Paymon, a server at French American Brasserie (30 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., 404-266-1440), has an annoying hobby. He has learned to recognize nearly every dining writer in town. So when I arrived at the new restaurant, the Iranian native threw the doors open, at once welcoming me and chastising me. "At last! All of your colleagues have already been here," he said.
Actually, a good many of them were on the site then – four of us altogether – and I feel a little pleased to let Paymon know by way of this review that there were two he didn't recognize. Ha!
Having confessed that I was recognized, you can take this first impression of the new restaurant as you want. I've never found being recognized improved the quality of the food anywhere, although it has sometimes transformed service into a foot-washing spectacle that Jesus would envy. Paymon, who has worked at Le Coze, Ecco and the Globe, is not the foot-washing type but, being Middle Eastern, he has that immensely hospitable style and unrestrained tongue. He loves to inflate your importance with insult:
"Oh, I mention your name to people," he said, pouring water, "and they hate you. They all hate you ... until you give them a good review. Then they love you."
"May I have a list of these people?" I asked.
French American Brasserie is the reincarnation of Brasserie Le Coze, the restaurant opened by Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze in Lenox Square in 1994. It was managed by Fabrice Vergez, who had spent the previous nine years at the legendary Le Bernardin in New York, Le Coze's sibling restaurant. Vergez purchased Le Coze in 2003. The restaurant was closed when Neiman Marcus overtook its space and now Vergez has reopened with the new name in the new Southern Company building in Allen Plaza. There is valet parking, which you will almost certainly need to use, for $5.
The new restaurant has much the same ambiance as Le Coze but greatly expanded. It takes up 15,000 square feet, spanning four floors, accommodating more than 400 diners. With lots of dark wood and brass accents, antique mirrors and chandeliers, it looks like a Paris restaurant, for sure. But being monumentally larger, it doesn't require you to sit hip-to-hip with strangers as you often do in Paris. There's a dramatic spiral staircase to the second floor.
Executive chef is Kaighn Raymond, who was most recently chef at Le Coze and has been training at Le Bernardin in preparation for the new restaurant. Earlier, he worked at Horseradish Grill, La Tavola, Pastis, Chops and several other Atlanta spots. His menu includes most of the favorites from Le Coze but with plenty of additions, including high-quality steaks and chops.
Wayne and I had a great meal with only a few complaints. You can start your meal here with sundry, mainly inexpensive toppings for your bread. We sampled roasted fennel tapenade and salmon rillettes. I preferred the quirky, earthy fennel, but the salmon, almost sushi-grade in its flavor, was a great contrast.
We both swilled bowls of the white-bean soup spiked with truffle oil, a favorite I nearly always ordered at Le Coze, and we split an order of foie gras au torchon – glossy and so pink it was the color of Spam, as Paymon said – atop toasted brioche with cubes of cherry gelee and gastrique.
A watercress salad produced one of my only complaints. Everything about the salad was compelling – the organic greens, the sweet membrillo (quince paste) and Marcona almonds. But the sherry vinaigrette was way too sweet for my taste.
For an entree, Wayne ordered the roasted monkfish, which was surrounded by one of my favorite dishes on the planet – brandade, a puree of cod, olive oil and milk. It's a quick trip via your palate to Languedoc. The plate also included a piperade full of chorizo.
Since steaks are new to the menu, I felt obligated to try one. They are available with your choice of six sauces. I selected the flank steak with bistro butter and garlic frites. Complaint No. 2 is a very heavy hand with the salt. I know. Salt is the hypertension-causing rage these days, but let diners have a say. Yes, I liked the caramelizing effect of the salt and I'd call the steak – prestigious Mishima Ranch Wagyu beef – one of the best flank steaks I've ever tasted. (Mishima Ranch beef is, basically, an American reproduction of Japanese Kobe beef.)
Desserts were anticlimactic. My crepe, filled with Meyer lemon custard, featured pomegranate syrup, tapioca pearls and pine nuts – itty bitty explosions in the mouth. Wayne opted for cherry clafoutis beneath a frangipani arc with a scoop of ice cream.
In case you're wondering, prices at the restaurant are moderate. There's also a lunch menu of sandwiches.
Remember the great fanfare last year over Wal-Mart's announcement that it was going to get into the organic-foods business in a big way?
Well, it turns out the retailing giant has backed way off its original claim that stores would be selling 400 organic food items "at the Wal-Mart price," according to BusinessWeek.com. Of course, a spokesman for Wal-Mart claims it was all a big misunderstanding that the company was going to attempt to sell so many organic products. The spokesman said what they meant to say is that 400 products would be available for store managers to choose from, not that customers would have that choice.
Nonetheless, a number of organic farmers report that after initially large orders, Wal-Mart is "cutting back or stopping orders altogether." The reality is that regular consumers of organic foods – people who shop at Whole Foods, for example – are not the sort to worry about the savings a trip to Wal-Mart might afford them.
Further, as many predicted, Wal-Mart's demand for rock-bottom prices and its constant switching to the cheapest producers is incompatible with organic farming's necessary long-range crop planning.
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