Have a Great Super Bowl Sunday Tailgate Picnic!
Photo: Christopher Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
One of the best songs Allison Krauss and Union Station ever did was an ode to Atlanta, in which she croons,
Oh, Atlanta, I hear you calling,
Atlantans seem unanimous in their affection for the city that forty years ago began a whole new upsurge of spirit in the South, even if it demurred at prior stereotypes about the region. Although New Orleans might argue with the notion, Atlanta is perhaps the least Southern of the South's cities, with little of the old timey about it and enough modern edge to get Tom Wolfe to write a satiric novel about it, called A Man in Full. Still, however cosmopolitan Atlanta becomes, there is a pride in its Georgian foods, as evidenced in these new restaurants in town.
914 Howell Mill Road
soaring, fabulously convivial spot, with a hip
oyster bar shaped like a surf board up front, a
first-rate cocktails program, and seafood cooked
over a wood fire—what's not to love? The
restaurant’s name, like Citizen Kane’s
“Rosebud,” is from Fry’s childhood: it was his dinghy’s
name, as well as what every fisherman dreams
of--“catch the next big fish.”
runs the immensely popular Flip Burger Boutique,
has gone upscale without sacrificing the kind of
casual, easy-going American ambiance that has
brought equal attention to his new place, The
Spence, which, he
notes, is a synonym for larder. The restaurant is
done up with lacquered
white brick, reclaimed wood, tartans and zinc and
pine tabletops, with a centrally set open
kitchen. It is one of the Concentrics
Restaurant Group that also runs Two Urban Licks,
Tap Gastropub, and others around Atlanta.
I'm not sure Chef Art
Smith is punning on his own name at Southern Art,
but he is definitely a son of the South, and you
can see it from the moment you walk in, with
hanging country hams and evocative works by local
artists lining the walls. This used to be Au Pied
de Cochon, and its high ceilings, bar up front,
and oversized space will remind you that this is,
after all, a restaurant in a hotel, lacking the
intimacy of a smaller room or the excitement of a
large one like The Optimist with more
Art is pen for breakfast and dinner daily, for
lunch Mon.-Sat., for brunch Sun. First courses
$6-$18, main courses $18-$35.
Cucina is an excellent modern Mexican restaurant
in an unfortunate location, set within the atrium
Peachtree Tower Building, making it enticing
enough for lunch but a bit off-putting for
dinner. It's a great looking place, complete
with bull's head, a tequila bar, and an atmosphere
that guarantees you'll have a good time. Try
to snag one of the booths, which are roomy and
convivial all on their own, buoyed by good Latin
Alma Cucina is open
for lunch Mon.-Fri and for dinner nightly.
Dinner appetizers run $6-$9, huaraches $8-$11,
main courses $17-$27.
Alma Cucina, Lure is owned by the Fifth Group
Restaurants Group, Atlanta's most prolific, and
they put a lot of conceptual thinking into
décor and menu. Lure is a seafood
concept, and while it hasn't quite the panache of
The Optimist, it's been justifiably popular since
opening last summer for those who want good
quality and very
reasonable price. Overseen by Chef David Bradley,
a longtime Fifth Group alumnus, the menu is a long
one, broken into "Raw, Chilled & Really
Fresh," "For You or for Sharing," and "Sizable
Servings," but even in this last category nothing
runs above $33 (and that's for a non-seafood item,
Incidentally, I don't quite understand the menu
note "bread and butter upon request." Is this some
new trend I hope doesn't catch on?
Lure is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly, for brunch on Sun. Starters runs $2.50-$12, other courses $8-$33.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
257 Avenue of the Americas
To compare El Toro Blanco to Alma Cucina, above, is to understand a little about the difference in real estate in NYC versus Atlanta. I have no idea what either restaurant pays for rent, but in Atlanta the space itself is a pretty big deal, wide open, well lighted, and good for people watching. El Toro Blanco, on the other hand, in NYC's Greenwich Village, is cramped, darkened, extremely loud, and with few sightlines around the room. Prices are higher at El Toro Blanco--$2 to $5 more for most dishes. A "small" order of guacamole at El Toro Blanco was $12, while a generous portion at Alma Cucina was $6. But when it comes to cocktails: at Alma Cucina the margaritas made with Herradura Lay of the Land tequila, poire william, and jalapeño is $9; a blend of Herraduro El Centro resposado with Fiednecio mezcal, ginger, chamomile is a dollar more. But at El Toro Blanco, a margarita made with Herradura añejo and Cointreau cost a whopping $19! So our party of four spent $72 on one round of drinks at El Toro Blanco, about what they'd cost at one of those vast midtown nightclubs like Tao. For a dollar more we could have had a margarita at Restaurant Daniel or a bellini at Harry Cipriani uptown.
The reflex to say, "Hey, that's New York for you!" is to suggest that Atlanta is a cheap city, which it is not, and the food at El Toro Blanco was, by virtue of it being in New York, much better, which it was not. The simple thought of four of us spending $307 plus a 20 percent tip--with one bottle and two glasses of wine ($60) and no desserts at El Toro Blanco made me think that something is way out of whack.
Yet the place was packed and people were obviously enjoying themselves at this, one of the current downtown hot spots. The cooking is good at El Toro Blanco, although not inspired. The guacamole was all right (not made tableside--there's simply no room to do so), and the chorizo queso fundido was tasty enough. The best of the dishes we tried was a luscious short ribs empanada with Oaxacan cheese and ancho chile barbecue. Two orders of cabrito tacos went fast, but in many of the dishes the flavors were much the same, so that we were asking ourselves, "Is that the cabrito?" "Is that the chicken taco?" Swordfish, not an easy species to get right, was juicy, but shrimp tacos with Cuban slaw, roasted tomatoes and avocado were bland.
When I left the restaurant, which got louder as the night wore on, I felt a relief from the noise, the cramped tables, uncomfortable seating, and the thought that I'd learned a lesson.
El Toro Blanco is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner nightly; Appetizers $9-$18, main courses $19-$26.
SO, HOW ARE THE
CALLING ALL CARS--CALLING ALL CARS--BE ON THE LOOK-OUT FOR A MAN DRINKING COFFEE IN THE STARBUCKS PARKING LOT--MAY BE ARMED AND EXTREMELY STUPID.
Huntsville, Alabama, a Starbucks
employee thwarted a would-be thief by offering him a free coffee instead of
cash, which the man accepted, then walked to the
parking lot where he was immediately arrested.
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