THE TOP TEN Romantic Restaurants in Atlanta
Sometimes we all need a little help when it comes time to impress a date. Certain restaurants may please the tongue and fill the belly but don't tug on our emotions. The selections we have gathered here have that certain something—perhaps a light-speckled patio, or a roving musician, or inspirational garden—that can wow a date, and put them in the mood to satisfy other appetites. Presented in alphabetical order, here are the top ten romantic restaurants in Atlanta.
Sometimes we all need a little help when it comes time to impress a date. Certain restaurants may please the tongue and fill the belly but don't tug on our e... more
490 E. Paces Ferry Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30305 / 404-233-7673
Stylish Aria's chef-partner Gerry Klaskala has installed a vibrant, slightly offbeat establishment. Guests enter through a curtain of silver beads, designed to represent a complete break with the past. Corinthian-topped pilasters gleam with white enamel. Atmosphere buzzes with animated conversation. Klaskala's menu plays with regional dishes and home-style cooking. The tender beef short ribs braised in Zinfandel achieve home-style harmony with the wine. From the truffle-oil-scented potato purée mounded in a martini glass and topped with butter-poached lobster to crisp crab cakes with a mustard slaw, every dish features pristine ingredients. Grilled sea scallops defy improvement, still translucent in the center. The menu reflects a wide range of American cooking traditions and ingredients, and portions are substantial. Desserts change nightly, according to the whim of pastry chef Kathryn King, who makes her own ice creams. Her dessert creativity approaches the philosophical, combining classical purity with a distinctive edginess that never goes over the top. The frisky wine list ranges through the unusual varietals, such as Albariño and Tocai Friulano, and wines from unusual sources, such as Spain's highly regarded Vega Sicilia (occasionally available). A nifty touch, waiters present the bottle so the by-the-glass wine-purchasing patron sees exactly what is being poured.
573 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 / 404-523-9121
Taking her restaurant's name from the film Babette's Feast, owner Marla Adams has created a cozy, country French restaurant with high ceilings and hardwood floors that remains an Atlanta favorite for its seasonally changing fare. In cold weather, the cassoulet is a must. Come spring, a navarin of lamb takes its place. For moments when a lighter appetite dictates smaller portions, sample the "small plates" or the "really small plates.” The Italian sausage with sautéed peppers, one of the former, comes on soft polenta, and is plenty for a main dish. Brunch at Babette's remains a satisfying affair, especially the eggs Benedict on beef tenderloin and brioche. The house-made fried potatoes create a new standard for the genre. Dessert portions are huge and house-made ice creams are not to be missed. The wine list isn't extensive but it's very well selected, with an eye to price and value. Service is warm.
Star Provisions, 1198 Howell Mill Rd. NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 / 404-365-0410
Bacchanalia's retro industrial interior is the handiwork of Dominique Coyne, who kept much of the original detail but softened spaces by using, for instance, gentle white draping to craft a semi-private space for small parties. The cooking of owner-chefs Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano is peerless, rich with detail and labor-intensive, but never froufrou. Great effort goes into finding the freshest, best products of the season---greens are usually organic and locally grown---and so the menu changes daily. A gorgeous dish is braised quail paired with Anson Mills grits from South Carolina, showcasing a good use of a traditional Southern ingredient. Rabbit, veal, foie gras or any fish all make great choices. The signature dessert is the warm Valrhona chocolate cake with its lava-like molten center, but keep an open mind, as the desserts can tempt from many different directions. Cheeses are drawn from the adjacent retail operation, Star Provisions, and run the world, including choices from Georgia's own Sweet Grass Dairy. Sommelier Daniel Rudiger assembles the excellent selection of wines, which includes a thoughtful group of superb half-bottle port and dessert choices. We also like to drop in to have dessert and a glass of sweet wine at the bar. Bacchanalia has another operation, the adjacent Quinones room, seating about 42 and where service is exclusively fixed-price.
