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Sweet on Dolce

Break out your designer jeans for Atlantic Station's newest confection

"Glamorous" isn't a word used much to describe anything in Atlanta. In Los Angeles, on the other hand, the word is right up there with "totally" and "fabulous." And it always excludes the word "yesterday."

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Dolce Enoteca e Ristorante (261 19th St., 404-872-3902) comes direct to Atlanta from L.A., courtesy of the celebrity-owned Dolce Group, and is the most glamorous restaurant to hit our city at least since One Midtown Kitchen made Atlantans cry "shazam!" Dolce is beautiful without being excessively gimmicky. Nor is it full of old furniture to magnetize old money. How fabulous is it? It's so totally fabulous it even makes you forget it's located in Atlantic Station, whose architecture is so very yesterday.

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I should mention that the Dolce Group is not beyond the gimmicky in any general way. They are also opening, in Atlantic Station, Ten Pin Alley, a bar cum bowling alley, and Geisha House, a sake and sushi bar that promises to eroticize diners from head to toe with its sensual ambiance. I hope Mayor Shirley Franklin and her religious constituency don't get wind of this and decide to outlaw sushi consumption on Sundays.

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Like any great piece of design, Dolce tends to defy good description because every angle produces a different view. There are enormous, classic chandeliers contrasting with dangling light fixtures that look like inverted-glass calla lilies. Sheer curtains cordon off areas of the restaurant, whose optical focus is a big plasma screen that impersonates a hearth's dancing flames. OK, that's kind of gimmicky, but represents a compromise with city ordinances forbidding the glassed-in fire the L.A. restaurant exhibits for decorative effect.

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Dolce's walls are dark gray with silhouetted flowers here and there. Generally, the restaurant is dark and sultry, but there's enough light at each table to assure that everyone can see and be seen. The staff wears all black with gold embossing on one shoulder. It makes you wonder if "Gabbana" is related to this Dolce. You don't want to come here from the gym in your track pants. Jeans are appropriate — if they cost $250.

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Here's the best news: The food is good. An enoteca in Italy typically serves tapas-like plates and the emphasis is on the wine. Here, chef Don Diem has created a number of small plates that aren't so small, actually. Most are meant to be shared. They include classics such as a pasta and fagiole soup, carpaccio, bruschetta and handmade mozzarella, which we ordered.

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Diem makes the cheese and it's way above the average for our city. The appetizer includes a wedge that is fried and a raw roll lightly flavored with sun-dried tomatoes. On the side are two startling sauces. One tastes like a classic tapenade and the other is made of roasted fennel and yellow bell peppers.

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A section of the menu advises that "you're crazy if you don't order at least one of these." Among those is a platter of prosciutto, charred tomatoes and burrata, a fresh mozzarella wrapped about a core of fresh cream. I'd never sampled it before and I want more. Also delectable is the "love bruschetta." It is slices of toast topped with fresh figs, prosciutto and a fig reduction. I do love good figs in almost any form and I'd eat this daily if I could.

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There are risotti and pastas on the menu. I'm anxious to try the truffle linguine with duck confit, peas, prosciutto and mushrooms, but Wayne ordered the straightforward "garden" risotto with asparagus, pecorino cheese, confit zucchini and sun-dried tomato. It, too, was very good but pale beside my entree, one of the best dishes I've eaten in our city in months.

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It was a special — a huge, glossy, fork-tender veal shank served over halved fingerling potatoes that had been roasted in prosciutto fat. The potatoes mingled with freshly sauteed spinach and a bit of chopped fennel. I ordered this rather than the restaurant's signature ossobuco, probably my favorite Italian dish. I'll be returning, but it's hard to believe it will be better than the special.

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For dessert, we shared a goblet of tiramisu, not especially unique in any respect, but creamy comfort after an unusually good meal.

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Service at the restaurant is mainly good, although the server tried to leave our forks and knives on the table after the first course.

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"We should have fresh forks and knives," Wayne barked and the waiter genuflected all the way to the service area to fetch clean silverware.

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"It shouldn't even occur to them to set your dirty knife and fork on the table," Wayne said to me. After 14 years of dining together, I have created a monster.

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Feedback

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Last week I printed a plea from a reader, just back from Athens, Greece, for some "authentic gyro" in our city. Dan Armstrong wrote to recommend Ali Baba's on Broad Street in the downtown Fairlie-Poplar district.

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Kit Fenton wrote this: "The best gyro I've had in intown Atlanta is at Al's Agora Café in Buckhead. It's very good but make sure you tell him not to use too much filler, aka lettuce."

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This is from Stephen Seals: "In regards to your comment about The Standard having poor ventilation, I concur to the absolute highest degree. Myself and two dining partners recently entered The Standard and promptly walked back out after being overwhelmed by the amount of smoke hanging in the air. In fact, our eyes began burning immediately upon entering the restaurant. How anyone actually manages to dine there is beyond me. They might as well serve the food in ashtrays."

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Stephen isn't exaggerating. The last time I ate there my eyes were watering, too. ...

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Update

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I visited Six Feet Under last week. The restaurant, near our home, is packed every night. The description of the blackened shrimp and grits seemed rococo, with its cojita cheese, asparagus, red pepper, fried leeks and scallions drizzled with a vinaigrette. I'm glad I took the server's advice, though, and ordered it. Way tasty.



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