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Fine dining in Atlanta

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Lest anyone be left with the misconception that much of the dining in and around Atlanta revolves exclusively around the holiest of holies, barbecue, it is equally important to realize that this burgeoning city boasts some excellent dining opportunities. Prime among them is a restaurant named after "the celebrated chef Joël Antunes, nominated this year for the James Beard award for best chef in the Southeast" as Atlanta Creative Loafing correctly noted in a recent review. His restaurant is quite extraordinary and currently offers a tasting menu which is both reasonably priced and delightful. One of my closest friends came back from her first meal at Joel and she was in raptures!

The website is indicative of the entire ambiance and deserves a look:

Joel Restaurant

From Creative Loafing in April, 2004:

Precision is a trademark of Antunes' kitchen, particularly in appetizers and desserts. A peeky-toe crab cake is molded into an ultra-tight, perfectly round disc. Whiskey millefeuille, a signature sweet, is two lithe vanilla wafers between which are sandwiched voluptuous mounds of whiskey-scented pastry cream. The mounds are spaced in exact, equal distance from one another. I wouldn't be surprised to find a ruler among the kitchen's cooking tools.

Roasted veal tenderloin practically melts onto the fork when you cut into it. Then you bite into the sliver of rhubarb next to it and your brain melts, too. Whoa! Who knew rhubarb's sweet and sour qualities could commingle so magically with meat? It's unexpected and scrumptious. Beef tenderloin is topped with a cheffy potato-gruyere cake. Surrounded by rutabagas and artichokes in a deeply rich bordelaise sauce, though, the dish has an honest earthiness that reveals the profound effect that Antunes' grandmother had on his cooking.

If you have experienced the pleasures of dining at Joel, we would love to hear from you!

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Although I live in middle TN, I am in Atlanta for business on a regular basis. Over the past 18 months I have had 3 wonderful experiences at Joel.

The first dinner was a business dinner in their private dining room just off the bar. It is across from the host stand and is a well decorated room that is quiet enough for a business dinner. We did a set menu that night (12 persons) and the quality and presentation of all 3 courses was suberb.

The second dinner was with another couple who are also very interested in food and wine. When we were seated we asked the sommelier to look at our choices for each course and bring us a bottle to match that course that was unusual, ready to drink, and a good match to the food and its preparation. We also gave him a maximum amount that we were willing to spend on the total wine bill. I cannot give the wine staff at Joel anything but the highest praise. The wines fit the menu perfectly, were wines that the 4 of us had never tasted and came in $50 under our maximum amount. In conversation with our sommelier we discovered the following: there are 5 sommeliers on staff with one head, two assistant head, and two sommeliers. They have a day cellar in the restaurant, a large cellar in the building and an off site warehouse that are all temperature controlled. The top 3 have worked together in Europe for a number of years before joining the team at Joel.

The third dinner was a special occasion dinner with my wife. I had asked for some special dishes (in advance). The request was readily accepted and we were treated to another wonderful dinner.

Based on the these visits I would give Joel the highest marks for service, wine service and the quality and presentations of the food.

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My friend Painting and I had dinner at Joël on May 17th. Here's our combined review. I'm plain text and his comments are in bold:

Me: We arrived at Joël about 30 minutes early for our 8:30pm reservation. We thought we might be having a third person join us so we called to note that on our reservation. They asked if we wanted to be seated or to wait at the bar. We decided to wait at the bar. I couldn't decide on what I wanted so I ordered a Vodka Collins (with some new fancy vodka the bartender recommended. Precis or something like that). Isaac had a Manhattan. We nibbled on the party mix and chatted. It's probably because it was a Monday night but the bar was almost completely empty.

I would definitely go back just to hang at that bar. Mostly because Cornelius, the bartender, was just so damn nice. I don't think I've ever met a more genuinely nice bartender (not to mention he mixed great drinks). We were having such a nice time we didn't even realize we had hung out at the bar until 9pm!

Painting: Cornelius is the man yo. I liked him better then that punk ass on Soul Train. I didn't really want to leave the bar, even though my Manhattan was too Manhattany. I'm definitely going here instead of watching drunken office workers trying to get hip at Halo the next time I’m in Atlanta.

Me: Yeah, Halo was lame (the bouncer was the coolest part). We'll definitely have to do something with our "Manhattan Flavored Maraschino Cherries" idea!

We decided our other party was going to be a no show so we asked Cornelius to transfer our tab and went to get seated. They sat us at a banquette just in case our other person showed up.

