Category Archives: Restaurant & Bar Reviews

Restaurant Reviews

Stationside

Go West for Lunch at Stationside

With its revitalized architecture, trendy eateries and all around cool feel, Atlanta’s Westside has long been the place to be. Add Stationside to the list of restaurants that are drawing diners to this part of town.

The casual modern spot is located at Terminal West at the King Plow Arts Center, a live music and special events venue that showcases Atlanta’s industrial history. Stationside offers lunch Tuesday through Friday, and food during shows at Terminal West.

StationsideSlightly off the more traveled path of Howell Mill Road, Stationside is located on West Marietta Street NW (you’ll see a helpful sign at the corner of West Marietta and Brady Avenue). Lunch crowds are warmly welcomed with Terminal Westreserved spots and validated parking in the gated lot.

The food is what makes Stationside worth the visit. Whether it’s vegetarian, vegan or gluten free you’re looking for, you’ll find it on the menu at Stationside.

It’s pretty impressive what Executive Chef Dan Brown and his team can create in that tiny kitchen. Try the Waldrep Farms BBQ Pork Sandwich, which comes with pickled jalapeño and fennel-apple slaw, or the Korean Friend Chicken Sandwich, which gets added umami flavor from Simply Seoul kimchi. La Cubana, with adobo roasted pork, ham, provolone and dill pickle, is one of the tastiest Cuban sandwiches you’ll find outside of Miami.

Stationside sandwiches

Candied ginger and citrus vinaigrette make the Kale Salad stand out. Be sure to try some of the sides including the Adobo Tater Tots, served with chipotle ketchup, or the Tempura Avocado, decadently fried and creamy, served with a sweet Thai chili sauce.

Click here for the full menu

Consider Stationside for your next lunch event. The restaurant offers a private dining area that can accommodate eight to twenty plus guests. Reservations are recommended, though walk-ups are allowed if the space is available.

Stationside is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11am to 2pm.

Stationside at Terminal West, 887 West Marietta Street NW, Atlanta 30318. 404.876.5566, stationsideatl.com

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MAYA Steaks Seafood

MAYA: Superior Steak in Sandy Springs

When a new steak restaurant comes along you expect the focus to be on high quality, great tasting steaks. And that’s what MAYA Steaks & Seafood gets exactly right.

MAYA Steaks & SeafoodThe upscale spot in Sandy Springs is the latest restaurant from Mimmo Alboumeh, chef and owner of Red Pepper Taqueria in Buckhead and Decatur. MAYA, named for Chef Mimmo’s youngest daughter, is an American steakhouse with a Spanish flair. Chef Mimmo, who was born in Lebanon, grew up in Spain and spent time in Italy before coming to Georgia.

Chef Mimmo is passionate about finding the right beef to serve. As he was planning the menu, he tasted selections from a variety of meat purveyors. From all of them he selected Braveheart Black Angus Beef, not just for the superior taste but for the treatment and processing of the cattle. Chef Mimmo even traveled to one of their farms in Tennessee to witness this firsthand. Braveheart beef is unique to MAYA; no other Atlanta area restaurants carry it.

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Twin Smokers BBQ

Twin Smokers Brings BBQ to Downtown Atlanta

With the arrival of Twin Smokers BBQ, there’s now a restaurant for any craving in Downtown Atlanta.

The barbecue and bourbon spot in the Luckie Marietta District is the latest restaurant from Legacy Restaurant Partners, owners of nearby Der Biergarten, Game-X, Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria and STATS.

Twin Smokers offers a casual setting that focuses on the food. You place your order at the counter. Tables offer street views or views of the twin smokers – named Elizabeth and Matthew after the owner’s children. While you’re waiting you can check out the “Wood Library,” the restaurant’s collection of Texas mesquite, hickory, white oak and post oak used in the smokers.

