Remember the ‘70s? Probably not, but if you were dining out then, you remember the revolution in Atlanta’s restaurant scene, courtesy of the Pleasant Peasant. Owners Steve Nygren and Dick Dailey opened the restaurant on Peachtree in Midtown in 1973. It featured creative cooking, an informal atmosphere and theatrical waiters who flashed blackboard menus in your face and recited the menu.
The following year, Nygren and Dailey were joined by Bob Amick (whose father gave his name to Mick’s, the Peasant Group’s retro diners). Eventually, the Peasant Group spawned 40-odd restaurants that were sold in 1989. The chain was so pervasive that both John Kessler and Meridith Ford Goldman, food writers at the AJC, worked for it during their respective restaurant careers.
Amick re-emerged independently almost 10 years later with Killer Creek, which he sold in 2001. He then created Concentrics Restaurants, and opened One Midtown Kitchen in 2002. Next came Two Urban Licks and Trois. Now, there are so many Concentrics Restaurants (including a few in Chicago and Orlando) that I’ve lost count. Nor do I get very excited about visiting a Concentrics restaurant. They all seem to follow the same formula: somewhat creative (but not too creative) cooking, a fairly broad range of prices and, usually, an interior that makes diners feel like they are on stage.
The latest — at least, I think it’s the latest — is 30 Tables at the Glenn Hotel (110 Marietta St., 404-469-0700). The restaurant occupies the space vacated by Maxim Prime. Earlier, it was home to the absurd B.E.D. Yes, there really are just 30 tables in the dining room and, yes, the rooftop lounge (which we did not visit) has been renamed 11 Stories. Somewhere between them is something called Five Spaces, according to our server. This is what happens when expansion threatens to outpace imagination: You get numbers instead of names.
The Glenn is a luxury boutique hotel and the décor of 30 Tables is understated, compared to, say, Two Urban Licks or Parish. (Concentrics also operates Lobby at Twelve, another hotel restaurant, whose décor is not operatic.) Chef Daniel Chance, who has been with Concentrics since 2003 and most recently at Two Urban Licks, has created a menu that is slightly Southern and very unadventurous. In other words, it’s pretty typical of hotels.
Some of the food just plain doesn’t work. I was pretty shocked to see a starter of three meatballs that cost $12, well more than half the cost of most of the entrees here. The meatballs, made of veal, were in a caramel sauce that was way too sweet. The kitchen obviously tried to balance the virtual candy coating by adding two large dollops of crème fraîche to the plate, but it was no match. And the tepid temperature did not help.
Wayne’s snapper crudo also cost $12. Its flavor, quite spicy due to some “chile water,” was far better than the meatballs. Avocado, radishes and bits of citrus were mixed with the snapper. I must say that the plating, just a white bowl, was uninspired.
Entrees fared somewhat better. I ordered the sautéed Gulf snapper with charred corn and chimichurri sauce. The fish itself was terrific — crispy and creamy — but the charred corn was obviously a poor rendition of elote, the Mexican grilled corn, usually eaten on the cob and often slathered with mayo. Here, of course, it was cut from the cob and blended with mayo. The corn was barely charred so its natural sweetness was amplified by the mayonnaise to an unpleasant degree, even with the chimichurri sauce at the periphery.
By this point, my first question to Wayne about his short ribs was, “That doesn’t happen to be on the sweet side, does it?” Sure enough, the short ribs’ jus was tingling-sweet, although a garnish of cooked spinach tempered it. I bet the menu’s promised but missing pickled ramps would provide an even better contrast. Honestly, had I not already OD’d on sweetness, I might have been completely unbothered by the otherwise tasty short ribs (which were accompanied by mashed potatoes).
Oh. We also ordered a side of grilled asparagus. You’ll never guess what flavor predominated. The asparagus was sweetened with honey and currants and garnished with pine nuts. Again, perfectly acceptable by its lonesome but too much in a meal where every dish was sugared.
Not that we felt compelled to skip dessert. We split a rather strange coconut cake accompanied by passion-fruit ice cream. I say it was strange because the server told us it had a “crème brûlée” center, but it was more like cheesecake. Whatever it was, I’d eat it again.
I understand the menu is grounded in Southern cooking, which certainly has a fondness for sweet tastes. Maybe we coincidentally ordered all the sweet dishes, but you might want to exercise care in ordering your own meal.
Here and there
I’ve dined twice at Solstice Café (562 Boulevard, 404-622-1976) in Grant Park recently. I’m sorry to report that the menu has been pared down a bit and among the dishes that have gone missing is my favorite, the prawns soaked in sake and sugarcane, served with andouille sausage and risotto croquettes. Wah.
But we have enjoyed short ribs, the steak salad, the patty melt and the open-face steak sandwich. The restaurant will host its annual toga party marking the summer solstice on June 20. The mind reels. ...
The popular Big Gay Supper Club is back after a long hiatus. The club hosts one dinner and one brunch a month at some of Atlanta’s most popular restaurants. Cost is $35 for dinner and $20 for brunch. That’s a considerable savings in most cases.
The inaugural dinner is scheduled at Ecco on Tuesday, June 9, at 7 p.m., and brunch will be at Parish on June 27 at 12:30 p.m. Consult the club’s website, thebiggaysupperclub.com, for details. ...
Congrats to our Food & Drink editor, Besha Rodell, for her award from the Association of Food Journalists for last year’s Food Issue. She’ll find out in October at the awards ceremony whether she’s won first, second or third place in the Best Newspaper Food Feature category.
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