The good, the bad and the indigestible

A year of reviews in review

After a few hours of reviewing my columns from the last year, I had to make a double-espresso to wake myself up. Geez, what a snoozer of a year was 2003 for Atlanta foodies. In my 15 years of writing dining columns, I recall few years when so few restaurants of quality opened in our town.

My editor, Bill Addison, listed his fave new restaurants in our Dec. 25 issue, and I'm in accord with most of his choices. What follows is not a list of favorite new restaurants but rather notable memories of eating out nearly every night of the week for a year.

Favorite Place to Turn Friends to Addicts: Everyone I take to Ann's Snack Bar (1615 Memorial Drive, 404-687-9207) staggers home for a nap and swears they won't return for six months, but they almost return in a week for another of Ann Price's humongous hamburgers. Miss Ann has been in business about 30 years at the same eight-stool location. You are not allowed to curse or set your baby on the counter, in exchange for which you can put your face in a "Ghetto Burger" or a deep-throat fried hot dog. I owe Reagan Walker of the AJC several million happy calories for introducing me to Miss Ann.

Most Hateful Result of Burrito Corporatizing: Blame the closing of 19-year-old Tortillas, our city's original purveyor of the California-style burrito, on the success of chains like Willy's and Moe's. Nothing I've ever reported has produced such an avalanche of nostalgic and outraged mail from all over the country.

Dumbest Use of a Food Purchasing Trend to Advance a Political Agenda: Right-wingers smugly noted the decline in purchases of imported cheese and wine following the French's refusal to support Dubya's invasion of Iraq. What they didn't mention was that sales of nearly all European imports fell dramatically — not because of political sentiments but because the dollar's value against the Euro dropped precipitously, driving import prices up as much as 25 percent. This was particularly hard on Salumeria Taggiasca at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market (209 Edgewood Ave., 404-524-0006), still my favorite Italian deli in town.

Biggest Disappointment: It was definitely Emeril's (3500 Lenox Road, 404-564-5600). Pricey, with a decor that makes you feel like you're sitting inside a Mardi Gras bead, Chef Emeril Lagasse's Atlanta undertaking disappointed everyone during its first months. Even my waiter whispered in my ear that things were not as they should be. My favorite fallout from my negative review was a letter written to any and all of remote authority at CL. It accused me of plagiarism because, like John Kessler of the AJC, I compared Emeril's to its New Orleans counterparts (the letter-writer has hounded me for years). The letter ended triumphantly noting that I am gay and am taking longer than he thinks I should to finish my Ph.D.

More Celebrity Overkill: "Live, Love, Eat," instructs the menu of Wolfgang Puck Express (1745 Peachtree St., 404-815-1500). This grim neo-fast-food joint, where a video of the once-seminal Puck plays endlessly over the cashiers' station, is like a classroom for chefs who want to freeze themselves in time and become the equivalent of Borscht Belt comedians.

Most Memorable Celebration Meals: We celebrated Wayne's 100th birthday at Floataway Cafe (1123 Zonolite Road, 404-892-1414), whose fifth anniversary was last year. Not a restaurant in our city offers better value for the quality of cuisine, plus you can be waited on by Gladys Parada. I took two clients, both bound for prestigious graduate school programs, to lunch at Floataway's pricier parent, Bacchanalia (1198 Howell Mill Road, 404-365-0410), still my overall favorite in the city. My favorite moment during lunch was when my client, a Lacan scholar, balked when the sweetbreads he ordered didn't turn out to be something like a doughnut.

Saddest Meal in Retrospect: I hadn't visited the restaurant in several years, but a dinner at a longtime favorite, Violette (2948 Clairmont Road, 404-633-3363), was as charming as ever. Soon afterward, we got the sad news that owner/chef Guy Luc had been murdered. We were also saddened this year by the death of Steve Mazarky, owner/chef of the restful Green Shutters in Clayton, where I have eaten many Thanksgiving meals.

Most Welcome Reunion: Lucero Martinez-Obregon has returned as chef to Zocalo (187 10th St., 404-249-7576), the restaurant she opened with her brothers Luis and Marco.

Most Elegant Urination: Apparently, the Johnson Studio has combed the planet for inspiration to design our city's most luxurious public restrooms. And the award for best place to take a leak during a good meal goes to ... It's a tie between Joel (3290 Northside Parkway, 404-233-3500) and Nan Thai (1350 Spring St., 404-870-9933).

Most Notable Turnarounds: My first meal at Nam (931 Monroe Drive, 404-541-9997) was under-seasoned to the extent that even my servers agreed the kitchen was being too conservative. My second meal was much better. My third was spectacular. This gourmet Vietnamese restaurant is to Atlanta what Indochine was to New York 20 years ago. As for good-gone-bad experience, I've never had to issue a revision as quickly as I did after my review of the now defunct Delhi Darbar, an Indian restaurant whose service improved in inverse proportion to the radical, almost overnight decline in food quality.

Best Surprise: I went to Twist (3500 Peachtree Road, 404-869-1191), Tom Catherall's 10,000-square-foot. restaurant at Phipps Plaza, with the expectation that even the owner of Noche and Prime could not carry off such an enormous undertaking devoted mainly to tapas and other small dishes. Wrong. The restaurant and bar, with lighting eerier than the Aurora Borealis, is a huge success.

Unforgettable Servers: Shamefully, I don't even know her last name, but Vanessa at Wisteria was the best server I encountered last year. She has since left for medical school, where I'm certain she will get double A-pluses in bedside manner. I also commend Agave, whose low turnover has produced a staff of unusually knowledgeable and easy-going servers.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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