Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Restaurant Review: Watershed on Peachtree

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 9:51 AM

REGIONAL RIFF: Watershed on Peachtree's corn griddle cake topped with duck confit and radicchio slaw
  • James Camp
  • REGIONAL RIFF: Watershed on Peachtree's corn griddle cake topped with duck confit and radicchio slaw

The story of Watershed and its move from Decatur to Buckhead calls to mind the classic question of nature versus nurture. Would Watershed's nature, its simple Southern roots, prevail? Or would its new neighborhood nurture it into something entirely new? It's been almost nine months since Watershed was reborn, and the nurture side is winning.

In the 2000s, Watershed flourished thanks to chef Scott Peacock's sophisticated, contemporary take on Southern classics. It was the jewel of Decatur's casual but increasingly ambitious dining scene.

But now, Watershed has literally moved on up, to a high-rise condo building on Peachtree Road. The Buckhead transformation encompasses almost every aspect of the dining experience. In place of the chaotic little Decatur parking lot, there's a sleek corporate valet. Instead of a homey feel, there are vast street-facing windows, expansive dining spaces, and stark elegance. It's now Brooks Brothers instead of Birkenstocks, Westminster rather than Paideia, and, well, Peachtree instead of Ponce.

Continue reading "Restaurant Review: Watershed on Peachtree"

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Restaurant Review: Lure

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Last year, Lure and the Optimist opened within two months and two miles of each other. Both were intent on bringing a fresh perspective to Atlanta's seafood - not as stodgy as the Oceanaire, not as touristy as Legal Sea Foods, and not as old-school as Atlanta Fish Market. Comparing the two is inevitable. Both restaurants emphasize fresh ingredients and sustainable sourcing; give equal attention to the drinks that go so well with seafood; and are helmed by ambitious chefs. They are also important cogs in the wheels of vibrant restaurant groups - Lure with Fifth Group Restaurants (Ecco, Alma Cocina, La Tavola, South City Kitchen) and the Optimist with Rocket Farm Restaurants, Ford Fry's emerging empire (JCT, No. 246, the upcoming King + Duke). But only one of the two grabbed the attention of Esquire magazine and was named the best new restaurant in the country. It wasn't Lure.

Continue reading "Restaurant Review: Lure" here

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Restaurant Review: Yebo

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 9:09 AM

GAME BIRD: Yebo's ostrich sliders and Parmesan popcorn
  • James Camp
  • GAME BIRD: Yebo's ostrich sliders and Parmesan popcorn

Mere feet away from the Bentley- and Maserati-choked valet stand at Phipps Plaza, an oasis of safari chic appears. Thick canvas drapes create a sense of seclusion from the mall hubbub. Inside, papier-mâché antelope heads grace a sunset-orange wall and the words of Toto, blessing the rains in Africa, grace another. This is Yebo, a new bar/restaurant from Justin Anthony (10 Degrees South), where the South again meets South Africa.

Yebo's brand of fusion uses the cuisine of South Africa as a departure point for a more populist trip exploring the country's flavors. It's location in one of the South's most high-end shopping destinations demands the menu be at once exotic and widely appealing. Where else in town can you plop down with your bags full of Gucci for a choice of ostrich or fried chicken, barbecue-sauced pork or bobotie bunny chow, and then wash it down with a $180 bottle of South African wine? As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti, a restaurant with such disparate aims is sure to hit a bull's-eye in spots, and fall short in others. So it goes with Yebo.

Read the full review by Brad Kaplan here.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Spence

Posted By on Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM

USE YOUR NOODLE: The Spence's beet pappardelle, duck, and cocoa gremolata entrée
  • James Camp
  • USE YOUR NOODLE: The Spence's beet pappardelle, duck, and cocoa gremolata entrée

There may be no restaurant that reflects the cultural cadence of this city right now more than the Spence. Chef/TV star Richard Blais' latest Atlanta project harnesses the excitement surrounding both the local dining scene and the city's role as the Hollywood of the South. At the top of the menu, a list of the kitchen's current influences and inspirations nods to the creative process behind the dishes of the day - root vegetables, the Falcons, candied quince. The staff barely seems able to contain its enthusiasm, eager to funnel the same in-the-moment excitement into the food you're about to order.

Blais' name may not be emblazoned above the restaurant's door, but the Spence still owns the fact that it's a celebrity chef restaurant. In a town teeming with reality show crews and zombies and A-list actors on shoot, it seems fitting to have a representative on Bravo's "Life After Top Chef," the network's latest addition to the franchise that shows Blais building out this very restaurant, hiring cooks, airing doubts, sharing dreams. And if you're not one of the hundreds of thousands of people who tune in on Wednesdays, maybe you're one of the 200,000 who follow Blais on Twitter, where he keeps everyone updated on his dizzying daily duties. If you want to know if Blais will be in the house when you visit the Spence, look no further than his Twitter feed.

