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3 new Buckhead restaurants to consider

One night in early 2004, my friends and I staggered away from a filling dinner at Blais — the short-lived Richard Blais restaurant that was in the heart of Buckhead when Buckhead had a heart. As we digested our frankincense-scented parsnip cake, we ventured down an alleyway lined with cheesy bars and clubs and found ourselves in front of the rowdy nightspot Mako’s. There we saw a woman in hot pants on a swing in a window doing that thing women in hot pants on swings in windows used to do in Buckhead: swinging.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

Back in 2004 Buckhead didn’t just have any old heart: it had a proper four-chambered one. There was one chamber for the trashy drunkenness of Mako’s and its ilk; one chamber for the big-city glamour of Joël and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton; one chamber for staid spots like Pano’s & Paul’s and Anis that appealed to the wealthy mansion-dwelling neighbors, and that last chamber for the true culinary innovation of Blais, Soto and Seeger’s.

Of these, only Anis remains. But others have vanished, along with the tacit knowledge that Buckhead was the one Atlanta neighborhood that mattered above all others when it came to nightlife, entertainment and the most delicious meals the city had to offer. These days the most anticipated new restaurants likely open in west Midtown, if not Inman Park, Decatur or Roswell.

Those of us who actually anticipate the opening of restaurants no longer drop “Buckhead” as an adjective to indicate a level of ambition, glitz or moneyed extravagance, as we once did. In late 2012, we have a better notion of what constitutes Gangnam Style than Buckhead Style.

San Diego-based developer OliverMcMillan now promises the long-stalled and scaled-back project to rebuild the neighborhood’s core will be complete within a year’s time, and eight to 10 new restaurants should figure in the mixed-use development. But for now, the streets of Buckhead lie dormant like an empty-chested patient on a gurney, waiting for his heart transplant.

Yet there have been some promising new places opening around the periphery as restaurateurs strive to give Buckhead proper the currency and energy of developing neighborhoods. Consider the fact that before the opening of STG Trattoria last spring, there wasn’t really anywhere in central Buckhead to enjoy small plates fashioned from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients in a casual environment.

Earlier this month, a restaurant called Seven Lamps opened in Shops Around Buckhead and has been getting a lot of attention from food hounds. Chef/owner Drew Van Leuvan oversees this warm, amber-hued spot from an open kitchen. During a time when other new menus around Atlanta seem formulaic or conservative, he cooks with real brio. Chocolate corzetti pasta with duck confit, savory potato zeppoli doughnuts and house-made mortadella mousse are but a few of the intriguing dishes he proposes.

It’s been a few years since the city’s most buzzed-about restaurant has been in Buckhead. But the neighborhood that started the Atlanta restaurant boom still has a pulse.

Here are three other new Buckhead restaurants to consider:

Del Frisco’s Grille

If you’re still mourning the passing of Craft Atlanta, you might want to make sure you’ve completed the stages of grief before you walk into the restaurant that took over its space. What was elegant and spare, with stacks of firewood setting the naturalistic tone, is now as sparkly and glitzed up as a dress in the window at Tootsie’s. A glowing red light fixture running along the staircase of this two-story restaurant cast a brassy light. One bar wasn’t enough, so now there’s a second one on the top floor, and both overflow at all hours.

Crispy tacos filled with raw diced tuna and avocado at Del Frisco's Grill. (Photos by Beckly Stein / Special)

Crispy tacos filled with raw diced tuna and avocado at Del Frisco's Grill. (Photos by Beckly Stein / Special)

And Buckhead loves it. Old Buckhead goes at midday when the ladies lunch cheek to jowl. Glam Buchkead goes at night, where the steakhouse-plus menu has something for everyone. Del Frisco’s Grille is a high-end, multi-unit offshoot of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse — a place that takes the focus away from the steaks and chops and instead pushes the shareable appetizers, cocktails and the kinds of fried items you want to resist, but can’t. Some folks here will order a generously portioned entree, but many more will get lost after the crispy tacos filled with raw diced tuna and avocado and the greasy, doughy but snarfable wild mushroom flatbread.

After one visit, I’m guessing that’s the way to go. A short rib beef stroganoff with wide pappardelle noodles was a congealed clump with a disconcerting pasty texture, and the prime-grade Delmonico (rib eye) steak with barbecue rub was a thin, overseasoned thing that did not taste like a $32 steak. The wine list has some nice surprises, like a delicious Bodegas Numanthia-Termes “Termes” — a Spanish tempranillo from the Toro region with integrated fruit and earth flavors. But the markup is about three times retail.

3376 Peachtree Road, Buckhead, 404-537-2828, delfriscosgrille.com/atlanta $$$-$$$$

Modern Restaurant + Bar

Salmon with grain mustard cream arugula salad with cornbread croutons at Modern Restaurant + Bar.

Salmon with grain mustard cream arugula salad with cornbread croutons at Modern Restaurant + Bar.