The Dining Room
The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, 3434 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30326 / 404-237-2700
Chef Arnaud Berthelier comes to The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead's Dining Room after a stiff international competition for the position vacated by Bruno Ménard, who, enticed by a magnificent offer, returned to Japan. Berthelier's dishes capture the lightness of being that squares with the requirements of a good tasting menu, which here runs through seven courses. Seasonal special menus could include, for instance, a white truffle menu. Berthelier certainly has the rigorous technique required of high-brow contemporary cooking down pat. But have all the flavors been thought through? An aromatic soup of sugar snap peas with perfect tiny gnocchi is fine for an opener, but the grace note of a cheese-topped toast bears down hard on the soup's flavors with a cheese that is entirely too strong for the intense silky soup. A cauliflower-filled scallop suffers from the same conflict of interests. But the veal loin, set aside a square of chickory-rubbed veal breast, stands tall as a star attraction. A creamy, almost frothy goat cheese is disciplined into a lovely shape for presentation, and the attached shavings of white truffle serve as a fine counterpoint. But the intense white truffle oil that anoints the dish overwhelms the cheese. On to dessert, and balance restores its hand to the dishes, with a melding of hazelnut and chocolate that serves as the perfect end-of-meal sweet. Technology and technique are mastered in this kitchen; it remains for a sense of balance in flavors to find a place at the table. The extensive wine list has been carefully crafted over time, and ranges through good values as well as pricier choices from all over the wine world. Restaurant manager Claude Guillaume and staff perform with art and warmth, crafting an experience that is correct but never stuffy.
Cornerstone Village 800 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30308 / 404-685-3191
Fine contemporary art appoints this sleek, splendidly designed wine bar and dining room, and in the private dining room, a medieval tapestry graces the view. Dominating the bar, a large silver bowl chills a half-dozen Champagnes and sparkling wines to be served by the glass. Eno is equal parts wine bar and restaurant, and may be enjoyed on either level. Seasonally driven, the menu derives from classic Mediterranean models. Executive chef Eli Kirshtein has crafted a menu of ingenious small plates such as gently poached Georgia white shrimp with white asparagus. The soft-shell crab---a seasonal regional delicacy---is tempura-fried and perched on a bed of barley risotto that, by itself, could make an interesting dish for a vegetarian. With such delectables, one may order a taste-size pour of wine and just keep sipping one's way around the menu with various wines. Among desserts, the panna cotta crowns the top of the heap. Stop by the attached wine and cheese retail shop to pick up a bottle of whatever may have pleased you during your meal, and some excellent cheese to go with it. The adventurous wine list ranges widely from Italian to American to French selections and makes stops all over the Southern hemisphere. A selection of fine grappas for after dinner continues the many refinements to be enjoyed at Eno.
710 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 / 404-810-9110
Enoteca Carbonari aims to replicate the feeling, food and wine of an authentic Italian enoteca---and it does an admirable job. The "carbonari" part of the name references the fact that the main cooking method is a wood-fired grill. But start with a selection of cured meats, choosing anywhere from two to six items from a long list. Make sure one of the selections is the exquisite fennel-scented sopressata spezie, one of the best of the genre we've seen. We also recommend the grilled pancetta-wrapped scallions (cipoletta). The prosciuttos (there are two offered) are outstanding. The mozzarella is a buffalo milk cheese, soft and delicate, and served with capers, sun-dried tomatoes and minced olives. Everything from eggplant Parmigiana to grilled steak is worth a trip from the 'burbs. For dessert, check out the goat's milk ricotta-lemon cheesecake. And, of course, don't miss the espresso; even the decaf is worthy. The wine list plumbs the depths of Italian wines, and many excellent choices are offered by the glass.
Peachtree House Condominium, 2637 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30305 / 404-231-1368
Patrons in the mood for romance will hardly find a more apt spot than this edition of La Grotta, where gentlemen popping the question are a frequent event and the positive responses they get equally common. Gentle lighting and fine black-and-white photographs craft an ambience that is easy on the eyes, and the noise level is equally easy on the ears. As for the food: the carpaccio is notably creamy in texture; veal is flavorful and tender, able to be cut by the merest caress of the knife. Pillow plump gnocchi is a standout. House-made pastas, risotti cooked to order, topnotch fish, and desserts set off by the simplest adornments, usually just a few berries and a bit of sauce, express the soul of Italian cooking. The mushroom risotto is particularly good in fall when enhanced by a few shavings of white truffle. Hard-to-find Italian wines set this classic Italian spot, located on the lower level of a Buckhead condominium, apart from the madding crowd. Co-owner Sergio Favali now is passing the management baton to his look-alike son, Christian, but still comes in for special events and still imbues the cozy place with warmth and graciousness. Partner and executive chef Antonio Abizanda, from Spain, runs a steady ship, never veering off into trendiness or kitsch. Look for such special events as truffle dinners in the fall.
