May 11, 2008
Atlanta is fun
I just returned from a great little getaway to Atlanta. What a quick and easy drive, I told myself on the way down in the car with my pal, Jaya. "We need to do this more often!" was all I could think about. I was even more impressed when I got there and learned what a fun city Atlanta is. Great restaurants, good shopping, funky neighborhoods--all things that are rather lacking in Nashville. I guess what I appreciated was the urban vibe of a big city in the South, a cool combination of Southern charm, sultry weather and hip, trendy establishments. No wonder Beyonce hangs out there.
We went there to catch a concert on the new tour of my all-time favorite band Radiohead . I would go to the ends of the earth to see their show, but luckily I could just hop down to Atlanta. I've seen them twice before --in Florence, Italy and in Denver --both about 5 years ago. So I was delighted to rekindle my obsession with the best live rock band in the world (and that's coming from Rolling Stone, not just me the geeky fan).
Aside from my favorite band, Atlanta held the promise of an exciting restaurant scene I had been hearing about for some time. We ate in three very good places, all of them recommended by either friends or food magazines and I was eager to check them out.
For lunch that first day we ate in a funky little place called Ria's Bluebird (421 Memorial Drive SE; www.riasbluebird.com). Even though it was long after breakfast, we had to try their huevos--
...and supposedly they have the world's best pancakes too so we tried one of those too. Very light and fluffy.
Not in the mood for breakfast, I had a really juicy turkey and avocado melt that hit the spot...
and just had to try three bites of a biscuit with homemade jam. Almost three years in the South and I am still not able to pass up the temptation of a homemade biscuit. Wow, that strawberry jam could have been the best thing I tasted all day. But the sandwich was no loser either. I would haved loved to go back there for a proper breakfast or for brunch on the weekends where I'm told all the cool kids line up out front to get a seat at the retro bar.
That night we had drinks in a little gastropub owned by the team of Restaurant Eugene across the street, called Holeman and Finch Public House.
Fancier than I thought it would be, it had a very European vibe --again with a Southern twist-- and meat was a theme: there were cured meats, prosciutto and sausages hanging from the ceiling. The wine list focused on unique offerings like the Pinot Noir Rosé Frizzante from Austria that I had. My friend ordered a really good cocktail made from Aviator gin and lavender, and we tasted some crawfish beignets with citrus vinegar that were very just enough to get the idea of the place's vibe. I would definitely go back there.
For dinner that night we had reservations at Floataway cafe (1123 Zonolite Rd., suite 15; www.starprovisions.com). This is the casual, less expensive sister to Bachanalia, consistently named one of the best restaurants in Atlanta. I loved this place. It's located in a converted warehouse and you walk in through a dimly lit courtyard that smelled of jasmine and made you think you could be in Italy or France.
Inside the industrial facade and airy open space gave way to a very breezy and contemporary decor. The food was minimalist and ingredient-driven, with a menu that changed nightly and offers some of the region's finest local ingredients.
I had a salad of local cutting celery and Spanish white anchovies with manchego, lemon and olive oil, and a main dish of handmade tagliatelle with local morels and spring vegetables. Both were outstanding. The picture doesn't do the pasta justice so I'll leave it out. Jaya had an interesting risotto with spring onions, local fava beans, rhubarb and house cured bacon, and Monique had pan roasted north Georgia trout with baby spring onions and english peas that melted in your mouth.
The desserts were spot on and perfectly executed: mascarpone cheesecake with macerated blueberries
...warm honey ginger pudding with sel gris ice cream (hello?), and rhubarb crostata with orange zabaglione. Need I say more?
And, last but certainly not least, I got to try the much-lauded Watershed Restaurant where award-winning chef Scott Peacock offers his Edna Lewis-inspired country cooking with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. We went there for lunch and I wished I could have ordered everything on the menu. If I lived there I'd either work there or go there everyday for lunch and dinner.
It was such a beautiful space with that same open warehouse style of the night before (it's a converted gas station next to a dry cleaners) and a casual modern feeling inside. From the outside it doesn't look like much but the place gives you a feeling of open simplicity with pale colors on the walls and a design that mimics the menu in its fresh use of organic ingredients.
Like I said, I couldn't decide what to order, it all sounded so good, but I settled on a white truffle chicken salad sandwich...
and a salad of local greens: watercress, spinach and arugula. I never thought chicken salad could taste so good.
This is the hot vegetable plate--a beautiful version of the meat n' three without the meat but with a slew of thoughtfully prepared Southern hits like turnip greens, lightly and delicately fried okra, stewed tomatoes, sweet potatos and gingered beets. It was sooooo good.
And I can't even begin to tell you how good this chocolate cake was. They called it "very good chocolate cake" for a reason and boy were they not lying. It was rich and light and decadent all at once. It could be the best chocolate cake I've ever tasted and I'm not a huge fan. I prefer my desserts with fruit and cream, but this was ridiculously good.
The concert was a blast and I returned home with Radiohead playing in my ears and the memories of good food, promising to make another trip to Atlanta someday soon.