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Eating Adventures in Atlanta


jeffj
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With my girlfriend having to travel to Atlanta on business, the two of us decided to make a mini vacation out of the trip. Excited about discovering what Atlanta has to offer, we were primarily looking forward to trying the avant garde cuisine of Blais. But much to our dismay, the restaurant abruptly closed two weeks before our trip. Disappointed but not deterred, we rearranged our dining plans and came up with the following series of meals:

May 21, 2004 – 9:00PM

The Dining Room

Ritz Carlton Buckhead

Chef Bruno Menard’s Signature Menu

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Carrot and Bonito Flan with Orange-Cilantro Fromage Blanc

Small amuse to start the meal. Overall this had a mild flavor with none of the components providing any assertiveness. The carrot was enjoyably sweet and the bonito provided a bit of smoky flavor. However, the flan had an unexpected consistency that was a bit more course than we were expecting. The most aggressive flavor component to the dish was the cocoa tuile which provided a salty punch.

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Kumamoto Oysters with Vichyssoise Espuma and Beluga Caviar

Sancerre, Lucien Crochet, Loire Valley 2001

The vichyssoise espuma was definitely the highlight of the dish. Delicate in flavor and texture, it exuded a fluffy sophistication when it hit the palate. Unfortunately, the single oyster in each cup was floating in a soy and ginger sauce. This Asian style sauce was simply too strong and astringent for the delicate nature of the dish. Not only did it overwhelm the vichyssoise but it also clobbered the caviar, making it nearly impossible to enjoy the salty pop of the eggs. This could have been fantastic but instead we were left dreaming about what might have been.

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Sautéed Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Ginger Jordan Almonds and Argan Oil

Kracher, Beerenauslese Reserve, Austria 2002

I’d have to say that overall, I enjoyed this take on foie gras. However, as I worked my way through it, the novelty of crushed Jordan almonds began to wear on me as the particles stuck to the grooves of my molars. I think a few less almonds would have been better, though I praise the textural contrast that they provided.

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Georgia Organic English Pea Soup with Crustacean Custard, Lobster, and Mint Cream

Riesling, Loimer, Wachau 2002

This was the first outstanding dish. Great combination of flavors. The soup had a lot of brightness and was definitely fresh in flavor. And as one mixed in the mint cream, a very successful layer of richness was gained. The custard provided a satisfying lobster flavor through the first few bites. And as I progressed, the flavors began to meld together and incorporate in a pleasing manner. Texturally, the small pieces of lobster with their soft chew provided a counterpoint to the otherwise smooth, velvety dish. The paired Riesling was also on the money as its lack of sweetness and its pronounced herbal tones played well against the flavors of mint and peas.

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Lobster, Coconut Jasmine Rice, Marinated Pineapple, and Curry-Calamari Sauce

Vouvray, Champalou, Loire Valley, 2001

From the start, I wasn’t sold on this conceptually. It seemed a bit too gimicky/fusiony. However, about a third of the way through I began to recognize the harmony of flavors in this dish. Coconut, pineapple, peanut, and curry provided a wide range of flavors that allowed for a great variety of flavor pairings. Completely Malaysian in feel, I think this dish ended up working overall. However, as so often is the case, the lobster was a tad overcooked.

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Coffee Crusted Lamb Loin with Caramelized Jewell Sweet Potatoes and Edamame

Chateau Gaillard, St. Emilion, Bordeaux 2000

Bonus points for using a fine grind on the coffee crust. It wasn’t too bitter and it actually worked well compared to the sweetness of the meat. The portion size was large…bordering on too large. The sweet potatoes were appealing. However, for the amount of meat, the dish needed much more of the sauce reduction. I can’t tell you how many dishes I’ve eaten which were over-sauced but this is one of the few I’ve come across that would have benefited from a bit more. But overall I have a positive view of this dish especially considering (in our experience) the fact that as a category, red-meat dishes seem to have the hardest time presenting ‘wow’ moments.

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Fourme D’ Ambert with Banana Slice and Chocolate Spiced Bread

Sauternes, Chateau Lafaufie, Peyraguey 1997

Pretty simple dish. The cheese was very tasty…strong aggressive flavor. And it worked well with the Sauternes. However, the spiced bread was a little too dry and one-dimensional…maybe a quick toasting would have provided some crunch and textural excitement.

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Apricot Sorbet with Yogurt Espuma

Absolutely delicious. Amazingly vibrant apricot flavor that worked perfectly with the rich moist almond cake below. The yogurt provided a great tangy punch but in a delicate, light manner. This should be a main event dessert rather than a palate cleanser. Perfect dish.

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Cuban Chocolate Tart with Chocolate Sorbet

Port

Neither of us loves chocolate desserts that much. However, I thought this one actually worked. None of the components were too densely chocolate in nature. The chocolate was showcased in several forms which were pretty light and thus easy to eat. The bottom cracker provided some saltiness that contrasted well with the sweetness of the chocolate.

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Mignardises

Our choices from the cart: Strawberry with green tea sugar, strawberry with citrus sugar, pistachio nougat, pistachio cake, butter almond cake, orange tuile, crème brulee, saffron-orange soleil. They were all very good, but the saffron-orange soleil simply stole the show. Intensely flavorful and completely enjoyable…I was actually able to taste saffron in my mouth the whole way back to the hotel.

Dinner at The Dining Room had three ‘wow’ moments: the pea soup, the apricot sorbet, and the saffron mignardises. That was balanced by one flameout: the Kumamoto oysters. With that said, I think that overall, the meal was above average in terms of food.

The décor is lodge-like with rich dark colors and busy fabrics. But I think it’s pulled off in an elegant way. As a random side thought, the plaid under linings used on the tables seemed incongruous to the rest of the décor.

