This is going to be interesting. After coming to America to cook at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.; cooking at restaurants throughout the Southeast; grabbing our attention and love with his explosive cooking at Marietta's Tasty China; leaving us bereft when he moved on; inspiring personal essays of obsession and longing in both the New Yorker and the Oxford American; and returning to Tasty China tentatively and sporadically, Peter Chang has opened an eponymous eatery in Sandy Springs. The restaurant promises to give Chang's Sichuan food the surroundings and service it deserves.
The prospect of having an upscale Chinese restaurant helmed by a world-class Chinese chef is exciting. Historically, Atlanta's restaurants have tended to be divided — upscale restaurants owned by Americans, or working class ethnic restaurants owned by recent immigrants. When international cuisine has been elevated to fine dining status, it's usually been Americanized to some extent. A Chinese-born chef with fiercely Chinese sensibilities opening an uncompromising restaurant signals a welcome change in this division. On the other hand, so much hype surrounds Chang, and so much speculation swirls about his ability to commit to one location that the chances for disappointment are great. Whatever happens, the saga of Chang will be a deliciously fascinating story to behold.
Peter Chang's, 6450 Powers Ferry Road, Sandy Springs. 678-766-8766.
Ryan Smith has a track record of attaching himself to projects where another name takes the limelight. Formerly at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch, where Linton Hopkins was the known name, and now at Empire State South, where Hugh Acheson looms large, Smith has nonetheless made his mark on some of Atlanta's best restaurants.
When Smith took over the kitchen at Empire State South just six weeks after the restaurant's opening, the change was marked and practically instant. Out went the choose-your-own-adventure style of dining in which customers chose their own sides to accompany proteins, in came specials that bore Smith's recognizable style of Southern flavors with playful, bold accompaniments. Smith has a way of surprising without falling back on gimmickry; of cooking food that seems at once honest, traditional and modern.
There will be chefs that take Southern food and haul it forward, beyond nostalgia and simplicity and into the current national culinary conversation. Look to Smith to be a big part of that transformation in the coming years.
Empire State South. 999 Peachtree St. 404-541-1105. www.empirestatesouth.com.
Dan Latham has become a familiar sight at Atlanta farmers markets with his wood-fired pizza oven. Moto Bene, as the operation is known, serves up pies using the seasonal, local ingredients you'd expect from any of the other farmers market purveyors.
Latham was previously the chef at Oxford, Miss., restaurant L & M's Kitchen and Salumeria. While there, he got a nod from the James Beard committee in 2008, making it onto their list of semifinalists for Best Chef in the South. He's now in the process of finding a location for a restaurant in Atlanta. He says the concept for a bricks and mortar restaurant won't stray too far from that of his portable pizzas: simple, seasonal, inexpensive, high quality.
In the meantime, the Mote Bene pizza oven is available for catering, turning out thin-crusted, crispy pies topped with bright sauce, high-quality cheese and local meats.
Moto Bene. 404-654-3282. www.motobenepizza.com.
Ford Fry has found success with his Southern restaurant JCT Kitchen. Drew Belline has been the longtime chef at Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison's Floataway Café. Now the two are joining forces to open a yet-to-be-named Italian spot in Decatur in the Eurasia Bistro location.
Whatever the restaurant ends up being called, it's sure to be an interesting addition to the Decatur dining scene. Fry cites San Francisco's A16 as inspiration for the project, a restaurant much loved for its rustic but elegant Italian cooking. The Eurasia spot is small, so we can look forward to a cozy, intimate atmosphere — something uncommon in Atlanta's high-end restaurants.
Mostly, it will be interesting to see what these two chefs can bring to the table in collaboration. Both have an unyielding dedication to local produce, and Belline has already shown his talent for Italian flavors. Floataway Café turned out some of the best high-quality pizzas in town under his leadership, as well as lovely Italian-influenced salads and antipasti, and handmade pastas without peer.
129 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur.
Situated on the coastal border between Georgia and Florida, Cumberland Island isn't an easily accessible place for Atlantans to dine, especially since the only way to enjoy the cooking of Whitney Otawka is to stay at Cumberland's exclusive Greyfield Inn. Regardless of whether you're able to get to the Greyfield itself (an experience I highly recommend if you've got the bucks), Otawka is worth keeping your eye on. This girl is going places.
Before decamping to the remote, barely inhabited Cumberland to work as the Greyfield's chef, Otawka worked in Athens with Hugh Acheson at Five and Ten, and also at Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch. In fact, for some time she worked all of these jobs, commuting back and forth between the cities. Otawka is obsessed with her craft, and it shows. At a recent stay on Cumberland, I was blown away by the care and precision of Otawka's cooking — perfectly crafted gnocchi with brown butter and sage; deep, fragrant pheasant with truffle.
It wouldn't be surprising if, after a decent stint on Cumberland, Otawka returns to the Atlanta area and blows us all away.
Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island. 866-401-8581. www.greyfieldinn.com.
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