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Archive for the ‘Recent dining reviews’ Category

Kimball House restaurant review, Decatur

Shaved Brussels sprouts with pimento-pecan puree. BECKY STEIN/SPECIAL

Shaved Brussels sprouts with pimento-pecan puree. BECKY STEIN/SPECIAL

In tomorrow’s AJC I have a review of Kimball House, the most recent of a string of restaurants to occupy the old Decatur train depot. I gave it a grade of 3 stars.

At Kimball House we find an inspired revival of the once-dying cocktail culture and a raw bar with a brilliant oyster selection unparalleled in Atlanta, the restaurant’s two main draws. We also find an impressive restaurant garden and co-executive chefs Philip Meeker and Jeffrey Wall taking inspiration from early Kimball House hotel menus as they develop new and mostly successful combinations with scores of ingredients, many pickled, cured or fermented in-house. All of these pieces have come together in something of a time capsule for Atlanta dining in 2014.

If you can save room after gorging on oysters, try the sweet and salty fun of the luxuriant pork belly ($12) dotted with crisp fennel slices and brightly sweet orange segments. Be sure to …

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Better Half shows real promise

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Potato soup with ham hock, crispy potato and chive pudding (all photos by Becky Stein)

On a high shelf overlooking the dining room at Better Half, a six-volume set of the landmark food-geek bible “Modernist Cuisine” stands between a moonshine jug marked with a cartoon-worthy “XX” and a stuffed penguin. The juxtaposition may make you laugh, but it encapsulates the unusual spirit here, where culinary precision keeps company with good humor and a keen sense of the pleasure principle.

Better Half snuck onto the scene in mid-December, opened with only a Facebook post and a tweet. Set on a dark stretch of 14th Street halfway between Midtown’s buzzy hotspots and the Westside’s gourmet warehouses, it comes across like the studio apartment of Atlanta dining. A two-man kitchen, surrounded by a dining counter, juts into the small room like a proscenium stage. When a mere 25 people settle inside this space, it’s a party.

Cristina and Zach Meloy with their daughter, Amalia.

Cristina and Zach Meloy with their daughter, Amalia.

One of those …

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Atlanta revisit: di Paolo restaurant review, Alpharetta

The tagliatelle con sugo di carne at di Paolo is one of the most satisfying options. BECKY STEIN / SPECIAL

The tagliatelle con sugo di carne at di Paolo is one of the most satisfying options. BECKY STEIN / SPECIAL

In tomorrow’s AJC I have a review of di Paolo, an Italian restaurant that opened in Alpharetta in 1995. I gave it a grade of 2 stars.

Di Paolo’s core group of regulars appreciate its higher standard of service, a more interesting wine list and Italian fare with a little more pizzazz than the red-sauce standards they would get at a stuccoed, corner Italian outlet.

Chef Darin Hiebel, who took over di Paolo six years ago, runs a from-scratch kitchen that makes its own breads, pastas, sauces and gelato. Regulars have learned just what to order to get a meal worth repeating next week. They’ll go for dishes like wood-fired pizzas, select entrees like gorgonzola-spinach-stuffed chicken ($21) and they have rooted out the pastas worth devouring. Those in the know have learned how to make di Paolo their weekly haunt.

I can help you out with that if you aren’t a bona fide member of …

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Zeal restaurant review, East Cobb

Cornmeal-dusted zucchini BECKY STEIN/SPECIAL

Cornmeal-dusted zucchini BECKY STEIN/SPECIAL

In tomorrow’s AJC I have a review of Zeal, a new restaurant in East Cobb. I gave it a grade of 1 star.

Recently we’ve noticed a small, but encouraging, budding of independent restaurants in the East Cobb area. At Zeal chef Eric Mulville, former executive chef at Maggiano’s Buckhead, presents a menu intended to be both healthful and satisfying for comfort food cravings. Technique he has down — never an overcooked item and proteins like the skirt steak ($21) are surprisingly tender and moist. The whiskey and craft beer flights offer their own kind of oasis in the suburban chain-restaurant sprawl. But lack of seasoning and Mulville’s sweet leanings taint otherwise auspicious dishes. The food appeals more in concept than on the plate.

Zeal’s casual atmosphere makes for an inviting community hangout. Use it as a place to grab a fine burger tricked out with roasted Hatch green chiles ($13) and to sample the craft beer selections like the …

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Pallookaville Fine Foods restaurant review, Avondale Estates

Corn dogs and the soda fountain are the two main draws at Pallookaville. credit: Becky Stein

Corn dogs and the soda fountain are the two main draws at Pallookaville. credit: Becky Stein

In today’s AJC I have a review of Pallookaville Fine Foods, Atlanta native Jim Stacy’s new fair food fantasyland. I gave it a grade of 3 stars.

This Avondale Estates brick-and-mortar location for what began as a mobile corn dog wagon is a harmonious mishmash of carnival kitsch, soda fountain and deli. Using premium regional ingredients, Stacy elevates fair food staples making them worthy of indulgence.

