The first artifact I encountered on my maiden visit to Tierra was a handsome letterpress volume from the mid-'50s that I immediately coveted called A Gentleman's Guide to South American Cooking. I couldn't resist lifting the book off its display and paging through it. Aimed at a North American readership, it reminded me that a command of culinary exotica used to figure as an aristocratic -- even masculine -- privilege in our country.
Tierra's co-chef and co-owner Dan Krinsky did not object to my examination of the prop. "No, please, take a look at it," he encouraged. "It's a great book."
The larger, egalitarian volume that is this restaurant's purview encompasses the "flavors of the Americas," including the Caribbean and Mexico, Central and South America. But don't expect muddled Hispanic fusion cooking here: Tierra respects the boundaries that make the cuisines of these regions so various.
Last week, the special fixed-price menu ($25) was Panamanian. The starter was a sweet potato soup topped with fried plantain chips, shrimp and coconut. The toppings made the dish, but the soup itself had a great texture and real vegetable flavor underscored by garlic and ginger. The roasted pork loin that followed was as fork-tender as its carrot, bacon, ham and prune stuffing. A passion-fruit meringue pie for dessert was a nice variation on the creamy curd theme usually reserved for Key lime flavoring.
My partner's black bean soup was so good we thought the name must conceal a secret ingredient. What else could be lingering so deliciously on our palates? Krinsky declined to reveal the recipe, but he did mention that the dish had failed in its first incarnation as the foundation for a black-bean torte. That was a happy failure. In its resurrected form, we rated it the best black bean soup we have ever had.
But such hyperbole should not obscure the careful forethought and deliberate, manual labor evident in every item I tasted here. Even the tile of sweet butter that Tierra serves (with hot, crusty bread) bears the impress, at its four corners, of decorative hand-crimping.
Perhaps that attention to detail can be sustained because Dan and his wife, Ticha Krinsky, alternate between the cooking and front-of-the-house duties. (On the night of our most recent visit, Ticha was at the stove.) The menu changes weekly and appears handwritten on the restaurant's website (www.tierrarestaurant.com).
For artisanal cooking with a high degree of polish and understated, neighborly service, there are few better Atlanta destinations.
New Year's Eve in Inman Park
Rathbun's will be preparing a five-course, fixed-price New Year's Eve dinner. Cost is $85 per person, and reservations are essential. 112 Krog St., Suite R. 404-524-8280. www.rathbunsrestaurant.com.
Night for Wine and Cheese
Tues., Dec. 13, brings a flurry of wine tastings around the city. That night, in the holiday spirit, Murphy's will feature a "Unique Gift Wines under $25" tasting from 6:30-8 p.m. A $15 admission gets you eight to 10 pours and, should you stay for dinner, a $5 credit toward any entree over $10. Tasted selections will be available for purchase in the restaurant's adjacent wine shop. 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904. www.murphysvh.com.
Meanwhile, across town on Cheshire Bridge Road, Woodfire Grill gives Murphy's some competition by convening its monthly Cheese Club from 6-8 p.m. The evening's theme is "Winter Milk and Melting Cheeses." The $20 per person admission includes a complimentary glass of wine. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.
If you stick to a rigid schedule (and avail yourself of spittoons), you might also fit in the Wine Flight that the River Room will be offering the same night from 5:30-7:30 p.m. It will feature wines from the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Cost is $15 per person. 4403 Northside Parkway, Suite 150. 404-233-5455. www.riverroom.com.
Southern Cooking in South Buckhead
This month, Restaurant Eugene will begin a tradition of serving Southern suppers. With a focus on comforting food rather than chefy presentation, guests can enjoy a meal of an entree, sides and dessert for $29.50 per person. Main dishes will include favorites such as Country Fried Chicken with White Pepper Gravy and Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder. For dessert? Red velvet cake or an old-fashioned ice cream sundae, of course. To ensure diners have a leisurely meal, Restaurant Eugene's Sunday suppers are served from 5 p.m. until 9. Call 404-355-0321 for reservations. 2277 Peachtree Road. www.restauranteugene.com.
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