Service was generally good…only a few minor issues with silverware settings and a flubbed description of the salted/unsalted butters. But overall it was a smooth meal. Chef Menard stopped by to check in with us toward the end of the meal…that’s always a nice touch.

Also impressive were some of the additional services. There was great coffee service (served in large French presses) along with compelling tea, mignardises, and cheese carts. And, setting an unheard of precedent, our sparkling water was apparently free of charge.

Grade: B

May 22, 2004 – 10:00AM

The Varsity

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Onion Rings

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Chili Cheese Dog

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Frosted Orange

What can I say…it’s an Atlanta institution and its acclaim is well deserved. While the chili cheese dog didn’t initially appear to be that exciting to me, once I popped it in my mouth I was hooked. The chili really helped spice up the dog and make the whole thing sing. And there was just the right proportion of everything so that no one flavor overwhelmed the other.

The onion rings were some of the best I’ve had. A light and crispy exterior gave way to a hot and tender onion on the inside. I appreciated the fact that I could bite cleanly through the onions without pulling the whole thing apart.

The frosted orange was cool and creamy…a great accompaniment to the meal. If there’s any reason to make a return visit to Atlanta, The Varsity is it.

Grade: A

May 22, 2004 – 11:00AM

The Busy Bee Café

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Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Fried Corn

This place filled up with locals rather quickly after opening so I’m betting it’s the real deal. I thought the chicken was good: crispy exterior that was not greasy in the least and a hot juicy interior. However, I think it lacked overall flavor and that was probably my mistake for forgetting to ask for some gravy. The greens and corn were great. But the corn muffins were the real stars…they were outstanding along with some whipped honey butter.

Grade: B

May 22, 2004 – 7:45PM

Seeger’s

Grand Tasting Menu

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Goat Cheese Profiterole with Pumpkin Seed Oil and Celery Microgreens

This one biter was rather mundane. While not offensive, it lacked the ‘kick’ that a palate opener should have. Nothing jumped out with only the faint taste of celery lingering in the finish.

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White Asparagus Gazpacho, Wild Salmon Tartare, Late Harvest Riesling Gelee

Curtis, Viognier 2000

Surprisingly, the predominant flavor of this dish was celery. Found as a small dice in the tartare, the celery completely overwhelmed the delicate salmon flavor. The dish really failed because of it. The Riesling gelee had a pleasant sweetness that was enjoyable with the soft textured salmon. But if the spoonful held any bit of celery, the dish was completely out of balance. The gazpacho didn’t really capture the essence of asparagus…for some reason, it had a heavy taste of oil.

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Flat Rock Farm Egg Custard, Carrot Syrup, Shaved Bonito

Riesling Kabinett Gunderlock “Jean-Baptiste” 2002

Again this dish lacked any strong flavors. There was a slight smokiness from the bonito and only a hint of sweetness from the carrot. So the egg-iness of the custard won out as the feature flavor. Not bad but definitely not exciting in the least. These first three dishes were all very reserved flavor-wise. At this point I was in desperate need of some bolder tones.

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Vegetable a la Grecque, White Shrimp on Lavender

Vouvray sec, Vigneau-Chevreau 2000

The scent of lavender wafted from the plate as this dish was set on the table. However, it was lacking in lavender flavor which would have been appreciated. I felt the dish lacked focus. The honey flavored broth was interesting and delicious but the sheer number of vegetables overwhelmed my ability to locate a harmonizing note to the dish. Fava, asparagus, pearl onion, artichoke, and zucchini were all included. Fortunately, the shrimp were cooked well and we were finally starting to get some bolder flavors going on.

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Roasted Maine Halibut, Braised Young Romaine

Sauvignon Blanc, Domaine de Lalande 2002

Things really started improving with this dish. Overall, it was very good with some extremely satisfying bites toward the thickest part of the halibut. The one thing we wanted was a bit more golden brown crust on the fish. It would have really enhanced the flavors and added additional complexity. Flavors of bacon were present in the sauce as well as in the cream on top…both worked quite nicely with the fish. The Sauvignon Blanc was outstanding and paired very well with the dish.

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Grilled Quail, Sweet Potato, Morel

Chateau de Campuget, Merlot 2002

Hands down, the best dish of the night. The quail was very tender and juicy with a nice clean flavor. I enjoyed that the sweet potato still had a bit of tooth to it, though it could have been a little sweeter. The morels were simply outstanding…large, whole caps that were rich and earthy. They worked magnificently well with the quail. The accompanying sauce was well refined and delicious.

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Seirass E Seirass Del Fen, Marinated Sweet Peppers

Domaine du Tariquet 2002

Not a strongly flavored cheese. Although we were not familiar with this cheese, it was evident on first taste that it was a ricotta. The sweet peppers were a straightforward accompaniment. The wine matched really well and helped add some complexity to a relatively one-dimensional dish. We appreciated that it was cut from a whole round of cheese and served tableside. I’ll go into service issues in more depth below, but I must note that when I inquired about what was wrapped around the cheese, our server was forced to head downstairs and ask the kitchen (mountain cress is what we were eventually told.) I would think that all the servers should be knowledgeable at this level of detail.

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Garden Rose Essence, Goat Yogurt Sorbet

Very interesting palate cleanser because it veered in the opposite direction of what is typically a fruit-centric course. I really liked this, mostly because it was unique. Great floral notes contrasted perfectly against the tangy yogurt flavor.

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Warm Georgia Mountain Peach, Vanilla Ice Cream

Rumania, Murfatlar 2000

About as basic as you can get…a whole Georgia peach along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sometimes the simplest things are the most rewarding…and this is a perfect example. The warm peach exuded pure and concentrated flavors. It’s exactly what you dream a peach should taste like. Why slave over an elaborate, multi-component dessert when you can send this out? Great dish.

