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> Three Blind Mice, Lilburn; Tofu Village, Marietta; Tomo Japanese Restaurant, Buckhead; Umaido, Suwanee; Varasano’s, Atlanta; Viande Rouge Steakhouse , Johns Creek; Vingenzo’s, Woodstock; Woodfire Grill, Atlanta; Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House, Doraville; World Peace Cafe, Sandy Springs.THREE BLIND MICE 1066 Killian Hill Road, Lilburn; 770-696-4139
It had been years since I had seen steak Diane on a menu. But here it is, reborn. Plated with an artful swipe of brandy cream, a hillock of roasted potato and onion, this pepper-dusted New York strip is a happy reminder of old-school indulgence with a laid-back modern edge.
That describes most of the menu at this welcome surprise of a restaurant in Lilburn.
Tucked into a little strip shopping center, Three Blind Mice cannily straddles two worlds. At one glance, it is the nicest restaurant in town. Chef Matthew Murphy (who co-owns the restaurant with several operating partners) drops French words and gourmet ingredients. But take another look, and it’s a bouncy neighborhood joint with live music, an attached wine shop, decent prices and enough comfort on the menu to encourage a weeknight meal.
The food can be a little rich, but the energy and tone of this restaurant seems pretty close to ideal for the neighborhood.TOFU VILLAGE 700 Sandy Plains Road, Marietta. 770-426-7757
If you’re of the belief tofu doesn’t actually taste of anything, then find this modest Korean outlier far from the dining hubbub of Buford Highway and Duluth. Tofu gue ee, made in house and lightly crisped in vegetable oil, has a wonderful flavor — creamy and beany, with natural oils that bloom on your tongue. You break off pieces of these seared lozenges with your chopsticks and dip them in a mild soy/scallion sauce. Just gorgeous.
This restaurant, which looks for all the world like a middling Korean barbecue joint, has several other killer dishes up its sleeve. House-made noodles ennoble a fantastic version of ja jang myeon, with the treacle-black bean gravy coating their porous surface. And the yukgaujang — spicy beef soup with more of those noodles — is the best you’ll try, smoky with dried mushroom and deeply plumbed with boiled vegetables and greens.TOMO JAPANESE RESTAURANT 3630 Peachtree Road, Buckhead, 404-835-2708
With its move to the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Buckhead, Tomo Japanese Restaurant has given up its cozy suburban mall vibe for a shot of big-time glamour.
The sushi remains impeccable — everything from the great selection of seafood to the always-perfect rice distinguishes this restaurant as one of Atlanta’s few true destinations for raw fish. The kitchen follows with a number of interesting cooked dishes, such as salmon broiled in sweetly funky sake lees and duck breast with foie gras in a truffle teriyaki sauce. None of it is quite as good as the raw fare, and a few cooking glitches here and there suggest the kitchen needs a bit more time to grow into its glossy new digs and ambitious menu.
One great asset at the new location is manager Cliff Sinon, who has a natural gift for hospitality.UMAIDO 2790 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, Suwanee, 678-318-8568
This chic sliver of a restaurant specializes in ramen — the Japanese noodle soup that has become something of a religion in recent years among food explorers. The house style here — tonkotsu or “pork bone” — originated on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The long-simmered broth is milk-white, thanks to the high concentration of fat and collagen in it. The slippery white noodles are made in-house in a machine you’ll walk by at the entrance.
The broth (which you can order “rich” if you like it super creamy) is a canvas for many add-ons. It comes with pieces of gloriously fatty roast pork, tree ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, red snippets of pickled ginger and a whole soy-stained egg with a liquid center. Yummers. The table holds a grinder filled with roasted sesame seeds and peeled garlic cloves to press at the table.
As the owners are Korean, you can also get the broth in different stages of spiciness. I found the spiciest level just about inedible, and I’m not one to back off any capsaicin that comes my way. Just sayin’.VARASANO’S
For Jeffrey Varasano, it’s all about the crust. This man lives for a Platonic ideal of crust that is thin, light, well-puffed and yet absolutely crisp on the bottom. He first pursued this quest at home and documented his efforts in his now-legendary blog. Then he opened this south Buckhead restaurant and turned pizza purism on its nose.
The dining room looks like Anywheresville, with its shiny laminate tables, plate windows, tile floors and framed posters that have been reproduced a kazillion times for a kazillion such rooms. The service staff seems to be in a constant state of flux. But those pizzas…
The Nana’s with its well-herbed San Marzano tomato sauce tastes as close to American pizza ideal as any I’ve tried — particularly if you avail yourself of the list of toppings. Throw on some mushrooms, sweet roasted peppers and hot sopressata. That special pizza place in your soul will expand three sizes. Or try the more classic Italian margherita di bufala to taste the holy trinity of buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil on that miraculous crust. Salads, desserts and wines are serviceable, and Varasano has added a few pastas and entrees for those misguided folks who don’t want pizza.VIANDE ROUGE STEAKHOUSE 9810 Medlock Bridge Road, Johns Creek
The second restaurant from Thomas Taylor and chef Marc Sublette, who own the appealing Trattoria One 41 down-mall, Viande Rouge posits a winning culinary make-believe land — a swaggering American steakhouse dressed in extravagant French frippery. This is a place for oysters and foie gras, USDA Prime steaks and Dover sole filleted tableside, all of it prepared with skill.
