From the outside, you'd never guess Ali-Oli to be so lavish. Ornate is the best word to describe the decor, from the elaborately faux-painted walls to the stained-glass dome overhead. We were seated against one wall, at a long banquette. The tables were spaced so close together, I worried I might knock over our neighbors' wine glasses with my rear end when I got up to use the ladies' room. When a dining room is that spacious and airy, it seems unnecessary to seat guests practically on top of one another.
On a more upbeat note, service was impeccable. Our server, ever the consummate professional, was quick to offer a wine suggestion and was fluent in his descriptions of dishes and preparations.
A disappointing antipasto platter featured oily canned mushrooms and artichokes, with a bland assortment of cured meats, olives and an overpowering mound of roasted peppers. Lemony shrimp served on a bed of garlic-laced hummus with crispy fried pita points were a big improvement. Better still were fried spears of zucchini, coated in light cornmeal batter and served with piquant marinara for dipping.
Entrees were also a mixed bag. Trout meuniére was exquisite, the filets sauteed simply in butter and finished with a squeeze of lemon and a scattering of capers. The tender fish rested atop simple but elegant grilled asparagus and parsley fingerling potatoes. Seared duck breast, on the other hand, struggled in its syrupy candied-garlic sauce. The accompanying parmesan risotto, creamy and full-bodied, would've been a nice foil had the sauce been moderately sweet, but as it was, it couldn't compensate.
The wine list offered a nice assortment of bottles from Spain, France, Italy and Greece, though not much came in under the $30 mark. By-the-glass offerings were equally pricey, with few choices costing less than $9 a glass. Call me crazy, but Ali-Oli just doesn't strike me as the type of place where one spends $18.50 on a glass of wine.
After a marathon shopping session at Filene's Basement or Target, I may well pop in for takeout from Ali-Oli. But if you're planning to drop $100 on dinner, there are better places in Buckhead. Of course, you will have to deal with the pesky valet.
Covering Brookhaven to Inman ParkWHAT'S BREWING? -- On Sat., Nov. 6, Five Seasons Brewing hosts the second annual Georgia Craft Brew Challenge. Georgia craft brewers will compete for top honors, and everyone else gets to sample 50 locally brewed beers. Admission includes drink tickets to cover your first 10 six-ounce tastes (additional tickets are $2 each). Tickets are $20 in advance (online only) and $25 at the door. The competition begins at 5 p.m. 5600 Roswell Road. 404-255-5911. www.worldclassbeer.org.
GET TO CLASS -- Before you start planning your annual holiday fete, sign up for a class on holiday food and wine pairings, taught by the Atlanta Wine School. The two-session class is scheduled for Mon., Nov. 8 and Mon., Nov. 15, from 7-9 p.m. at Anthony's in Buckhead. Classes will cover optimal wine and cheese pairings, holiday entertaining tips, and how to pick artisan cheeses. $99 per person for both sessions. 3109 Piedmont Road. 770-668-0435. www.atlantawineschool.com.
WINE 101 -- Buckhead Life Restaurant Group hosts another in its series of "Flights and Flavors" wine classes Tues., Nov. 9, at Pricci. The class will focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from around the world. The class begins at 6 p.m. and includes tastings of a variety of wines and antipasti to snack on. Cost is $45 per person. 500 Pharr Road. 404-237-2941. www.buckheadrestaurants.com.
CELEBRITY CHEFS GO GOURMET -- Dedicated foodies won't want to miss the Atlanta Gourmet Wine Cellar event on Wed., Nov. 10, at the Foundry at Puritan Mill. The event, sponsored by Gourmet magazine, will feature wine tastings, food prepared by some of Atlanta's finest chefs, and a cooking demonstration by Gourmet executive chef Sara Moulton. Participating local chefs include: Joël Antunes of Joël, Bruno Menard of the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead Dining Room, Gerry Klaskala of Aria, Pano Karatassos of Kyma, Michael Tuohy of Woodfire Grill, Scott Peacock of Watershed, Guenter Seeger of Seeger's and Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's. And that's just to name a few. The event runs from 6-9 p.m. and costs $100 per person. A portion of proceeds benefit Project Open Hand Atlanta. To purchase tickets, call 800-679-0397. 916 Lowery Blvd.
EUGENE RAISES THE BAR -- Restaurant Eugene has introduced a new prix fixe tasting menu, available at the bar every Monday through Wednesday from 6-10:30 p.m. The $30, three-course menu changes weekly and features chef Linton Hopkins' signature regional cuisine. Recent menus have offered such seasonal delights as curried sweet potato soup and pan-roasted Georgia quail. Meals finish with a selection of three cheeses or one of the daily dessert items. 2277 Peachtree Road. 404-355-0321. www.restauranteugene.com.
CARROTS AND PUMPKINS AND SQUASH, OH MY! -- Autumn fare has hit the menu at Wisteria in Inman Park. Highlights of the new fall menu include acorn squash soup topped with apples, onions and spiced pumpkin seeds; chili-fried oysters served over sweet potato, roasted corn and poblano hash; pumpkin ravioli in sage brown butter; and a hearty ragout of pork, beef and veal. If you prefer a liquid diet, stop in on Monday evenings and sample Wisteria's new $8 martini menu. Look for creations like the Georgia-tini and the mojito-tini. 471 N. Highland Ave. 404-525-3363.
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