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Petits Fours

While we’re almost always stuffed beyond belief when the petits fours arrive, we still have come to expect some great things on these plates. Unfortunately, this was one of the skimpiest selections we’ve come across: lemon Madeline, mint-chocolate truffle, and a praline cookie. They were very good but I’d like to see some wider selection. The coffee was sensational…rich and smooth. However, it was served after the petits fours…it’s my belief that most people would want their coffee served before so that they can enjoy it with these small bites.

I’m not going to sugar coat it…considering that Seeger’s is a five diamond restaurant, service was atrocious. Immediately upon sitting down, I could tell that the front of house was stretched completely thin. We were seated upstairs and were able to view eight tables inclusive of 18 covers. For the whole evening, all of those tables were serviced by a single lead waiter and a single back waiter. Occasionally the sommelier would show up but otherwise it was just the two of them trying to keep up with eight tables.

As you might guess, pacing was a major issue. After sitting down and having our amuse bouche, it took 34 minutes for our next course to arrive. What’s even more insane is that it was the asparagus gazpacho dish that doesn’t even have a single fired element…it’s a ‘plate up and go’ dish. Possibly it was the kitchen’s fault…maybe they, too, were stretched too thin. But there’s no excuse for a 34 minute wait. The wait between dish two and dish three was actually too fast: less than one minute. However, it was back to a snails pace as we waited 27 minutes for the fourth dish. And this slow pace was happening at other tables around us, too.

We saw other typical gaffes going on all night: missed silverware, dishes served before the wine, wine poured before presenting the bottle, and long waits to clear empty plates. Guests were not escorted toward the bathrooms by the staff (though, I know many people don’t like this practice.) But most troubling was what we saw at an adjacent two-top table. The women had gotten up to use the restroom and while absent from the table, their next course was delivered to the table. So, not only was her dish sitting there getting cold, but her male companion also felt obligated to hold off on his dish until she returned (which was several minutes.) That’s downright bad service.

Also, we had asked for sparkling water with dinner and the closest they had was Sanfaustino which is somewhere between still and sparkling. Plus, it was unappealingly served at room temperature. For something as basic as water, Seeger’s needs to be more on the ball.

On a positive note, the staff had seemingly genuine warmth and really appeared to be concerned that everyone was enjoying themselves. Wine pours were extremely generous in size. And bonus points to the receptionist who, on our arrival, spotted us approaching from a far distance and was ready to greet us with an open door.

It may seem that I’m being tough on Seeger’s but if you’re awarded five diamonds I think that you’re responsible for upholding a certain level of excellence. So I’m comparing them to the best.

Grade: C

May 23, 2004 – 11:00AM

Park 75

Four Seasons Hotel

When I heard that the Four Seasons offered a 12 course Sunday brunch tasting menu for only $36 I was in disbelief. And I also knew we had to make a trip to check it out. Since these dishes aren’t meant to be taken as super haute cuisine, I’ll keep my comments brief:

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Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Holes

A lot of doughnut holes for just two people…or so we thought. We hadn’t realized that all tables (regardless of size) receive the same number of doughnuts until we had scarfed down all eight of these. We felt like pigs but they were fresh, warm and very good.

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CreamBroccoli and Gruyere Frittata

Chocolate and Hazelnut Blintz with Cocoa Whipped

Frittata: Just the right size, the Gruyere and egg tasted great together. Almost like a mini omelet. Salty goodness was provided by what appeared to be fried tomato skins and sweet potatoes on top.

Blintz: Very sweet and rich for my palate.

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Pear and Spring Green Salad with Maytag Blue Cheese, Candied Walnut and Dates

Golden Tomato Gazpacho with Olive Oil and Cilantro

Sweet Grass Dairy Fresh Chevre Pillows

Braised Beef and Cepes in Fillo with Spanish Almond Oil

Salad: A classic combination of flavors…good.

Gazpacho: Good texture and taste. Very clean.

Chevre Pillows: These were delicious. Tangy chevre raviolis accented by a lemon based sauce that added some interest. Tiny, baby white asparagus provided a hint of bitterness.

Beef: Beef was very rich and flavorful. Good contrast with the crispy fillo.

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“Fish & Chips” Roasted Monkfish and Fingerling Potatoes with Malt Vinegar Remoulade

Angus Beef Hanger Steak over Succotash and Fresh Garlic Cream

Tempura of Soft Shell Crab with Smoked Salmon Tomato Butter

Duck Confit Arancini with “Cassoulet” Sauce

Monkfish: Started getting really full at this point (the last couple days were beginning to add up.) The fish was somewhat overcooked but it was still an enjoyable play on traditional fish and chips.

Hanger Steak: Unfortunately the steak still had some veining running down the middle. It was tender but not quite salty enough. Succotash didn’t really work taste wise for me but it did add textural variety. To me, the dish lacked a strong overall taste.

Crab: Too much breading and shell was a little bit tough. Cold by the time I got to it. That’s the problem with sending out four hot dishes at the same time.

Arancini: By the time I got to this the sauce was cold and congealed. The breaded exterior was tasty but the portion size was just too big.

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Thomasville Tomme with Laquered Kumquats and Stone Fruit Salad

Good combination of flavors between the cheese and cherries. But, not super exciting. It’s a firmer style cheese which I don’t usually prefer in cheese plates.

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Loquat Sorbet

Decent flavor.

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Pistachio Lemon and Raspberry Tart

Really full at this point.

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Chocolate Coffee Toffee Cake with Chai Ice Cream

The Chai ice cream added great flavor contrast to the cake.

Overall this meal is a tremendous deal. As I mentioned at the start, this is not super high brow cuisine. But it is solidly good upscale food that has some real thought put behind it. And it’s executed rather well. Where else can you find this for $36…simply amazing. Oh, and I didn’t mention that the meal came with complimentary fresh squeezed orange juice…great touch.

