It's a sad loss for downtown and Atlanta. Social was the type of casual place with good food and drinks that's common across Europe but harder to find outside of America's largest cities. In my 2008 review of the restaurant I wrote:
Downtown is still a gamble for restaurateurs, especially in the current economic maelstrom, and particularly on a lesser-known street with no foot traffic. The irony is that Social's a perfect neighborhood restaurant in a non-neighborhood. But it's also the exact type of establishment this economy calls for: a place where you can have a sophisticated meal and a fantastic glass of wine for far less money than you'd pay for a more formal experience.
I'm sad to see them go.
I have eaten this woman's food and she's the real deal, at least in the kitchen if not on the grand stage of reality television. Here's hoping the rumors are true.
Rego was also the chef at the sadly under appreciated Allegro in Midtown. Early this year, he opened a taqueria in Forest Park called Taco Rancho. No word yet on whether Rego is still involved in Taco Rancho, which is still open.
UPDATE: I just got this statement from Jose Rego:
I am done with Taco Rancho. It seems to me that no matter what I always end up coming back to work with Riccardo. I am so excited to have the opportunity to showcase my talent again in the heart of Atlanta. I'm looking forward to changing the menu here at Escorpion and make people happy when they eat my food, that's my #1 priority.
I'll have more to say about it in this week's "Grazing" column. I've visited twice recently and tried out one of Kevin Gillespie's specially designed sundaes. (Gillespie, chef of Woodfire Grill, is a partner in the new store.) I selected the take on Banoffee Pie. These sundaes, $8.95 each, don't look especially large, but, believe me, consuming one of these alone after dinner is a feat that qualifies you for an all-you-can-eat contest.
I've got to reiterate what I've said in the past: I absolutely do not get the raves people give Five Guys. Wayne and I both ordered cheeseburgers and while their taste was acceptable, the two patties were super thin and dried out. Mayo goes a long way here. The Cajun fries, still dumped into an overflowing cup and closed in a bag, were steamed to their usual limpness.
Maybe the popularity has to do with Five Guys' offering burgers of better quality to the fast-food market when it opened in 1986, before the current burger hysteria took hold of us.
By the way, if you're a fan and have an Android phone, there's a Five Guys app for you.
Figo, which began as a tiny (mainly) takeout shop on Collier Road in Buckhead, has seven locations now. The quality of the food, so good and so cheap in the beginning, has been up and down with the expansion. During my visit to the Edgewood restaurant, I ordered the restaurant's take on eggplant parmesan.
I liked it a lot. Instead of the usual ton of melted cheese it was a hefty serving of layered eggplant atop some marinara sauce, dusted with Parmesan cheese. "You can really taste the eggplant," I told the server, who offered me more cheese and was surprised when I declined it.
The eggplant with a soda actually cost less than my super-calorific meal at Five Guys.
You make your way into the hotel and are confronted with an impossible to navigate labyrinth of rooms and floors and mezzanines and elevators. Yet somehow, this maze of booziness is made bearable. How? Because around every corner, in every hallway, up every staircase is a cocktail. On your way from the lower to the upper mezzanine you stop by a punch bowl filled with a summery tequila based concoction with fresh snaps of cucumber. In a room off to the side, people are mixing drinks that supposedly reveal the inherent sexuality of pisco. People are bleary, rowdy, happy. Conversations are struck up that would never happen in polite, sober company.
Last week, I ran into a foodie friend who had just lunched very well at No. 246. He pointed out that the new restaurant bears a lot of resemblance to Flour + Water (video above) and Delfina in San Francisco.
Check out the restaurants' menus to see how accurate my friend was. Even the ambiance is quite similar. And that reminds me: people continue to complain constantly to me about noise in restaurants. No. 246 isn't as bad as many others, but it gets louder and louder at dinnertime as the restaurant fills up and the booze flows freely.
Lest you think the noise is altogether unintentional, be sure to have a look at Delfina's site, linked above. Its "background music" is the noisy chatter and clatter inside a restaurant. I suppose this is meant to suggest conviviality. Fail.
MOST ANNOYING FUNNIEST RESTAURANT REVIEW EVER: Foodie Buddha recently penned a review of Torrisi in New York that is a must-read for food writers everywhere. The Buddha decided to employ each of the words on Chow's list of The 78 Most Annoying Words to Read in a Restaurant Review. A sample of Buddha's review:
Some might not categorize Torrisi as a Haute Barnyard outfit, but I do and it wouldn’t be an egregious misappropriation of terminology if you did too. In that respect, local and organic are in the place of pomp and circumstance. And only the most ardent and militant interpreters of the locavore ideology should have a problem with Torrisi’s sourcing. While much of what Torrisi offers is found nearby, not all veggies and fish are raised fresh on the island of Manhattan.
I have used too many of the words myself. In fact, on the day I read Chow's list and Buddha's review, I realized I had used the listed word "yum" that week. I detest the word and this was the first time I recall ever using it. I also used the word "ubiquitous." Mercifully, I did not use "mouthfeel" or "toothsome."
The problems seem to multiply when you know a place as a great independent, standalone restaurant, and then see the original idea watered down as they expand and multiply. Flying Biscuit comes to mind, as do several barbecue chains I've seen come and go over the years. The chains I really appreciate tend to have a very strong sense of who they are and what they do best, and have a kitchen that can turn that out really well - I love Waffle House for doing simple things right, I have been known to down large quantities of Popeyes' spicy fried chicken, and I have often been amazed at the quality food Houston's can deliver, from a straightforward pan-seared mountain trout to a classic thick and juicy burger.
My chain-aversion picks up with those chains who may generally stick to one theme, but simply don't do it very well or become a mockery of the cuisine they are trying to emulate - Olive Garden? Applebee's? Chili's? There are so many better local options for Italian or vaguely Tex-Mex-ish Southwestern in most towns, yet these restaurants seem to be taking over the American landscape. There's a good chance that when you order something, they will be back in the kitchen squeezing some pre-mixed, pre-portioned, pre-prepared concoction out of a bag before it ends up on your plate.
So cheers to the chains that do things right. Who's your pick for the place that does the word "chain" proud?
On Friday, Restaurant Eugene posted a response on its blog, explaining the contact chef and owner Linton Hopkins has had with APRL, and the lengths they've gone to to make sure their product, including foie gras, is humanely raised:
The first complaint...came in March and stated that if we did not immediately remove foie gras from our menu we would be subject to protest, but that if we did remove it, positive reviews of our restaurant would be posted on Yelp. This felt a little coercive, but nonetheless, prompted us to do some soul searching. Sourcing and ingredients are very serious matters here. Chef Hopkins is steadfastly opposed to the industrialized farming of animals, as well as vegetables for that matter.
It goes on to explain the farming process of the farmer they source foie gras from, and the difference between that process and the factory foie gras farms depicted in the photos and literature used by APRL. A meeting took place between APRL and Hopkins, in which he explained the restaurant's research and position, but no amicable agreement was made. From the Restaurant Eugene post: "We felt the meeting went well and our mutual points of sympathy were understood. Unfortunately, this group would not be reasoned with and has taken a bafflingly myopic view of animal welfare."
They go on to say:
Atlanta Botanical Garden Tues., July 26, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Neighborhood Nosh. Chef Micah Willix from Ecco will show guests how to prepare a few of his signature dishes in the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Outdoor Kitchen. Details
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NYE Party at Smoke Ring with Sweet Auburn String Band. Come hang!