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Aug/Sept 2004

Dazzling Dining
by Meredith Fletcher

Maine lobster salad with Spring vegetables at Aria.
Any newcomer to Atlanta is sure to be impressed with the city's dazzling array of dining establishments. One thing for certain-Atlanta loves to eat, and the culinary landscape is filled to the brim with tasty retreats, memorable not only for their superb food but also for the delightful experiences they offer. While Atlanta is home to literally hundreds of fine restaurants with varied offerings and interests, it is impossible to spotlight all of them, so here is a sampling-a mere appetizer-of some of the city's most sparkling gems. Whether they serve imaginative cuisine, dazzle with decor, or offer a distinctive experience, these restaurants continue to be the crown jewels of Atlanta's dining scene.

Rule one for Aria (490 E. Paces Ferry Rd., 404-233-7673): expect the unexpected. Worthy of a mention is the grandiose chandelier suspended in the center of the room. Bursting with color and form, it gives pause-much like Chef Gerry Klaskala's cuisine. Starters such as the smoked salmon short stack on a feather-light potato cake with red onion remoulade combine contrasting textures and flavors. The soft pancake, silken salmon and bit of red onion crunch make for satisfying bites. Warm butter-braised lobster, truffled potatoes, broccoli served in a martini glass-such innovative surprises define Klaskala's culinary style.

dick and harry's (1570 Holcomb Bridge Rd., 770-641-8757), is a creative contemporary American eatery outside the Perimeter. In addition to mouth-watering seafood dishes and the best crab cakes in town, dick and harry's' emphasis on game continues to land them rave reviews. The restaurant offers traditional fare such as filet mignon and lamb chops, however the specials spotlight meats not often found in your grocer's freezer: bison, venison, rabbit, quail and pheasant. The idea is to tempt guests to be a little more adventurous by providing an alternative to the conventional . The ample list of daily specials also features tantalizing appetizers and desserts.

Emeril Lagassee of Emeril's.
Each course could be its own meal at Emeril's Atlanta (3500 Lenox Rd., 404-564-5600). The fabulously rich fare is further amplified by the equally impressive decor. A life-sized portrait over the bar of chef and personality Emeril Lagasse as well as giant, embroidered "E's" framing the booths remind the diner of whose house they've entered. Orange, purple and blue tones permeate throughout, while cooking-inspired decorative elements dominate the visuals (note the "stained glass" effect created by dried ingredients suspended in Plexiglas). It all feels a bit larger than life, but the tone fits well within the Buckhead/Lenox scene.

Be sure to grab a conversation booth inside the glass wine tower (which displays 9,000 bottles) and order the incredible smoked mushrooms appetizer, served in a tasso cream sauce over angel hair pasta with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Another must-try feature from the menu of progressive "new" New Orleans cuisine is the pecan-crusted redfish with Creole Meuniere sauce.

Floataway Cafe (1123 Zonolite Rd., 404-892-1414) is tucked away in a renovated warehouse in an industrial strip near Emory. The appeal of Floataway's interior is undeniable and is reason enough to check out the cafe. The architectural and interior design is clearly urban with a Mediterranean feel. Offering private rooms for dining, overall design is minimal and clean with a sensual allure that inspires intimate conversations in a relaxed and very sexy atmosphere.

The nation is taking note of Joel (3290 Northside Pkwy., 404-233-3500). The establishment was recently included in Esquire's list of America's top 20 restaurants, ranked as one of America's best by Gourmet, and Chef Joel Antunes was nominated as one of the best chefs in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation.
The grand entrance to Kyma.
Joel punctuates with vivid color - note the red wall and opulent light. Although the dining room is grand, it is dwarfed by the kitchen, which measures an astounding 5,000 square feet. Chef Joel deftly spins simple French ingredients into dazzling melodies of flavor with an Asian slant. Best bets from the menu include gazpacho with tomato sorbet in olive oil, seared scallops with a leek confit, truffles and banyuls vinegar sauce, and sauteed veal sweetbreads with seven spices sauce. Also, the $29 chef seasonal three-course menu is unbeatable!

Kyma (3085 Piedmont Rd., 404-262-0702). If the 55,000-pound solid marble columns don't convince you of Kyma's dedication to bold authenticity, maybe the finest feta cheese, rarest olive oil and off-the-boat freshest Mediterranean seafood will.

Chef Pano I. Karatassos goes to great lengths to replicate the finest and the freshest that his native Greece has to offer. But it's what he does with his ingredients that is so remarkable. His signature oktapodi is a tentacle of wood grilled octopus marinated in red wine vinegar for six to eight hours and then oven-braised for five more. Finished over the wood grill, this typically rubbery meal is transformed into a tender delight. The smoky, almost caramelized, outer crust serves as a wonderful counterpoint to each moist bite. Take note, the baklava is the finest in town and nicely matched with a scoop of pistachio ice cream.

For original Hawaiian fusion fare, Roy's (3475 Piedmont Rd., (404-231-3232) is the finest (and probably the only) bet in town. Executive Chef David Tarrin emphasizes seafood with Asian influences. Roy's presents a distinctive spread of seafood not found on most Atlanta menus, such as the lemongrass-crusted opakapaka, and the use of miso on a seared tilapia sharpens the focus of the meal. Always the freshest fish and now "Yamaguchi" sushi completes this Asian-Pacific experience.

Joel has a flair for presentation.
Seeger's (111 W. Paces Ferry Rd., 404-846-9779) is located in a mid-century, brick bungalow in Buckhead. Simple and streamlined, the European classic contemporary interior is minimalist in tone, boasting white walls, high ceilings and uncomplicated artwork. Ambiance is striking, but food remains the centerpiece. Chef Guenter Seeger, a master of the gastronomic art, delights guests with both a five-course menu ($69) and an eight-course tasting menu ($85). Seeger underscores flavor, immaculate presentation and the execution of innovative ingredient combinations. Along with the eight-course meal, diners enjoy the chef's wine pairings (additional $60), which complement each course.

Toulouse (2293 Peachtree Rd., 404-351-9533), recently named one of the three best restaurants in Atlanta by Travel and Leisure magazine, effortlessly blends French and American influences to create a distinctive dining experience. This rustic bistro is located just south of Buckhead's hustle and bustle and is truly a hidden jewel. Concealed behind a set of street-front shops on Peachtree, it's going on its tenth year!

The menu delineates a range of tasty options like buffalo meatloaf with a veal jus or pistachio encrusted yellow fin tuna with a soy ginger glaze. The wine list presents grapes from around the world, and there is a remarkable emphasis on wine education. You can find 65 wines by the glass and over 100 by the bottle. Owner George Tice, the ultimate host, almost insists that diners sample three choices before reaching a decision. Both wine options and menu items are surprisingly affordable, resulting in a restaurant that's an amiable choice for a night out.

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