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Evan Mah

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Evan Mah joined Atlanta magazine full time in November 2013 after a successful internship in summer 2012. Chinese by heritage but Southern at heart, he grew up in the chicken-frying, biscuit-baking kitchens of his parents’ restaurants in Mississippi. In 2009 he moved to Atlanta to attend Emory University, where he majored in journalism and sociology and served as editor in chief of the campus newspaper, The Emory Wheel. A lover of Bordeaux, breadbaskets, and afternoon naps, he’s positive he’s going to set the world record for youngest person ever to have gout.

Atlanta is quietly losing one of its best—and most creative—wine shops

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Le Caveau wine
Le Caveau closes its doors this month

Photograph by Matthew Lane @zazenphoto.com

It was just like any other day at Le Caveau. I walked into Eric Brown’s Chamblee wine shop, and he grabbed a glass from the shelf. “You have to try this.”

It was a white wine by Oriol Artigas in Catalonia, Spain. The wine was a blend of Pansa Blanca and Pansa Rosada, two varietals I didn’t know existed by a producer I’d never heard of in a region I never think about. I Googled the name of the wine—one other store in the United States sold it, and it was 900 miles away in New York.

Visits to Le Caveau always started with a taste of something, and Brown poured the wine like it was business as usual. And yet, it wasn’t. The previous afternoon he had announced that after seven years, he would not be renewing his lease and the shop would be closed by end of the July. Everything in the store had to go, and within hours, customers had swept through and picked over almost every bottle and accessory, all marked down by 20 percent. By the time I arrived the next morning, most of the shelves had been emptied.

“Of course it’s emotional when you’ve been doing something for seven years and all of the sudden you stop,” Brown says. “But this is going to be a positive thing for myself personally and for what we want to do going forward. This isn’t something to get somber about.”

Many of the wines Brown sold were organic or biodynamic, a style that he was hip to long before they became trendy. Grocery stores today pitch “free-range” and “organic.” Likewise, wineries pitch “low sulfites” and “grown without pesticides or herbicides.” Brown calls these “real wines,” believing they express their roots and their sense of place better than something mass-produced and sprayed down with chemicals. At Le Caveau he trusted small vignerons like Rhone’s Herve Souhaut, Jura’s Philippe Bornard, and California’s Dirty & Rowdy to convince us.

From New York to San Francisco to Hong Kong, I’ve seen entire wine lists built on the names Brown fought so hard to sell here in Georgia. (It’s a long process to get a producer to sell in a new market.) Over the past seven years, he helped cull that same devotion among his customers.

“The reception has been amazing. Nobody [in Atlanta] was bringing these wines to the market, and so there just wasn’t a lot of exposure,” said Brown, who was quick to assure me that sales were not a factor in his decision to close. “We were seeing growth. I’ve just been wondering how we could do something bigger and with a wider reach in Atlanta and/or the Southeast.”

Does he know what that is yet? Not really. “I still feel like we have some work to do, and we have to figure out the best way to do it. Is it the traditional retail setting? Is it a wine bar? Is it something else? I honestly don’t know.”

I’m happy for Brown, but I’m sad to lose Le Caveau. The store was the definition of individuality, a bright splash of color in a market where wine selections are largely uniform. Brown was intensely knowledgeable and personal—to the point that he might casually plan a trip for you to Germany, where he lived for three years. But what really set Brown apart was his unbending sense of commitment to his view of good wine. He pushed our tastes to unexpected parts of the world. From Spain to France to Italy, he took a look at well-known regions and sussed out the unknown bottles and varietals you didn’t know you wanted until you tried them. He took risks, and we drank better because of it.

Before leaving, I looked over what was left on the shelves and saw something that I didn’t expect to see, even at Le Caveau: a Jura Chardonnay by Les Dolomies. I last had it three years ago at a dinner in New York. The nutty, funky-fresh wine sang with everything from a salty beef tartare to creamy burrata on toast. I’d been searching for the wine ever since. Online searches had come up short, unless I had plans to cross the Atlantic to a store in Alsace, France. But here it was, in Chamblee, Georgia, four bottles sitting on the rack. I grabbed three, but if that last bottle is still there, you should go get it. It might be your last chance to try it.

Le Caveau wine
Le Caveau was known for rare and unique wines, including the Jura Chardonnay by Les Dolomies (second from left).

Photograph by Evan Mah

Evan Mah is the former food editor of Atlanta magazine and now the managing editor for international wine critic James Suckling.

