No. 1: Bacchanalia
In the midst of Atlanta’s decimated fine-dining terrain, Bacchanalia, sturdy in its converted Westside meatpacking plant, reigns as monarch. Chefs-owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison safeguarded its survival by connecting to a broader audience than did lofty, defunct sovereigns like Seeger’s and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. Bacchanalia is one of the most tongue-in-cheek spaces in the country for an upscale restaurant: How can you feel uneasy about the modern art and the starched linens when mustard-colored concrete blocks, reminiscent of a public high school cafeteria, form the walls?
Locals embrace Bacchanalia, but it also acts as a gracious ambassador for the city. The four-course prix fixe menu—a celebration of the seasonal and a local reinterpretation of the American culinary revolution ignited in California—makes a knockout first impression. Go classic with foie gras au torchon styled with peach, honey, and brioche (paired with a Sauternes, natch), and then move into gutsier territory with a salad of Flat Creek Lodge’s nutty Georgia Red cheese tangled among pole beans, hazelnuts, flecks of country ham, and pickled shallots.
I wish more edginess surfaced in general. Being a leader bears responsibility. Bacchanalia indeed offers the city’s most memorable dining experience, but the kitchen needs to push itself beyond the safe zone into which it sometimes falls. Why were rainbow trout and Scottish salmon the only fish options at a recent meal? Boring. And the combination of beets and goat cheese appearing twice on the menu (as salad and as agnolotti filling)? Tired. A high-end destination in these times needs to please the masses, but our luminary restaurant also must drive the culinary conversation for those of us looking to be surprised, intrigued, and educated.
The restaurant's "beverage journal" lists cordial Southern cocktails like mint julep or a Pimm's Cup, but a glass of Champagne starts this meal with more sense of occasion. Every appetizer, starter, and dessert comes with a by-the-glass wine pairing suggestion; a much-expanded wine list covers every budget.
Photograph by Alex Martinez