Service was very warm. They checked on us on multiple occasions and even offered to replace anything we didn’t like with more of what we did like. However, one major annoyance was the fact that in every case where we were served plates containing multiple dishes, my plate was never oriented in the same way as my girlfriend’s. So as the server recited what was on the plate, the sequence of descriptions was incorrect for one of us. I don’t know how they repeatedly failed to catch this mistake.

I’d also like to see some of the progressions paired down so that dishes aren’t getting cold before the diner has a chance to eat them. But overall, I’d encourage everyone in Atlanta to get over to Park 75 and take advantage of this wonderful deal as often as possible.

Grade: A-

May 23, 2004 – 9:00PM

South City Kitchen

Sunday night found us taking a break from formal dinners as we dined at South City Kitchen. I was looking forward to finding out how Southern inspiration is translated into nouveau cuisine. We were started off with a bowl of cornbread. Unfortunately, it was dense, chewy and had a weird taste. But that was good reason not to fill up on the carbs. Throughout dinner I enjoyed a couple glasses of Dr. Burklin-Wolf Riesling. Now, on to the dishes:

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Fried Green Tomatoes goat cheese, sweet red pepper coulis and crisp dandelion greens

Awesome…best fried green tomatoes of the trip (though, I’m not sure how authentic they are.) Great tangy taste between the cheese and tomatoes…and a good sweetness from the pepper coulis. I could have eaten a couple plates of these.

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Old Charleston She-Crab Soup with fresh cream and sherry

Rich and creamy without being too heavy…some good bits of crab floating at the bottom of the bowl. This soup was delicious.

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Sautéed Shrimp, Scallops and Grits with creamy stone-ground grits and garlic gravy

This dish never got off the ground. Three small shrimp and three little scallops just don’t cut it. And they weren’t prepared with any care…they were reminiscent of something you’d find on a plate at TGI Friday’s. Not so good.

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken market beans, whipped potatoes and bourbon gravy

Better…the chicken was tasty and crisp (portions with no gravy over it). The bourbon gravy was decent but it was nothing exciting. The green beans were well prepared and provided another level of crunch to the dish. Overall, it was enjoyable.

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Chocolate Pecan Pie served warm with caramel, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream

Good but very sweet…almost too sweet to finish. The blackberries were a welcome accompaniment and provided some tartness.

South City Kitchen generally provided what I was expecting. I think it’s a great place to visit with friends over a few glasses of wine and a couple appetizers. The appetizers and decent wine selection really saved the day. I would have to try more of the entrees before recommending full meals.

Grade: B-

May 24, 2004 – 11:30AM

Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Time for more down home Southern comfort food:

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Pot Likker with Cornbread

Simply outstanding. Tremendously rich flavor from the runoff of the collard greens pot. How much more Southern can you get? A true highlight of the trip.

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Fried Chicken, Cheese Grits, Hoppin’ John

This chicken really was finger lickin’ good…great flavor and a very crispy exterior. However, I was hoping the cheese grits would have been a bit cheesier…they were still somewhat bland for my tastes.

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Chicken Pot Pie, Collard Greens & Cracklin’, Fried Green Tomatoes

Very enjoyable…piping hot on the inside. The white meat chicken was deliciously tender. Even better were the fried green tomatoes. Very flavorful with fried, sweet, and tangy flavors harmonizing as one.

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Georgia Peach Cobbler

Strawberry Shortcake & Whipped Cream

Both desserts were good but very sweet. We were unable to finish the cobbler.

Mary Mac’s Team Room has a very warm and welcoming wait staff. Our server took the time to help us with the ordering instructions and brought us the complimentary Pot Likker. They definitely know how to provide that famous Southern hospitality.

Grade: B+

May 24, 2004 – 6:00PM

Bacchanalia

I’ve read reports that Bacchanalia was on the decline and was over the hill. So I had debated about eating at Joel instead. But in the end, we ended up at Bacchanalia:

Crispy Pastry Puff with Liquid Cheese Center

Very tasty and full of warm gooey cheese. It was a good starter.

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Fresh California Asparagus with Cold Asparagus Soup

This soup was outstanding. Paired with the slices of fresh asparagus, this dish is a great example of how to showcase a single ingredient. It really broke everything down to its core essence. Makes me think back to the asparagus gazpacho at Seeger’s and how much that failed to capture pure asparagus flavors compared to this dish.

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Wild Ramp Ravioli with Prawns

Raviolis were done with a thin pasta which allowed the flavor of the ramps to dominate. Good flavor and texture, complemented by the ricotta inside. Prawns were cooked nicely…crisp and flavorful. Saucing was accented with red pepper and garlic.

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Foie Gras Terrine & House Cured Duck Salad

Mount Horrocks, Gordon Cut Riesling 2003, Clare Valley

Delicious. It was a chunkier style terrine that had a fabulous gelee on top (I’m assuming it was their famous Sauterne variety.) I could have used a bit more brioche but it was still enjoyable (and decadent) to eat the foie gras by itself.

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Roasted Maine Halibut with Butter Braised Mizuna, Tarbais Beans & Sweet English Peas

This was a very big portion size. Flavor-wise the fish was okay…the edges were a bit tough and overcooked but the thick center portion was good. It was salted well but with such a big portion of fish the dish became a bit monotonous. There weren’t a lot of other flavor components to mix and match with and, again, the jus was accented with red pepper and garlic…coincidence?

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Wood Grilled Duck Breast with Duck Confit & Spring Vegetables

Keegan, Pinot Noir 2001, Russian River Valley

Good smoky flavor to the duck breast. It was salted and seasoned just about perfectly which is a difficult balancing act to do. The confit added a different take on duck and added welcomed variety to the plate. As far as the ‘spring vegetables’ go, the peas were wrinkly and mushy…not very good. But the morels were rich and successfully paired.