Start with a lobster bisque poured into a wide soup plate that tastes of sweet, oceanic funk rather than cream. Then move along to an 18-ounce Delmonico rib eye with its perimeter of crispy fat, and have a glorious tangle of potato crunch called pommes rissolées alongside.
The kitchen wedges a few flat-out French dishes into the menu, including a gorgeously updated duck à l’orange fashioned from one crisp duck confit leg and a beguiling pile of pulled duck meat, orange segments, frisée greens and potatoes in a light duck jus.
This dim, glittery room features brocade-patterned walls the color of blood and sexed-up art in gilt frames. You’ll wonder for a moment if you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in some infamous Nevada funhouse or perhaps a top-secret filming of “Mad Men.” By the way: No children under 18 allowed.VINGENZO’S 105 E. Main St., Woodstock, 770-924-9133
Michael Bologna’s Woodstock restaurant qualifies as a destination for Atlantans looking for ingredient-driven Italian food as well as a local treasure for those lucky enough to live nearby.
To say this restaurant serves pizza and pasta doesn’t tell the whole story. The mozzarella is made in-house, the Neapolitan pizzas fashioned from all-Italian ingredients and cooked in a wood-burning oven, and the pastas of every shape and size, strand and spiral, are made daily.
Make sure to start with a tasting of house-made mozzarellas — the best way to capture the spirit of this restaurant. Then move on to handmade fusilli (extruded from a machine and left to air-dry in the afternoon) baked al forno with mozzarella, handmade ricotta, roma tomatoes and pellets of house sausage. This is not bubbly, gooey, Sunday-dinner-on-”The-Sopranos” ziti al forno, but something lighter and fresher.WOODFIRE GRILL 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta, 404-347-9055
Kevin Gillespie became something of a folk hero for his memorable 2009 stint on “Top Chef” — the right toque for these bacon-loving times. More than that, though, he embodied the new spirit in Southern cooking that was then emerging — honest, pig-loving, whip-smart, soulful, close to the farm and more than ready for its moment. Thanks to the exposure, Gillespie and his partners, Bernard Moussa and Nicholas Quiñones, got a bump into the big leagues of fine dining. Less expressly Southern than rooted by its sense of place, his hyper-focused food uses the best of local and sustainable product and an eclectic array of seasonings.
To wit: A slab of grouper came off the wood-fired grill cooked to such an ideal temperature — it still had the juicy tug of a steak — and paired with butternut squash in a way that brought out the savory in the vegetable and the sweet in the fish.
Pastry chef Chrysta Poulus, the newest member of the core team, has warm English toffee pudding with coffee cream, and dark chocolate spaetzle with frozen yogurt and compressed strawberries to finish the meal. Ask Quinoñes to match the courses with wines from his terribly smart, fairly priced and varied list.WOO NAM JEONG STONE BOWL HOUSE 5953 Buford Highway, Doraville, 678-530-0844 (no website)
Other Korean restaurants along Buford Highway offer fine specialties, be they barbecue, noodles or tofu soup. Woo Nam Jeong has a signature dish on its broad menu — rice with toppings (bi bim bap) cooked in the superheated stone bowl called a dolsot. I can’t imagine a better version than the one here, with its perfectly supple and snow-white fried egg atop a rainbow spiral of mixed vegetables and finely shredded beef. You add a squeeze of gochujang chili paste and give it a stir, loosening the crisp and golden rice crust (nurunggi) from the side of the dish.
But it also benefits from the warm personality of owner Young Hui Han (whom everyone calls “grandma”) and her wonderful staff. If you don’t know much about Korean food, this restaurant should be tops on your list.
You might turn your attention to the one page of the lengthy menu that is unlike any other in town: the 12-course menu. At $69.95, it’s a feast for two people (the price is prorated for larger parties), but is no more than what you’d spend on a meal in a nice bistro.WORLD PEACE CAFE 220 Hammond Drive, Sandy Springs, 404-256-2100
There are times when you want a bloody hamburger, with juices that drip down your arms. And there are times when you want a compressed patty of vegetal matter. To my mind, there’s no better place to scratch this itch than the serene, easygoing World Peace Cafe, where tasty vegetarian cooking and spiritual enlightenment come together.
Owned and operated by Kadampa Meditation Center Georgia, this restaurant is staffed by disciples who volunteer their time to cook and serve. This oat-thickened patty has a meaty chew, crisp edges and tons of flavor. It arrives on a soft whole wheat bun with rosemary mayonnaise and a thick slice of the best-available tomato. Other versions include a Jamaican with jerk seasoning and mango salsa, a Southern with pimento cheese and a Hot ‘n Spicy with buffalo sauce and blue cheese.
The menu also features a rice bowl of grilled veggies and seared tofu with spicy peanut sauce, and mushroom stroganoff over pappardelle pasta. The all-day breakfast features fluffy omelets and vegan cranberry-orange pancakes served with a side of fruit.
Meditate on that.