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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Spring Dining Guide: Atlanta 50, restaurants A-B

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Reviews for restaurants A-B:

> 4th & Swift, Atlanta; Abattoir, Atlanta; Antico Pizza Napoletana, Midtown; Aria, Buckhead; Bacchanalia, Midtown; Barcelona Wine Bar, Atlanta; Bistro VG, Roswell; Bocado, Midtown; Bone’s, Buckhead; Busy Bee Cafe, Atlanta.

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4TH & SWIFT
621 North Ave., Atlanta, 678-904-0160
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Since its opening nearly four years ago, 4th & Swift has worked toward a unified vision of what casual fine dining can and should be. A consistency of tone extends from the room design, to the look of the food, to the tenor of the service. Owner/chef Jay Swift serves both a daily market menu and a seasonal menu, where you can find some of his better-loved dishes. Most fans of this restaurant can’t leave without ordering the halved Brussels sprouts, blistered and crunchy on the surface, served with a cooling apple salad. Also look for wood-roasted venison with spiced kabocha squash puree and sweet pomegranate jus lapping against meltingly tender meat. You’ll melt in your seat.

Beverages here range from the unusually thoughtful and well mixed cocktails to a surprising wine list filled with affordable options and lesser known varietals.

ABATTOIR
1170 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, 404-892-3335
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Set in the White Provision space that was indeed part of a massive meat processing plant back in the day, Abattoir (French for “slaughterhouse”) has needed time to work out its personality. Bloodthirsty name aside, the massive dining room evinces a cool industrial elegance, like a chic version of an institutional dining hall. The “whole animal” spin on the initial menu didn’t generate much torque; the dishes felt carefully composed and plated rather than lusty.

But over time Abattoir has found its way and become one of the city’s better bistros. It now feels like a baby Bacchanalia, with its clean, focused, ingredient-driven approach. Former chef/partner Joshua Hopkins was already headed in this direction, and new chef Tyler Williams goes even further in distancing Abattoir from its original intent.

Look for the more contemporary stylings on this menu, which has grown more interesting as it has grown more eclectic. Gorgeous beef tartare comes in the style of a Korean yukke, with bits of jalapeño, Asian pear and pinenut underscoring the meat’s sweetness. Duck soup unites super-flavorful duck meatballs, bok choy and pillowy seared dumplings in a limpid consomme. Abattoir was never a place I wanted to drink and eat salami. But it has become a place where I always want to dine.

ANTICO PIZZA NAPOLETANA
1093 Hemphill Ave., Midtown, 404-873-1272
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None of the pizza parvenus around Atlanta can make us forget the sheer joy of our first visits to Antico Pizza Napoletana — the westside spot that burst onto the scene in 2009 with plenty of heart but little in the way of creature comforts such as tables, chairs or utensils. Today the lines aren’t as long and the seating options more generous, but the pizza is just as good.

Remember to bring your own wine or beer, count on about one pizza per two people, and go to town. Blistery and puffed from the oven, these puppies come loaded with San Marzano tomato sauce and top-quality bufula mozzarella, applied with abandon. The San Gennaro, with its knobs of sausage and sweet-hot red peppers remains everyone’s favorite.

ARIA
490 E. Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead, 404-233-7673
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Chef Gerry Klaskala has his time-tested dishes, but he cooks with such finesse and sensitivity to his ingredients that his menu achieves a kind of grace. You may go for his signature lobster cocktail with potato and broccoli purees layered in a martini glass. Or you may look for his clever seasonal riffs, such as a summertime veal schnitzel, so moist and full of flavor, yet thin, crisp and ideally paired with a salad of pregnant-with-juice heirloom tomatoes.

Manager Andres Loaiza holds the keys to one of the town’s great equal-opportunity wine lists, with a great range of New World and Old World styles and nary an important viticultural region ignored. Pastry chef Kathryn King deftly constructs a menu that offers perennials such as her warm chocolate cheesecake alongside seasonal fruit shortcakes. It is, in short, a classic.

BACCHANALIA
1198 Howell Mill Road, Midtown, 404-365-0410
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After serving a four-course menu for more than 15 years, owner Anne Quatrano has decided to offer a fifth course at her flagship, so you now get both a fish and a meat entree, along with all the other small gifts from the kitchen between courses. You dine regally here. (And, yes, there are vegetarian options in each course.)

Quatrano and her ace crew cook in a decidedly non-flashy vein to highlight the principal ingredient in each course in the daily changing menu. The appetizer selection might offer a foie gras torchon with brown turkey figs, oysters with cucumber gelee or some excellent charcuterie from Star Provisions. You’ll move to seasonal fish, such as halibut with chanterelles, corn and bacon, or the classic Gulf crab fritter. Follow that with pheasant breast with oyster mushrooms and cocoa nibs, and then onto the “cheese and contrast” course, which is where this restaurant’s genius always shines. On my last visit I was struck by a plate of Zamarano (sharp, dry sheep’s milk cheese) with celery, boquerones (pickled white anchovies), greens and minced egg. It’s one of those dishes where each bold flavor polished the too-sharp edges from the others. By the time the dessert parade started, I was already blissed out.

