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					                                              Succulent sugarcaneskewered sea scallops seared oh so quickly
                                              are on the menu at Repast, one of Atlanta's best restaurants.

                                   New Tempo
                      A revitalized Ritz and a midtown revival
                          quicken the pace By John Mariani

           he Atlanta dining scene is in a delectable state of flux. For years, most of the new and excit-
           ing restaurants were being opened in the Buckhead section, while downtown was coasting on
           conventioneer business. Now midtown is stealing Buckhead's thunder with its own explosion
           of new offices and condos, including the vast Atlanta Station development and Renzo Piano's
magnificent additions to the High Museum of Art. Around all this activity, new restaurants are flocking.
   At the same time, there has also been a seismic shift at the                 and to prevent Atlanta from having only one haute cuisine
high end of Atlanta's gastronomy. Few gourmets mourned the                      restaurant-The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead,
closing of The Abbey (amen to that!), where waiters wore friars'                which has consistently ranked as one of the finest in America.
habits and the wine list was heavenly, but most were sad to see                   Fortunately, Ritz management has not backed away from the
the demise of Brasserie LeCoze, run by Maguy LeCoze of New                      idea that a city like Atlanta deserves and needs a restaurant like
York's Le Bernardin.                                                            The Dining Room. The chefs who have passed through its
  Earlier this year, the city almost lost the illustrious Seeger's              kitchen, from Guenter Seeger at its inception to Joel Antunes
(reviewed in Wine Spectator, Nov. 15, 1998) after a downturn in                 (now at his namesake restaurant in Buckhead) and Bruno
business. But a guardian angel swooped in to stabilize Seeger's                 M6nard (now in Japan), set lofty standards. Today, Arnaud