Read the full review by Brad Kaplan here.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First Look: The Spence

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 at 8:01 AM

SURF-AND-TURF: Roasted bone marrow with tuna tartare at the Spence
  • James Camp
  • SURF-AND-TURF: Roasted bone marrow with tuna tartare at the Spence

CL's Cliff Bostock writes:
It's not a boast or an exaggeration, but I'm not a television watcher. I've never seen an entire episode of "Top Chef" or any of the other nail-biting soap operas that toy with chefs' egos and turn a risky condiment into a death sentence.

So, I've never been starstruck by Richard Blais. But I have been eating and mainly loving his food since he turned up at Fishbone on Peachtree Street in 2001. A couple of years later he opened Blais, revolutionary in its introduction of molecular cuisine to Atlanta. I found the restaurant to be a mixed success, but greatly admired his willingness to experiment wildly, under the inspiration of renowned Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, where he worked a stint...

Read the full article here.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Second helpings: Why review Truffles Grill at all?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 2:07 PM

The dining room at Truffles Grill
Is there even a decent reason to review somewhere like Truffles Grill? Especially if I have nothing surprising to say?

As usual, the commenters on my story are playing out the exact arguments I had with myself about the review. I considered not even writing it. As commenter Kelly W. said, "Change the name and you've just reviewed every O'Charlie's, Houstons, Cheesecake Factory, and so forth in the country."

But there are two reasons why I decided to review Truffles. The first is that it's slightly different from many other chain restaurants in that it's modeled after a well-liked restaurant in Hilton Head, one that many Atlantans may have visited and enjoyed. It's represented by a major Atlanta PR firm (Melissa Libby PR). It has an overall rating of four stars on Open Table. It has received a ton of fawning chatter on blogs around town. (One post, from Pretty Southern, curiously went up yesterday after my review came out and bears a striking, almost word-for-word resemblance to the press release about Truffles I received a few weeks back). Even John Kessler has some positive things to say in his one star review for the AJC.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Extra helping: BLT Steak and those pesky stars

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 1:52 PM

I knew it was coming. And last night it did: a commenter questioned the 3-star rating of my BLT Steak review. "At the end I was sure it would be 4 stars, but only three, your writing needs to reflect the review," jbeez said. And frankly, that commenter wasn't the first. My editor and I went back and forth on this one, and it was the night before the review came out online that at 2 a.m., I sat straight up in bed and said out loud, "It's 3 stars." Before that moment, I really wasn't sure.

Assigning stars is anything but an exact science. Most often I get in trouble with readers over the two star rating, with folks arguing that it's two out of five, equivalent to a D letter grade. I argue that there are many, many ways of grading things - for instance, a bronze medal is not the same as a failing grade. As my friend John Kessler over at the AJC says, "We like to think of each star as a bright, shiny object that you earn." One star means "fair." Two means "good." Some restaurants are aiming for mind-blowing, so for them a 2-star rating might be disappointing. But for many places, "good" should be seen as a positive review.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

What do sushi, hot toddies and ice-skating have in common?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 5:01 PM

They're all at Park Tavern, that's what!

A weird mixture, for sure, but when it's using high-quality ingredients, it actually works. On Tuesday, the restaurant at the corner of 10th and Monroe in Piedmont Park held the "Sushi, Sake and Salt Block Experience" to unveil new items on the menu. Sushi chef Chapin Vilasineekul concocted deliciously simple maki rolls using Hawaiian fish flown in daily and fresh Wagyu beef. The restaurant's Wagyu beef supplier is so exclusive that it only provides to two other restaurants in the entire country. You can even trace the bloodline of the beef using a diagram of the Japanese farm's cows. Now that's some festive holiday fun!

Also on display was their "Salt Block experience." Think fondue but with a searing-hot black cube. It's actually very modern looking and would look great on my side table. A heated salt block is brought to each table and it's up to customers to choose which meat to cook and for how long. Or, of course, since the meat is so fresh, you could eat it raw. It's a fun, interactive eating experience, and isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Still not interactive enough? Downstairs is the Rink at Piedmont Park, Midtown's only ice-skating rink. The rink is probably the only attraction that doesn't match the same high quality. It's small and I felt like I was skating on plastic, not smooth ice. The rink is also covered, blocking the city's skyline. But with Motown jams playing, it's still a fun way to burn off those delicious calories. And really, that's just the appropriate level of holiday festiveness I can take.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

This week's reviews: Empire State South, Napoleon's

Posted By on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 10:04 AM

This week's review is of Empire State South, which is perhaps the most talked about restaurant of the year. For good reason.

In Grazing, Cliff visits Napoleon's, and also takes a peek at Sprig.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

This week's reviews: Tomo Japanese, Empire State South

Posted By on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 12:44 PM

  • James Camp
This week I write about Tomo Japanese in Vinings, and the long road I had to travel to learn to love it.

Cliff gives us perhaps his most thorough First Look of all time with multiple visits to Empire State South. I guess I'll have to go 17 times to do the review properly. Oh well, it's a rough life.

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