Pointe of Many Returns 

BluePointe remains the life of the party for Buckhead's moneyed set

The Buckhead Life Restaurant Group has a singular ability in the way it operates restaurants: Not only can the company create eateries that succinctly capture the cultural flavor of a certain era, but it maintains the popularity of them even when that era is long passed.

Look, for example, at the Buckhead Diner: '80s central. (Are most of the celebrities in the photos by the entrance even alive?) Yet it continues to gross impressive revenue. A few blocks away, there's Nava, which transports you back to the Southwestern craze of the '90s. But try to make same-day reservations for a Saturday night. Bet you won't be thrilled with one of their available slots at 6 or 10 p.m.

Then there's big, glamorous BluePointe in the glimmering Pinnacle building. A frenetic sensation when it opened in late 1999, BluePointe still reverberates with the vibe of economic invincibility that the country felt at the end of that decade. The enormity of the space and its decadent design - the huge windows veiled by impossibly long curtains; the fishbone-esque light installment suspended in midair; the flashing, illuminated wall behind the often mobbed bar - give off a distinctly masculine pheromone. Of all the Buckhead Life Group's restaurants, this one feels the most Buckhead-y.

Is dining here still a madhouse? We'll get to that.

I wouldn't necessarily say that BluePointe's menu defines the neighborhood in the same way the atmosphere does. The selection - mainly Asian fusion with straight-ahead steaks and Americanized sushi thrown in - is too wildly diverse. But I'll hand it to the kitchen: Upscale east-west fare can so easily slide into an incoherent mishmash of dissonant tastes and textures. The folks behind the line here manage to largely pull it off with perceptive restraint.

Doug Turbush has replaced Ian Winslade as executive chef (Winslade left late last year to open Shout). I enjoyed Turbush's Southwestern stylings at Nava, his last Buckhead Life gig, but I do believe he's found his true métier at BluePointe.

Many of the menu's long-standing dishes remain sharply tuned. Calamari "pasta" with asparagus and shitakes has the smoky "wok-hay" burn I remember from the restaurant's early days. The king crab salad still lulls the senses with its cooling pool of cucumber gazpacho and the subtle snap of kaffir lime leaves. Scallops on a sushi rice cake are precisely seared and caressed with the complex, tangy rev of passion fruit. And the classic presentation of raw oysters remains a highlight with which to start your meal.

But that's not to say some fresh ideas haven't surfaced. Foie gras au torchon (a preparation where the liver has been wrapped tightly in a towel and simmered in broth) is paired with an inspired, softly sweet Chinese plum sauce that single-handedly gives me hope for the future of fusion cuisine. Spread the foie gras on a slice of warm brioche, dab on a little extra sauce and top it with some of the tiny dice of Fuji apple. In every other bite, sea salt sprinkled on the foie gras crunches between your teeth and intensifies all the flavors. Heaven on toast.

Little bonuses like the sea salt show up in many of the best appetizers. Yuzu, a Japanese citrus akin to Meyer lemon, lightens and brightens a tight ring of snapper "sashimi" glossed with sesame oil (notice next time you eat here how much of the food is presented in circular patterns). The spunky combination of basil and cilantro lends effervescence to Kobe beef tossed with mellow tamarind dressing.

The flair for thrilling combinations slows considerably come entree time. Curry sauces, like the masaman variation served with peanut-crusted grouper or braised short ribs, quickly become cloying and monotonous. Halibut wrapped in rice paper with toasted cashews tucked underneath sounds like a nifty twist, but after a few bites I lose interest in the doughy wrapping and want to just pick out the fish.

I like the duck "steak" - a duck breast so thick you might as well lend it that moniker - with panang curry, thoughtfully contrasted with sauteed cabbage. But if I'm in the mood for steak, I'm going for the real deal: The beef at BluePointe is brazenly good. I was caught off guard the first time my eyes rolled back in pleasure when I bit into the rib eye. No wasabi cream sauce or other fussy fusion silliness. Just gutsy, tender meat with a crusty sear. A juicy New York strip ordrered on another visit was equally impressive. I'm sure that the stalwart businessmen who comprise a hefty chuck of BluePointe's clientele appreciate the option of a steak with an honest baked potato (ordered a la carte, just like a steakhouse) from time to time.

The dessert menu, as it currently stands, is a near-universal letdown: blueberry mascarpone spring rolls whose wrappers are too thick; cheesecake with a metallic-tasting, yuzu-scented lemon curd on top; medjool date ice cream on top of decent bread pudding that has no discernible date flavor. All smack of corporate sheen. They look striking, but taste vacuous. Instead, sip the last of your wine (the wine list is particularly strong on French reds), or order a pot of Hawaiian Kona served in a French press and watch the crowd while you wait for your check.

Which brings me to the big question of BluePointe's composure in the throws of a rush. The restaurant developed a reputation early on for falling apart service-wise when things got busy, and I'm sorry to report that, from my experience, the curse has stuck.

When I announced our reservation to one of BluePointe's slinky hostesses a few weeks ago, she checked the computer screen, smiled and fluttered her arm in the timeless "right this way" gesture. Then she confidently led us to a maladroit four-top in the corner of the room - a table wedged up against a pole and jutting out just enough to make its occupants feel awkward and exposed. It must surely be marked on the floor plan as The Worst Seat in the House.

I kindly asked the hostess if she perhaps had a less obtrusive spot for us. It wasn't as if every table was occupied. For a Friday night, the place looked mighty sedate. The sushi bar had empty seats, and the booths were filled mostly with fatigued businessmen winding down from the week. She acquiesced and led us past the wild red wall with the hole in its center to the restaurant's tranquil rear space.

Service that night was expeditious and sunny. I left feeling well cared for, a welcome sensation at the end of the week.

I returned for dinner on a Tuesday night. I'd assumed, after the quiet weekend night, that the restaurant would be dead. I was hoping to score one of those cushy booths. But here's what I didn't know: Tuesday night is martini night at BluePointe, and it's become something a Buckhead tradition.

On nights like these, BluePointe's pulse races lustily. The bar literally spills over with younger, hipper suits and lovely women. Every male manager on staff seems to have primped their carefully tussled or gravity defying hair with particular care.

The buzz is invigorating - except when you fall through the service cracks, which we did that fateful Tuesday. Apparently I have karma tied to that sucky table, so when the hostess took us straight there again, I didn't complain. A rowdy table of 12 occupied our server's attention most of the time. It took a dishearteningly long time for our entrees to arrive. After flagging him down to ask for dessert menus, one of the managers finally realized we'd been largely ignored most of the night. Dinner moved along briskly after that.

Maybe service glitches are to be expected when the hipsters descend en masse. By now, though, you'd think BluePointe's staff would have mastered the art of making sure every customer feels pampered - even when it's in the weeds. I couldn't help but notice that the moneyed set who were obvious regulars seemed well looked after. Moral of the story? Trends may come and go, but a snazzy (if imperfect) haven for Buckhead's babes and businessmen is forever.

bill.addison@creativeloafing.com

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