I was facing the wall so I didn't really get a great look at the interior. I remember huge ceilings and warm but not bright lighting. I hadn't eaten all day and hindsight being 20/20, I really probably shouldn't have had that vodka collins :laugh: Feeling pretty good now though.

Painting: Just say it; we got stood up by a very well known chef. *kill kill* :raz: and just admit it -- you're a lush! A lush with very expensive taste. My wallet is still smokin.

Anyways, going to Joël was a last minute switch since Blais closed a few days before our reservation. Our second choice was Iris but it is closed on Mondays which was the only free evening that we had. Never thought dining in ATL was so complicated! :wacko:

Me: The sommelier, Chantelle, was great. She asked us what we were in the mood for and helped us pick a lovely Alsatian Pinot Gris to start. It was delicious. Her knowledge and passion for and about wine was just awesome.

Painting: I asked her to be my wife (in my wet dreams) but damnit, her French husband wouldn't like that, damn the French!

The wine was a bastard child of my dislike of anything dry and Tammy’s mood for Pinot Gris. Chantelle had a tough request but she pulled it off perfectly. Mmmm, wine. :wub:

Me: To be quite honest, nothing on the menu screamed out to me. Usually, I'll be like "oooh what to get? I want it all!" We didn't notice anything about a tasting menu and the server never mentioned one. We usually get those so we can sample a whole bunch of stuff.

One of the few things on the menu that stood out to me was the quail. It was slightly tough (overcooked?) and had a less-than-flavorful jus. The lentils had a cumin-dominated flavor. It seemed to be wavering on middle eastern but not really there. If you're gonna do Mid-east -- do it all the way. I wasn't really into it too much. Painting can tell you, I usually devour things like a rabid animal. He's embarassed to be around me because there will be crumbs and animal pieces flying everywhere. Not to mention, I usually need a bib and for them to put down other napkins to cover all my spills.

Anyways, Isaac got the tuna tartare with avocado ice cream. This was much better than mine but the ice cream was almost too sweet. I would have guessed that they had made it with a paco jet and therefore wouldn’t have needed all the sugar to get the ice cream to the right consistency. It was at least an interesting concept so it gets some brownie points for that (mmm, brownies...)

I gave Isaac the other half of my quail to nibble on.

Painting: Yeah, the menu offerings were so spread out that the only theme was: air, land & sea.

I've only had quail when I worked for my uncle (he used to raise bob-whites) and always overcooked them; maybe that's how it's done? No idea, but I loved the quail. And no, you gave me the tiny, itsy-bitsy legs, mere table scraps but I enjoyed it immensely :biggrin:

Me: There were 4 pieces (two breast halves and two legs) and I promise I only ate one of each. I only had the leg hoping it would be juicier than the breast. Maybe it is supposed to be "overcooked" and I've only had it made by people that like it "undercooked"? Maybe it was just a different breed or age and therefore inherently tougher?

Painting:The avocado ice cream reminded me of Sakai-san on Iron Chef and his unnatural fish eyes and codfish ice creams. But as the cute Japanese woman taster would say: "ooooh, but it's so good, it slides down my throat! It tastes like springtime girls festival! *giggle*"

The tuna tartare part itself wasn’t all that unique but it was tasty and of course very fresh.

Me: Technically I know I shouldn't have ordered scallops after having quail first but well, once again it was the only thing that caught my eye. I'm not too keen on picking the "boring" choice of steak when other more interesting stuff is on the menu. Isaac wavered between the red snapper and the halibut. He decided to go with the Halibut with Thai broth.

Painting: Tammy, you’re such a rebel! Makes me hot when you take such risks.

Me: The scallops were much better than the quail but the flavors seemed muted. They seemed like scallops in a thinned out garlic alfredo sauce (albeit a fancy alfredo sauce). If I'm eating 3k calories worth of cream and butter I want to taste the richness. To their credit, the scallops were cooked perfectly and succulent and sweet. Forget the sauce, just gimme those with some butter next time. :biggrin:

Painting: Your scallops were good (not over cooked, that’s a great sign) but your stuffed pasta was the best part of that dish, mmmm!

Me: Issac's halibut was nice but the broth was way too subtle. When the word "Thai" is used in a dish's description I'm expecting the flavors to just explode all over my tongue.

Painting: When I was eating the halibut, all I could think about is West's version of halibut and how I love subtle flavorings but like Tammy said, I wanted some more oomph in this particular dish.

Me: We coerced Chantelle into having the last glass of the Pinot Gris (not that it took much convincing) and ordered another bottle, leaving the choice entirely up to her.

