Eater's Southward expansion continues with EaterATL. EaterATL is behind EaterNOLA (and loofah wrangler on the set of 8Femmes) for all time dream jobs, but it will be nice to have an ATL dining supplementing Kessler.
And! Immediate good news. The Whole Foods on Ponce now delivers! Better still, the Clermont Lounge is within the delivery radius. Theoretically, you could have a selection of local microgreens, sherry vinegar and estate-bottled olive oil delivered to you, and fix yourself a delicious salad without having to leave the Clermont! Theoretically.
Fortunately, there is a resource that allows us to evaluate this hypothesis. At least to some degree -- by a Ruth's Chris kind of town, I meant not so just the presence of Ruth's Chrises, but the relative scarcity of more ambitious restaurants. Something like the Delocator, except for food instead of coffee, would be useful. However, perusing the map reminded me that the lone Ruth's Chris in the city of my birth is located in Old City Hall, and the former location of Maison Robert.Guiteau Monday, indeed.
It is sure as shit a Guiteau Monday up ins, but meanwhile AJC restaurant critic has made a little splash with his "Open letter to Atlanta Chefs." There are ten bullet points, but the crux is that ATL chefs need to work harder and be smarter. I don't eat in ATL regularly enough to be comfortable debating the justice of these rebukes, but my general sense is that cities get the restaurants they deserve. If folks keep driving past the place serving local goat and mashed boniato (Kessler wants to see more of these) to get at the Ruth's Chris or Cheesecake Factory, guess who puts hanger steak and creamed spinach on the menu? Based on my limited experience, Atlanta seems like a Ruth's Chris kind of town, by and large. I welcome comments to the affirmative or contrary from chefs or non chefs in ATL or elsehwere. Most of all, I am sorry that Kessler did not make the effort to cast his advice as a reset of the Ten Crack Commandments:
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.
Strange things afoot in the parking lots of chain casual dining restaurants in the greater Atlanta area. Yesterday a Green Olive Media twittered thus: "if you own a restaurant in atlanta, click this link - might impact reservations on valentines day: http://bit.ly/cV3f2"
The link went to what appeared to be a reservation scalping site, but just for Feb 14. But the sad thing is, while there were a few spots like Abbatoir, the spots on offer were primarily at Ruth's Chris's and Legal Seafood type places. Call me a romantic, but a Valentine's dinner at either spot seems like it would go over like a lead panty rose. Curiouser still, the site is down, with a placeholder from GoDaddy -- the folks with the marketing plan built around not showing you Danica Patrick's bosoms. I would welcome any explanation that is available.
*Commonly available at filling stations, the panty rose is an example of a gift that is likely to provoke a difference of opinion between giver and givee as to the level of romance it conjures.
Holed up for a drizzly Spring Break Xzibit would not touch w/ a stretch Escalade, made drearier by the flight of the cinetrix to that hoedown in Austin. It did afford the chance to eat a couple of meals.
Friday night, we went to Parish, on the recommendation of a friend. I wanted to like it, and I do hear good things about the sammiches they sell out of the faux grocery in the basement. The restaurant was, unfortunately, the closest I've ever come to having a meal resemble a seance summoning Delta Burke. The food was shoulderpaddy -- big, vaguely architectural, and not as tasty as should be. I started with what was called a "savory crawfish and chicken sausage cheesecake." What arrived was a giant wedge, vaguely cheescakelike in texture, with a layer of sausagy/crawfishy stuff between the two halves of the wedge. It was unfinishable. The oysters the Cinetrix had were liquorless, and clung to their shells in a disconcerting way (not at the point where they have to be cut out, but a sort of all-over adhesion. My main was a perfectly cromulent, if uninsipred braised pork shank -- in keeping with the general aesthetic of bigness, it was presented in a bone-in Flinstone style. I had expected a section, like what is sometimes called "pork osso bucco," but this was the whole damn leg, or roughly what you would serve if you had the proverbial pig too good to eat all at once. The accompaniment was vile -- I think they called it a tomato-garlic tarte tatin, but what it appeared to be was a lump of sweetened canned tomatoes on a piece of toaster streudel, with whole garlics strewn absently around.
I don't usually talk about the room, but the room would be the reason to go, if there were a reason to go. It's in what appears to be a brand new building, and they have "distressed" the walls for that Old South feel. But the overall effect is stumbling onto the set of a lost Andrew Blake hommage to Gone With the Wind. Giant chandeliers that look as if they are repurposed go-go dancer cages, other chandeliers that are I'm not really a waitress red, and a giant statue of Adam and Eve in the middle of the dining room. The sense that sidework would include fluffing does not make for a great dining experience. ATLiens who are in the know indicated the food was not the point, but rather to be seen, and the heels and iPhone concentrations suggested a sceney scene, one imagines that even the most fabulous Atlantan would enjoy better food than we had.
*A ref to the song, not the novel, or the campaign.