At Pallookaville, corn dog is king. Dogs are cooked in a regional, family-farmed, non-GMO oil. So, dig in and go old school with the hefty Corndogula ($4.50), a beef frank encased in a slightly sweet, golden brown cornbread. Go gourmet with Patak’s Polish kielbasa (Corndogski) or Italian sausages (Cornleone) ($5.50) outfitted in hot pepper or cheese-laced batter. And if you dare, take Stacy’s challenge to try all three with the Fryinstein Monster ($6.50) that crams sections of each onto …

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Atlanta revisit: Haven restaurant review, Brookhaven

Haven's quail (credit: Becky Stein)

Haven's quail (credit: Becky Stein)

I recently revisited Haven, Brookhaven’s 10 year-old eatery that watched the neighborhood grow up around it. While its price point may be slightly higher than at most local hangouts, Haven has made a point to mold itself to the needs of the community. Couples and singles spanning multiple generations fill its enticing space with glowing amber lighting and warm wooden tables facing an open white-subway-tiled kitchen. Atmosphere plus solid cooking makes this restaurant a success.

Try the andouille-stuffed quail ($10), the gloriously browned bird comes filled with a fluffy stuffing, spicy Spotted Trotter sausage, sticks of pickled okra and a crock of firm red field peas cooked baked-bean-style. Or, order the bacon-wrapped trout ($23) encased in a crispy sorghum bacon shell and served over a roulade of sage-and-parsley-scented trout. Paired with brown butter and toasted pecans, how can you go wrong?

So many restaurants try to be everything for …

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1910 Public House restaurant review, Lilburn

Fried chicken livers with peanut butter grits, apples and cole slaw (credit: Becky Stein)

Fried chicken livers with peanut butter grits, apples and cole slaw (credit: Becky Stein)

In tomorrow’s AJC I have a review of 1910 Public House, Lilburn’s new chef-driven bistro. I gave it a grade of 2 stars.

At 1910 Public House chef Robert Elliott puts his own stamp on Southern comfort classics. He has a tendency to tinker, sometimes delivering, sometimes not. Furthermore, the seniors and young children filling the tables may not appreciate his playful attempts, like putting peanut butter in the grits. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great bites to be had, Elliott just needs to tone it down and play more to his audience.

If you ride out the highs and lows, you’ll find a comfortable middle ground. You’ll come to appreciate the simple dishes like the aggressively seasoned, cider-poached chicken ($17). The deep golden sear belies the moisture contained within. Paired with a gooey pimento-cheese potato gratin, you have the makings of a mainstay.

Try the fancy-named corn …

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Ink & Elm restaurant review, Atlanta

pumpkin and ham bone soup (credit: Becky Stein)

pumpkin and ham bone soup (credit: Becky Stein)

In tomorrow’s AJC I have a review of Ink & Elm, the new tavern/restaurant in Emory Village.

When you visit, you’ll have to make a choice. Will it be Ink or Elm?

Venture left and you’ll hit Ink, the lower-priced, more casual tavern bursting with brown spirits and craft beers. Head to the right and you’ll enter Elm, the restaurant’s take on fine dining with a focus on wine and cocktails.

So how did we end up with two concepts in one space? During the planning process owners turned to local design firm and restaurant consultant ai3 with their loosely defined concept. Taking the designer’s advice, they left the space divided as they found it and essentially developed two restaurants. And while that made architectural sense, it resulted in a divided house and a divided kitchen, ergo a divided chef.

Unfortunately, each half seems to exist to the detriment of the other. And Ink may divert chef Sharp’s attention just enough to prevent …

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Atlanta revisit: Sun Dial restaurant review

credit: Becky Stein

credit: Becky Stein

In today’s AJC I have a review of the Sun Dial, Atlanta’s revolving restaurant topping the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

The Sun Dial has long been a favored choice for tourists and special occasion diners. Now it hopes to broaden its market and attract Atlanta’s foodie crowd to take a ride up those glass elevators. With new digs after an extensive four-month renovation and chef Jason Starnes sourcing from regional farms and local food artisans, the Sun Dial is attempting to make the shift from a hotel restaurant to a restaurant located in a hotel.

What you have is a kind of upscale dinner-and-a-movie-style theater. The view showcasing our city’s glory both day and night becomes the feature. But that view costs a premium, with the restaurant’s pricing in the top tier for Atlanta restaurants. And as with most theater fare, you’ll likely decide the appeal of the stellar show outweighs the annoyance of paying elevated venue pricing for a less-than-stellar meal.

Chef …

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Folk Art restaurant review, Inman Park

Patty melt with flat-top mac & cheese (credit: Becky Stein)

Patty melt with flat-top mac & cheese (credit: Becky Stein)

In tomorrow’s AJC I have a review of Folk Art, the new Inman Park breakfast-all-day spot from Wisteria chef/owner Jason Hill. I gave it 1 star.

Folk Art masters some of the criteria for a great cafe, but not all. The prices are reasonable and the kitschy license-plate-laden decor comes together in a laid-back but energetic kind of way. Where it falters is in unpredictable service and a menu boasting big comfort food that quickly becomes monotonous and lacks the oomph that makes it worth the splurge. This is not Wisteria.

Get your dose of food therapy with a heaping serving of the flat-top mac & cheese, casserole style mac griddled with extra cheese for a toasty, crackling crust on top of the gooey goodness. Get your cheese on with the craft grilled cheese ($7.99), a melty mess of yum with layers of cheddar, provolone, gruyere, swiss and creme brie.

Folk Art doesn’t have the same execution, finesse or level of service …

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