We can’t pick just one favorite banh mi in Atlanta—so here are three

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Bahn Mi Atlanta
(L-R) #6 Combination at Quoc Huong, BBQ Pork at We Suki Suki, and Special Sandwich at Lee’s Bakery

Photograph by Josh Meister

#6 Combination
Quoc Huong
Why we love it The pork sausage is deliciously rich, and the toasted, glistening bread has major crunch factor. $3 (cash only)
Baguette La Petite France Bakery (Marietta)
Protein Pork sausage, pâté, steamed pork, meatloaf
Veg Pickled shredded carrots, cucumber, jalapeño
Sauce Amber-toned aioli

BBQ Pork
We Suki Suki
Why we love it The thinly sliced pork is super tender, and the veggies are sweet and crunchy. It’s the priciest, but also the most well made. $6
Baguette Hong Kong Bakery (Jimmy Carter Boulevard)
Protein Soy-marinated char-siu–style pork
Veg Cucumber slices, sweet pickled daikon, carrots, jalapeño, cilantro
Sauce Extra-rich, buttery aioli

Special Sandwich
Lee’s Bakery
Why we love it It’s a perfectly executed classic with a deservedly huge following. On average, the kitchen cranks out 2,000 sandwiches a day. $3.25
Baguette Made in-house
Protein Ham, bologna, pork head cheese, liver pâté
Veg Cilantro, jalapeño, carrots, daikon, radish, cucumber
Sauce Mayo

This article originally appeared in our November 2016 issue.

Extravagant tableside service is poised for a comeback in Atlanta

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Tableside service Atlanta
A server at Viande Rouge prepares bananas foster tableside.

Photograph by Johnny Autry

When Petite Auberge opened in 1974, it rode in on the coattails of midcentury continental cuisine. Wedged in the corner of a strip mall in North Druid Hills, the staunchly French restaurant had carpeted floors, gold-plated chandeliers, and white tablecloths. It served the classics then—vichyssoise, escargots à la Provence, coquilles St. Jacques—and still does four decades later. “If you look at our menu in 1974 and our menu today, a lot of items are still the same,” says co-owner Michael Gropp. “Maybe we’re just stubborn.”

Petite Auberge is also one of a handful of restaurants that still ferry carts loaded with burners and pans right into the dining room, where servers carve Châteaubriands and ignite baked Alaskas. Indeed, tableside service was once de rigueur in fine-dining establishments like Pano’s & Paul’s, where tuxedoed servers sauteed Dover sole from a gueridon.

Luxury restaurants today are not nearly so buttoned up or so French, and rarely do they employ servers trained to perform feats of dining theater. As a result, tableside traditions have largely fallen away—but not entirely. At Gunshow, which opened in 2013, chefs roam the floor, personally pitching their dishes to each customer. At Viande Rouge, a cabaret-like steakhouse that opened in Johns Creek in 2011, servers sear steak Diane, flambé bananas Foster, and toss Caesar salads from wheeled carts. And we’ve seen an uptick in entrees that command the attention of other tables: the whole chicken at Little Bacch, a 2.2-pound steak at Cooks & Soldiers, beef Wellington at Marcel. “We’re going to see a resurgence,” Gropp predicts. “[These days] every new restaurant has an open kitchen because people are interested in how the chefs are working. There’s great entertainment value in tableside service.”

Kevin Brown, a general manager at Chops, agrees, adding that the “pendulum is swinging the other way. “The last generation of diners didn’t want opulence. They wanted straightforward. But after 10, 20, 30 years, people start to say, ‘That was kind of cool.’”

Dinner and a show

Tableside service Atlanta
The Mercury will also make Rob Roys and martinis tableside.

Photograph by Johnny Autry

Manhattans at the Mercury
In keeping with its 1960s decor, the Mercury offers four era-appropriate cocktails mixed tableside. Order a Manhattan and the staff will wheel over a retro bar cart equipped with a beaker filled with fist-sized ice cubes. Next the bartender pours in rye and vermouth, stirring it with a spoon and adding bitters. The chilled concoction is decanted into coupes garnished with cherries. $60, serves four

Crepes flambé at Dolce Italian
Legend has it that crepes Suzette was created when a server in 19th-century France accidentally caught his pan on fire. This off-the-menu version is a modern-day riff. Chef Paolo Dorigato fills crepes with pastry cream infused with orange and lemon zest, douses them in orange liqueur, and sets them ablaze. Crepes are served with a side of vanilla ice cream. $12

