September 2010

Our dining editor, Bill Addison, says I have bad karma when it comes to restaurants. He first said this after thieves stole my wife’s car keys from a valet stand at a swank restaurant in Buckhead. We saw the flashing blue lights of the police car while we were finishing up dessert. I remember thinking, as one does at these times, Gee, I’m glad it’s not me. Then we walked outside to discover that, indeed, it was us. The valet apologized. I don’t think he works there anymore.
You could say this was just bad luck, but it came not long after an evening at a beer bar in Little Five Points. My friend and I had paid the bill and were waiting for the server to come back with the receipt and my credit card, only she didn’t. Finally I tracked her down outside the kitchen, where she explained she’d lost my card. How does that happen? A half hour later, she bounced up to our table and announced that a customer had found it on the floor.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were out for a rare date night, the kind that requires days of planning when you’re the parents of a six-month-old. We made reservations at one of the most buzzed-about places in town. The hostess gave us a great table in a quiet corner, and my wife sat with her back to the wall. Halfway through our second course, which involved some delectable quail, I thought I saw a shadow pass behind my wife’s right shoulder. I panned over to her left shoulder. Three seconds later, a Palmetto bug reappeared on the wall behind her, crawling toward the ceiling like it was coming home from work.
You’ll notice I haven’t named any of these places. It’s not out of any misplaced sense of loyalty or an excess of kindness. It’s more a recognition of the vicissitudes of fate in the restaurant business. You can open your restaurant at the nicest address in town, but that’s not going to stop a thief from rummaging through your valet’s key box. You can train your waiters for weeks, but they’re still going to drop dishes and glasses and credit cards. You can clean every corner of your restaurant every day, but nothing can stop a determined roach on a summer night in Atlanta.
This month we celebrate the best places to eat that have opened in the past year or so. They face the same challenges as any restaurant before them, but the stagnant economy has made the hurdles even higher. For a long time I used to think that the formula for the success of places like these was simple: Prepare good food in a comfortable location and the people will come. But the more I study them (and eat at them), the more I realize a restaurant is a living, breathing thing. Fine dining is all about control—the food, the lighting, the server—but you can’t shut out the rest of the world forever. It’ll find its way in. That’s not karma; it’s just nature.
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