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Archive for the ‘30 Restaurants in 30 Days 2013’ Category

30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Valenza

Pappardelle with ragù and house ricotta

Pappardelle with ragù and house ricotta

Hello good people, and welcome to Italian Week here on Food & More as I continue my tour of 30 Atlanta restaurants.

All this week I’ll be stopping in at neighborhood Italian restaurants. The thought most likely came to me because my wife and I have been paying our respects to James Gandolfini by rewatching the entire run of “The Sopranos,” an exercise that has left me starving for pasta on a nightly basis.

But, really, is there any dining experience more perfect than Italian? When an Italian restaurant clicks, it gets the big picture, the reason we like to go out to eat. There’s a warmth to the setting, a generosity of spirit to the service, a feeling that you’re being taken care of.

When the Zagat Survey of Atlanta Restaurants came out last year, four of the top 10 rankings for food were claimed by Italian places. Among them was Valenza, a Brookhaven spot that gets big love from its neighbors.

The rustic setting seems stagy for about …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Highland Tap


Welcome to meat-lovers Friday here on Food & More.

For today’s installment of 30 Restaurants in 30 Days I decided to revisit an old-time favorite to try a specific dish that I often recommend but have never tried.

Let me explain.

In my job as a restaurant writer I get certain emails over and over again:

  • “Help, it’s my wife’s 40th birthday.”
  • “What restaurants are open on Christmas?”
  • “What’s a good quiet restaurant where we can dine without screaming?”
  • “Where can I go for prime rib in Atlanta?”

For that last one, I’ve always had a stock answer: Highland Tap. As once-ubiquitous prime rib has become less popular over the years, this basement-level bar and tavern in Virginia-Highland has been going strong — feeding Atlantans slabs of rosy beef since the 1980’s.

Have I tried it? No, which I’m sure to explain as I tell readers of Highland Tap’s reputation. I don’t think I’ve eaten prime rib in 20 years myself.

So the time had come, and here it is: the 14-ounce “King Cut” because …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: H. Harper Station

The Flor de Manzana: a cocktail that mixes tequila and calvados

The Flor de Manzana: a cocktail that mixes tequila and calvados

The owner of H. Harper Station, Jerry Slater, is one of our city’s great cocktailians. His bravura drinks list shifts easily from classics to new creations, and it makes you pause and consider each spirit. It’s like one of those Chinese menus where you want a lobster dish, a pork dish and a duck dish, except here you’re looking at tequila, gin and rum. I’ve liked some concoctions better than others, but I always stop and appreciate the sensibility of each. This “Flor de Manzana” made the case for mixing reposada tequila and the French apple brandy calvados with enough Punt e Mes and bitters to bring all the flavors into an intriguing dialogue.

In other words, schluuuurp.

The kitchen in this pretty old brick train building along Memorial Drive in Reynoldstown has faced the same problems that beset other ambitious cocktail-first establishments. It needs to provide the bites you crave with spirits — small, rich, …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Cafe Agora

IMG_7547Behold, friends, the best lunch in Buckhead. It is yours for about $7, tax and the generous tip you’ll want to leave for the good people at Cafe Agora.

Called the “mixed maza platter,” it is intended as a shareable appetizer, but I’m telling you to skip the (great looking) kebabs and gyros and eat up this plate of vegetarian Turkish yumboliciousness. It contains (clockwise from 12 o’clock):

  • Eggplant salad, bright and tomatoey, with peppers and lemon juice
  • Baba Ghanouj, prepared with an ideal balance of tahini smoothness and lemon-garlic tang
  • Potato salad, with a  tart sprinkling of purple sumac adding a tart foil to the waxy blandness of the red-skinned spuds
  • A stuffed grape leaf, bursting with and sweet, with mint, pine nuts and raisins
  • Piyaz, a bean salad that tastes like a far superior version of those pickled three-bean salads that used to be a salad bar staple
  • Ezme, char-broiled eggplant supplying the meaty flavor that makes all these veggies seem so …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Olmsted

Hummus plate

Hummus plate

When I tried to visit Olmsted for lunch, I parked my car with a valet and followed the helpful signposts along 14th Street and up a flight of stairs to the patio. There I encountered a barrier to keep me out of a private function. After exploring every nook of that block and walking up and down the stairs twice, I decided to climb over the barrier, wedge myself between a table and a group of canape-clutching suits and work my way to the unmarked door.

“Is this the entrance to Olmsted?” I asked a waitress, who was coming by with a tray of drinks.

“It’s one of them,” she responded, motioning with her head to another door across the room that opens to the courtyard.

When Legacy Restaurant Partners took over the former Trois, they reconfigured this sleek three-story space, rechristening the street-level bar as Article 14 and effectively cutting its ties to Olmsted upstairs by cutting off the interior staircase that united them.

