The Christiane Chronicles: Want the best restaurant meal ever? Go. Early.

Plus: General Muir and Muss & Turner’s matzo ball soups are totally addictive
Christiane Chronicles

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Beware the Late-Night Lag

Early evening dining has an image problem. When I make a reservation for 6 p.m., often the only time I can get in at a hot new restaurant, my friends whine that they don’t want to eat at “old people time.” But this is just the hour when most places are at the top of their game.

After more than 40 years of professional dining experience, I can safely say this: The later you eat, the worse you are likely to eat. (Exceptions are late-night restaurants like Octopus Bar, which doesn’t even open until 10:30 p.m.) I can’t tell you how often I have seen chefs slipping out the back door before the end of service. I’ve heard arguments breaking out in kitchens because everyone is exhausted. There is a fair amount of drinking going on secretly behind the line, and cigarette breaks become more frequent as the evening winds down.

Show up at 9:30 or 10 p.m., and the must-order dishes have run out, the lemon wedges have dried up at the bar, and, worst of all, the staff wishes you would scram. It’s time to reprogram yourself. The early bird really does get the worm.

Todds dishes
Todd Ginsberg’s (left) and Todd Mussman’s matzo ball soups

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Two Todds, Two Matzos
Nothing about my Catholic Parisian upbringing prepared me for matzo balls. I didn’t have a proper one—a fluffy globe of matzo meal, eggs, onion, and chicken fat lightened with a little seltzer water—until I stopped at Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, a long-gone deli halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, during a family vacation in the ’90s.

Since then I’ve eaten my weight in matzo ball soup, from 2nd Avenue Deli in Manhattan to Canter’s in Los Angeles. In Atlanta I rely on two of our best chefs, both proud of their Jewish heritages and both coincidentally named Todd.

The General Muir’s Todd Ginsberg uses canola oil instead of the heavier schmaltz, and after he shapes the balls, he lets them rest for 20 minutes (“they fall apart otherwise”). There is no middle ground with matzo balls: either they are sinkers or swimmers. Both kinds have adherents, but I prefer the latter. Once cooked, Ginsberg’s bob gently in a marrow-rich chicken broth.

Todd Mussman offers matzo ball soup in East Cobb, where he opened a second location of Muss & Turner’s this spring, and his has muscle: The chef uses duck or chicken fat as well as broth to moisten the matzo meal, and he serves the balls in a well-salted chicken stock.

Don’t ask me to decide which version I like better!

This article originally appeared in our October 2017 issue.