She came back to us with another Pinot Gris Grand Cru from Alsace. She informed us that they only get in 2 bottles a year so it's not even listed on the books :cool:

Painting:I felt so honored and unworthy to be drinking these Grand Crus. Even to me, a novice at wine, I was blown away by the layers that unfolded in your mouth over time in that wine, not to mention, it tasted really damn good

Me: Man, that wine was fantabulously delicious. It was even more my style than the first, with slightly less residual sugar and more intense layers of complexity. Of course, we wanted her to have a glass too (a great way to get on any sommelier's good side).

Painting: Nooooo, don’t tell them our secrets! Then Chantelle won't be so nice to us anymore :raz:

Me: We ordered desserts, which I was really looking forward to (even though I know Givre left). Isaac got the Pavlova and I got the Coffee Granite (trying to avoid any of the obviously wheat/gluten containing things which was most of them).

Painting: It was my first time having a Pavlova and honestly, the first time even knowing about it (Tammy explained it to me after I asked). It was good but nothing to write home to momma about. The avocado ice cream was a better dessert worth noting :hmmm:

Me: The granite's coffee wasn't quite strong enough so it tasted a little watered down. I ended up spilling most of it reaching for something because I'm a dumbass (not to mention, I wasn't completely sober at this point). Next time, intestinal villi be damned, I'm getting something else.

Even though it wasn't perfect and I've had much better meals in ATL, I definitely would like to try again because it seems like some place I could really like. I hope disappointment was my tastebuds malfunctioning or maybe I didn't order the right things. Maybe I'll go for the prix fixe lunch. Anyone like to join me?

Definitely make sure you get Chantelle as your sommelier if you go -- we can't thank her enough.

Painting: Right on, Chantelle and Cornelius were the star attractions at Joël for us. Like I said before, I’ll be going back just because of them. The staff made it that much more enjoyable and memorable.

The food was superb. We may bitch a lot but it doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the food. You've also got to remember that our hobby is traveling around and eating at the best places we can get into.

"I like butter and the people who like butter." -TA

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I had the good fortune to eat at Joël in April and had a wonderful meal. My friend and I were welcomed immediately and seated with a good view of the entire restaurant. We opted for the tasting menu which was the perfect choice.

1. Tomato gazpacho with tomato sorbet. Great start for the meal to come, soup had wonderful balance.

2. Tempura fried zucchini blossom filled with shrimp mousse and tomato broth. This was paired with sake, which was a pairing that I would have never thought of.

3. Quail and lentil salsa and daikon radish.

4. Abalone with spaetzle, onion, mushrooms. Wonderful dish.

5. Diver scallop, leek confit tortellini, mushrooms, truffle banyuls sauce. Again another wonderful dish.

6. Squab with pears, rutabaga, lady apples, and cinnamon.

7. Coffee Granite, rum Chantilly, chocolate streusel.

8. Pavlova, mango salsa, exotic fruit sorbet.

8.(Guest) Warm Pistachio chocolate cake, pistachio cream, rum foam.

This restaurant is absolutely beautiful with its multiple red tile, and earthy leathers. Do yourself a favor and eat here.

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I want to thank all of you who have given us a glimpse into Joël , both the cuisine and the general ambiance! I have thoroughly enjoyed and delighted in your descriptions and impressions and wanted to tell you that I hope you will continue to share those with us here at eGullet in the future! :biggrin:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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I ate there a few years ago. I will concur, the bar service was awesome. :)

By the time we were ready to eat, I was a little drunk. I do remember I had some braised beef cheeks (they were really in vogue at the time) that were stunningly good. I have no idea what I had as an appetizer or for desert, and when I visited there was no tasting menu. I also remember that the sommelier (a lady) was very knowledgable, appropriately chatty (as we were) and selected for my wife and I a reasonably priced and excellent bottle of wine. I'm sure it was a French red, since I was having beef, but I don't remember much else.

I do know they had on their menu some mashed potatoes a la Robuchon -- but they were out that night (WTF? Out of potatoes?) -- that was really the only disappointment of the evening.

As an aside, I believe Joel has the largest stove in North America.

I would definitely welcome the opportunity to return.

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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Painting and Tammy, I love your little tag-team write-ups. Good work, y'all.

Oh no, I hope you hadn't said tag-team, tammy loves to show off her wrestling poses.... weirdo. :raz:

But thanks for the compliment, I was starting to wonder if anybody liked them, nobody would comment on them :huh:

Isaac Bentley

Without the culinary arts, the crudeness of the world would be unbearable. - Kate & Leopold

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