Twin Smokers

Daily the chicken, pork and sausages are smoked over hickory and white oak in Elizabeth, and the beef is smoked over Texas mesquite and post oak in Matthew. Using traditional smoking techniques with some modern technology (the smokers have electric thermostats to control the temperature), everything comes out just right.

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Southern Gentleman

A Twist on Tradition at The Southern Gentleman

A tip of the hat to The Southern Gentleman, the new restaurant offering traditional favorites with a modern twist in the Buckhead Atlanta development.

The southern influenced gastropub is the place to go for a post work drink or dinner with friends. You’ll find a chef-driven menu with locally sourced ingredients in a laid back yet sophisticated setting.

Bourbon fans – and those hoping to discover what makes bourbon so good – will love the cocktail menu. Try the East of Hudson, The Southern Gentleman’s take on a Manhattan, or that week’s Barrel Aged Cocktail. If you want your whiskey without all the fuss, there’s a list of more than 80 kinds of bourbon, rye and Scotch. There’s also a selection of draft and bottled beer, and wine by the glass and bottle.

Southern Gentleman cocktails

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Gypsy Kitchen

Gypsy Kitchen Brings Spanish Flavors to Buckhead Atlanta

It’s a good sign when a newly opened restaurant is packed on a Wednesday night. It’s an even better sign when it features a menu that makes you want to order every single dish – and better still when those dishes exceed expectations.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Gypsy Kitchen.

The restaurant is one of the first to open at Buckhead Atlanta, the new shopping and dining district. It’s the latest concept from Southern Proper Hospitality, which owns and operates Smokebelly BBQ, The Big Ketch, Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails and Osteria Cibo Rustico.

The décor, like the menu, is influenced by Spain with Moroccan and Indian flavors thrown into the mix. It’s that cool spot you would want to happen upon in Granada after an afternoon of sightseeing at the Alhambra.

It’s a see-and-be-seen kind of place, with a layout that makes it at once intimate and good for people watching. The outdoor patio is sure to be packed all weekend, as is the bar area that features a life-size metal bull.Gypsy Kitchen

Gypsy Kitchen

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The Pig and The Pearl

The Pig and The Pearl

The south meets the sea at The Pig & The Pearl, a smokehouse and raw bar now open at Atlantic Station.

Sure, it’s a seemingly odd pairing. But as The Amateur Gastronomer found out, it’s one that lets you enjoy exactly what you’re craving, without having to compromise on quality.

Pig and PearlThe Pig & The Pearl comes from the team at The Shed at Glenwood. Owners Todd Martin and Cindy Shera sought to create a gathering place in Midtown, with an artfully prepared and fun menu from Chef Todd Richards.

The interior is a mix of weathered wood and whitewashed brick that offers a soothing respite from busy Atlantic Station.

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Smokebelly BBQ

Smokebelly BBQ Now Open

Celebrate Labor Day weekend at Smokebelly’s Q & Brew Lawn Party. On August 31st from 5pm onward there will be a whole hog roast, $5 craft cocktails, $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon and live music.

There was something about Smokebelly BBQ that made me like it from the moment I arrived. Maybe it was the vintage décor that called to mind my favorite barbecue spot in Houston. Or the Led Zeppelin playing over the speakers. And it certainly didn’t hurt that we happened to be seated near a TV showing the Yankees game. But after the first sip of my cocktail, the smoky and spicy Southern Pina, I was happy to welcome Smokebelly to Buckhead.

And that’s the thing about barbecue – it’s a food that makes you happy. Have you ever seen someone looking depressed while digging into a plate of pulled pork or brisket?

Smokebelly BBQ is a new joint venture between the team behind The Big Ketch Saltwater Grill, Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails and Tin Lizzy’s Cantina and Trey Humphreys (the Fur Bus, A Social Mess and The Pool Hall). Helmed by Executive Chef Darrell Rice, Smokebelly offers a menu of regional barbecue favorites complemented by craft beer and cocktails.

