First Look: Artistry

New life for the former Sweet Lowdown location

It seemed like a good idea. Sweet Lowdown opened in late 2006 with one of the city's better chefs, Carmen Cappello, at the helm. The menu was another inflection of the Southern cuisine suddenly resurrected at restaurants all over town. Cappello called his a modern version, but, honestly, it was not very well-executed and too gimmicky. We're just simple folks around here.

It wasn't long before the venture crashed. It was no small crash, since the restaurant was part of a $2 million events facility on Peachtree Street in Midtown with three kitchens and four private dining rooms.

The operation has been sold and recently reopened as Artistry (942 Peachtree St., 404-888-0101). The interior has been redesigned to feature an "artsy" theme. The new owner is featuring art exhibitions and near-nightly performances by Atlanta bands in the upstairs space.

The best part, though, is the restaurant's new chef. Justin Jordan was banquet chef at Sweet Lowdown and also was chef at Pacific Kitchen in Inman Park. I've dined at Artistry twice and had an excellent dinner and a less impressive lunch.

I'm chalking my lunch experience up in part to the abbreviated menu. I visited during the restaurant's final preview week. I have no idea if there are plans to enlarge the lunch menu, but it was mainly just salads and a couple of sandwiches when I visited. It needs to offer more.

My friend Bette had the better lunch – egg rolls filled with smoked shrimp and avocado for a starter, followed by a heaping portion of tender gyro served over pita with Yukon gold french fries and tzatziki sauce. I had a cup of spicy gazpacho followed by a Cuban sandwich in dire need of mojo sauce. It was served with a bland new-potato salad.

So I wasn't jazzed about returning for dinner a few nights later. I was doubly worried because this was the first or second night the restaurant was serving its full dinner menu. As I said, though, we had a great meal. In fact, later that evening, I received an excited e-mail from a picky friend who said he had just eaten there and loved it.

The restaurant's website promises a "global menu," featuring local organic produce and free-range meats, along with artisan cheeses. I'll take their word for it, because the menu itself laid few claims to exotic sources. In fact, I had the feeling the asparagus on my entree was frozen. It was nicely sautéed but lacked the bite of fresh asparagus.

That was a small distraction, though. The rest of the dish was delicious. Jordan sears slices of duck breast lightly and serves them rare over herbed quinoa with a coulis of watermelon and another made from the spicy South African pepadew.

This followed a starter of two diver scallops seared until glossy and slightly caramelized (with a bit too much salt for my taste). They were served over a sweet-corn puree, with some crispy okra. That's about as Southern as the menu gets.

Wayne started with a plate of white-bean hummus full of sun-dried tomatoes and a significant shot of throat-stinging pepper of some sort. Crumbled goat cheese garnished the hummus and it was served with high-quality Greek olives and fluffy, warm pita slices. I'm not usually into highly seasoned hummus, but this was an exception.

For his entree, Wayne ordered cobia, a fish we'd not encountered in a long time. It's a white, meaty fish, flaky but juicy. Jordan smokes the fish with a dusting of paprika and serves it over a blend of Israeli couscous, roasted tomatoes, zucchini and sweet corn.

Dessert was the only course that was a definite disappointment. Chocolate opera cake tasted like something Sara Lee might whip up when she's feeling all gourmet. It's layers of chocolate, flavored with espresso and Grand Marnier mousse, encased in a hard chocolate shell. Don't bother.

Service at the new restaurant is cheerful and attractive. They're obviously courting a trendy crowd of young lookers, but they treated us real nice, anyway. There's valet parking on the side of the building. It's easy to miss and I spent a lot of time circling nearby blocks until I found a meter space.

Here and there

I brunched at the Globe for the first time since it was sold recently. Joshua Perkins is still the chef there and I can tell no difference in the quality of the food – my frittata was superb – or the ambiance, for that matter. ...

We dined at Olive Bistro last week, long my favorite for simple Middle Eastern dishes. The restaurant has significantly enlarged its menu and increased its prices, too. Normally, I can't resist the falafel here, which I regard as the city's best, but I ordered lamb kabobs served over lentils and rice with grilled onions, green peppers and tomatoes.

Wayne ordered a plate of hummus – the city's best – and half portions of the day's two special raviolis. One was filled with smoked chicken, the other with mozzarella and basil. Both were in the cafe's tomato, basil and lemon sauce.

We took home a slice of baklava, also among the city's best. ...

After dinner we walked across the parking lot to Dunkin' Donuts, which I wanted to visit because it has become the object of some right-wing complaining, even though the franchiser is known as being pretty right-wing itself. For the full story, you'll have to read our blog, OmnivoreAtlanta.com. ...

The Standard in Grant Park is featuring Korean barbecue on Wednesday nights. After a shaky start, the kitchen has made improvements, although I'm still not thrilled with its kimchi. But the pork, sliced thinner and more powerfully seasoned, is way better. I also like the rice cakes.

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