This dressed-to-impress newcomer joins the eclectic dining lineup at Tower Place shopping center, which recently welcomed Twin Peaks, a so-called “breastaurant.” (Other tenants include Farmburger and Ru San’s.) It hearkens to the kinds of restaurants that opened in pre-recession Buckhead, when sleek lounge design was often matched with ambitious gourmet food. Think dark wooden floors, bar tables, flowing white sheers and dim party lighting. Now think duck, foie gras and lots of French cooking terms on the menu.

The latter here comes from Mark Alba, who has been a well-regarded chef on the Atlanta scene for more than a decade. The food here is elaborately plated and garnished and speaks to Alba’s experience in fine dining. I liked a plate of salmon with grain mustard cream arugula salad with cornbread croutons. A little tweak to the acid and salt levels in this dish would have put it over the top. A galantine of duck wrapped around a center of chicken mousse didn’t get much help from its watery pear sauce, nor its shallot marmalade, but I welcomed seeing this kind of cooking in the post farm-to-table era.

A little editing and focus could give this ambitious menu some real oomph.

3365 Piedmont Road, Buckhead, 404-554-1100, modernbuckhead.com $$$

Cook Hall

A cocktail kit with charcuterie plate at Cook Hall.

A cocktail kit with charcuterie plate at Cook Hall.

Market, the restaurant in the W Buckhead, featured a loopy yet kind of heartless space-age decor and a paint-by-numbers menu from Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Both are gone and replaced with a concept Atlantans like a whole lot better. You know what it is, right? A farm-to-table gastropub with a warm, rustic decor. Yes, it’s another one of those places where people eat sliders and drink $12 cocktails with ironic names. But Buckhead needs one of these places.

Don’t you like the idea of nursing a good bourbon cocktail as you pass plates of kale Caesar salad, crispy duck taco, pimento mac and cheese and chicken liver mousse before a movie at Phipps Plaza?

New York-based beverage director Belinda Chang has assembled some fine spirits and come up with a clever do-it-yourself cocktail kit. It works like this: You pick at least two shots of spirits for the table, and the bar manager brings all kinds of mixers, shrubs and tinctures along with all the necessary bar equipment to invent your own cocktail. It’s a bit nerve-wracking for the first round, as you add wormwood bitters from an eyedropper, not sure if you’re going to wreck your good hooch. But the second round turned into a fun science project/cooking experiment. I want to try a third round, but I think I’ll need a hotel room at the W for that.

3377 Peachtree Road, Buckhead, 404-523-3600, cookhallatlanta.com $$-$$$

18 comments Add your comment

Art

December 27th, 2012
9:10 am

Buckhead has certainly changed over the last 8 years. We recently celebrated my wife’s birthday with a stay at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead. I had almost forgotten that the Dining Room was no longer there. While all of the restaurants that you mentioned have passed, there is still the venerable Hal’s that seems to stand the test of time and packs them in every night. We enjoyed a couple of steaks and some awesome appetizers.

Bernard

December 27th, 2012
9:58 am

Unfortunately, you’re right Mr. Kessler. As a Buckhead native, it pains me to see what it has become, not just when it comes to restaurants, either. It’s Downtown North.

The people who congregate in Buckhead now are a rather unsophisticated crowd, who would gladly pay $30 for a congealed clump of noodles, just to say they are “dining in Buckhead” and, thus, feel good about their insecure selves.

Furthermore, Buckhead rents are high, and therefore we get overpriced meals. What chef wants to take a chance and open a restaurant and “experiment” with his menu under those prices? Best leave it to the chains like BrickTops and Cheesecake Factory. Mmmmmm.

Mike

December 27th, 2012
10:38 am

Best sentence:

“There we saw a woman in hot pants on a swing in a window doing that thing women in hot pants on swings in windows used to do in Buckhead: swinging.”

Could have been written by Lewis Grizzard. Except I think he “waited out the traffic” at bars closer to the AJC offices on Marietta Street.

Worst sentence:

“Consider the fact that before the opening of STG Trattoria last spring, there wasn’t really anywhere in central Buckhead to enjoy small plates fashioned from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients in a casual environment.”

Maybe because people in Buckhead have the attention span to order an actual meal?

I’ll be interested to see how Del Frisco’s does. Yes, it’s busy now, but what happens when the next Officially Certified Trendy Bar opens? How much of their bar business is people rediscovering Buckhead as a place for nightlife, and how much did they siphon off Whiskey Blue across the street? Will the steakhouse part of their menu compete not only with the highly regarded locals (Bone’s, Chops, Hal’s) but the highly regarded chains that are within walking distance?

I won’t miss Craft’s “minimalist” decor. It had all the charm of the factory in Les Mis.

