Atlanta Dinner Picks

кухненско обзавежданеThis is a list of ten memorable restaurants in the Atlanta, GA area that I have been to (over the past, say, three years) who meet the following criteria:
Good for entertaining (bringing clients/dates/friends&family)
Excellent waitstaff
Menu includes vegetarian-friendly options as well as interesting options for those with a standard North American diet.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, only some highlights that have ranked very high with both myself and guests. A lot of these have been venues for various dates, and some have been used as meeting spots when friends have come to visit from out-of-state. The vast majority of my dining out has been with non-vegetarians, so there’s a resistance for hitting all-vegan or entirely-vegetarian restaurants. Each of these has great vegetarian options available right on the menu, so that ordering doesn’t feel like you are asking them to remodel the kitchen with a “special request” when all you want is an option that is carcass-free. Some of these are much more formal, and some are very casual. All of them are exciting spaces that are also quiet enough for conversation.

On to the list (not in ranked order):

  1. La Tavola (latavolatrattoria) – This is one that comes to mind any time a special occasion comes up. When friends or family come to visit, when it’s someone’s birthday, any time I have an excuse to go, really. La Tavola is fun and interesting, has some really great veg options, and has a way of being formal and nice without being rigid or stuffy. The dining area can be very full at prime times, but there are really wonderful tables on the deck out back which are fantastic for spring brunch/lunch… (hint, hint. This week? Anyone?)
  2. Eros (erostapas) – Tapas and music. Right off I-85 at Monroe Drive, It’s in the multi-level what-used-to-be bank building. The tapas are great, and the space creates an interesting indoor-outdoor “patio” feel. It’s a great spot for a gathering, since it’s finger foods and music, as well as space that’s easy to move around in.
  3. Sugo (sugorestaurant) – Sugo has a fusion of Italian and Greek influences. Their staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. The food is spectacular. All three of their locations are North of the perimeter.
  4. Artistry (No known URL) – I’m not clear about whether this one has recently closed, is currently being renovated, or if it has recently changed hands. I had a great experience there. It was well-appointed, had live jazz musicians, and the food was great. My date on that night still mentions from time to time how awesome the steak and the shrimp was. I ate like a king on a wide variety of veg hors d’oeuvres. The waitstaff completely bent over backward. I hope they aren’t closed.
  5. Thai Spice (thaispiceatlanta) – This is Thai done beautifully, and with a lot of style. It’s the best Thai I’ve tried north of the perimeter.
  6. The Flying Biscuit (flyingbiscuit) – There’s nothing wrong with the various new locations as they became a chain, but I’m talking specifically about the original location just outside of Candler Park. There’s a completely different feel to this one. I was floored by the devil “burger”, but when you’re looking for something more “down home”, There’s nothing like the vegan bbq burrito.
  7. Buddha (no known URL) – This gem is right off I-75/I-85 at the end of the 10th Street bridge. Mostly Chinese fare, they have an extensive vegetarian menu, and are open incredibly late, which is handy, since it’s around the corner from Primal, and just a few blocks from Door44, Sutra, Opera, etc.
  8. Mambo Italiano (mamboitaliano) – This is a really neat traditional Italian place with a wonderful staff. The place is decorated like 1950s Italian. Great veg lasagne, good drinks.
  9. Octane (octanecoffee) – This is a wonderful independent cafe with great plates coming from the kitchen, some of the best baristas in North America(They kick butt every year in local, regional, and world barista competitions), and the space is relaxed, yet abuzz. Maybe it’s the caffeine. They have a second location near Emory University that I really should check out, since that would be much closer for me.
  10. Ecco (ecco-atlanta) – Of all the restaurants on this list, it’s been the longest since I’ve been to Ecco. Ecco is managed by the same group as La Tavola. It’s a much more formal dining experience than La Tavola, and I did a full review after my first trip there..

Where are your favorite dining spots in Atlanta? Leave a comment and let me know.

