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Thrive: Downtown's glamorous new snoozer

B.E.D.'s closing and Thrive's flashy, uninspired opening

B.E.D. is D.E.A.D. but Thrive's alive. That's right. Even the gimmick of dining while reclining like Kamala in her pleasure garden wasn't outre enough to redeem the mediocre food at B.E.D.

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Now, opening downtown across the street from D.E.A.D.B.E.D., at Centennial Tower, is Thrive (101 Marietta St., 404-389-1000). The restaurant is the project of general manager and Buckhead Life alumnus A.D. Allushi, and Jeff Safari, vice president of Southern Hospitality Management, which also operates the ultra-trendy Compound nightclub. Great credentials.

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Thrive's interior was designed by – who else? – the Johnson Studio. More great credentials. The usual adjectives apply: sleek, modern, trendy, luxuriously detailed. You'll find walnut tables with high-back chairs, elevated modular booths and curtains of shimmering, suspended threads. The walnut of the tables is echoed in a honeycomb-like ceiling fixture in which lighting is recessed. There's a bar where you can lounge on sofas and order from a limited sushi menu. There's a staff of pleasant, black-clad young servers.

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The menu's origin is a bit confusing. Press materials say that Ian Winslate, who was recently named chef at Posh, designed the menu for executive chef Oscar Pinto. Why Pinto would not design his own menu is a mystery I could not unravel by press time. He was recently sous chef at Sia's, was at BluePointe before that, was at the much-missed Tom Tom for five years before that and has extensive training in Italian and French cooking. He is a native of Guatemala. More great credentials.

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And yet, despite all these credentials, the menu at Thrive, though well-executed, is a snoozer. There are definite echoes of Tom Tom's fusion of American and Pacific Rim cuisine, such as the ginger chicken and potato pot stickers with soy vinaigrette that Wayne ordered for a starter. There's nothing wrong with them. And there's nothing novel about them.

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My own starter, "sweetcrab and artichoke fondue," was annoying. I asked the server twice if the dish was truly a fondue and she assured me it was. Not. It was the usual Houlihan's-style dip served with fried wontons. Again, not bad-tasting but way retro, right down to its misleading label.

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Entrees continued the sleepy theme. Skipping over dishes such as grilled grouper, crab cakes and roasted chicken, we chose a rack of baby back ribs for Wayne and a pork chop for me. Same deal. There was nothing wrong or especially memorable about the tender ribs or the orange-marinated pork chop. The ribs, slightly overcooked, were served with potato salad while my pork chop included a salad of shaved jicama and oranges.

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The restaurant was offering only three desserts the night of our visit. We picked the Danish layer cake with blueberry sauce to share. Who can complain about custardy, fruity cake served with dollops of caramel sauce?

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The restaurant had been open less than a week when we visited (and service was good). Perhaps the menu will feature some more creative dishes in the future. But I suspect Thrive, which is also open for lunch and plans to serve breakfast, is attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator of taste. Downtown restaurants, mostly patronized by business travelers, have not prospered in our city and that seems especially true of highly creative ones such as the short-lived, wonderful Luxe.

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On the other hand, there is something of a restaurant boom occurring downtown. Azn, Café Sabor and Five Seasons Brewing are all scheduled to open in the Centennial Park area, not far from Thrive.

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By the way, if you decide to visit Thrive and can't find nearby street parking, by all means use the valet, which is kind of hidden on the Spring Street side of the building. We initially parked in a private lot across the street and found ourselves ogling in disbelief at a lock-box that demanded $20 per car. Five twentysomethings likewise gasped at the price. We all got in our cars and went in search of the valet.

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Here and there

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Palm Beach Restaurant has opened in McDonough (2180 Highway 20 West, 770-898-1922). Although the owner/chef, Geir S. Kilen, is Norwegian, his restaurant is serving gourmet Caribbean food. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. ...

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Look for three franchises of Zpizza to open in the Atlanta area soon. The gimmick: health-conscious ingredients such as organic sauces, whole-wheat crusts and low-fat cheeses. ... Bonefish, a chain of seafood restaurants, is opening in Johns Creek. ... Element has opened in the former location of Cherry on West Peachtree Street. ...

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Sala Sabor de Mexico on North Highland has a new executive chef. He's Jeff Smedstad, who comes to Atlanta from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was at Los Sombreros. ...

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Ricardo Ullio, owner of Sotto Sotto, says it will be June before his new Spanish restaurant, Cuerno, opens on Juniper Street. He is searching Spain for a chef willing to move here. ...

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Speaking of Ullio, we ate at his pizzeria, Fritti, recently. New pizzas featuring a billowy, thicker crust are now on the menu. My favorite is topped with capers and anchovies. ...

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Just Loaf'n, a takeout shop featuring New Orleans-style fast food, has opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Grant Park at 313 Boulevard (404-525-4001). I've found the food inconsistent. An oyster po-boy featured beautifully flash-fried oysters ... on mushy bread during my first visit. The bread, stuffed with fried shrimp, was crusty my second visit. The sandwiches are huge.

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The only real disappointment has been the gumbo – sometimes watery, sometimes not, and way too expensive for the skimpy quantity. The red beans and rice are primo, though.

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For a shop specializing in po'boys, there is one conspicuous absence. The cafe does not serve a muffaletta, which is, to my taste, the best sandwich you can buy in New Orleans. ...

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Green Sprout (1529 Piedmont Ave., 404-874-7373) continues to be my favorite stop for vegetarian dining. The fried bean-curd rolls stuffed with crunchy bean sprouts are still my favorite. If you order them, let the plate stand a few minutes. They are served atomically hot.



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