Of hipsters and hanger steak at Top Flr
Plus 5 Seasons and La Pietra Cucina revisited
Last week, I visited three restaurants where I haven't dined in a while. Like every decent restaurant in the city now, they all have menus seductive to locavores. I certainly appreciate the trend, but I'm officially giving up trying to cite the source of every sprig and pig on such menus. Just feel free to sing "Old McDonald Had a Farm" when you go through the doors of these three restaurants.
First up was Top Flr (674 Myrtle St., 404-685-3110). I dined there with five friends on Friday night. I knew I was in a bit of trouble when I had to explain the meaning of the word "hipster" to one friend, as the DJ cranked up the music and the young in skinny jeans, asymmetrical haircuts and horn-rim glasses swarmed into the restaurant to groove and discuss Michele Bachmann's secret life as a transvestite married to a retired member of the Village People.
Actually, the crowd at Top Flr is pretty mixed, especially early on, and the food is great. But I might as well get my one complaint out of the way. The service staff was an odd blend of the couldn't-be-bothered and the totally attentive. Mutual annoyance erupted when we showed up as six instead of the five for whom I made a reservation. We were seated at a low, tiny table in the window like mannequins at Macy's. I refused to sit there and pointed out that the original table held for us could easily accommodate six. I could practically hear the host's teeth grinding.
Then the service became oddly irregular. Courses arrived in odd sequence. Eventually, a very sweet-tempered server squatted by our table and explained that the sous chef, who was running the kitchen that night, had gone to the hospital after slicing off a chunk of his thumb. Executive chef Shane Devereux had been summoned.
Meanwhile, the food itself didn't seem to suffer. Sweet lump crab meat floated in a piquant gazpacho with a truffled crouton. Mussels arrived in a fragrant cloud of the coconut-lime soy broth in which they were steamed.
A hanger steak was grilled and served in a splash of garlic-lime jus while fire-roasted pork tenderloin was flavored with an unusual sauce vierge.
Huge sea scallops contrasted with parsnip purée and a beet-truffle vinaigrette. A surprise was one of the best treatments of tough tofu I've encountered — crispy and chewy with a touch of orange-apple flavor, served with baby bok choy. Try it. Really.
I ordered the only dessert to hit the table — a caramel panna cotta spiked with pepper and topped with a dollop of thick cherry jam. I did not offer to share it.
The evening's disappointment was my starter, sautéed asparagus in a grapefruit vinaigrette. That much was delicious, but the asparagus was garnished with chopped bits of Italian parsley or cilantro that absolutely did not belong. I cleaned them off each spear and was happy.
On the Westside
I next landed at 5 Seasons Brewing Company (1000 Marietta St., 404-875-3232) with Wayne. Admittedly, this was after attempting to go to the packed Do and Bocado, which had closed for the evening. Years ago, I loved the Sandy Springs 5 Seasons when Dennis Lange ran the kitchen. But the Westside location may be the noisiest restaurant in the city, so I've avoided it.
Happily, just after 10 p.m. on a Saturday, the restaurant was almost deserted and eerily quiet. Our meal wasn't great, wasn't bad. We both ordered starters from the menu of specials. Wayne's Hawaiian white tuna sashimi was the dinner's highlight. Sliced into virtual triangles, the fish was firm but creamy, served with red radishes and (unneeded) wasabi mayo. If it's available, order it.
My own starter — a melon salad with crispy ham, toasted cashews, goat cheese and honey — didn't measure up. The proudly sourced, organic honeydew was bland, watery and so generic in taste that I wasn't really sure what kind of melon it was.
My main plate, from the regular menu, was two fat links of house-made Bratwurst with salads, a wedge of blue cheese and some French bread.
The Bratwurst oddly crumbled every time I sliced it. The accompanying chunky potato salad satisfied me but the cold sauerkraut was weirdly gooey.
Wayne's salmon with "spicy red Thai sauce" wasn't the least bit spicy, but the fish ranked up there with the sashimi starter — intensely flavorful, meaty and fresh.
Dessert was a peach tart with ice cream — basically a cobbler with a nice shape. Good enough.
Lunch of the week
I hit La Pietra Cucina (1545 Peachtree St., 404-888-8709) for lunch last week and chef Bruce Logue was in fine form. Among the dishes I sampled: oxtail ravioli, a caprese salad, an open-face sandwich of lamb ragu and two ice creams. I could go on.
My visit was prompted by a friend's notation that Atlanta magazine had placed the restaurant rather low on its list of the city's 50 best restaurants. As far as ambiance goes, I've never been keen on Pietra's stuffy décor ever since it left the tiny dining room in which it began.
But Logue's food remains among my topmost favorites in the city.