Back to the polls

Last night I left work and trekked over to pick up the girls, and then stopped by the polling place on the way home. This is the first time I’ve taken the girls with me to the polls, so it was a bit of an education, after all of our talks a couple of weeks ago about the general election. They showed some concern, “But Obama already won, so why are you voting again?” “That was for The president and for several other jobs,” I explained. This was followed by a glossy overview of the House and Senate, and the basics of runoffs, recounts, and terms of office. They are suddenly at an age where they are reading all the signs and pointing things out that the signs say (which tells me that very soon, I’ll be explaining what the dials and lights are on the car dash, and will soon thereafter have two backseat drivers).
The Manual
The traffic was really heavy in the area, and we got there about ten minutes before seven and quietly got in line. The queue seemed long at first, but moved very swiftly. We got about halfway through the line when they announced that the polls are closed, that everyone currently in line would be able to vote, but that anyone arriving thereafter would not be able to. This seemed fair, because the polls were scheduled to close at 7pm, and it was a few minutes after at that point. When we got to maybe 6th in line, there was the highly anticipated noise of a disgruntled latecomer, furious at not being allowed to vote. It was hard to make out any of the arguments outside the building, but all the expected noises were in accompaniment, including a very loud, “…in the cold to come down here and do my part!” Those of us still in line chuckled quietly as the polling officials and volunteers exchanged glances and suggested that they might need backup.

ASMW – Earthbound

Last week, I found Earthbound when looking for some funky soul music after seeing a local soul band that really struck me (another post in the making). Earthbound has a really comfortable feel. The percussion never feels rushed, and there is a sense of place and balance between the brass and the percussion. Kira’s lyrics are always upbeat and mature, and her voice is both energetic and calming. I don’t think they will be coming to Atlanta any time soon, as they are base in Canada… pity.
Besides hearing the full track of “Find Yourself” featured here, be sure to check out the tracks “Open Up Your Arms” and “Letting Go”. At the time of this writing, both albums are still free. Of course, as tracks become more popular on Amie Street, the price goes up, so get up on it!


Technicolor Starbursts

Back at the end of the spring, I went to a Friday night Braves game, one of the first games in the season, versus the Diamondbacks. The seats were pretty close to the visitors’ dugout, along the third base line close to home plate. Usually, that is an excellent place to be when looking to catch foul balls, especially since there are lots of left-handed batters on the Arizona team. None of the fouls landed close to us, but thanks to Mark, I had another bonus in store. I suggested a short walk during the end of the 5th inning, and lead the three of them up the flights and flights of stairs to the top level, where there were tons of too-perfect photo opportunities. We went over to see the gigantic Coca-cola bottle constructed from Braves memorabilia, and I pointed out a secure area, “No one is allowed back in this area. Let’s go in!”
Mark greeted us, and showed us around the blast area for the fireworks show, Which is really impressive if you haven’t seen that kind of setup in person before. Several racks made of 2X4’s and large PVC piping were arranged in rows, each with a softball-sized charge wrapped in paper, and miles of wiring connecting each one to a series of control boards and fuses, and then to what used to be a laptop, but that night, they were run all the way to the room where the PA control system is located, so that the firing would be synced to the music. That night’s musical theme was entirely made up of AC/DC songs. From the blast area, you get a really nice vantage point to see the stadium, of course, but also a lot of downtown Atlanta, where we could see many of the buildings still undergoing repair work from the tornado that ripped through downtown the night before St Patrick’s Day.
After leaving the blast site, we headed back down to our seats, watching the game on the monitors on the way. The Braves had a good lead, and they called the game early. We got all the way back down to our seats with only a few minutes to spare before the fireworks show began. Singing along and watching the technicolor starbursts fill the sky with a mild breeze flowing in, I pointed out that one of the shells that had just made the intense green and purple flare had been in our hands only minutes before.
It was a really awesome and fun night for all of us. The Braves won, we got to see and do a bunch of out of the ordinary things, and we made some friends and got to just hang out, too. Sorry no pics this round, dear sweet internet, as they are classified by request. Some video of the show is available at Mark’s blog.