Smokebelly cocktailsThough beer is a natural pairing for barbecue, you won’t want to miss out on the cocktails. The Southern Pina, Smokebelly’s take on a margarita with an added kick, is made with house smoked Mezcal, pineapple, lime juice, jalapeno and agave syrup. Another top pick is the Blackberry Whiskey Smash, made with bourbon, blackberries, lime, mint and sugar. The berries are muddled and then strained, so you get pure juice and no seeds.

Dave, our server, was the ideal guide for our first time at Smokebelly. While giving us an overview of the menu, he made sure to recommend dishes that we would have overlooked.

One such recommendation was the Blistered Peppadew Peppers. They were served on top of goat cheese, smoked almonds, black pepper and honey, with house-made crackers. On paper it was perhaps unusual but together the gently spicy pepper, creamy goat cheese and sweet honey were a tasty combination. We also enjoyed the Fried Pickled Okra, served with a barbecue ranch dipping sauce, and the Cherry Cola Ribs, which were flash fried and tossed in the house made sauce.

For the main course my husband and I shared the Sliced Smoked Turkey Breast and the Sliced Beef Brisket. The brisket had great flavor and the turkey was cooked just right (our favorite of the two, if we had to pick one). Both were even better when paired with one of Smokebelly’s sauces.

Smokebelly saucesAbout those sauces — you will never have to worry about running out. There are large bottles on your table, and a full lineup at the sauce bar. There’s the mustard-based Carolina Gold; the vinegar-based Carolina Red; the creamy Alabama White; the Cherry Cola; and a Sweet, Spicy and Savory.

Trying a bite of brisket and turkey in each of the sauces is the closest you’ll get to playing with your food as an adult.

Smokebelly turkey plateSmokebelly sliced brisketDon’t worry vegetarians, you’re still welcome at Smokebelly. There are a variety of vegetarian options and entrée size salads. All diners will enjoy the Chilled Sweet Corn and Edamame “Succotash,” and the collard greens-style Smoky Braised Kale is a standout among the sides (though just a warning for vegans, the kale and the baked beans are made with bacon).

Smokebelly banana puddingIf it is possible that you still have room for dessert, you’ll want to find out about the evening’s special offerings. While the peanut butter cake sounded incredible, we went for the (seemingly) less rich banana pudding. Lightly caramelized on top, with sliced bananas and a decadent creamy filling, it was a gourmet take on the southern sweet.

Smokebelly BBQ is open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Wednesday from 11am to 10pm, and Thursday through Saturday 11am until late. Plenty of free parking is available at the restaurant.

Smokebelly BBQ, 128 East Andrews Drive, Atlanta (Buckhead).
404.848.9100, smokebellybbq.com

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Dinner Lab

Dinner Lab Now Cooking in Atlanta

 

A unique social dining experiment has arrived in Atlanta. Dinner Lab, the secret, pop-up supper club that began in New Orleans, is now accepting members.

It’s a mouthwatering concept: up-and-coming chefs get a chance to showcase their talents and creativity with a group of adventurous food fans. The chef and five-course menu are announced when tickets go up for sale, but the location is a secret until the day before. During the dinner guests are encouraged to write comments about each dish and offer constructive feedback for the chef.

Chef Brandon ChavannesThe Amateur Gastronomer got a sneak peek (and taste) last week at the Panta Rei dinner featuring Chef Brandon Chavannes. The Atlanta born and raised chef brings his passion for cooking seafood to Lure in Midtown. For his Dinner Lab menu, Chef Chavannes mixed Spanish and West Indies culinary traditions, and highlighted foods he grew up on.

The location of the dinner was Studio 900, a nondescript space on Dekalb Avenue in Inman Park that would be easy to miss, had there not been a number of cars parked in front. After sipping a welcome cocktail and mingling with the other guests, we took our seats at communal tables.

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Stillhouse: Craft Burgers and Moonshine Now Open in Buckhead

Atlanta’s destination for moonshine is now open – no lawbreaking required.