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A Selection of Cheese from Star Provisions

Stilton, Lou Perac Perail, a creamy cow’s milk cheese covered with soltana raisins, and a mild goat’s milk cheese covered with tarragon and peppercorns. The milder cheeses presented nothing mind blowing. Stilton was the best (and obviously most pungent) selection.

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Local Georgia Strawberries with Aged Balsamic & Fleur De Lis

Pleasant pairing between the cheese and strawberries but it was nothing revelatory. However, this is a great example of a composed cheese course that anyone could do at home for your own dinner guests.

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Peach Ice Cream with Macerated Strawberries and Peaches

Straightforward. Pleasant flavors.

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Local Strawberry Tasting: Strawberry Soufflé, Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries, Strawberry Shortcake

The soufflé had a gummy top and was very runny…most likely undercooked. But it did have a pleasantly mild strawberry flavor. The panna cotta was unconventional in its liquid consistency. The sour versus sweet interaction worked well in that dish. The shortcake was enjoyable…especially due to the fact that they used unsweetened whipped cream. It kept it from being overly sweet.

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Rhubarb Brown Butter Tart with Strawberry Sorbet

Brachetto D’Acqui, Braida 2003, Piemonte

Outstanding dessert. Good concentration of flavors in the strawberry sorbet. The tart was light and flaky, not dense or chewy…it wasn’t the least bit heavy. Rhubarb was not discernable in the overall flavor of the dish but that did not really detract from it. Really, this was as close to perfect as a dessert can get for me. The paired wine was sensational…notes of roses and strawberries worked well together. In fact, this was the best wine pairing of the entire trip.

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Mignardises

Pecan brownie, citrus gelee, nutty brittle, candied grapefruit peel, chocolate dipped apricot, warm Madelines. Good…nothing outstanding.

I loved the décor of the restaurant…it’s very modern with a bit of urban loftiness thrown in. The building also has a very hip vibe being out in the middle of nowhere next to some train tracks.

However, the wine service needed a bit of work. First off, our waiter and I got into a side conversation about Italian red wines with effervescence. I mentioned Lambrusco and the waiter looked confused and then proceeded to tell me that Lambrusco has no bubbles. At this point I knew there was no use in continuing the conversation. Anyways, never in my life have I seen someone pour wine like him in a fine dining restaurant. It was like watching a train wreck. Careless and brash with his pours, by the time the meal was over, the tablecloth looked like a Jackson Pollack painting.

But it all comes back to the food and Bacchanalia delivers. Most everything was solid or excellent. And for the price, I think Bacchanalia presents a pretty decent meal.

Grade: B+

Bonus Review:

May 25, 2004 – 8:00PM

Gottlieb’s Restaurant

Savannah, GA

We made an overnight trip to Savannah and choose a relatively new restaurant, Gottlieb’s, based on reports that it’s the best example of nouveau cuisine in the city.

The night got off to a somewhat rocky start. I had called earlier in the day asking for an earlier reservation but I was told that no table was available. That was okay with me…I assumed that business was too heavy to accommodate the request. So when we arrived at the restaurant only to find it a quarter full, I was not too happy. Then we walked in and the receptionist asked us to take a seat in the lobby and wait to be seated at our table. ?!?! The place was only a quarter full!!! That made no sense to me at all.

After a few minutes we were finally seated, so it’s on to the food:

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Duck Spring Roll with Peanut Sauce

This amuse was fine…nothing to write home about but at least it had some flavor.

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Pan Roasted Maine Lobster on a Southern Corn Cake with Lobster Gravy

This was a very solid dish. The half lobster was tender and was cooked perfectly. The gravy was very decadent and captured the delicious essence of lobster. The corn cake was a neutral backdrop that allowed the other components to shine and was light in texture, like a pancake allowing the gravy to be sopped up….yum!.

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Seared Foie Gras on a Belgium Waffle with Sugar Cane Gastrique Syrup

I knew this one sounded a bit gimmicky but I still wanted to try it. Flavor-wise, this dish worked well. However, there were a few problems. The Belgium waffle was just too thick in proportion to the foie gras. I would have liked to have tried a thinner waffle. Also the foie gras was two thin slices stacked upon one another. I would have like a single thicker piece as well as one of better quality (there were still veins in the pieces I had.)

I had wanted a paired wine for this dish but the wine list had nothing available by the glass that would be sweet enough to pair well. That was disappointing.

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Our Brunswick Stew with Braised Rabbit and Wild Mushrooms

Very rich and tasty. Stew was heavily reduced with the vegetables being indiscernible, but steeped with flavor. Braised rabbit was showcased as two separate pieces, the whole leg portion and the tenderloin. Wild mushrooms provided a good accompaniment due to their earthy flavor and velvety texture.

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Sugar Cane Glazed Pecan Crusted Rack of Colorado Lamb with Creamy Grits

The lamb was cooked perfectly…tender and very flavorful. The creamy grits were probably the best we had on this trip. The pecan crust was equally delicious…but here’s the rub, the crust had some heat from what tasted like red pepper. I had asked for the waiter’s suggestion on the wine pairing and he guided me toward a 2002 Saintsberry Pinot Noir. I decided to give it a shot (without knowing about the ingredients in the crust.) However, the pepper in the dish just wrecked havoc on the high alcohol content in the pinot. There was a very pronounced mouth burn going on with that pairing. It was without a doubt, the worst matched wine of the whole trip. I’m very surprised the wait staff wasn’t better trained on these issues.

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Savannah Red Velvet Cake

Good but nothing exciting for me. But what was exciting was a glass of 1975 Toro Albala Don PX Reserva that I had for dessert. A deep brown color with vividly strong prune flavors. Intensely sweet but incredibly smooth on the palate…extremely mellow. A great way to end a jam packed few days of eating.

