“Write what you know” is sage advice often attributed to Mark Twain or William Faulkner. The same is regularly said to chefs, who are encouraged to cook dishes close to their hearts and histories. While beautiful dishes can happen with a walk on the wild side, often the most heartfelt – and delicious – things happen with a deep knowledge of a culture’s history and traditions.
We’re fortunate that Atlanta has a myriad of stellar places to worship at the altar of beef (Hal’s, Chops and Oak Steak are favorites), but the new 101 Steak in Vinings can stand tall amongst these giants, and perhaps even teach a thing or two about pushing the culinary envelope. Instead of boring basics, 101 Steak is more like a graduate-level course. Chef Joe Ahn builds on a firm foundation of exacting technique, expertly chosen cuts and fresh ingredients. Then, he layers in his own creative touches with finesse and aplomb.
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta,” the late Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once said. I’m inclined to agree, particularly after my recent visit to il Giallo Osteria & Bar, run by Chef Jamie Adams and General Manager Leonardo Moura. My meal was transporting – from starters of earthy duck and rabbit meatballs nestled in a rich gravy of mushrooms and Vidalia onions, to plump agnolotti filled with rich roasted duck and nutty fontina cheese, to the heavenly pizza di fragole for dessert.
Cape Dutch is the kind of place that charms you to your very core. The menu of South African fare, while not huge, is so compelling that I was loathe to choose. Lemongrass mussels with coconut milk; Thai basil, seared scallops with cucumber noodles and quinoa tabbouleh; elk chop with spaghetti squash; and board of meats and cheeses from around the world all called my name. Lucky for me, restaurant owner Justin Anthony was on hand to offer his guidance.
With a focus on Basque cuisine, Cooks & Soldiers, the newest restaurant from Castellucci Hospitality Group, shines bright. From From vegan “tartare” to Trout Navarre (cooked on a flat-top grill with umami-laden black garlic, Iberico ham, Swiss chard, hazelnut romesco and crispy potatoes), Chef Landon Thompson’s varied menu is peppered with fresh, experimental twists that keep interest high. The wine list is glorious, heavily weighted toward those of Spanish origin.