Feedbag - Come in from the cold

Atmosphere's cozy environs and hearty fare warm the soul

Whether or not it actually feels like it, winter has arrived in Atlanta. Overcast days, leafless trees, nightfall by 5 p.m. The time is ripe to visit cozy French bistros like Atmosphere. Warm light pouring from the big front windows was the first good sign. The second was a welcoming French hostess, eager to seat us even though we didn't have a reservation. The third (the clincher) was a basket of bread whisked over post-haste — crusty and warm from the oven, with a dish of softened butter on the side. This is my kind of place.

Atmosphere is located in a rehabbed bungalow just around the corner from Ansley Mall on Piedmont. Though the standard-issue bistro decor — honey-toned hardwoods, white linen tablecloths, French art posters on the walls — doesn't do much to distinguish the place, it is charming regardless. The front room, with its big, dreamy picture windows, is especially inviting. A small bar opens onto a glass-enclosed dining room populated by a handful of cozy tables. It's as intimate as can be.

The menu's French bistro fare is sophisticated but homey. After the gluttony of the holidays, a simple salad of mixed greens topped with a scattering of briny olives and shavings of nutty parmesan is the freshest, liveliest thing I've tasted in ages. Ditto for melt-in-your-mouth slivers of lemony, peppery beef carpaccio.

The urge to indulge returns with the main course, and I welcome my steak frites with enthusiasm. Though the frites are disappointingly soggy, the pink hanger steak, dressed in an earthy porcini mushroom sauce, elicits profound feelings of contentment. An entree of duck leg confit is tender as can be, though a shade too salty. The flavor seems flat. Sauteed potatoes, crisp and caramelized around the edges, perk up the dish a bit. Slender, buttery haricots verts come on the side with both entrees, and they round things out nicely.

Service for the first two-thirds of the meal was impeccable — our heavily accented French server was attentive, friendly and helpful with the wine list. But a big table came in right as we were finishing up our entrees, and things took a turn for the worse. Our dessert menus took 10 minutes, the actual dessert 10 minutes more. And once our profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce finally arrived, they were an abysmal disappointment. The pastry puffs were dry, the ice cream was hard and the sauce tasted like Hershey's.

Alas, I suppose it happens. With a few pounds to lose at the moment, it's not as if I really needed a decadent French dessert. It's just a shame that things went sour at the end of an otherwise enchanted evening. The moral of this story? Drink the wine, eat the food, savor the ambience ... skip dessert.


Covering Brookhaven to Inman Park

LIGHT MY FIRE Feeling a bit of the post-holiday slump? Well, nothing beats the wintertime blahs like a roaring fire. Stop in at one of these spots and get instantly cozy: Einstein's (1077 Juniper St., 404-876-7925, www.einsteinsatlanta.com) has a fabulous fireplace in the lounge. Grab a seat by the fire and order a martini. In the mood for a scene? Make a beeline for hotspot Two Urban Licks (820 Ralph McGill Blvd., 404-522-4622, www.twourbanlicks.com). If the blazing tower of roasting meats doesn't warm you up, the cocktails surely will. For those of us returning to Atkins after a month of carb indulgence, there's Fogo de Chao (3101 Piedmont Road, 404-266-9988, www.fogodechao.com). Nothing warms the soul like a crackling fire and a plate piled high with grilled meat carved at the table. A slightly more romantic option is the Food Studio (887 W. Marietta St., 404-815-6677, www.fifthgroup.com). Mellow lighting, a glass of wine and a table by the fire are sure to get your blood flowing again. Feeling better yet?

THAT'S THE SPIRIT Join the bar crowd at Spice every Wednesday night from 5-11 p.m. for the restaurant's Cheers for Charity series. A portion of bar sales each week goes to major local charities. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.

CHEESE, GLORIOUS CHEESE All week, beginning Tues., Jan. 18, Eno in Midtown pays homage to classic cheeses with a special three-course menu. The fromage-focused menu is $35 per person, wine pairings extra. 800 Peachtree St. 404-685-3191. www.eno-atlanta.com.

SIP OF THE MEDITERRANEAN Learn all about Spanish and Portuguese wines Tues., Jan. 18, at Woodfire Grill. Wine director Greg Koetting hosts a talk and tasting featuring varietals like Rioja, Ribero del Duero, Penedes and Rias Baixas. The evening will also include a sampling of chef Michael Tuohy's tapas. $20 per person (space is limited to 30 people, so make reservations early). 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.

100 PERCENT NATURAL CELEBRATION Inman Park Patio will host a slow food dinner featuring Sweetwater beers Wed., Jan. 26. A reception begins at 7 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:30. The four-course meal is $45 per person, plus tax and tip. 1029 Edgewood Ave. 404-659-5757. www.inmanparkpatio.com.

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