I mentioned a few service issues at the start and I have to add one other thing. We had the most surreal experience as our first courses were placed on the table. The waitress set them down, smiled, and then departed with nary a peep. My girlfriend and I just turned and stared at each other with confused looks. We soon deduced that we wouldn’t have any of the dishes announced nor explained to us this evening. It was a glaring omission for a restaurant that is attempting to provide fine dining service.

However, overall the food was delicious. The kitchen is really saving the day and keeping this restaurant afloat. And for that reason I would give Gottlieb’s another try.

Grade: B-

Edited by jeffj (log)

View more of my food photography from the world's finest restaurants:

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jeffj:

Holy crap! You have just raised the bar for a "travelogue" style eating adventure.

Thank you so much for all the work you put in here. Seriously. Very informative, very impressive.

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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jeffj,

I can not remember ever seeing anything like the exquisite beauty of these food pictures and the commentary which accompanies them. Even the top food magazines have nothing on your "style"! This has to be done by a professional in the business of food art photography, I wrongly assumed. In reading the posts you have in your profile, I see that you are not actually in "the business" but have learned to share your enjoyment of meals in restaurants with great panache!

I have lived here in Atlanta for over 25 years now and have eaten at some of the restaurants you have covered here ... but seeing them and their food again with completely new eyes, thanks to you.

You are indeed an exceptional chronicler of tasting menus in the places you have selected (Trio, TFL, etc.) and have a connoisseur's "vision" for selecting the places upon which you write your impressions. Thank you for this beautiful, well conceived view of the foods of Georgia. You have done a masterful job!

My heartiest commendations!

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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My thanks as well for your fine report. I lived in Atlanta for a while when I was younger, and that was when I first started to take pleasure in food and good restaurants. But I haven't been there in a while, so your experience sharing is very welcome.

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Unreal!

Thanks for for sharing that with us.

Once again, I am picking my jaw up off the floor after reading one of your amazing reports. You've outdone yourself. :smile:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I enjoyed your writing and pictures and am greatly envious of both your ability and your itinerary. I wonder, however, how you can obtain so many great pictures without annoying those at surrounding tables. The pictures are so good that I assume there was more than one shot taken of each dish, and I'm sure a flash was involved. Do you make some special arrangement to do this in a secluded corner?

My highest praise is reserved for your giving The Varsity the only “A” for the entire trip. Classic.

I especially enjoyed your “Bonus Review” of Gottlieb’s. I live in Savannah and am sorry to say I have only eaten lunch (unexceptional) at this relatively new place. Local talk has been decidedly mixed; the Gottlieb family has a long history in Savannah in the bakery business, and many people seem confused by this effort at upscale.

"Eat at Joe's."

- Joe

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Wow, that's a lot of great eating and better reporting.  Thanks a ton for sharing with us.  I do need to get down to Atlanta, and soon!

Wasn't there a commercial (for Motel 6) wherein Tom Bodett said something like "We'll leave the light on for you." .. and the "welcome mat" is always out, should you pass this way, Varmint! :biggrin:

Edited by Gifted Gourmet (log)

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Jeff, I always love reading your reports. You live a charmed life. (And I can't wait for you to eat at Joël.)

The pictures are so good that I assume there was more than one shot taken of each dish, and I'm sure a flash was involved.

It looks like ambient lighting to me, and not like a flash at all. If he'd used a flash, there would be sharp shadows on the far side of the dish; instead the shadows are soft. The problem with the lighting in those circumstances is that, in dimmer lighting, some focus can be lost. Better that that using a flash, though.

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I wonder, however, how you can obtain so many great pictures without annoying those at surrounding tables. The pictures are so good that I assume there was more than one shot taken of each dish, and I'm sure a flash was involved.

It's always my policy to be as unobtrusive as possible when taking pictures in restaurants. Because of that, I never use flash (in fact, the pictures would look much worse if a flash was used.) My digital camera is extremely small (a Pentax Optio S4…it fits in an Altoids can.) So I simply keep it in the breast pocket of my jacket and quickly remove it as necessary.

It’s all done so quickly that most people never realize I’m taking pictures. But I will mention that for the first time, someone did ask me why I was taking pictures. It was the end of our meal at Seeger’s and the room was mostly empty except for us and another couple at the adjacent table. So I briefly explained what I was doing…it was the perfect opportunity to indoctrinate two more people on the wonders of eGullet. Anyways, they were simply curious and not the least bit annoyed by the whole camera thing.

I especially enjoyed your “Bonus Review” of Gottlieb’s. I live in Savannah and am sorry to say I have only eaten lunch (unexceptional) at this relatively new place. Local talk has been decidedly mixed; the Gottlieb family has a long history in Savannah in the bakery business, and many people seem confused by this effort at upscale.

Yes, as I mentioned, it was an uneven meal. The food was pretty good but the service was terribly lacking. They need to do a better job of training the servers if they expect to charge the prices they do.

I just want to thank everyone for their appreciation of my posts. It really is your enjoyment of them that keeps me writing and documenting what we eat. I feel fortunate to be able to contribute to eGullet in my own little way.

View more of my food photography from the world's finest restaurants:

FineDiningPhotos.com

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My digital camera is extremely small (a Pentax Optio S4…it fits in an Altoids can.) So I simply keep it in the breast pocket of my jacket and quickly remove it as necessary.

Yowsah! That is teeeeee-ninesy, as they say in the South.

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[Cuban Chocolate Tart with Chocolate Sorbet

Port

Neither of us loves chocolate desserts that much.  However, I thought this one actually worked.  None of the components were too densely chocolate in nature.  The chocolate was showcased in several forms which were pretty light and thus easy to eat.  The bottom cracker provided some saltiness that contrasted well with the sweetness of the chocolate.

This is one of the Chef's signature dishes. Too bad you don't like chocolate (I do and thought it was fabulous).

