Stop me if you've heard this one: a much-loved chef muscles on out of his empire in a relatively bohemian neck of the woods to open up an high stakes kind of place in a big hotel in a fancier part of town.
It happens in the 404, as well as the 212. With Empire State South, Hugh Acheson heads on down the Atlanta highway from the relative comfort of his Athens troika of Five and Ten, The National, and Gosford Wines, and opens Empire State South, in a big office building in downtown Atlanta, hard by the Wyndham Hotel, and a restaurant called Mojito's.
I must begin at the end. If you do nothing else there, no matter what your business in Atlanta, at whatever time of day, the Resentin is a must. It's a shot of espresso with a shot of Marolo Moscato grappa back. You drink the espresso and swirl the grappa in the cup. Just go on in and ask for the Friulian Speedball, and you will be pleased with the result -- drinking this is like one of those nights when you are wandering around, minding your own business, when you pass by Lawrence Taylor and Asia Argento's karaoke wedding reception, and LT asks you to sing backup on "Ace of Spades," and Asia's kid sister winks at you, and the next thing you know the two of you are playing chicken with hydrofoils and she jabs you in the neck with an Epi-Pen and you wake up drifting in a dinghy off the coast of Sardinia, not regretting a moment. Seriously, any Atlanta undertaking, from a sales meeting, to chasing Matty Ice around the Georgiadome, to going ham at a Junior League tea, you will do better with a Friulian Speedball under your belt.
And the food is good, too. It was what is notionally "autumn" in Atlanta, so I went with a pork belly starter, and short ribs for the main. The cinetrix had the tuna crudo, and catfish. The mains, are for the most part, consistent with what Athenians have come to know and love at Five and Ten -- there is a conceit of ESS as a haute mean n three, so the sides are serious -- radishes w/ salsa verde were especially nice, though the collards were weirdly sweet, the only food misstep. The (comped) oysters were impeccable and included a remarkably meaty PEI variety I'd not seen before.
Since it's Acheson, there is a serious beverage program, both in the wine and cocktail department. I started with a riff (port) on a Manhattan of which I was suspicious, but revealed its impeccable logic with each sip. The bar area is cozy, but it is worth remembering that as a Canadian, Hugh Acheson hates America, which means there are zero televisions in the restaurant.
The service we got was friendly and attentive, without being too much of either, which transplanted Yankees appreciate. Considering the dystopian, Robocoppy vibe of the location (not far from where Phillipe Fernandez-Armesto was arrested for jaywalking), it's a remarkably warm room. There is a bocce court outside, and if you think I am mad at that, you don't know the Cod. Still, the location means it's a verry different crowd than Acheson's Athens spots -- more cosmetic dentistry and hair laquer, fewer folks who have a copy of Chronic Town on Hib-Tone somewhere. Some sense of this challenge was evident when a trio of ladies came in and sat near us, perused the menu, then informed the waiter that they "had a problem with the trout," and that they "didn't like gin" (3/6 of the specialty cocktails featured gin). Acheson is clearly ready for Atlanta, and the Cod hopes that Atlanta is ready for Acheson.