Monday, August 23, 2010

***Warning*** A Rant.

Atlanta is a foodie mecca. The range and quality of dining in this city, and throughout the surrounding suburbs, is astonishing.

Atlanta features enough culinary star power to rival any other US city or for that matter, almost any city in the world. We have become a veritable melting pot of food cultures with celebrity Chefs on every corner. The diner can as easily find a great place for Indian cuisine as she can for great Q.

The competition among all this fabulousness is sharp and palpable. Throw the flat economy into the mix and you have a restaurant community facing the toughest market it has ever seen. No one is immune from worry over filling their chairs, rising costs and the new guy next door.

I know this. I have worked in Atlanta restaurants for 15 years.

So, when a friend called some months ago telling me he was coming to town with a small convention and needed dining, I jumped---literally---for joy. A group to send to a few dining favorites who were also willing to do what was required for the large group diner: fixed (higher) gratuity, no budget, limited menu, sign a contract.

What did this group want in return? Casual dress, casual dining, Very Good Food, locally owned restaurants reflecting Atlanta, specific times; they were on a tight schedule. Not too far from midtown. If I was a restaurant I'd jump at this.

First Call, Miller Union. The Atlanta Hot Spot. Lauded by everyone from local Food Critic John Kessler to Nationally recognized Bon Apetite Magazine, this place hit all the marks for my visiting group.

And, what did I hear when I called Miller Union requesting a Noon reservation for 15 diners (six weeks down the road, a guarantee to come)?

“We can not guarantee a table for your group at that time or that date. We are doing so well we do not need to reserve that far out.”

Shame on you Miller Union. Shame----on----you! 

Miller Union on Urbanspoon

Restaurants to Applaud---A Short List:
The Group Loved Them; They Were Welcoming and Accommodating

Agave, 242 Boulevard, SE Atlanta
Besides the best margaritas ever, this place features wonderful Southwestern fare and a very accommodating staff. A very, very nice staff. My favorites: Southern fried chicken with mashed Yukon golds or the slow cooked short ribs marinated in ancho chilies. Or, maybe the cevice martini, all spicy and limey and overflowing with tuna and shrimp? You decide. Just go.

Tavola, Virginia Avenue, Virginia Highlands
I dream about the food here. I smile the minute I walk through the door. Tavola has the nicest managers and a staff to match. The cuisine is perfect Italian straight from the Italian countryside. Have the mozzarella burrata with tomato conserve and crostini; the lemony shrimp risotto with Georgia shrimp and Thai basil. If I ever needed a last meal, this would be it.

Havana Sandwich Shop, lower Buford Highway, Atlanta

This restaurant was rebuilt after a fire at another location. I am glad the owners made the effort to come back. They would have been sorely missed.  What to try? Cuban sandwiches and Cuban food and the best you’ve ever eaten. Don’t forget the Mojo sauce and a side of black bean soup.

Agave on Urbanspoon

La Tavola Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Havana Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Nine Months Later

Nine months later and I am finally ready to admit to myself that this really happened. It’s also okay now ‘cause two other friends also crossed a remarkable age threshold this year. Time to finally eat the cake.

Musings from last December:

A significant birthday is about to slap me in the face. I’ve spent a year trying to decide what to do about it. Do I celebrate and if I do, how? I was going to have a bash with a friend whose birthday is close to mine, but a few months ago I opted for selfish and went with my own party. Now I’m days away from the event.

Invitations have been sent, my menu is set and I’m in the last throes of getting ready. I’d like to dig my heals in and stop the clock. I can’t. Time goes and I’ve got to go along…..want to or not.

So, how do I really enjoy this trauma? I’ve been so engrossed with table scapes, preparing food, cleaning and decorating---all kinds of minutiae---I haven’t allowed myself to feel what is coming. That age. I…….going…to be….65. Yeesh.

Maybe I should be knitting or looking at picture albums. I don’t have albums. All of my pictures are either framed or in piles. Panic or not. No ! I will focus on what I love. My friends are coming. Hopefully lots and lots of friends will show up and I’ll glaze through that extraordinary day in a haze of good conversation, hugs, too much wine and a lot of great food…which I will cook, present and serve. Happiness!

There is nothing better for me than getting ready for a party. And that is what I’m doing. I’ve cooked and frozen 250 potato knishes (Stan will eat at least half!). Two twenty inch seafood strudels are also in the freezer. (Cynthia said that’s all hers). I’ve stuffed them with tiny scallops, shrimp, lobster, glazed criminis and shallots, all folded into a thick b├ęchamel with fresh dill, lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne. I’ve also got 150 Swedish meatballs, two tartars and an Antipasto board in the works.

I’m putting homemade marshmallows and mini black and white cookies on the coffee table and I’ve ordered a birthday cake with marzipan, butter cream and strawberries. Yum. I am a freak for marzipan.

A sentimental, old-fashioned champagne punch (with raspberries and sherbet) will round out the bar of wine, vodka and beer

So, my tummy will be happy. My mind will be occupied. My friends will surround me. That I will certainly enjoy. I’ll go to sleep tired and smiling. And, I will wake up the next morning 65 plus another day. Really, it will be just another day.

Maybe I should plan a good breakfast. Just in case.