There's a discussion in the Per Se thread about tasting menus - and I think your comment is another reason they should be avoided. Why waste a course eating something you don't basically like (no matter how well it's prepared)? Better to order ALC and get the things you really enjoy.

By the way - I think this restaurant is probably the best restaurant in the southeast these days. Robyn

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I'm also not a huge fan of chocolate after a big meal, and on our last visit to The Dining Room a chocolate dessert (not the same one) was featured on the signature menu. So I asked if something else could be substituted, and it was, absolutely no problem at all. I chose a soft meringue, absolutely fantastic.

I like doing tasting menus, but I've switched out desserts on more than one occasion for the same reason---too much chocolate.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Why waste a course eating something you don't basically like (no matter how well it's prepared)? Better to order ALC and get the things you really enjoy.

Robyn, I completely and utterly disagree. In fact, I could not disagree more if you paid me--and I promise this is not about polarizing myself to you--I am trying to figure your comment out. Meanwhile, under no circumstances could I disagree more, all things being equal, and we're spending Jeff's money here for a singular experience. (Jeff, you don't mind, right?)

I have not had Jeff's good fortune to have innumerable chef's tastings, but at those times a chef of such talent as David Kinch, Michael Anthony, Dan Barber, or Hemant Mathur have sent something to my table to taste, I opened my mouth to the experience.

There are many things I quote "don't like," among them okra and olives and liver and lamb. (Feel free to comment on what I already know is a genetic deficiency, the professed dislike of olives. I apologize. Abjectly. Sincerely.)

Hemant's okra is one of the first things I would order in his new restaurant (when he gets a new restaurant, and I hope I hear news on that soon). He made okra as I'd never had it before. Gone, the bane of phlegm. This okra was crisp and light and aromatic and a sensory experience that erased "okra" from the definition accumulated in my brain.

David Kinch sent olives to my table, not having heard me decline the choice of olive bread because I cannot stand the rubbery feel of them in my mouth. Like saline tires. Only I was wrong. WRONG. I'd never had those olives. I was wrong. I don't dislike olives, I dislike BAD olives. The olives I love are apparently Kalamatas.

Ordering what's safe and comfortable because you "know you like it"?

What was it Alton Brown said? "Oh, and I'd never, ever put a show in front of a focus group....ever."

A focus group is a group of people who prefer to watch things familiar to them. You know, because they don't have to think. They would probably prefer not to. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it's enough just to enjoy life, without ever having to wonder if I'm missing something by not eating olives. I don't have an answer to that, not even to myself.

I often say, of good food, "it makes your mouth think." What I truly treasure about Jeff's posts is that he lets his mouth think. He tries new things, openly and with abandon. He's not harsh: he's open-minded (hmmmm, maybe openness is the key here), and he's very good at describing why tastes do or don't work. He's analyzing the architecture.

I might go so far as to posit a theory: open heart, open mind, open mouth. "Open mouth" as in "open your mouth and close your eyes, and I will give you a nice surprise." And Jeff's trusting enough to do that, because he's willing to trust these chefs who send out their art.

Their art isn't safe. It's not like, "Oh, gee, can I cook another piece of salmon? I hope I don't blow it!"

It's more like an intimate portrait: the whole thing is elaborate and a risk, and incredibly detailed. Far more detailed than I have either the education or imagination to comprehend. It's more like a gallery than a meal. Walk through this room. Taste. Now, follow into here. Taste. Wow.

And for that reason, if a chef has a good buzz—not from the trendies in the sheeplike focus groups, whose collective patellas are poised for reaction from the rubber hammer of corporations—but from other chefs and cooks and people who aren't afraid to try something new, even if it's weird...well, that's art.

It works or it doesn't work. I don't see Jeff, or the Iron Chef judges, deducting points because they dared to eat a dish because "I Don't Like It."

Jeff is open.

And he's even more open to go to the lengths he does to write all this stuff up. Elsethread, SKinCA (Stephanie from the Sur La Table, where I took David Kinch's cooking class) said she didn't want to take notes while she ate, which wouldn't be pleasant for her. I understand that.

I also think that Jeff and I perhaps share a common value: I feel I am honoring the food and the chef and the journey more if I take the time to chronicle it. (For all I know, we shared a past life in a monastery, illuminating texts.) He's got the tools and the means to choose things he considers worthy of his time. He went to the Varsity, so he's clearly not someone who can't get his hands dirty on food.

The bottom line is, "How do you know you don't like it until you try it?"

I ask that to five-year-olds, and not one of them has been able to stop me from giving them a taste. I asked that question to my ex's little boy, who said, "I don't like 'skin chicken,' Tana." I told him I'd never fed him anything he didn't like, and that I knew a different way to make it. It tastes good to me, so try it. He did. And his most requested thing to cook with me when he comes over? He can't decide between "skin chicken" (roasted chicken with herb crust) or chicken marinated in lemons and olive oil.

On the other hand, Robyn, I am trying to get inside your brain and wonder....

If I were on a really limited budget, I'd probably play it safe and order à la carte. On the other hand, I wouldn't go to a place where the chef is brave and gifted enough to offer a chef's tasting if I were that concerned with money. I did have to play it kind of tight recently at Manresa. I don't have the luxury, frankly, but considered it a good investment in every way. I did some ordering off the tapas (cheaper) menu, because I did have to think about money, and also because I wanted to experience the gamut from humble to luxe.

I'm happy Jeff was game enough to experience the discomfort of accepting a chocolate dish, and to state that chocolate generally doesn't flip his skirt (so to speak). He still wrote about it well, and I (who have loved chocolate far too much and less well since I've discovered the rapture of fruit desserts, prepared by the artists it's been my good fortune to encounter at farm dinners) am thankful that he exhibited open heart, open eyes, open mind and open mouth.

