A Graduate’s Guide to Dinner
Graduation is just four months away, but seniors are already making reservations for their celebration dinners. It is a momentous occasion, and a prime opportunity for many students to capitalize on their parents’ generosity one more time before becoming adults and having to deal with things like rent and a job and life. Of course, kudos to those who already deal with these things. We do not envy you. For the rest of us, here are eight suggestions that will not disappoint. Cheers.
Empire State South
Canadian homeboy and Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson has made a name for himself in Georgia. Acheson’s flagship restaurant in Athens, Five & Ten, is still up and running, but the culinary world didn’t truly turn its head until he opened Empire State South three years ago. Ryan Smith now wears the chef’s hat, but the kitchen continues to impress with its creative, modernist take on Southern cuisine. Think bacon marmalade over pimento cheese or crispy sweetbreads with rice gnocchi. The airy dining room breathes warm Southern comfort and makes for a cozy experience when taking down their six-course tasting menu.
North of Decatur in Vinings on the Chattahoochee River there sits a quiet culinary safe haven called Canoe. With arching trees and lush green grass, Canoe is among its own botanical garden and has been impressing customers since the early ‘90s. Chef Carvel Grant Gould and her staff have been there the entire time, dazzling customers with charming Southern comfort and updated classics. These days it’s difficult to pin down a kitchen to one cuisine or another, but contemporary American with a Southern twist just might do it for Canoe. The current menu boasts lamb shank with kale, slow roasted Carolina rabbit with bacon ravioli and pan seared arctic char with a coconut rice cake.
When I think of classic, old-school steakhouses, I think of Bone’s. In my mind, I see a dimly-lit dining room with white tablecloth once shrouded in cigar smoke. I see fat businessmen in black suits drinking tawny ports, sharp scotches and expensive wine from California and France. I also see giant steaks beautifully charred. I see medium-rare. I see large sides of onion rings and garlic mashed potatoes. I see happiness. And then I see the bill, and I’m glad I’m with my parents.
Kevin Rathbun Steakhouse
Kevin Rathbun is the King of Steaks, and his steakhouse is for the modern carnivore who reads GQ while also enjoying a hefty ribeye. The dining room is big elegance with lofty ceilings and youthful vibes. And for a steakhouse, the non-steak options are rather numerous. Beyond the towers of seafood weighed down by Alaskan king crab and oysters on the half shell, there’s ahi tuna and bass, scallops and flounder.
Don’t let the location throw you off on this one. Local Three is hard to find, tucked away among and inside office buildings. Once down the cold corporate hallway that leads to a giant wooden door, you will find an underground party. Between his love for “The Big Lebowski” and pigs, Chef Chris Hall knows how to have a good time. The menu has a tendency to lean heavily on Asian influences, but just when you think an Asian BBQ pork shoulder with kimchi goes too far east, Hall throws down shrimp and cheese stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon. Delicious and fun.
Bacchanalia is one of the last refuges for thoroughly classic and proper dinner service with a prix-fixe menu. This is real fine dining, and while it has been uneven on delivery in my experience, it is, nonetheless, a good time. The menu is set at five courses per person with various small “gifts” in between. On my last visit, hand cut pappardelle showered in black truffles and crispy red snapper in a smooth cream sauce were superb culinary moments. The price-tag is a sturdy $85 a person, but that’s what you pay for eating at one of Atlanta’s finest restaurants.
On one visit to Sotto Sotto, I turned around to find Betty White and Jennifer Love-Hewitt standing behind me. The place must be good if celebrities eat here, right? This Inman Park gem serves up refined Italian cuisine in a cozy and intimate setting. Ravioli stuffed with veal, chicken and pork in a butter-sage sauce, risotto with caramelized onions and sharp, 12-year-old balsamic vinegar and even chocolate soup make for a wonderful meal. Sotto Sotto also has the best Italian wine list in the city. Drink up.
4th & Swift
Like so many other restaurants in Atlanta, 4th & Swift labels itself a “modern American.” I still wrestle with what that means, but in my mind I imagine simply-cooked fish, lots of pig (bacon and pork) and locally sourced vegetables. 4th & Swift hits all of these things in a dramatic setting that puts white tablecloths inside a stark warehouse.
— By Evan Mah