BARCELONA WINE BAR
240 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta, 404-589-1010
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This newest link in a small Connecticut chain of tapas-heavy Spanish restaurants gets its tone exactly right — from the inviting, energy-suffused design to the pitch-perfect balance of bar and restaurant. The food, mostly good and sometimes very good, hits all its marks.

Choose a smashing bottle or glass of Spanish wine, and nibble your way through cured meats, saucy meatballs, griddled peppers, crisp ham croquettes and all kinds of tasty vegetable small plates.

With a few heavier tapas or raciones (dishes served in larger, if not quite entree-sized, portions), you’ve crossed the line from snack to dinner. Have some cheeses and cured sausages from that display you noticed on the way in, or dig into a cazuela of albondigas — juicy little meatballs in tomato sauce.

And plan a visit for Sunday evening, when nearly every bottle of wine on the seriously cool list is 50 percent off and there’s a whole roast pig in the kitchen. Your portion, topped with a Flintstonian rib, will arrive heaped on a wooden platter.

BISTRO VG
70 West Crossville Road, Roswell, 770-993-1156
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Owners Chris and Michele Sedgwick rechristened their longtime fine-dining spot Van Gogh’s as Bistro VG in late 2006, swapping out its moldering fern bar decor for white-on-white Venetian plaster, cut-glass tiling and patent-leather walls.

Guests gather around the pebble-strewn fireplace in the lounge, choose glasses of Sancerre, white Burgundy and Pfalz riesling off the super-smart wine list and nosh on cheese, charcuterie and pizzas from the sleek wood-fired oven.

This restaurant aims to please. If you want small plates you got a fine crabcake with celery root and frizzled leeks (a Van Gogh’s holdover) and a killer house pate. But if it means real-people food — a juicy bistro burger, a fat wedge of ricotta-and-sausage lasagna (as served at sister restaurant Vinny’s on Windward) or linguine with clams — then this is your restaurant, too. It rocks the North Fulton food scene.

BOCADO
887 Howell Mill Road, Midtown, 404-815-1399
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Bocado has, for better or worse, made its name on a very good hamburger stack. But there’s so much more going on chef Todd Ginsberg’s menu, such as a roasted cauliflower sub with Chinese and Thai eggplants and a spicy mayonnaise sauce that will make your toes curl in delight. At dinner the chef breaks out a number of small plates and salads that you’ll want to pass and share. His avocado and roasted carrot salad with grapefruit in a cumin vinaigrette looks beautiful and sparkles on the tongue. His chicken liver “goodness” is what your bubbie would make if she snuck bacon into her food.

Among the small handful of entrees on the ever-changing menu, look for a slapping-fresh fillet of flounder over a saute of vegetables. Through it all, Ginsberg stays to the mission of this restaurant — providing the kind of food your appetite dictates, be it a great sandwich, a few plates to share with friends, or a burger. Or three.

BONE’S
3130 Piedmont Road, Buckhead, 404-237-2663
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I love the bar here, with all its hilarious bric-a-brac hanging from the ceiling. It evokes the go-go mid-size city Atlanta was in 1979 when Bone’s opened. But when I sit down and the glorious wine list arrives on an iPad, you sense just how far things have come for this restaurant and this town.

There are great wines to be had, no matter how many tens or how many thousands of dollars you want to spend, and that classic steakhouse menu that Bone’s seems to prepare better than anyone. Don’t neglect the appetizers — a salad lavishly adorned with lump blue crabmeat, an old-school smoked salmon platter or a rich lobster bisque. You might want to go to town on the dry-aged porterhouse for two, a two-inch-thick monster with a crunchy char of crust and a bleeding center. (Just make sure to check the temperature; ours was a hair on the rare side.) And here’s an insider’s tip: The menu doesn’t offer creamed spinach, but if you ask, it’s yours, the best you will ever try. This Atlanta classic remains peerless.

BUSY BEE CAFE
810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta, 404-525-9212
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Once, when dining at the Busy Bee, I remarked to owner Tracy Gates that the vegetables always tasted so fresh. “They’d better,” she laughed, explaining to me that her mother’s retired friends often stopped by in the morning to spend a few hours shelling peas, snapping beans and picking through the greens as they caught up and chatted. Sometimes I think I can taste this in the food.

Open since 1947, this Vine City stalwart serves food that is “prepared with love, seasoned with soul,” according to its most apt motto. I can think of no other restaurant in town where I’d rather go when I want to load up on greens, candied yams, carrot soufflé, and those green beans and potatoes cooked together until the flavors and textures meld into something great.

I’ve tried and liked the fried pork chops, smothered chicken and stewed oxtails in lustrous mahogany gravy. But I always go back to the house specialty fried chicken, which has a thin, crisp coating and a deep saltiness from its 12-hour marinade. It’s just what fried chicken needs to be but so infrequently is.

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