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Kind words, no suburbs 

A revisit to Luxe, plus CL critic wins award

Two years ago, I reported in this column that I'd become an editorial Frankenstein, having had a hand in the creation of two formidable dining critics. First was Elliott Mackle, whom I hired at Creative Loafing in the '80s, when I was editor of the paper. He left after a few years for a long tenure at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution but then returned to CL. Three years ago, he left again for a new career as a mystery writer.

The paper then hired Bill Addison on my recommendation after I met him at Starbucks, where he was alternately working on assignments for a food writing class he was taking and the business writing he did for a living. When Jane Catoe left her job as editor of the food section, Bill took her place and, as regular readers know, he greatly expanded the CL food section a few months ago.

Now, Bill has won first place in the Association of Food Journalists' 2004 competition for best dining criticism for newspapers with circulations under 150,000. To win the award, conferred at the association's annual meeting in Puerto Rico a few weeks ago, he submitted reviews of Luxe, Balance (R.I.P.) and MidCity Cuisine.

The award does not surprise me. I spent 15 years editing magazines here and in Houston and, since the beginning of his employment at CL, I have frequently said he is among the best critics I have ever read and certainly the best in our city. In his three years at CL, Bill has developed a personal voice that exhibits wit, intellect and real passion for food. As nobody I have ever read, he is able to weave adjectives into a description that is not cloying and intrusive.

Doubtless, this award means that Bill will receive a generous pay increase from CL and, for ass-kissing the editor with my compliments, I will continue to be exempted from dining in Duluth and Alpharetta.

Speaking of Luxe ...

Coincidentally, when some friends took me to dinner to celebrate the completion of my masochistic pursuit of a Ph.D., we went to Luxe (89 Park Place, 404-389-0800), which, as I mentioned above, is one of the restaurants Bill reviewed to win his award. Bill's review, very positive, ran last December, and I had written a positive first impression two months earlier.

It's been a year since Oscar Morales returned to the space formerly occupied by Mumbo Jumbo, where he was actually general manager before leaving to open Oscar's in College Park. Between Morales and his executive chef, Patti Roth, formerly of Woodfire Grill and Bacchanalia, it's hard to imagine a more talented team. And indeed they have turned Luxe into the best restaurant in downtown Atlanta.

Unfortunately, business does not appear to be booming. Luxe has discontinued its incomparable lunch and we found the restaurant empty but for one other table at 7:30 on a Friday night. No more than three more tables were occupied during the two hours we dined. This is mainly because Atlantans shudder at the prospect of driving downtown, leaving the restaurants there to be patronized by conventioneers, who are infamous for being mainly unadventurous diners. It's unlikely we can reform the palates of Ma and Pa Kettle, here to attend seminars in effective selling of Tupperware, but you local yokels have no excuse. There is huge parking lot behind the restaurant and there's no traffic downtown at night. Hey, you don't even have to dress nice.

Roth's menu continues to reflect seasonal notes; root vegetables are showing up, for example. Her cooking combines -- I can say this because Martha Stewart is in jail -- comfort and sophistication. An example was my entree of lemon-grilled chicken served with a crunchy white-bean croquette and tangy mustard greens. The white beans showed up, too, in my starter -- slow-cooked with duck confit and topped with peppery prawns in their shells. Gently cooked cod, flaky but creamy, is played against celery root, golden chanterelles and apple wood-smoked bacon. An especially good hanger steak is grilled and served sliced in its juices, made sharp by marinating in balsamic vinegar. Spaghetti squash adds an earthy touch, and a bit of Great Hills blue cheese deepens the flavor of the beef. A starter of a crab fritter with lemon-fennel salad is genius. Each ingredient restrains the other: The crab's sweetness is tempered by the lemon and the acidity of the lemon is checked by the fennel.

Roth is especially adept with desserts. My absolute favorite is the brown-sugar panna cotta topped by a sage leaf, surrounded by almost bitter muscadines with chewy skin. There's also the inevitable warmed chocolate tart, but give Roth props for the playful use of a toasted marshmallow topping along with an espresso sabayon. Chevre cheesecake with figs washed in orange water is also tempting.

Are you getting the picture? This is one of the best restaurants in the city.

Feedback

J, having read my account of transy hookers in L.A. at a burrito shop, wrote to ask where he might encounter similiarly Fellini-esque persons in Atlanta. I suggested Little Five Points, although at my last meal at the Vortex, I watched a purple-haired young woman, her eyebrows rattling with piercings, get up from her table and drop two $100 bills on the floor then get in a BMW. ...

Frozen custard lovers, check it out: Sheridan's Frozen Custard, 4373 Lawrenceville Highway, Tucker.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or email him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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