Now, by entering through the freshly …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Nicola’s Restaurant

photo 3-3

The house special lamb shank

Have you ever seen Nicola Ayoub dance? I still haven’t.

For the 15 years I’ve lived in Atlanta I’ve been hearing about hearing about the extroverted owner of Nicola’s Restaurant,  the gent who likes to coax diners up and out of their chairs, all the while balancing a tray of lit candles on his head.

And every time I drive by this 27-year-old Lebanese fixture on my way to Buckhead, I think it’s an Atlanta dining experience I need to have, like a Ghetto Burger at Ann’s Snack Bar or a Frosted Orange at the Varsity.

Sunday may not have been the best night to first go.

What we found on this quiet weekend night was a sweet, creaky restaurant from an earlier generation.

Chicken a la beef

Chicken a la beef

With its dim lights, knotty pine paneling, framed pictures of landscapes and flowers lining the walls, silverware in burgundy cloth napkin rolls, enormous ceremonial pepper grinder, paper place mat menus, it made me think of the immigrant diners I grew up with in the …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Amura


Here are a few things to know about Amura:

  1. As the website indicates, it is located in Trendy Buckhead Atlanta, Georgia.
  2. More specifically, it is located in the grand Terminus space formerly occupied by MF Buckhead. If you were familiar with that restaurant, you’ll notice from the picture that a few key changes have been made to the space. The upstairs omakase room has been opened up into a loggia overlooking the dining room. Many flat-screen TVs have been added to keep that trendy energy going.
  3. This restaurant is the fourth branch of a small chain and the first location outside of greater Orlando. Another is planned for Dallas.
  4. The “totally camera chic” dining room is available for film shoots, according to the website. Film your next movie and give those Hollywood types the sushi they crave.
  5. The restaurant specializes in something called “hi-definition” sushi. Shall we explore?

IMG_7509The sushi bar makes a lot of flashy plated appetizers, including this tuna honey-miso caviar …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: HD1


A formal restaurant review should be a good-faith attempt at applying process to evaluation. The reviewer should visit multiple times, experience service from different staffers, and make a serious dent in the menu in an effort to try all the specialties and ferret out the hidden gems. The reviewer should be asking himself if the kitchen’s execution is consistent and the floor staff knowledgeable about the menu and beverage list, not what he feels like eating. In fact, the best reviewers go with open minds and keep their own tastes and predilections on the sidelines.

Carrot dog, "South of Chi-Town" style

Carrot dog, "South of Chi-Town" style

What I’m doing here during this 30 Restaurants in 30 Days project is not formal reviewing. I visit once, eat what appeals and judge the meal solely on how well it lived up to my anticipation. This approach has its own merits, and it can get to a truth about the restaurant that I might not see when I’m wielding my reviewer’s fork.

Case in point: HD1. When I first wrote about

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Nam Phuong


I’ve always thought that one of my great failings as an omnivore is that I get stuck in ruts. This is particularly true at Asian restaurants with encyclopedic menus.

Case in point: Nam Phuong. If I go to the grander Norcross branch, I usually have a posse in tow to feast on bun hoi — the platter of grilled meats, herbs and marinated vegetables to roll up in rice paper rounds. If I go to the close-to-home and more modest Buford Highway branch, I’m there for pho — my favorite local version of this beef noodle soup.

On a recent visit I noticed the menu had started to feature a list of “Vietnamese street food” appetizers, including canh ga chien nuoc mam, chicken wings glazed in fish sauce. The food gods must have been looking out for me when this caught my eye.

More of a full meal than an appetizer, this huge portion of wings are flavored to the bone with their salty-sweet marinade, crispy, tossed in a sticky and tangy sauce with cooked scallions and red chiles, then showered …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Shorty’s Pizza

IMG_7565Shorty’s Pizza, with two locations in Toco Hills and Tucker, serves thin-crust wood-fired pizzas named for diverse musical acts.

Diverse is diverse, from G. Love to Tito Puente, Biggie Smalls, Sid Vicious, Jack White, Ravi Shankar and Peter Tosh. As a menu, it’s like the iPod belonging to a 50-year-old guy who goes to hear new acts at the Earl in his vintage Buzzcocks t-shirt.

The restaurant also serves small plates, big salads, focaccia sandwiches and a handful of entrees.

If I may speak freely, here’s what the menu really features: Old guy stoner food.

It’s all hilariously off kilter, stuff you’d throw together with ample hunger but little artfulness, with the sole intention of jamming it merrily into your face.

But it’s that kind of food if you don’t want the carbs, grease and meat as much as the textures and flavors. Perhaps if you have started to worry more about what you eat.

The salad above, listed under small plates, unites arugula, threads of spaghetti squash, a …

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