taken for granite

In the past couple of years, my sister has suggested an activity that is becoming a staple in our family gatherings, especially when our relatives from out-of-state are here. The first time around, it was on Thanksgiving Day, and after we had filled up on the bounty, we packed all of the teens and kids into the car and went to hike Stone Mountain. This was a great activity, and here in GA, it’s really still rather mild in late November. This past weekend, we went for that hike again, the first where I have taken the girls. It’s a very different challenge during the summer, but is great excercise as well as a bonding experience for all of us.
I really wish I’d packed more water for the ascent this time, and think that they should consider making some water fountains available at the pavillion that sits halfway up the trail to the top.
I was looking at the Atlanta paper today, and there was an article about some local clubs that have been organized over the years who go and climb the mountain every day, which is marvellous if you have the time and means.
After our climb back down, we took some blankets to the lawn and saw the laser show (I used to go all the time, when we lived in the area during my younger years, but I hadn’t seen it in a long time). There is a new company in charge of the whole production, and they are using a lot more in the way of projections, pyrotechnics, and the like. It’s not a bad show at all. If you are visiting the Atlanta area, you should add it to the “see list” for one evening.

Red Letter Agent

It’s not exactly like a time agent or a secret agent.
A few weeks ago, I had a weekend where I was doing a lot of stuff for work, and really needed a break, and after getting to the Five Points area in Atlanta, stopped in at the Star Bar. There was a really good turnout, and they put on a high-intensity show. Red Letter Agent is local to Atlanta, and their current tour includes Los Angeles, parts of NV, TX, NM, AZ, LA, and TN before coming back to GA. Their sound is described mainly as brit-pop, and is reminiscent of Dishwalla, ColdPlay, and Kasabian. The songwriting is very tight, using great hooks that don’t feel like hooks, and guitar melodies that bolster the smart lyrics and strong vocals.

My favorite track from RLA is “Burn the Good Ones Down”. They have had a couple of tracks used in both television shows (Kyle XY) and commercials(an E! promo), so their sound might already be familiar to you.

Burn the Good Ones Down

Watch it all before in the bright lights, do you
Burn the good ones down ’til they’re nothing
But you’ll never keep them out

Could it be the last of the blackouts of the darkness
Heard a young one’s cry for the heartless
They’re bleeding to the bone, alone

Say tonight you’ll listen to their hearts

Watched you bend your knee on a dirt floor, so you
Offer what you have in a spotlight
Never to be shown

We could be the spark to ignite them, higher
Hear this one’s cry for the hopeless
They’re begging to be free, believed

Love is the only cure for you
Love is secure enough for you

Squeezing Badd Lemonade

I ran down to The Loft for what is referred to as “an industry event”. It was put together by a group called Badd Lemonade, which I wasn’t able to find much out about.

The evening featured a rapid-fire sampling of ten bands local to the Atlanta area. The bands playing included:

  1. Leaving Araby
  2. Kalvin Nova
  3. The Rein
  4. Xzamen
  5. 1994
  6. Fact Not Fiction
  7. The Love Willows
  8. Unusual Suspects
  9. The Honor Roll
  10. She Came From Above
  11. Fox Trot November
  12. The Pennies
  13. The Nerd Parade
  14. Auditioning Alice

I missed four of the acts, mostly due to my parking option not syncing well with the event. The staff at the parking deck were chatty and helpful, though. I’ve been to several shows at The Loft over the past couple of years, and it is a good, flexible space for various types of events.

The organizers of the event were ensconced in a roped-off area, and were all hurredly scribbling notes as each act started to play. The format allowed thirty minutes for each band to set up, sound check, play (most of them played about three songs) and then clear off, including equipment breakdown. After seeing a couple of rounds, the personalities of the bands began to shine through, and certain things started to become much more clear. Primary of these things was stage presence, including segue and mic banter. Only having a true ten-15 minute block performing, those small bits of space between songs are the only bits you have to drive home the connection with the crowd you have laid down with your instrumentation and delicately laid lyrics. I’m not certain if the Badd Lemonade people were actively judging for record and promo deals, or if anything was really at stake, but the crowd was full of die-hard fans and family of the bands for the most part.
Here are links I found for several of the bands. I have snapshots, and if you check out this page of unedited photos, you can see the progression of the quality of the pics as I fine-tuned the camera settings, finally getting it everything right for handling upshot stage lighting. I also dug up links for most of the bands in the list, so be sure to check them out if you live in or visit the Atlanta area.

