Compared to other types of restaurant experiences, hotel dining carries a frisson of intrigue. I love the feeling of entering a world where I don’t quite know who’s a local and who’s a traveler, and I love crawling through the public areas fantasizing that I’m one of the hotel’s guests. A buffer keeps the banal life of the street at bay. Service is a priority; everything seems engineered for my comfort and joy.
The new Kimpton Sylvan hotel—fresh, approachable, and vibing with its heart-of-Buckhead environs—created a stir in February when it opened in a 1950s midrise that has housed apartments, a nursing home, and, most recently, condos. Adaptive-reuse projects like this are catnip for me, for anyone who values a cityscape that incorporates the past into its scheme, and for the Kimpton company—which pretty much invented the idea of the boutique hotel when, in 1981, it opened its first property, San Francisco’s Clarion Bedford, as a stylish alternative to the big chains.
The Sylvan’s designers added a welcoming portico to the front of the H-shaped structure, accenting its bright-white exterior walls with crisp gray details. Located beyond that portico on the first floor of the building, the Betty is the fine-dining restaurant that anchors the hotel, with a name nodding to its retro inspirations. Elsewhere on the property, the Sylvan has two delightful bars, also overseen by executive chef Brandon Chavannes: the garden-themed Willow Bar and the rooftop lounge St. Julep.
The son of Jamaican and Norwegian immigrants, Chavannes previously worked in Atlanta at King + Duke and St. Cecilia (where he was executive chef), and he’s done stints in New York at restaurants including the John Dory and Bar Boulud. Everyone involved in this operation—from the bartenders, valets, and host staff to the hotel’s restaurant and bar general manager, Brian McFarland—is remarkably friendly.
When the Betty announced its concept—supper club with Old Hollywood vibes—I was excited about the return of the kind of classic food that young chefs have been disrespecting for at least two decades. But, instead of oysters Rockefeller and Cobb salad, the menu is jammed with relentlessly modern dishes that are often too baroque, with unnecessary flourishes marring their flavor (and looks). The raw beauty of steak tartare, for instance, was tarnished by a salsa macha that dyed the meat a scary brown; a pallid chicken-liver mousse was served rolled up like a hand towel next to a glop of jellied port wine and strawberry.
But delightful, less forced presentations also emerge, such as a pristine scallop crudo with kumquat and yuzu kosho, ceviche of celery with minute shimeji mushrooms, and (alas, oversalted) almond gazpacho. Chavannes’s history at Ford Fry’s St. Cecilia makes him especially adept in the pasta department, with appealing entrees like slick agnolotti with beef or creamed spinach, spaghetti with crab and Calabrian hot peppers, and fetching rotolo—basically a rolled individual lasagna with a fondue of Pecorino, mushrooms, and aged-balsamic reduction. Skip the fussy crispy duck and mealy saffron swordfish in favor of a more classic broiled lobster or filet mignon, or a giant Wagyu tomahawk steak (get the Madeira sauce on the side).
The fancy mignardises—sweet bites often provided gratis at the end of an expensive meal—tend to be better than other, more overly visual dishes from the dessert menu, which can be prettier than they are tasty. One called Chocolate Bar—passion fruit caramel, various chocolate shapes, coffee doodads—looked like the inside of a terrarium; the flavor didn’t justify the amount of futzing required to put the elements together.
The Betty fully realizes its midcentury ambitions with its glamorous cocktail list, including a martini menu that features Vespers, 50/50s, Gibsons, and what I consider the best classic martini in town, filled to the brim with impeccably chilled gin and barely anything else, a thin film of ice shimmering across its top. Signature drinks such as the Boozy Suzy—vodka, Suze, Alessio Bianco, grapefruit, and lime, shaken with egg white—hold their own against old-school sips such as finely crafted amaretto sours and daiquiris.
Young folks, scenesters, and businesspeople alike will be at ease in a relaxed dining room with midcentury-modern leanings, while the darkish elevated bar provides a wonderful stage for bartenders to practice their skills against a backdrop of vintage barware. The patio facing East Paces Ferry Road is perfectly ordinary; better for al fresco dining (albeit with a different menu) is the lovely terrace claimed by the hotel’s Willow Bar.
Early on, when diners were venturing hopefully back out into the world, the rush of customers to the Betty may have contributed to the initial perception of a major new restaurant—and the return of Buckhead. Now that things have settled down a bit, it stakes a somewhat humbler claim: overreaching here and there but nonetheless a sweet spot to conduct one’s business, a great place to grab a drink—and, for a hotel restaurant, far above average, with charm and poise aplenty.
The supporting actors: drinks and dishes from St. Julep and Willow Bar
The Sylvan’s rooftop lounge, St. Julep, serves cheerful drinks like the Chartreuse-
based Idlewild . . .
. . . as well as fancy bar snacks and this tequila-mango soft-serve situation.
The rose-hued Cypress G&T stands out at the garden-themed Willow Bar . . .
. . . which also offers light, veg-centric bites like falafel with tahini ranch.
★ ★ ★ ★
374 East Paces Ferry Road
This article appears in our November 2021 issue.