A last meal at the Ritz, in pictures

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Tonight is the final night of business for the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, which opened in 1986. I went for a final meal last evening, and, as many endings do, it felt bittersweet and rather unreal. Sometimes, while reminiscing, I watched servers fight back tears.

I know many people out there could consider a closing like this superfluous during a difficult economy. But there are always times in our lives for memorable, luxury-gilded celebrations, and restaurants such as the Dining Room can shape and elevate those occasions. When the times improve, and more of us can celebrate lavishly again, I think we’ll all miss this restaurant. Our city doesn’t have many like it.

So, without further opining, here’s a pictorial look back at the evening:

Ascending the grand stairs to the Dining Room one last time:
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Feeling nostalgic, I thought about how I’d even miss the dowdy ol’ country club decor that could drive me a little bats:
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There’s executive chef Arnaud Berthelier (soon heading for the Peninsula hotel in Shanghai), in the famous kitchen window that overlooks the dining room.
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Our splurge wine for the evening—an intense Argentinian Malbec, spicy and deep with some green pepper notes lurking.
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Not surprisingly, we opted for the chef’s tasting menu. It began with celery root panna cotta with duck consommé and truffle salt.
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Next, a lovely chanterelle soup with chive oil, gently scrambled egg, and salt bits of smoked salmon for punctuation. (Those are tiny croutons on the spoon.)
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This was my favorite course of the evening: “Lobster Preserve,” a sous vide presentation in this Mason jar-like container with polenta, chanterelles, tomato, basil, and crumbled pine nuts on the spoon.
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The servers popped the top to present the dish. Loved the subtle contrast of soft textures.
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The staff and kitchen obliged us in having three different entrees. I had the “duo of veal” with sweetbreads …
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… and veal tenderloin. Those green orbs are cucumber soaked in yogurt, a nod to the Middle Eastern influences that occasionally appear in Berthelier’s cooking.
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One friend had beef tenderloin with shimeji and french horn mushrooms (and a mushroom flan).
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The other friend had steamed Balik salmon with Hackleback caviar, diced beets, and fried chickpeas.
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The cheese course was whipped goat cheese with olive oil and summer truffles, a lovely transition for the palate.
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Pre-dessert: Buttermilk panna cotta with apricot sorbet.
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My friends both had chocolate soufflés, shown below receiving a dollop of chantilly cream.
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I’m more of a fruit dessert fellow, so I asked for the “Muscadine,” with peeled Muscadine grapes, a Muscadine reduction/soup of sorts over vanilla panna cotta (yes, lots of panna cotta this meal), with Muscadine sorbet over sable Breton (a cross between a tart base and a sugar cookie).
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The once-trademark mignardise cart, flaunting lots of little sweet treats at the end, was traded for a bread cart, but there was still a rolling table of chocolate finales.
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I remember when chef Bruno Menard, whose father is a chocolatier, introduced these signature lollipops to the Dining Room. They once came in different percentages of cacao—40 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent. Now they just offer 70 percent.
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The idea is to pick a delicate piece or two from the table. But, hell, this is the end: I wanted every chocolate.
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And that, my friends, is that. We were at the table for a little over four hours, and it didn’t drag a bit. I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures of the staff. Maitre d’ Claude Guillaume, servers Richard Flint (23 years on staff), Maggie Sinatra (22 years on staff), Charles Hurston (9 years in the Dining Room, more in the hotel), and others made as indelible an impression as the food. I hope, as a diner, I cross paths with each of them again.

And one more slow walk down the stairs. Finit.
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