Dover sole at Chops
Revered for its delicate taste and tender flesh, this fresh dover sole is cooked in the kitchen and deboned in front of guests. The server then heats lemon-infused olive oil in a pan until it sizzles, pours it over the fillets, and garnishes with parsley and capers. $46

Cafe diablo at Bistro Niko
Manager Sam Than starts by pouring Kahlúa, triple sec, and hot coffee into a large goblet, then uses a zester to produce a two-foot curl of orange rind, all while heating a brandy-filled ladle on a small gas burner. After setting the brandy alight, he pours the flaming liquor down the rind and into the goblet, where it extinguishes. The rind goes into the coffee, which is topped with whipped cream and served piping hot. For added effect, Than will briefly set the tablecloth ablaze with a flourish from the ladle. $20
—Evan Mah and Scott Henry

This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue.

Dim Sum Heaven might be Atlanta’s next great Chinese restaurant

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Steamed pork with salted egg.
Steamed pork with salted egg.

Photograph by Evan Mah

Dim Sum Heaven is easy to miss along Buford Highway’s dizzying stretch of international restaurants, wedged here and there, on top of each other, in corners, and behind shopping centers. It’s like an episode of hoarders but for city planners. Even when I was looking for the front door, I missed it, my attention drawn to Chef Liu and Bo Bo Garden, two much-loved restaurants that, I think, have slid over the years. But in the same strip mall, in between both, is Dim Sum Heaven.

I’ve been twice, and both times the dining room has been largely empty. It shouldn’t be. Among a long menu with too many pages devoted to the usual Americanized suspects, you can pluck out some exceptional gems. Wondering who currently makes the best soup dumplings in Atlanta? They’re here. No bigger than a key lime, full of rich broth, and encased in a smooth, pliable skin that never bursts when you pick it up, these xiao long baos were eerily similar to the ones I ordered last month in Los Angeles at Din Tai Fung, a global chain out of Taiwan widely recognized as masters of the art.

I say “currently makes” because Chinese kitchens can turn faster than an avocado. These chefs shuffle between restaurants, often giving no notice either to their employer or to their loyal fans. Go now before the magic disappears. Peerless, too, were the har gow, a shrimp dumpling wrapped in delicate rice wrapper. The wrapper was light with an al dente bite, and the shrimp inside were minerally-fresh. On a second visit, the skins were gummier, like the cheung fun noodles rolled with shrimp, but compared to what other dim sum restaurants shell out, they’re still worth ordering. Better were the shu mai, steamed pork dumplings. They taste much better than they look. Or maybe just crowd your table with deep fried pork and leek dumplings. Yes, deep fried, and they’re stuffed with so much meat that you know the kitchen didn’t buy them down the street at a grocery store.

But these dishes, no matter how great they are, aren’t what call me back. My siren song is the steamed pork with salted egg yolk. It’s a Cantonese specialty, and one of the five dishes my Pol Pol cooks when I visit her. Pork mixed with crunchy water chestnuts is steamed and then covered in strands of ginger and chopped chives. Eating it is my Ratatouille moment, my ticket to a small apartment in Memphis, my reminder of how much she misses me, and I her.

How to make craft Jell-O shots

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Jello shots
Vodka is a time-honored choice, but try making these chamomile paloma shots with other clear spirits like Japanese shochu.

Photograph by Ryan Hayslip

With so much attention (and beard-stroking seriousness) given to high-end cocktails and specialty spirits, it’s easy to miss the fun in drinking. “Fancy cocktails are good for what they’re good for,” says T. Fable Jeon, Le Fat’s consulting beverage director. But sometimes you need something festive and laid-back. We asked Jeon to reimagine the ultimate lowbrow party drink—the Jell-O shot—for today’s tastes.

Strawberry-Cucumber Caipirinha
3.5 packets Knox Original Gelatine
3 oz. rich simple syrup
8 oz. sweet lime syrup*
2 oz. fresh lime juice
8 oz. Strawberry-Cucumber cachaça*

Pour sweet lime syrup in a small pot over low heat to bring just below simmer. Gradually and evenly add Knox Original Gelatine, stirring intermittently until fully dissolved. Remove from heat; add cachaça, rich simple syrup, and fresh lime juice. Stir together, and pour into a shallow baking pan. Place in refrigerator to set overnight. Cut into squares using a sharp knife.

*To make the Strawberry-Cucumber Caipirinha, muddle 3 fresh Strawberries and 6 seedless cucumber slices into 8 oz. of cachaça. Strain and bottle.

*To make the sweet lime syrup, dilute 12 oz. frozen limeade concentrate with 12 oz.water. Add 4 oz. fresh lime juice. Stir until dissolved. Set aside.