As we all know, "open wallet" is the price he paid. :wink: Even with his grading on the curve, Jeff got relentless bang for his buck, if only in good karma bonus points for taking the time to craft his experience so that we could watch his shoulder and wish we were there, even for the bad times.

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good food, "it makes your mouth think."

yet another exceptionally well put tanabulter sig line!! Thanks!!

This is yet another for a Cafe Press t-shirt!! :laugh:

Edited by Gifted Gourmet (log)

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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The bottom line is, "How do you know you don't like it until you try it?"

I ask that to five-year-olds, and not one of them has been able to stop me from giving them a taste...

My husband and I are close to 60 - not 5. And we have eaten adventurously in probably hundreds of restaurants in many countries for a long time. So I know what I love - like - can barely tolerate - and dislike. I think it's a safe bet to say at my age that I don't like caramel - never have - never will. Even some of the best caramel truffles in the world which were served to me as a "throwaway" at a world class restaurant in London last week (I ate 2 - the second to be sure I didn't like it - that was it). So should I order a caramel dessert or endure it on a tasting menu? I don't think so.

I do think people should try everything - more than once - either cooked attentively at home or in restaurants. Don't knock okra until you've had it prepared properly. More importantly though - I'd do my learning at less than world class restaurants where the food will be prepared competently - not in a sublime fashion. No sense trying sweetbreads for the first time at a 3 star Michelin restaurant if they're going to make you want to throw up.

But when all is said and done - and you've done your homework and tried just about everything every which way - you're bound to have your favorites. So when I go to a great restaurant - which I will probably only get to once in my life - I order the things I love - knowing that I will get the best possible preparations of those items. E.g., at the restaurant which served the caramel truffles - I ordered Bresse pigeon for my main course (one of my favorite dishes from one of my favorite places). And I will sing the praises of that bird for a long long time.

By the way - I wouldn't have made this point if someone was talking about a lesser restaurant where one was learning and experimenting. But I think this particular restaurant - the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead - is a world class restaurant. And this particular chocolate dessert is a world class chocolate dessert. It's not fair to say - I don't like chocolate - but considering that I don't like chocolate - well you know this particular chocolate was ok. Makes it sound like the restaurant was serving a Hershey bar. And then one gives the restaurant a "B" because one never liked chocolate in the first place - and would probably never give an "A" to any chocolate dessert? This strikes me as being terribly unfair to the restaurant and the pastry chef. For what it's worth - the candy trolley at this restaurant was also terrific (even better in my opinon than the candy trolley at ADNY - although I did avoid the caramels at both places :wink:). Robyn

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Absolutely must agree, Tana.

Going to new places with new chefs is all about trying new things, even if we think they are old things. "Had beets when I was kid, and I know therefore that they suck...." A tasting menu is the perfect vehicle for ... well, testing tastes. A person with a presumable amount of skill has spent a presumable amount of time determing a taste combination in order to accentuate flavors. This is the perfect time to try something you "know" you "don't like."

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I have to come down on Robyn's side on this discussion. If you look at a tasting menu and realize that half of the items are things you don't really enjoy, then don't get the tasting menu. I ate at The Dining Room about three weeks ago and had the signature menu (the same option as in the original post, but somewhat different that evening), largely because I looked at it and decided that I particularly wanted the things offered on that menu. Had they not appealed I'd have ordered a la carte (except that there isn't really an a la carte option at The Dining Room---you're either ordering the short menu or the long one and that's the the end of that).

In the case of a chocolate dessert, well, it's chocolate. And it's altogether unlikely that Bruno Menard (who is a great guy and a talented chef, no question about it) is going to do something so transcendently wonderful with chocolate on this one particular occasion that I'm going to say "Thank goodness I got the chocolate, my meal would otherwise have been ruined". I'm a lot more likely to say "Oh, god, I'm going to die. Why did I get the chocolate? It's too heavy for me. I know to never get the chocolate dessert." And for all his careful design of the signature menu, if you asked him personally whether or not he thought it was important that you have the chocolate dessert, he'd look at you and laugh and say "Fuck, are you kidding? Get what you want."

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Y'all, you can send me your okra, chocolate and caramel any time you like. I'll send you my address if you'd like! :wink:

Good discussion, by the way. I'm only 40, and I'll gladly let someone convince me to enjoy things I don't like (although, I can't name one).

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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By the way - I wouldn't have made this point if someone was talking about a lesser restaurant where one was learning and experimenting.  But I think this particular restaurant - the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead - is a world class restaurant.  And this particular chocolate dessert is a world class chocolate dessert.  It's not fair to say - I don't like chocolate - but considering that I don't like chocolate - well you know this particular chocolate was ok.  Makes it sound like the restaurant was serving a Hershey bar.  And then one gives the restaurant a "B" because one never liked chocolate in the first place - and would probably never give an "A" to any chocolate dessert?  This strikes me as being terribly unfair to the restaurant and the pastry chef.

Well Robyn, historically, you and I never seem to see eye-to-eye…and this is just one more instance. You opinion is noted and respected. However your statement about my grading of The Dining Room is faulty. The restaurant received a “B” grade based not on the chocolate dessert but rather on six of the previously served dishes. In fact, as I noted, I felt the chocolate dessert was outstanding based on my general dislike for chocolate (and if anything, this dish helped raise the grade.)

Off the top of my head, I can list 5 meals I’ve eaten in the past year that have exceeded to greatly-exceeded my meal at The Dining Room. When I’m presented with dishes that are overwhelmed by assertively cacophonous flavors, contain components that are overcooked, and lack proper saucing then obviously I’m not going to give the meal an “A”. While The Dining Room may be the best restaurant in the Southeast, keep in mind, I’m grading against the rest of the country. My grades are given based on food, service, and value; and are never based on a single dish.

View more of my food photography from the world's finest restaurants:

FineDiningPhotos.com

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