ATL Born and Raised

December 27th, 2012
10:46 am

I’ve been to Del Frisco’s a couple of times since it opened and enjoyed it. Their sommelier is a hoot. Plus that balcony is going to be the place to be in the spring. A bit too cold out for it now, even with the heaters. (Hint: The croque madame at brunch is delicious.)

Con: the $2 valet chage they don’t mention to you at parking, at least not the first time I went. Well, sorry, guy, there goes your tip! Would’ve been nice to know ahead of time so I could get some cash from the bar.

Tony

December 27th, 2012
11:01 am

I had dinner a Chops recently. It was real good.

Another Native

December 27th, 2012
11:07 am

@ Bernard and Mike, well said.

And runner up for worst sentence:

But for now, the streets of Buckhead lie dormant like an empty-chested patient on a gurney, waiting for his heart transplant.

Ned Ludd

December 27th, 2012
12:41 pm

As another Buckhead native I can only guess at the motives of those who choose to spend a fortune on decor in a high rent office building to see if their version of the cuisine de jour catches fire with those who dine only to see and be seen. Celebrity chefs and high dollar design may get people through the door but rarely is it enough to allow the place to stay around for long. You can be in a rambling old house with a car on the patio (Anis)–another creaking house with odd shaped rooms (Basil’s)–a non descript 60’s storefront (Bone’s)–an odd lobby of a three story condo (La Grotta) if you offer good food, good service and consistancy. These places are Buckhead to me and many others who value substance over silliness. Good luck to those in your article, I will certainly give them a shot, but please do not say they represent all that is in Buckhead.

gunga din

December 27th, 2012
1:08 pm

how much of this crap would the average diner really eat !!! pretentious, over priced slop. these critics are the kind of people that think 2 duck testicles on a piece of lettuce slathered with motor oil is fine dining !!!

Matt

December 27th, 2012
4:54 pm

If you want to have a nice dinner outside of Buckhead you should try the Vinings Inn located in Vinings proper. My girlfriend works there. The only draw back is that it is infested with rats. The owners name is Amin. Please email him at aminrahme@gmail.com if you want to ask why he lets this historic landmark go to waste.

Art

December 27th, 2012
5:37 pm

@Ned Ludd, great post… @Matt, ditto!! The Vinings Inn used to be a cool place to meet Match.com dates… back in my single days. I love La Grotta… It’s like dining in Madam Tussaud’s wax museum but the food is great!

Edward

December 27th, 2012
6:37 pm

La Grotta Buckhead is the “Grande Dame” of dining, now. Consistently executed perfectly, reliable, service is spot-on. I enjoy going there with friends. As to these “flash-in-the-pan” places, they open and close so fast they hardly matter. As long as the investors can milk big bucks out of the AMG/BMW crowd for mediocre but trendy food and drink, they’ll keep popping up.

[...] 3 new Buckhead restaurants to consider [...]

Buckhead Survivor

December 28th, 2012
10:24 am

Looking foreword to the new Kevin Rathbun Steak Bar in Peachtree Hills.

Edward

December 28th, 2012
11:51 am

Indeed, the KR Steak Bar in P’tree Hills is highly anticipated.

K-10

December 28th, 2012
12:44 pm

Sadly, as someone who is a loyal fan of the Del Frisco Double Eagle Steakhouses, the Grille does not live up to DF expectations. We had an okay meal there – subpar steak as John mentioned – with passable small plates and clumsy service. Interesting side note – a few days after dining, we received a thank you note mailed to our home address, which we at no time provided to a DF employee. Suppose they did a little research from our credit card…phishy, and I will not go back.

These days, this foodie spends most of her time in Roswell…happily.

N-GA

December 28th, 2012
3:50 pm

Aunt Charlie’s….nuff said!

Blackland

December 28th, 2012
4:22 pm

Del Frisco, tried it the first week; service uneven, food average, cocktails too sweet, wine list nothing special. I guess it will do for people watching for about 6 months, then they will be gone.

Modern, tried it twice; service good, food the same thing everyone else is serving (hamachi, fois gras, short rib, hanger steak, etc…), wine list lacks much in the way of good European wine but the prices are reasonable. The bar is a good place to have a drink.

The best of the bunch is Cook Hall; excellent service, good food cooked right and great cocktails. Not the most interesting decor, but a solid place to have a drink and snack after work.

I am tired of snouts and tails and farm to table, I mean doesn’t all food come from a farm? I am tired of farro, Springer Mountain and Anson Mills. If the food is good quality I will know, I don’t need to have the place it came from printed on the menu. I wish someone would open a restaurant in Buckhead like the old Seegers. I don’t need a fancy space, just some good quality food that is new and interesting, a great wine list and excellent service.

Baltisraul.....

December 31st, 2012
8:00 am

K-10……it is an intrusion on you for sure, but it is a nice touch, in a way.

How can your name be Steakhouse and not serve a great steak? $32.00 for a prime rib eye in an upscale place is ok but to be a small portion and just avg. is a death sentence