Stillhouse is the newest restaurant to open in the Andrews Entertainment District. It is a great spot for a night out, offering moonshine on its own or in cocktails, and a menu to rival any of Atlanta’s burger-centric spots.

StillhouseNot familiar with moonshine? Stillhouse proves just how versatile it can be. Drinks like the Carolina Mule and Ghostly Old Fashioned show how moonshine can be a good base for traditional and modern cocktails. Moonshine can also take on a limitless number of flavors – try one of the house made moonshine infusions that are made with regional ingredients like Vidalia onions and Georgia peaches. There is even smoked moonshine – you select a type of wood, and mixologists infuse the smoky flavor into your drink.

moonshine infusionsThe food is just as inventive (and delicious). Start with a southern favorite like the Fried Green Tomatoes or Pimento Cheese. Or try the Mussel Moonshine, PEI mussels steamed in a broth made with Troy & Sons Platinum Moonshine.

The beef burgers are filling, with double patties and a variety of locally sourced and creative toppings. The top bun is flipped up for you to add Stillhouse’s house made ketchup (both standard and spicy) and mustard.

Unusual sounding but very tasty, the PB&J Burger has already become one of Stillhouse’s top sellers. The two beef patties are topped with Georgia peanut hummus, fig jam, fresh sliced peach, blue cheese and pecans. It’s a sweet, salty, creamy and savory mix that really works.

The AG recommends the Buckhead Burger, which is beef patties topped with duck confit, goat cheese, green tomato relish, pickled beets and fresh spinach.

There are also chicken, duck, pork, crab cake, fried oyster and veggie burgers offered on the menu.

For sides try the super creamy Spicy Macaroni & Cheese, and one of the Smothered French Fries (the AG recommends the fries with the North Carolina Gouda). You’ll definitely want to order a side of the collard greens. Slightly sweet in flavor, they’re so good you and your dining companions will fight over the last bite.

If you still have room for dessert, try the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. Topped with white chocolate and a bourbon caramel sauce, it is every bit as rich as you would imagine.

Try a new drink with dessert. As the AG found out, some of the less sweet house made infusions make a great pairing.

Stillhouse: Craft Burgers and Moonshine, 56 East Andrews Drive NW, Atlanta 30305. Open Monday through Saturday, 5pm to 2am. Live music nightly at 9pm. www.stillhouseatl.com

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It’s Time for Wine: The Big Three Napa Dining Experiences

It’s Time for Wine and Other Things: The Big Three Napa Dining Experiences, Plus an Alert about OpenTable

By Monty and Sara Preiser

Affirmed vs. Alyidar. Frazier vs. Ali. FDR or Abraham Lincoln. Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, or Duke Snider. Ludlam, Follett, or Baldacci? Casablanca vs. Gone With the Wind.

Each and every person, horse, or film named above has at one time been at the pinnacle of their existence, and while sometimes circumstances allowed one to actually best the other in head to head competition, on other occasions that was never possible. Americans, however, when there is no criteria for a clear winner, love to debate who, or which, is better in the hypothetical – they hate ties and always look for number one. And if they can’t have a clear victor, they at least want to learn the pros and cons so they can comfort themselves that they understand the differences.

fine diningSo it is today that we write about what we consider to be the three dining giants in the Napa Valley – The French Laundry, La Toque, and the The Restaurant at Meadowood. All are presently at the top of their games, though we have never seen a major critic or magazine analyze them as we will do below (Michelin uses some strange criteria and, as are too many of the noted food writers, seemingly over-swayed by reputations). Of course, there are other outstanding places in the Valley, some that people will be surprised we have omitted from this discussion. However, we have covered most Napa restaurants of note in the past 6 months and believe the three mentioned, all things taken into consideration, are in a class by themselves.