Chamomile Paloma
3.5 packets Knox Original Gelatine
8 oz. sweet lime syrup*
½ oz. agave nectar
4 oz. triple sec (Cointreau preferred)
5 oz. chamomile-infused tequila*
12 oz. Jarritos Grapefruit Soda

Combine syrup and nectar in a small pot over very low heat to bring just below simmer. Gradually and evenly add gelatine, stirring intermittently until fully dissolved. Remove from heat; add triple sec, tequila, and soda. Stir, and pour into a shallow baking pan. Place in refrigerator to set overnight. Cut into squares using a sharp knife. Garnish with grapefruit zest.

*To make the tequila, steep 4 chamomile tea bags in 750ml of room temperature blanco tequila. Remove tea bags after 90 minutes of infusion time. Set aside.

*To make the sweet lime syrup, dilute 12 oz. frozen limeade concentrate with 12 oz. water. Add 4 oz. fresh lime juice. Stir until dissolved. Set aside.

Yuzu Chuhai
3 ½ oz. yuzu juice
3 oz. rich simple syrup*
7 oz. shochu
5 ½ oz. soda water

Combine juice and syrup in a small pot over very low heat to bring just below simmer. Gradually and evenly add Knox Original Gelatine, stirring intermittently until fully dissolved. Remove from heat; add shochu and soda water. Stir together, and pour approximately half of the mixture into a shallow baking pan. Place in freezer for up to 20 minutes to induce rapid setting. Check mixture at intervals to ensure that no freezing occurs. Once the mixture is fully set, break apart the formed gelatin into smaller pieces. Pour the remainder of the mixture over the now-separated gelatin pieces. Place in refrigerator to set overnight. Cut into squares using a sharp knife. Garnish with lemon zest.

*To make the rich simple syrup, combine 2 parts sugar with 1 part filtered water in blender. Mix until dissolved. Bottle and refrigerate.

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.

3 must-see acts at the newly-opened City Winery

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City WineryWhat wine pairs with Aaron Neville’s buttery tenor? Find out at City Winery, Ponce City Market’s newest attraction. The 26,000-square-foot concert hall–meets–wine bar is the brainchild of Michael Dorf, who first launched the concept in New York City in 2008. During shows, guests can order wine from a 400-bottle list and small bites like salads and flatbread pizza. You’ll even find City Winery’s own blends, made on-site with grapes from Georgia, California, and Oregon.

Michael Dorf’s picks
Don McLean
July 3
“Because of the controversy around him, I’d drink as much Scotch as possible. My apologies to Don, but that’s all I can think of.”

Macy Gray
July 18-19
“She’s fairly bold, but she’s got such subtlety to her singing. That requires something delicate but strong and with finesse, like our own Petite Sirah.”

Aaron Neville
July 22-23
“His voice is super silky. My god, he could shatter a bottle. He requires a slightly aged, sophisticated Pinot Noir from Burgundy.”

7 rosé wines perfect for any summer afternoon

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Rosé
Photograph by Josh Meister

Nothing says summer more than a sweating glass of pink wine. This seasonal “it” drink rarely costs more than $20 per bottle and goes down as easy as water. With 2015 shaping up to be a banner vintage, refresh with seven of our favorites on any sizzling afternoon.

Commanderie de la Bargemone Rosé
A quintessential Provençal rosé that’s crisp, fresh, and beautifully balanced. Perrine’s, $16

J. Mourat Collection Rosé Fiefs Vendéens
Big bursts of raspberry. Le Caveau, $19

Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Rosé
Watermelon candy in vino form. Le Caveau, $17

Puech-Haut, Tête de Bélier
Imagine standing over the kitchen sink, biting into summer’s ripest peach. pH Wine Merchant, $34

Red Car Rosé
From California, a superb medium-bodied, earthy rosé with fresh notes of cherry. Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits, $22

Villa Wolf Rosé
Silky and soft on the palate, this German rosé is sweeter than its French peers. VinoTeca, $16

Commanderie de Peyrassol Rosé
A heavier pour best paired with salmon, salad, even grilled pork chops. Highland Fine Wine, $26

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.

Which food delivery apps actually deliver?

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Busy Bee deliveryUber Instant
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Est. March 2016
Grade: A+
Service: Meals arrived in under five minutes, as fast as we could walk to the curb. Drivers stock up on premade orders for record delivery times.
Cost: No tipping and a flat delivery fee of $2.84
Sample order: $13.49; Busy Bee; Fried chicken with turnip greens, mac and cheese. About what you’d pay in store without tip.
Restaurants: Very limited, about five restaurants per day. Recently we saw Tavernpointe, Raging Burrito, and Masti.

