Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dangerous Magic in Two... One...

Before I get to posting seriously, I'd like to thank Dave Kell of the inDecatur blog (see "Favorite Blogs" for a link) for organizing and putting together the Decatur Bloggers' tent at the Decatur Book Festival. It's fun to meet other Decatur bloggers and to have the opportunity to talk to people about the Random Oenophile blog. I spent an hour there today (Saturday) and will be there from 3:00-4:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Normally I hate August. It's hot. It's humid. It lasts forever. But one redeeming quality of the month is that it's restaurant week somewhere in Atlanta. Just as the various restaurant events work their magic to take our minds off of the misery of August, I couldn't help but notice how the Concentrics designers combined elements to create effects that ranged from sleight of hand to grand illusion. Not that that's a bad thing; for me, eating out should be an escape from reality beyond just not having to cook or do dishes.

Concentrics Restaurant Week brought me and Hubby to Two Urban Licks. The hostess desk is back-lit or surround-lit or, well, you get the idea, in lurid red. I'm not sure of the effect they're going for, but it makes me a little nervous, like I'm being purified under red light by the trendy patrol. Once we make it past that point, it's much easier to relax, especially when walking around the open kitchen in the center of the room, where chef Cameron Thompson surveys his domain. We're shown to a booth along the wall, and our very friendly server appears almost immediately to take cocktail orders. Although we're there for restaurant week, and they're not part of the prix fixe, we can't resist the Salmon Chips, or smoked salmon, capers, and red onions served on large potato chips:

It's the first fun surprise of the evening in that I think I was expecting chips made out of salmon, and this feels somehow elegant and decadent at the same time, like a grown-up play on the "fish and chips" concept. But that's the fun and magic of Two Urban Licks: the exaggeration. Everything in the restaurant combines to make you feel small and big at the same time. For example, there are large flower sculptures on the wall that could be Shirley Franklin accessories, but the view off the patio is a gorgeous one of the Atlanta skyline. Entree portions are huge, as you can see from the Bistro Steak:

Oh, and did I mention that was just two thirds of it? I forgot to take a picture before starting to eat it. I got another two meals out of the tender meat and potatoes.

Dessert portions are more reasonable, as you can see with the Spicy Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with Espresso Ice Cream and Raspberry Sauce:

The "spiciness" of the cakes is sneaky in that it shows up on the side of my tongue and in my throat after I swallow the bite. At first I think I'm allergic to something in it, but once I figure it out, I'm kind of like a little kid: "Do it again!" I need the ice cream, which, unfortunately, is made with real espresso. It's not a nice surprise when I pop wide awake at 4:00 the following morning.

One interesting thing about Two Urban Licks is that they have a "wall of barrels," from which they serve the wine. I have the Steele Cabernet Franc (Lake County, California), which is a little rough until it opens up to its dark fruit, but the finish is gorgeous and long with the fruit fading into cedar and vanilla. It's a good pairing with the steak.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Intimate but open, medium-high noise level
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Interesting
Wait staff: Very Good to Excellent
Desserts: Stimulating (would like to go back to try the Nutella bread pudding)
Vegetarian friendly? Somewhat
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

Midtown Restaurant Week brought us to another Concentrics restaurant, One Midtown Kitchen. I'll admit, we were drawn by the special of the evening, Memphis-style barbecue ribs served with a watermelon-corn salad and fries. I'll go ahead and get the picture out of the way here:

If Two is a journey into a culinary wonderland, One is a smooth ride to the heart of a bustling urban restaurant. This time the light illuminating the valet circle is a cool blue, and inside beyond the heavy curtains is somewhat dark. It's kind of like the culinary version of Space Mountain. To continue the analogy, the atmosphere is busy almost to the point of being chaotic which contrasts to the attentive service, so I'll let you figure out the hospitality sleight-of-hand there. Again, it's not a negative reflection on the restaurant at all; I'm impressed that our server is able to stay warm and friendly in spite of a packed house and being constantly in motion aside from when she pauses at tables. She even corrects the mistake that another server made with my black fig salad with good efficiency.

The ribs themselves are very good. I thought that Memphis-style meant a dry rub, but these have a sauce that is tangy with a little bit of a kick, which is cooled by the watermelon-corn salad. The wine, the 2005 Rojo Grenache Tempranillo also balances them nicely with its raisin/concord grape nose and smooth palate with hints of berry. Yes, I have the warm chocolate torte with mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. Thankfully there's no insomnia this time.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Busy, medium-high noise level
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Good variety
Wait staff: Excellent
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Somewhat
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

The only complaint I have about both these restaurants is the noise level. It seems that more could be done to dampen the cacophony because it's not very conducive to an intimate date-night dinner. One is worse than Two in that respect; I found myself escaping to the bathroom to give my ears a break. It could have a little to do with how busy it was, but others have shared that opinion as well. I admit to some sadness as well that tonight was Trois', the third restaurant in the series, last one.

The bottom line is that if you're looking for an escape from reality with good food and wine, One Midtown Kitchen and Two Urban Licks are good options.

Good news! I now have a web site where you can learn more about me and even read some of my fiction.

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