A Chef on Property is Worth Two in New York

We are great believers in capitalism, and so if Thomas Keller can continue to fill every table at the Laundry and its New York sister restaurant Per Se (which we love and visit every other year or so), we have no qualms at all. That being said, the food at La Toque and Meadowood is at least the equal of that served at the French Laundry, and on some occasions better. And why shouldn’t that be so? Famed Chefs Ken Frank (owner of La Toque) and rising star Christopher Kostow (THE man at Meadowood) are on property most evenings overseeing their kitchens, while the Laundry is overseen on a nightly basis by a younger, less experienced chef. Thus, given the fact that there is no evidence that Chef Keller, a true innovator, is presently any more creative or technically superior than his contemporaries named above, it only makes sense, if one is truthful, that better food will more often be found at the other two establishments when Thomas is not present at his. Again, this does not mean the dishes at the Laundry are not exquisite – they are. But so they are at the other two restaurants as well.

[Comment: Our own experience, almost without exception, is that a restaurant with its excellent chef in the kitchen, even if s/he is perhaps not widely known, is quite often better than the famous establishment owned by big name chefs who are commonly on TV or overseeing multiple properties. It is difficult to logically dispute this.]

Service in General Takes Many Forms

Service at the three great establishments in today’s spotlight is uniformly outstanding, yet different in formality and concept. Here, it is hard to say which is unequivocally best as diners prefer different approaches. At La Toque, the vested servers are trained to recognize and encourage the individuality of their clientele, all the while interacting to keep the evening upbeat and fun in a pleasantly energetic manner. At Meadowood and the Laundry the tuxedoed staff reflects a far more formal manner while they guide the diner through a semi-set degustation menu in a very quiet atmosphere. The latter is indeed very appealing to many diners, especially those who feel that a classically formal presentation is an integral part of fine dining.

Ambiance – The First Thing You Notice

Monty’s dad used to say that you “dine with your eyes,” meaning, of course, that your surroundings (and plate presentation) influence your meal. This is even more so when you realize that the first thing one sees is vitally important in an overall evaluation. All three restaurants are beautiful, though in different ways. The room at Meadowood is stunning and could be out of a Gatsby style movie. The Laundry is in an impossibly beautiful setting, welcoming its diners to an old two story home reminiscent of a film about the Civil War. La Toque opts, as it often does, to be more modern, though the room is perfectly lit, comfortable in the extreme, and much like New York. No one would be disappointed spending three hours in any of these dining rooms.

Wine Service Can Set a Restaurant Apart –
Especially in Napa

The wine program put in place by Chef Frank and Scott Tracy at La Toque many years ago is a tradition being carried on by the present sommeliers, who are always on the floor, personally pour the beautiful wines, and take time to explain why each wine is paired with a particular dish. Importantly, there are always enough somms on duty here to handle the night’s crowd, even if one has to be called in at the last minute. At Meadowood and the Laundry the sommeliers have top qualifications and will of course help with your selections, but they are not always so visible throughout the meal, nor do they always take time to interact as much with the diner as they do at La Toque.

Curiously, Meadowood’s procedure is to not offer a food menu before you dine – they want the meal to be a surprise. That of course is all well and good (and can be fun), yet they still offer you a pre dinner wine list. We ask you – How can one properly select a wine if s/he does not know what food is coming? Can’t be done by anyone but David Copperfield. We had a recent excellent experience at Meadowood, and we think it was enhanced because we asked for a run-down of the menu before we decided on wines. We suggest you consider requesting the same. At La Toque you select your meal from many options, so you control your own wine destiny if you desire. The Laundry does not offer so many food options, but you know what they will be so that you can decide how you want to have your wine service presented.

None of the above should be taken to mean that one of these Big III has a particularly better wine list than the other. They each have their strengths and know their clientele. All three have wonderfully balanced lists – mostly U.S. and French, but many other countries are represented. Something we love to see, and for which we give credit to all three establishments, is their seeking to pair your meal with the best wine for the job, regardless of place of origin.