Hilton Atlanta, 255 Courtland St., Atlanta, GA 30303 / 404-221-6362
Some folks dress to the nines for this dining room, relatively unchanged since its opening some 30 years ago, as it offers a seriously dramatic and elegant ambience. The view of Atlanta's skyline is spectacular. Button-fronted, jacket-clad, white glove-wearing waiters and elegant old-world service set a formal stage. The de rigueur starter is vodka; lemon or green peppercorn are favorites. Chef de cuisine Olivier De Busschere, a Belgian, rose to the top toque job from his position as sous chef. Building on a classical French foundation, De Busschere adds contemporary and native Belgian touches, and is not averse to using a very regional ingredient. Imagine truffle-roasted morels bathed in a nage flavored with ramps, the wild garlicky Appalachian leek. Minor Russian touches from the restaurant's pseudo-Czarist early days now are limited to tiny piroshkis with tarragon-flecked béarnaise sauce. But contemporary flair rules after that. Floating flavorful foams over dishes, De Busschere superimposes white asparagus crème on a roulade of Dover sole and smoked salmon. Ethereal. A millefeuille of beef tenderloin and bresaola on root vegetables is moistened with a port wine demi-glace. Soufflés remain the dessert of choice. French-born Hervé Pennequin brings extensive experience to his role as the restaurant's sommelier. Nikolai's Roof offers an eight-course, fixed-price tasting menu; a ten-course seasonal tasting menu; and à la carte service.
1029 Edgewood Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 / 404-577-4358
With a stylish, contemporary interior---another design gem from The Johnson Studio---Shaun's brings out the best in American and Southern ingredients. After years at other people's places (notably Mumbo Jumbo, MidCity Cuisine, Table 1280), chef Shaun Doty finally has a place he can call his own. Literally. Choose appetizers such as crispy Sardinian flatbread covered in the most flavorful small-leaf arugula anointed with fine olive oil and large shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's the kind of study in simplicity that hallmarks the food in this finely crafted dining establishment. A frisée salad with sweet lardons and a poached duck egg is well dressed, not drowned in vinaigrette. The crisp french fries, cooked in duck fat, are fit for heaven's own banquet. A hangar steak, which may, unfortunately, arrive overcooked, manages nonetheless to have excellent flavor. Details abound in this menu from a cheeseburger composed of Wagyu beef and Taleggio cheese to the Anson Mill grits and Sweet Grass Dairy cheeses from Thomasville, Ga. Be sure to try dessert: the caramel-chocolate-covered sticky toffee pudding is just one inspired example. The wine list isn't very long, but there's not a bad drop in the batch. We hope time provides more choices by the glass, including a rosé, although the list does provide one by the bottle.
The Aramore Condominium, 2255 Peachtree Rd. NE, Ste. E-F, Atlanta, GA 30309 / 404-350-0799
Korean-born Seung Park has given sushi and sashimi a couple of twists at his contemporary Japanese restaurant. Few sushi establishments have as good a wine list as this one, with many fine choices by the glass. But the saké list is even more compelling, and for $10, one may order a four-saké sampler that supplies enough saké to accompany at least a pair of rolls, creating a good opportunity to mix and match flavors. The usual nigiri and temaki rolls are offered, but interesting vegetarian rolls---a veritable raft of them---also are present. Deep-fried vegetable tempura makes its appearance in a roll, for instance. Regulars, however, turn to the last page, where nearly two columns of special rolls make an impressive line-up. Given crazy film and TV show names, they include a wide range of flavors. "Sin City," for instance, is a tangy-spicy onion with shrimp tempura roll. Deep-fried soft-shell crab shows up in the "Monster-in-Law" roll, with buttery avocado, cucumber and masago.
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