Dinner at Noon

Midtown's popular lunch spot eases into evening

Katie Birmingham, the owner/chef of Noon Midtown (1080 Peachtree St., 404-496-4891, www.noonmidtown.com), has a problem. She opened her restaurant a year ago as a breakfast and lunch spot. Now, though, she's scrapped breakfast and added dinner Tuesday through Saturday nights.

"Do you think," she asked me on the phone, "that our name will confuse people? Will they automatically think Noon only serves lunch?"

I confessed that I'd indeed balked when I first heard Noon was defying the implication of its name. But I told Birmingham that the restaurant has established a good rep during the last year, so I'm betting that as word gets around, people will only respond positively. Besides, even nonsensical one-word names have been popular during the last few years.

I've actually never reviewed Noon's lunch menu, although I've eaten there three or four times. It's one of those places that attracted an avalanche of attention so quickly, I was disinclined to add a redundant thumbs-up. But, yeah, I love the prosciutto, Parmesan and butter baguette and the meatloaf with Benton's bacon on ciabatta.

The worst thing about dining at Noon is the parking. The restaurant is in the rear of the 1010 building and faces Crescent Avenue. I had my first meal there on a Saturday night and pulled into the lot across the street where the attendant asked for $10. Buh-bye. Then, five minutes later and driving in circles, I wished I'd just paid the damn $10. But I came across a space on the street, three blocks away. It required paying one of those digital, city-enriching parking meters $4. Then I continually checked the time once we got to the restaurant.

The evening – or "after noon" – menu at Noon is brief. There are three sandwiches (including the meatloaf), eight snacks and starters, four entrées and three desserts. Sometimes an entrée special is available, too.

Birmingham has an interesting background. She worked at Bacchanalia for three years and for Guenter Seeger at Resto des Amis and Mumbo Jumbo. You couldn't work in those kitchens without developing sensitivity – maybe hypersensitivity – to detail. And that's exactly what shows up in her and sous chef Sean Telo's cooking.

It's easy to imagine one of the more intriguing starters, Green + Egg + Ham, coming from Seeger (minus, perhaps, the allusion to Dr. Seuss). This is an egg, boiled until hard enough to peel but still soft. Then it's coated in panko and fried, served with chopped Benton's country ham and, usually, asparagus. The evening I tried it, the kitchen was using delectable English peas instead. It's an almost comical dish, but full of intense flavor and pure comfort.

Attention to detail especially shows up in presentation. A beet salad, featuring the vegetable in three different forms, arrived on its white plate looking like an oversized corsage. An entrée of fastidiously arranged chicken delivered all the juicy flavor of its Springer Mountain brand. It was circumscribed by a ribbon of salsa verde so stimulating, I had to ask the ingredients. They included basil, chives, parsley, tarragon, Chilean olive oil, capers, cumin, black pepper and coriander. But there's more. Roasted radishes, some whole and some sliced, were nestled into the mainly boned chicken, along with fingerling potatoes.

Nearly as stunning was a couple of slightly crispy trout filets over a heap of fresh English peas scattered with bits of Eden Farms pork belly in a pool of apple cider reduction. Those peas, which also appeared with the fried egg, made yet another appearance in a bowl of perfect house-made fettuccine with ricotta and sliced mushrooms. Here, again, the peas were substituting for the usual asparagus.

I also sampled a starter of potato and Manchego croquettes with a hearty romesco sauce. The dish was a quick transit to Spain, where I've eaten it numerous times, often with Serrano ham added. (That's a hint.) A starter of piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese is another favorite snack in Spain. Noon grills the peppers until they are almost black. The smoky, piquant flavor plays against the creamy goat cheese, in much the same way that the romesco sauce nips at the creamy texture of the croquettes.

During my first meal at Noon, I ordered an entrée special – pork tenderloin over grits with braised spinach and a few pickled onions. It was as good as the other dishes we explored. Birmingham told me that she is still experimenting with the menu and may add more specials or items to the regular menu as the kitchen adapts to evening hours.

We've tried two desserts. The first was an affogato, the Italian dessert featuring a shot of espresso over gelato. Noon is making a vanilla ice cream that includes chunks of cake doughnuts from Sublime Doughnuts. It would be hard to go wrong with anything from Sublime, but I have to admit that Wayne and I both found the doughnut texture a bit lumpy. We also tried a flourless chocolate cake layered with strawberry purée and served with a startling strawberry sorbet. Normally, this dessert is made with salted caramel ice cream and normally I'm not fond of fruit combined with chocolate, but the intensity of the sorbet made this work.

Noon's décor, like its food, is sleek and pleasingly detailed, thanks to Birmingham's architect/husband and the help of the folks at ai3. Perhaps it bears mention that between the time Birmingham worked at Bacchanalia and opened Noon, she went back to school and practiced law – a detail-minded occupation if nothing – for five years. It's our luck that she turned her sharp focus back to food.

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