Finally in this category, we have to talk about corkage fees for bringing your own bottles. La Toque charges a more-than-fair $25/bottle – they know you are in wine country and want you to enjoy the fruits of your exploration. The Laundry and Meadowood ask what is (and you can’t say it any other way) an outrageous $75/bottle, and the Laundry limits you to one per couple. It seems sadly obvious that both of these high-corkage-charging restaurants do what they can to discourage the diner from bringing a favorite, which we would criticize in any city, but which in wine country seems particularly out of place. “Bad form” comes to mind. More than once we have decided where we will dine based on the fairness of the corkage charge.

No Matter How Rich You Are, You Should Ask the Price

The price for your dinner at each restaurant is a fair consideration for comparison, given the fact that you will receive all you really want to eat at any of them (La Toque a bit heavier on savory dishes than Meadowood or the Laundry, while the Laundry serves more sweets than the other two). Before wines, the 9 course tasting menu at French Laundry costs $270 each, the 12 course tasting menu at Meadowood $225, while the 5 course menu at La Toque is $90 (don’t be deceived by “5” as you may select from a number of choices here and the servings are larger than at the other two). After wine pairings and tips at the two more expensive restaurants you will see a check in the neighborhood of $800/couple. At La Toque the bill will usually be a touch less than half that.

Can You Guess Our Conclusion?

So Affirmed nosed out Alyidar three times. Ali won the rubber match against Frazier. The best New York center fielder depends on which Borough was your home. The best modern author depends on who you read last. And the best movie depends on your mood when voting. What about the Big III (which wouldn’t be our Big III unless we thought the world of them)?

Setting records for its number of diners over the past 6 months, La Toque, for the reasons set out above, continues to be our choice* as the overall top fine dining experience in Napa. The more inexpensive price is just a bonus, as it is the equal of its more expensive cousins in most other respects.

We are aware that the still fabled French Laundry has sold out every meal for years, and is on every top ten list. We are also cognizant of Meadowood’s deserved popularity among the well-heeled. In fact, we dined at both restaurants not too long ago and were absolutely enthralled with each. They were practically perfect in every aspect, and there is nothing (other than the corkage charge) of which to be critical if you accept the prices as being consistent with world class dining rooms. At this juncture in our lives, however, we prefer our fabulous food in an atmosphere of collegiality as practiced at La Toque. Saving over $400 is never a bad thing either.

We can even go a bit farther. There are certainly restaurants throughout the world on a par with La Toque, Meadowood, and the Laundry, but almost universally the charges are in the range asked by the latter two. We believe that we have never dined better for $350 (everything in the world is relevant) than in Ken Frank’s place in downtown Napa. When you know that the Laundry and Meadowood each have 3 deserved Michelin stars, the one star for La Toque is a restaurant world travesty.**

French Laundry, 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2380

La Toque, 1314 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA 94559
(707) 257-5157

The Restaurant at Meadowood, 900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 967-1205

* In the interest of full disclosure, we are (very) small investors in La Toque. We made that decision because we believed it to be just as good as we have described it herein. Our venture has not diminished our appreciation for Meadowood and The French Laundry. We hope our reporting has been factual where appropriate.

** The other five excellent Napa Valley restaurants that have earned one star are Auberge du Soleil, Bouchon, Redd, Solbar and Terra. We like them all and agree that the stars are deserved, but we obviously think the three about which we have written are a step above (and Michelin agrees with us on two).

OpenTable Alert

We know that many of you make reservations using OpenTable. It is the smart thing to do. No charge, it is easy, there are restaurant menus to peruse, and you receive dining credit from them after a specified number of reservations are honored.

Sometimes, however, we all go to a restaurant website for a more thorough picture of the establishment. Quite often (more common all the time) the restaurant invites you to make reservations through a link which is to OpenTable. All well and good, EXCEPT when you do that OpenTable does not reward you with any points. In other words, you have to make reservations through the OpenTable website directly to be awarded dining points. We did not know that until this week. Did you?

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It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.