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Seed Kitchen & Bar

34. Seed Kitchen & Bar

Doug Turbush brings a bright-white New Nordic aesthetic to an East Cobb strip mall, an unexpected location for an idiosyncratic restaurant.

Seven Lamps

It’s 8 p.m. on a Friday night, and I’m huddled inside the entrance of Seven Lamps, a new restaurant in the northwest corner of Buckhead’s Shops Around Lenox, waiting for a place to sit. The snug, five-sided room incorporates the casual design elements du jour: Reclaimed wood (from a North Georgia mill) cover the floors; old bricks, stacked vertically in varying shades of red and white, make up one wall; porcelain subway tile gleam in the open kitchen.

The Spence

A strange, witty, occasionally confounding, and often wonderful mix of eccentricities defines the Spence, the year's most anticipated opening. Its name carries an unofficial subtitle: "The restaurant where Richard Blais finally returns to the kitchen."

The first bit of idiosyncrasy is evident before you even enter the place. On the corner of Fifth and Spring streets, in front of the congested valet stand, sits a small wooden planter holding an overflow of herbs and flowers, with a chalkboard at the top that has "The SPENCE" written in neat, steady penmanship. It recalls a sign beckoning guests to a country bed-and-breakfast. But if it puts you in the mind-set of cottages and farmlands for a moment, the techno thumpity-thump vibrating in the restaurant’s door handle brings you right back to Atlanta.

The Lawrence

Patrick La Bouff is easy to pick out among the already-teeming crowds at the Lawrence. He's the guy with tousled hair somewhere between the color of straw and honey, usually wearing jeans and a bow tie, scuttling between tables and bodies and appearing everywhere at once. He may be sorting through the next wave of reservations on his iPad, surveying the dining room for empty seats, and then bussing a vacated two-top. There he is conferring with the chef in the kitchen, now behind the bar, now delivering appetizers, and immediately at the front again, greeting new arrivals. When he sees a familiar face, his normally taut smile relaxes for a moment into a lopsided grin.

Cakes & Ale

A few bites into the fried okra brimming out of a paper cone, I relaxed; the move to larger, tonier digs on the southeastern edge of Decatur Square had not unhinged Cakes & Ale's personality. Stubby little purple okra pods sheathed in crackly batter popped with the same playfulness I remembered from Septembers past. So did the menu’s only mainstay: arancini, two-bite spheres of fried risotto stuffed with melty sheep’s milk cheese.

One Eared Stag

Cauliflower sauteed with dates and green olives on a taqueria menu? I encountered this oddball side dish in January the first time I ate at East Atlanta's Holy Taco. It certainly seemed out of place alongside guacamole and brisket tacos, but the combination itself, when I tasted it, wasn’t outlandish at all: The salty-sweet tango of slivered Medjool dates and snippets of nutty Lucques olives entwined the same way that chocolate with pretzels or bacon with maple syrup do, and the neutral cauliflower made for a receptive backdrop.

Livingston

When visitors ask a local for restaurant recommendations, they should receive more than strictly gastronomic guidance. They need a sense of place with their meal. In Atlanta, where dining often transpires in flashy but meaningless surroundings, I’m glad I can send people to the Georgian Terrace, across the street from the Fox Theatre. The ten-story hotel, completed in 1911 in an elegant Beaux Arts style, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A renovation completed in 2009 culminated in the opening of the ground-floor restaurant named after Livingston Mims, a Confederate veteran and Democrat who resided on the northeast corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue—where the hotel now sits—when he was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1900.

Floataway Cafe

Restaurants in Atlanta have a knack for latching onto trends and clutching them furiously--much longer than in other cities--until the vitality completely withers. So many tapas palaces opened last decade that I can still barely face a martini glass brimming with ceviche without wanting to replace it with straight gin. I’m beginning to have a similar reaction to Neapolitan pizza.

Rediscovery: Haven

After almost eight years in business, Michel Arnette’s Brookhaven restaurant Haven is at the top of its game—a smooth hangout for an affluent clientele who enjoy a Buckhead-level experience without the party-mentality aggravation. Haven’s habitat, in a pioneering multiuse development with upmarket townhomes and attractive shops that still feel like a microcosm of the good life, turned out to be an excellent business decision for Arnette. The young Buckhead Life Group veteran (Pricci, Veni Vidi Vici, and Buckhead Diner) is always on Haven’s floor, sporting flashy fitted shirts and sincere smiles.

Culinary Character: Paul Luna

Among his peers, Paul Luna sticks out like an extreme skateboarder at a golf convention. As tiny and intense in his forties as he was two decades ago when he first landed in Atlanta, he has yet to cut the waist-long hair (now gray) that he braids tightly like a Na’vi in Avatar. His deep, dominant voice has mellowed, and he no longer relies exclusively on curse words for emphasis. Mostly he reserves his wrath for city bureaucrats who made liquor license and parking issues so difficult for Lunacy Black Market, the restaurant he opened in late 2009 on a blighted corner of Downtown.

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