 

Spice to Table deliveryUberEats
Hours: Every day, 8 a.m. to midnight
Est. September 2015
Grade: A
Service:
Accurate, up-to-the-minute updates on the driver’s ETA, plus GPS tracking, car information, and a smart user interface.
Cost: No menu markups, no tipping, and a flat $4 delivery fee
Sample order: $24.52; Spice to Table; Kerala fried chicken, mango lassi. About what you’d pay in store with tip.
Restaurants: Quality restaurants with almost no fast food options. Best bets: Goldbergs, Ah-Ma’s Taiwanese Kitchen.

Edgewood Pizza delivery

Caviar
Hours: Every day, 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Est. March 2015
Grade: B
Service:
 Largely seamless, thanks to GPS tracking. Delivery can take up to an hour or more, so preorder whenever possible.
Cost: $13 minimum order; delivery fees based on distance (avg. $2–$7).
Sample order: $20.59; Edgewood Pizza; 12-inch pie with toppings. About what you’d pay in store with tip.
Restaurants: Choices are middle-brow (Tin Drum, Zocalo). Best bets: Bell Street Burritos, Gu’s Dumplings.

Hi-Five Diner delivery

Postmates
Hours: 24/7
Est. May 2015
Grade: C
Service:
You have to wait for a driver to accept your order. No in-app updates on processing, ETA, or car info until the driver is en route.
Cost: Delivery fees start at $5, plus a 9 percent service charge.
Sample order: $32.93; Hi-Five Diner; Cobb salad with a bowl of soup. About $10 more than what you’d pay in store with tip.
Restaurants: Limited. Best bets: Arden’s Garden, Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand, Fellini’s, Hi-Five Diner.

Five Guys delivery

DoorDash
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. (until 2 a.m. on Fri., Sat.)
Est. October 2015
Grade: C-
Service:
App offers neither on-screen GPS nor a car description, which resulted in unexpected deliveries and confusion on the street.
Cost: The most expensive, due in large part to big menu markups.
Sample order: $26.48; Five Guys; double cheeseburger with fries. Cost included a $6 delivery fee, plus a 15 percent tip. 
Restaurants: Mix of fast food and quality restaurants, including Antico, Bocado, Le Fat, 4th & Swift, and Miller Union.

Little Tart delivery

Favor
Hours: Every day, 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Est. April 2015
Grade: C-
Service:
Primitive app functionality. Can require text exchanges to clarify orders. (“What dressing do you want?”) No delivery ETAs.
Cost: $5 delivery fee, plus a 5 percent processing fee; no menu markups.
Sample order: $30.41; Little Tart; BLT sandwich, salad, pecan tart. About $7 more than the cost in-store with tip.
Restaurants: Any restaurant—from Publix deli to Star Provisions—within certain ITP boundaries. See app for details.

Photographs by Caroline C. Kilgore and Aspen Evans

This article originally appeared in our June 2016 issue.

Gunshow’s Spencer Gomez heads to Holeman and Finch Public House

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Spencer Gomez
Photograph by Alessandria Struebing

Holeman and Finch Public House has a new chef de cuisine. Spencer Gomez joined the kitchen last Monday after a year-long stint at Gunshow. “I didn’t necessarily want to leave Gunshow. I knew that Holeman had this availability, and it’s just a really good fit. I’ve done a lot of charcuterie work and meat-focused dining,” says Gomez, who prior to Gunshow worked at the Branded Butcher in Athens.

Gomez says he no plans to overhaul the current menu or kitchen. “I’m trying to sharpen what we have and fold things in as we go, just to avoid shocking everybody. There are so many great things on the menu right now,” he says.

The biggest difference will be the style and structure of service. Whereas Gunshow gave each of its chefs the freedom to set the menu, Gomez looks forward to having more control over the restaurant and “building a cuisine around a whole house.”

Gomez wouldn’t say whether or not he sees his new gig as a stepping-stone to Linton Hopkins’s Restaurant Eugene across the street. Holeman and Finch’s previous chef de cuisine, Chris Edwards, is now Restaurant Eugene’s executive chef. “Holeman and Eugene are both great and completely different,” Gomez says. “Chef [Hopkins] has a saying that Eugene is a symphony and Holeman and Finch is rock and roll. They’re very different houses, and they’re both equally great.”

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