"This food is quite a bit less kinky than the food you did at Canoe, isn't it?" I asked Gary Mennie, chef and owner of the brand new Taurus (1745 Peachtree Road, 404-214-0641) when he stopped by our table one night last week.
"Simplicity. It's all about the bones," said Mennie, whose new restaurant is basically a chop house but with unusually affordable prices. "I wanted to open a place that people could visit regularly and I wanted to feature meat roasted on the bone. Simplicity." It's a somewhat surprising turn for a chef who spent the last 10 years at Canoe and, before that, did time at Seeger's and, in Los Angeles, at L'Orangerie and Spago. None of those restaurants are particularly complicated but they do border on the exotic.
While I can agree that Mennie's menu is pretty simple, the design of Taurus is not so simple. It's located on Peachtree at 25th Street and you enter by way of a first-floor elevator, where a host asks your name. The particular host we encountered had a special fondness for responding to whatever we said with the word "fantastic." Table for two? "Fantastic." I think I left my credit card on the table. "Fantastic." I just had penis reduction surgery. "Fantastic." Just kidding!
Upstairs you are greeted by name by another host and directed to your table. I like the dining room. A banquette encircles an area beneath an enormous light fixture that looks something like the mouth of the hot air balloon in which the wizard left Oz. A manager changed the color of the light, which changes the ambiance of the entire room, and explained that certain colors tend to affect people differently. Very Color Me Beautiful. The default color is red, which the upholstery and walls also feature.
There is a bar, behind which is a balcony for outdoor dining with a view of the Midtown skyline. The men's restroom has a peculiar feature. The mirror is framed by a window with very thick glass that gives you a fuzzy view of the women's restroom. I pushed my face against it to see how much I might see, but someone walked in and interrupted my voyeuristic moment. Fantastic.
The food is pretty you-know-what, too. Only one dish disappointed me. It was a starter of quail fried in a tempura-like batter and served over grilled peaches and arugula. The batter was too heavy for my taste, the peaches were too sweet and the arugula was too wilted by the heat and juices. On the other hand, steak tartare was juicy, piquant and creamy with egg yolks. Artichoke soup fully captured the vegetable's mellow flavor and picked up zing from some lemon oil. The bowl was afloat with several big chunks of peekytoe crab. A salad of baby spinach in a light rosemary dressing was topped with a huge round of goat cheese encrusted with pistachios.
On to the bones. I ordered the lamb "T-bones." The two chops were from the tenderloin and, although a bit fatty, their flavor was mild, even though encrusted with peppery spices. A parmesan-potato gratin shared the plate. Wayne's roasted white halibut -- also called a "T-bone" -- had a light brown glaze and shared its plate with eggplant, virtually pureed, and folded inside the vegetable's purple skin.
Here's something to worry about. Desserts are only $3 each. A mascarpone panna cotta with blueberry compote reminded me of one of my all-time favorite meals in Italy. I could have eaten two or three of them. Ditto for the brioche bread pudding with peanut brittle and puddles of chocolate sauce. A minor complaint: Espresso was watery and bitter.
Service at the new restaurant is excellent. Our server Chris, Waitron of the Week, was a bit of a comedian and psychologist, reading our moods and making commentary. Honestly, the place is pretty damn fantastic.
Here and there
Wayne and I stopped to try Avra, the new Greek restaurant across from Spice on Juniper last week. Things were buzzing on the patio but it turned out that the restaurant was having a rehearsal for the staff. They invited us to join them but it didn't seem fair for a critic to dine at a time designed specifically to disclose and iron out kinks.
So, having paid a valet to park our car 10 feet away, we decided to dine next door at Bab's (814 Juniper St., 404-541-0888). This tiny café is a jewel. We both ordered specials: a tuna steak interestingly coated in jerk seasonings for Wayne, and slices of beef tenderloin in a blue cheese sauce for me. Both inexpensive dishes were served with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and corn soufflé.
Bab's is a great choice for lunch, too. Besides the specials, there are salads, pastas and paninis. The café is also open for breakfast every day and Sunday brunch. (Breakfast can be ordered at any time.) The emphasis is on healthy eating and the brick-walled shop has free Internet access.
The Globe (75 Fifth St., 404-541-1487) is turning into my favorite place to lunch. The new café in Technology Square features the cooking of Joshua Perkins, who was formerly at Brasserie Le Coze. Here, Perkins has come just a bit unhinged and his food is quirky and mainly delicious.
I lunched there last week with my über-picky friend Brad Lapin, repatriated for nine months after several years in Rome. I knew Brad would like the sleek design. We mainly picked winners: a lamb sandwich with caramelized onions for me, and a sandwich of grilled shrimp and melted manchego for Brad. I did not care as much for a starter of fried calamari in a too-bready coating weirdly dusted with something like nutmeg. Shrimp cakes with mango salsa rocked, however.
Correction: Reader Hugh Freeman wrote to correct my memory that a huge neon sign featuring a cow, "Minnie Quarts," jumping over the moon was once in the area occupied by Piebar. Hugh says the sign was actually on the other side of I-85. Hey, I'm amazed that I remembered it at all!
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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