132    W I N E SPECTATOR   N O V . 30, 2006
 Ecco, in the heart of midtown,
 delights diners with its refined
yet welcoming decor and a bold
        European-inspired menu
   created by chef Micah Willix.    I
                                                                       ties-in Egypt, in Naples, Fla., and in St. Thomas, Virgin
                                                                       Islands-bolstering his claim that: "I learned to cook so I could
                                                                       travel." His is a style with great flourish, but one that also focuses
                                                                       intensely on essential flavors rather than digressive ones, best ap-
                                                                       preciated by way of his eight-course tasting menu ($132; with
                                                                       wines chosen by Pabros, $247).
                                                                          You might begin with an amuse bouche of chilled lobster and
                                                                       coconut bisque, t h e n follow with a cream of distilled
                                                                       chanterelles with the surprising and delicious addition of truffle
                                                                       ice cream, truffle shavings and a foamy reduction of leeks-all
                                                                       of which melds impeccably well. Quail breast and ballotine
                                                                       come with cauliflower tabbouleh, while a pave of wild John
                                                                       Dory is garnished with crisp skin, a duxelles of morels, and
                                                                       chanterelle jus with asparagus on the side. In every case, the
                                                                       flavors both complement each other and build in richness as
                                                                       the meal moves on.
                                                                          A fillet of Peking duck, glazed with cocoa (rather than
                                                                       honey), takes well to a rhubarb compote spiked with horse-
                                                                       radish, and even the additions of tuna tartare and a spicy tomato
                                                                       consomme work to tame the seasoning and give another dimen-
                                                                       sion to this unusual dish.
      naud Beithelrer (left),restaurant manager Claude Guillaume and
       a Chantelle Pabros make The Dining Room at The Riiarlton,          There are excellent breads and a fine array of perfect cheeses.
       d, the pinnicle of haute cuisine in Atlanta.                     Desserts are inventive but not extravagant, from a napoleon of
                                                                       grapefruit and yogurt with honey yogurt ice cream and candied
       er, from Lorraine, France, maintains those standards. He         grapefruit gelee to a milk-chocolate soup with toasted coconut
       st the equal of his predecessors, and his presence gives so-     parfait, caramelized bananas and macadamia nougatine. At
       tes, especially those with a palate for fine wine, an entic-     meal's end, a cart festooned with candies, cookies and pastries is
           to return to this elegant establishment.                     wheeled over.
           or has been lightened a bit without disturbing its gen-
           ess, and service is certainly the most refined in the                 o recent attempts have been made in Atlanta to repli-
       gmnning with 24-year-old sommelier Chantelle Pabros                       cate food of this high order, but the new additions in
            at Joel Antunes Restaurant). She oversees a list of                  midtown aim amiably at the heart and soul of contem-
              labels and a cellar of enormous breadth and depth        porary cooking. One such restaurant is Repast, which on first
                                                                       glance might seem gimmicky. The husband-and-wife team of Joe
              r favorites right now include Biondi-Santi Brunello      Truex and Mihoko Obunai are serious about their food and wine
         talcino Riserva 1982 ($600), Chateau Palmer 1982              and about pleasing their customers, The menu admirably reflects
        and m t e a u Latour 1990 ($1,040), along with a growing       their personal taste, with rich flavors, tantalizing seasonings and
        dy list that includes J.F. Coche-Dury Meursault Les            generous portions.
      alKres 2002 ($575) and library releases from Domaine               The 54-seat, two-level restaurant is slightly subterranean; you
      ve and Domaine Leroy, such as Domaine Leroy Gevrey-              walk down a ramp into a high-ceilinged dining room of exposed
       berth Les Corbeaux 1985 ($720). She also enjoys bot-            concrete and heavy wooden beams, but the tall windows provide
       from rising stars such as Christophe Perrot-Minot and           a wonderful airy ambience, helped further by a completely open
      nkgociant Lucien Le Maine, who has made a 2005 Beaune            kitchen and a loftlike lounge area upstairs.
        cru Pinot Noir especially for The Dining Room; it will be         Begin with homemade charcuterie and a glass of icy 1+1=3
                                                                       Cava. It is impossible not to love a dish like red ruby trout
,  Eight vintages each of Silver Oak, Opus One, Beaux Freres           wrapped in serrano ham and cradled in sweet corn succotash
..d Climat are included in the California Cabernet
      Au Bon                                                           and a lemon-herb butter that floats all the flavors. So too, or-
'section. There are even local wines from Georgia wineries such        ganic heirloom stone-ground grits make a big textural differ-
 @ Persimmon Creek. Half-bottles total 169 selections.                 ence; they are scented with toasted garlic and placed next to
   I addition to stints at Michel GuCrard and La Tour $Argent
    n                                                                  fresh Georgia shrimp with the bite of preserved lemon sauce.
-h  France, Louis XV in Monaco and Lespinasse in Washington,           Sugarcane is slipped through milky sea scallops that are quickly
 D.C., Berthelier has cooked at three other Ritz-Carlton proper-       grilled, accompanied by a tangy-sweet salsa of green papaya and
                                                                       aromatics of coconut-jasmine rice and a curry vinaigrette.
                                                                       Muscovy duck breast is cooked a la plancha, on the griddle, and
          Sptor                           his C O W fine
                         online M n " Macross theVcountry
                                                                       served with a red-wine reduction and a risotto with snails. For
       and around the world: for com~lete
                                        archives. vlsit
                                                                       dessert, don't fail to order the light cheesecake souffle, dressed
                                                                       with citrus zest and tropical purees.
     Repast's wine list offers only about 50 selections, but they are
  well-chosen and pair wonderfully with the restaurant's cuisine;
  most bottlings cost less than $75 and go with entrees that peak at
  $26. A pretty white like Hook & Ladder Chardonnay 2003 ($44)
  can be had alongside a bold JC Cellars Syrah Santa Barbara
  County Fess Parker's Vineyard 2004 ($72).
     Repast is a sheer delight. But if I were to name the Atlanta
  establishment that combines all the best instincts of a restaura-
  teur with commitment to quality in every regard, it would be
  Ecco, also in midtown. From the breads and homemade charcu-
  terie to the wood-burning oven and fresh pastas, from the
  smashing decor by Johnson Studio to a wine list impeccably
  geared toward Ecco's menu, no detail has been overlooked. Ecco
  provides casual comfort and the kind of food one could easily
  eat any night of the week.
     It's really no wonder: Ecco's owner is Fifth Group Restaurants,     Ecco Invites diners into the relaxed sopnlacatlon of w spaclous alnlng room.
  which, along with t h e Buckhead Life
  Restaurant Group, is to Atlanta what                                                            white asparagus and pixie tangerines; and
  Myriad Restaurants is to New York, what                                                         fabulous fig-glazed lamb loin with warm
  China Grill Management is to Miami, and                                                         potatoes and chicory.
- what Starr Restaurant Organization is to                                                           If you didn't order cheese in a previous
  Philadelphia. That is, it is a developer of                                                     course, now's the time; if you opt for dessert,
  concepts that seem as prescient as they are                                                     there's a lovely pine nut tart with citron-butter-     ,
   polished. Fifth Group is behind the two                                                        milk ice milk, a coffee panna cotta, a hazelnut        i
   South City Kitchens, The Food Studio, La                                                       praline, chilled zabaglione or a mixed berry           i
  Tavola Trattoria and Sala-Sabor de                                                              crostata with vanilla ice milk                         j
1  Mexico, so they have proved their savvy
. &me and again. Ecco is their best yet.
                                                                                                     The wine list of about 120 selections is
                                                                                                  solid and reflective of the cuisine, with very
      It's a big, casually chic place, with 260                                                   few overly familiar labels on it. In fact, there
, seats set within what used to be t h e                                                          are seven or so "Ecco exclusives," which the
   Atlanta Fencing Club. When you walk                                                            restaurant says you won't find elsewhere in            ,