The Love WillowsThe Love Willows Made an impression as they transformed the stage from mostly blacked out to a glamor-splashed, candy-striped high fashion scene. This band played well, and is highly memorable due to the incredible contrast in both visual and musical style from the rest of the bands playing. reminiscent of a Gwen Stefani show, the songs played were very upbeat and loaded with energy, and are ones you could listen to with the kids in the car. They even wrapped up with a song all about having an acute shoe fetish and being okay with that.

The Unusual Suspects have a sound that is very hook-laced and clean, with a careful eye on traditional production values and meter. The track “People, Pills, and Problems” will have you hooked in a single dose.

Athens-based The Honor Roll came in like a thunderstorm… This is the kind of storm where you just want to see how it goes down, a train wreck of hyperbole and angst that is beautiful in its references to our stalking of each other, as well as the social impact of your myspace telling on your fibs. They opened up with “Bedroom Politics”, storming and pacing the stage in barefoot pissed-offedness. And the bass player is kinda nuts, too.

She Came From Above delves into the screamo metal area, though the guitar riffs remind me of the early speedmetal riffs that Metallica and Megadeath popuarized.

Fact Not Fiction really made an impression on me. From Hartwell, GA (outside Athens, at the SC/GA border), their sound is someplace between post-punk, and rolls near the melodics of true indie rock. There is a definite Anglo influence, with well-read lyrics and a mock English accent, you almost get the gist, then they throw another twist in the next song that gives it more dimension. “Here at Hartmin” and “The Ballad of Jack and Amy” get the must-listen tag.

Foxtrot November was much more at ease as a band. They seemed to ruminate and relax as they played, and I think giving off this vibe made the band members seem older and more serious about the music than they were about being seen on the stage. The vocals –for whatever reason– remind me of Kenny Loggins. The general sound of the songs are very unique, but similar to Wilco, and maybe Coldplay. Definitely check out “What if We Don’t Carry On”.

The Pennies This was the last band I saw for the evening, and they got a lot of reaction from the crowd. The sound is solid rock with Irish-inspired female vocals that range between a delicate lullaby and a soul-bearing wail that wends its way to your primal foundation. If you like bands like Evanescence or Dido, you should hear them. Check out “Love Me” and “Shine Within Sadness” for sure.

The Nerd Parade. I had been looking forward to seeing these guys, but had to leave before they finished setting up. Maybe I’ll be able to catch them some other time.

Now that I’ve been sorting the night back out from memory, I’m thinking I should have been ensconced in a roped-off area scribbling notes, too….

An Early Surprise

at the end of the day yesterday at the office, a couple of people came around asking those of us who hadn’t headed for the hills at noon if we would be interested in tickets to the Nutcracker at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. I put my name in the hat, as usual, and thought of how I’d been telling myself for about three years now that I’d get tickets and take the girls to see it during the holidays.

They drew a name from the hat, at the tickets went to the controller in the financial department. I congratulated him and started to get my things together, then he showed back up and said that his son would not be available to go, so he wanted me to have the tickets. It was incredibly nice of him to pass the tickets along.

It was 5:30 at this point, and the girls had been at my parents’ house, and the show started at 7:30 sharp. I called my mom, and asked her to meet me halfway between my work and her house so that we would be able to make it. It being Friday, there seemed to be tons of extra traffic, and being winter, it was already rather dark by then. I was coasting diligently through the four-way stop that is always highly congested, feeling much better about the car because I had to get new tires at the first part of this week. The old ones were suffering from band separation, and could have blown out at any moment. This condition was the cause for a really rough ride, too.

I criss-crossed my way along county roads, bypassing the Friday- and holiday-congestion I knew would be on the freeways heading away from the city, and finally made it to the meeting point. Got the girls and their things, and we were off like a shot. Fridays are more casual in the office, so I had jeans and sneakers on, and a collared long-sleeve shirt. The girls had only been playing all day. The clothes matched, but the shoes were just way off. No stopping now, though.

The seats were incredible, front row of the balcony, just left of center. Perfect for the girls’ first ‘true’ ballet experience.

The show was amazing. The dancers were awe-inspiring, the costumes and sets were fantastic, and I kept seeing inspiration and imagination filling the girls’ eyes as they sat riveted, watching. It could have been the stars glowing from the ceiling, or maybe the snow coming from the rafters, but I thought I saw a little bit of magic in their eyes as well.