” definitely mention the price, and the fact that it isn’t worth it. And teach “Eric the Server” that the “ch” in bruschetta is hard.)

Jim R

March 26th, 2012
4:27 pm

Anis and Basil’s…Across the street from each other and always have consistancy and courtesy. No TV chefs or headline making noveau this or that. Exraordinary food at decent prices offered in an incredible atmosphere and friendly service. Wonderful to have them in the neighborhood and if I had stars to give they would be at the top of my list. Not real sure why anyone would think Eugenes had Applebee’s like service, maybe you can expound upon this when you rearview them.

Steve

March 26th, 2012
5:57 pm

I will say this about the Vendi Vidi Vici comment above… it is simply inconceivable that anyone who has been to Italy would think that Vendi Vidi Vici is a superior (i.e., top 50) restaurant.

rebelliousrose

March 26th, 2012
5:59 pm

While I have immense respect for what Eugene does, I was disappointed by the food (I can overlook the obvious (and they were obvious) service issues), but the fact that the food struck me as uninspired didn’t make me want to return, ever. At the end of the day, I go to a restaurant to eat, not to be massaged emotionally by the service staff. I’ll go to a place with crappy service for wonderful food- but not the other way around.

Pat on the southside

March 26th, 2012
7:37 pm

Try The Beirut in PTC since you are looking for middle eastern. It’s like eating at your Lebanese neighbors home. Best hummus and kebabs. Or try Founders in Senoia. Nice atmosphere and good southern food.

Mark

March 26th, 2012
9:28 pm

John: thanks for the comments re Floataway. I agree, but check out that wine list.

I did want to respond to Gerald’s comment regarding the lack of 5-star restaurants in ATL. You have actually addressed this back in the April, 2011 Spring Dining Guide. And you correctly make the point that the best that ATL has to offer pales in comparison with the best of the best. Of the three restaurants you listed as true 5-star restaurants in the Southeast, I’ve eaten at two. McCrady’s is state of the art southern, Miller Union or 4th and Swift elevated to another level (although if you really want the best restaurant in Charleston, it’s Brock’s other restaurant, Husk). And Blackberry Farm? Transcendent.. I’ve eaten there multiple times. What they do with food leaves Bacchanalia or Eugene in the dust. No contest. And that’s ignoring the incredible setting and the 150,000 bottle wine cellar.

James is right: the lack of fine dining in ATL is sad, and embarrassing. In so many cities of equal or lesser size, there are many more true destination fine dining restaurants. But it’s not because you publish the prices in your reviews! It’s because we have yet to grow a population of demanding clients who are willing to spend some money, and put on decent clothes (sorry, ATL, no shorts, no khakis, no sneakers), and support world-class (and truly 5-star) restaurants. With thoughtful reviews like yours maybe we’ll get there someday.

TheFoodList

March 27th, 2012
7:53 am

JDK – you are called a food critic for a reason… be critical. Nowadays everyone is emotionally attached to their blog’s favorite spot so they do not seem behind the times. Atlanta has more bad restaurants (that manage to survive year after year) than good ones. Somebody needs to call it like it is!

I am personally over all of the reality TV chefs that can not even run a 200 cover service!

We long for the days of the anonymous, crusty old european chef that never came out from behind the line… think the old Atlanta Fish Market when it was located in the Lenox Mall Food Court. Crisp, barely noticeable service, and simple, fresh, prepared to order food !

Anyone remember those days?

Atlantan

March 27th, 2012
9:09 am

I don’t get Fox Brothers – I’ve tried it many times and I’ve never been overly impressed with the food. Neat place, great beer, but food leaves a lot to be desired. The best BBQ is outside of the Perimeter at BBQ1 (that I’ve tried).

FM Fats

March 27th, 2012
10:20 am

Has Fox Brothers suffered because of Big Tex’s Cantina and some divided attention? I have been thoroughly unimpressed after several visits to the Decatur joint and haven’t been to the DeKalb Avenue place in many moons.
Four years on and I still take great comfort in Lance Gummere’s offerings at The Shed at Glenwood.

Alpharetta Girl

March 27th, 2012
11:14 am

What about Nahm Thai in Alpharetta? You really should try them John.

AzCat

March 27th, 2012
6:14 pm

Still waiting for ‘Tom’ to show up and dismiss you again, John… ;-)

Me Too

March 27th, 2012
7:59 pm

TheFoodList, the PINK Fish Market at Lenox was my favorite real restaurant for many years. It has never been the same.

Brian

March 27th, 2012
9:07 pm

Thanks for the explanation John, and for the terrific list and interactive map.

Considering typical Atlanta rush hour traffic before Atlanta meals, maybe it would be OK to include Five & Ten? A little more than an hour commute for James Beard nominated food?

dr zorders

March 28th, 2012
9:37 am

what the hell? just do a top 100 list

K

March 28th, 2012
2:23 pm

I would’ve included Double Zero Napoletana and La Petite Maison.

I would’ve eliminated Viande Rouge (disappointing service; food hit-or-miss) and Tomo (I’ve been there a number of times for lunch, and just never understood what the fuss was about. Maybe I’m missing the “right” thing to order, but I’ve been a sushi fan for 20 years, so if I’m missing it, it’s likely others are as well.)

Robert

March 31st, 2012
2:48 am

I have eaten at Per Se. Frankly, I would take Bacchanalia any day, without factoring in price. Consider price (north of $1600 for four people five years ago at Per Se), and the winner is even more apparent in my book. Please don’t fall for Thomas Keller’s silly little games.

And to the post above regarding the way far too many Atlantans dress for dinner, I second the motion. I wish people would put on something that looks appropriate for dining in our best restaurants. The sloppiness of some is amazing.