   in, you are greeted cordially. To your                                                         Atlanta. Exclusives are offered in 250ml and
   right are displays of cheeses, charcuterie and-wife team behind Repast.                        500ml carafes and include Domaine La
   and bread (save room for them all) that                                                        Hitaire Vin de Pays des C6tes de Gascogne
   immediately whet the appetite. To the left, is a well-popu-            White Les Tours 2005 and Bodegas Arrocal Ribera del Duero
   lated bar; outside is a patio for 44.                                  2004. All 500ml carafes cost less than $25.
      The spaciousness of the room, with Carrara marble and a                 By the bottle, there are some fascinating choices at good prices,
                               a tiled wood-burning oven, allows for      such as Marco Felluga Molamatta 2005 ($48) and Chehalem
            to be comfortably distant from one another. Well-set ta-       Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Ridgecrest Vineyards 2003 ($70).
                                   and good stemware, and an excep-           Repast and Ecco have buoyed midtown's revival and mani-
              service staff presents t h e wonderfully flavorful          fested a fresh new culinary spirit in Atlanta. And if you're
                           food of Micah Willix, formerly at Mark's        looking for the finest haute cuisine in the South, The Ritz,
   Les Olas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.                                       thank heavens, is still there in Buckhead.
      There's a lot to choose from on the long menu, starting with         C-           editor John W has coriuenfor Wine Spectator s n e 1993.
   that great charcuterie, savory cheeses and delicious pizzas
   straight from the oven. But don't go overboard up front; there
   are other appetizers well worth having: crisply fried squash
                                                                           The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead
                                                                           3434 Peachtree Rcud Telephone (404) 240-7035 Web slte
   blossoms stuffed with piquillo peppers; grilled squid with              Open Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday Cost Tasting menus $88-$153 Credlt
   crushed olives; and creamy almond-coated sweetbreads with               cards A major Best of Award of Excellence
                                                                                  U                                                                  !
   Sherry. Pastas are excellent, including pappardelle topped with
   chile-garlic braised pork, and spaghetti alla chitarra with little-     Ecco
                                                                           40 7th St. Telephone (404) 347-9555 Web site
   neck clams and guanciale.
                                                                           Open Dinner, daily Cost En~ries 1-$34 Credit cards A major
                                                                                                            $1                    U
      Frankly, these delectables may leave you entirely content to
   head right for dessert, but there are fine dishes to be found           Repast
   among the entrees too: the mushroom-and-speck-stuffed redfish           620 N . Glen lris Drive Telephone (404) 870-8707 Web site wcuw.repast
   with sauteed spinach; braised breast of veal with grana cheese- Open Dinner, Monday to Saturday Cost EnMes $1 6-$29
                                                                           Credlt cards A major
   enriched potatoes; silky, slowly roasted pork shoulder with

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