My, aren't we trendy?
The fads that fashion Atlanta's dining scene
If you're lucky, you don't recall that 10 years or so ago, a big trend in Atlanta's dining scene was cigars. Fancier restaurants created specially ventilated rooms where alarmingly young men — doomed dot-com millionaires? — chomped on stogies and swilled martinis before subjecting their deadened taste buds to dinner.
Maybe you've forgotten the fad for gummy pasta extruded before your very eyes from machines fashioned by a faux-Italian Willie Wonka. But you can't have forgotten the fetish for flavored mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, still lingering among diehard chefs with mommy complexes. And there's my all-time fave from the early '80s — the ubiquitous kiwi, rumored to be the planet's most nutrient-rich fruit ... and its most tasteless. It was last seen being piled on a crystal meth addict's plate at a Shoney's salad bar.
As we head into 2005, let's take a look at some dining trends, good and bad, that have come to mark the Atlanta dining scene.
Death to Atkins: Just about everyone who measures such things agrees that the carb-phobic Atkins Diet and its derivatives are headed to the dustbin to join the grapefruit and cabbage soup diets. This was totally predictable when McDonald's began publicizing plans to offer low-carb sandwiches in 2005.
Why has the purchase of low-carb products begun to decline? Probably because consumers have begun to experience just what the experts have been saying. While the Atkins diet takes weight off quickly, it's no better over an extended period than the old-fashioned way of dieting by cutting back general calorie consumption.
So, please, no more self-righteous pigging out at Brazilian churrascarias while waving away the asparagus. No more triple orders of bacon while hissing at other people's granola. You people have been making the rest of us nauseated.
Tee-Tee Metrosexually: Is anything dumber than single-person gendered rest rooms? For years, I've watched women line up outside restrooms while the men's room remained unused because, you know, guys have a more efficient organ of urinary elimination. Finally, a few restaurateurs are starting to ignore this silly convention, most notably and creatively Bob Amick at One Midtown Kitchen and Two Urban Licks. His cans kick ass.
Digest, Don't Assimilate: You think the metrosexualizing of restaurant bathrooms is just a quirk? Nope. It's an example of the way restaurants reflect changes in the culture, in this case relative to gender. A more important trend is the way restaurants in our city have become a means of reclamation of ethnic and national identity. Despite the efforts to curb that trend, such as the city of Chamblee's requiring Buford Highway restaurants to post signs in English, we see an increasing number of restaurants that make no effort to assimilate. Servers speak no English and menus are not translated. This offends those who think English fluency should be mandatory to live here but it's part of creating a haven for immigrants who want to maintain contact with their heritage.
At the same time, we are seeing an explosion of ethnic restaurants with cross-cultural clientele that maintain high standards of authenticity. This is most recently true in the Indian community. Think Madras Saravana Bhavan and Bollywood Masala Grill. But even true of some intown gourmet venues. Think Bali Indah, Nam (Vietnamese) and Nan (Thai).
With a Smile: After a long period of very bad service throughout the city, wait staffs seem to have become more professional again. Perhaps it's because the suffering economy makes job-hopping harder or because restaurants have begun better training. Even newbies like Rathbun's and Wahoo Grill opened with killer staffs.
Enough already!: Remember fondue? I know you have a red Teflon fondue pot in your attic. In the '70s, it was so cool to exhaust yourself spearing a small quantity of bread chunks and dipping it in cheese. And think of the money restaurants made passing off Heidi's fave food as a real meal. Fondue is gone and now tapas have overtaken the city.
"Small plates equal big profits!" screams a headline on a commercial food site. Diners need to understand that they really aren't necessarily overeating when they are handed a huge bill at the end of a tapas meals. They are paying for fashion.
That's not to say we don't have some great tapas venues in the city — from the new Che to the pioneering Eclipse di Luna, from the Puerto Rican Pura Vida to the Spanish Barcelona, from the boutique-y Sweet Devil Moon to the gigantic Twist ... it doesn't end. But you know what? I'm sick of it. I want to go to a restaurant and have a three-course meal with a real entree. And I'm sick of paying insultingly inflated prices for tapas, pinchons, small plates, "tastes" ... whatever.
Impending Cliche Alert: Brisket is suddenly on everyone's menu. Wood grills abound. Balsamic vinegar is tagging the heels of white truffle oil in the race for the drain. Chilies are in the hands of incompetents. Individual-sized, warm, Valrhona-style chocolate cakes need to be cryogenically preserved and thawed two — no, three — generations from now. Gentrified, minimalist warehouse spaces are so overdone. Molecular cuisine — deconstructed ingredients reconstructed in new forms — needs to be moved to the culinary sideshow (with the chocolate-covered ants and fried grasshoppers) except when it's a meaningful complement to more conventional plates.
What did you say? That you want to lick chocolate syrup off my body? Speak up, will you!?: The biggest request I get from readers is for a quiet restaurant where they can have an intimate conversation. Such venues are practically nonexistent in Atlanta these days, where the accent is on high-energy ambience. It's not as bad as the days when Paul Luna would remove your chair from the table during your restroom visit if he thought you were "camping" at one of his tables. But the leisurely meal with relative privacy is hard to come by without dropping big bucks. Restaurant Eugene is my usual reply to such requests these days. It's been Bones and Bacchanalia in the past.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.