Every year, on or around June 20th, my husband Bill takes me out to dinner for my birthday. Then, when we celebrate his birthday on July 7th, we usually do it in the privacy of our own home. In recent years, Bill has become quite a foodie. He’s developed a real appreciation for beautifully prepared meals made of high quality ingredients and paired with fine wines. In light of his latest obsession, I suggested that this year, we celebrate his birthday at Craft Atlanta, a fine dining restaurant located at 3376 Peachtree Road in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bill already knew something about Craft Atlanta. First off, he’s familiar with Bravo’s reality show Top Chef, which is produced by Tom Colicchio, founder and owner of Craft, which has locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Atlanta. Colicchio is the 2010 winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef.
On a more personal note, Bill has a co-worker who went to Craft Atlanta with his girlfriend. Bill’s co-worker visited during Restaurant Week, a special event put on by fine dining restaurants in certain cities. During Restaurant Week, eateries typically offer serve food at a reduced price, sometimes offering a special menu. Bill and I have attended Restaurant Week several times in the Washington, DC area with varying results. Sometimes Restaurant Week can ruin a restaurant’s reputation because quality and service get sacrificed in the name of making money. The best restaurants maintain their food and service standards during Restaurant Week, even though they may be serving more people who are spending less money. When Bill’s co-worker raved about his experience at Craft Atlanta during Restaurant Week, we knew it must be a special place.
I made our reservation on OpenTable.com for July 3, 2010 at 6:00pm. OpenTable.com allows diners to make restaurant reservations online, as well as earn points toward Dining Cheques, which can later be used for cash off checks at participating restaurants. An incentive for us to book Craft Atlanta at the early hour of 6:00pm was the fact that we would get 1,000 points toward a Dining Cheque. One other reason I like dining at 6:00pm is that it’s very early in the dinner service. The wait staff and chefs should be fairly fresh and ready to get the evening underway.
We pulled into the parking area near Craft Atlanta and were immediately approached by a couple of elegantly dressed valet parking assistants. We were in a quiet looking courtyard situated next to what appeared to be a very swanky hotel. As soon as we entered Craft Atlanta, we noticed the contemporary yet inviting decor of Craft Bar, the more casual restaurant located on the first floor. There were stacks of what smelled like cedar firewood stocked by a woodfire grill. The area was very inviting and I was almost sorry when we greeted the host and he led us up two flights of stairs to Craft Atlanta, the more upscale restaurant.
We were seated by a brick wall accented by square yellow candle holders lit with votives. There were white cloth napkins on the table, but a staff member immediately offered to switch them out for black ones. No one has ever done this for me before at a restaurant. I guess it was because I was wearing a black dress!
Someone else brought us the bottle of sparkling water we requested and a small basket of bread with a dish of heavenly butter sprinkled with rock salt. Bill perused the wine list until we were approached by a very elegantly dressed African American server, resplendent in his black vest, dress shirt, and tie. He was dressed like all of the the other servers, very stylishly and professionally. Had we not been in a restaurant with modern decor and a cool alternative music soundtrack, I might have mistaken him for a stockbroker. Bill ordered a bottle of 2007 Chateau Massiac, an adventurous red wine from the Languedoc region of southern France.
Our server greeted us and explained how things are done at Craft Atlanta. Meals are served a la carte and “family style”, so our server recommended we split a first course or a salad, choose two main courses, and two sides. All ingredients are locally grown and of the highest quality. The menu descriptions are simple because the dishes are simple and presented in a way so that everyone at the table can enjoy them.
I settled on a spinach salad served with applewood smoked bacon, hard boiled eggs, beets, and dressed with a the yolk of a soft boiled egg ($14). Bill chose the roasted quail which was paired with slices of very ripe peaches ($18). For our main courses, I chose the roasted duck leg with apricot confit and rosemary ($37). I talked Bill into ordering the 28 day dry aged rib-eye steak ($61). We also ordered roasted asparagus ($11) and Yukon Gold potato puree ($11).
Once our order was in, we were presented with small shots of cold chanterelle mushroom soup. Unfortunately, I happen to loathe all kinds of mushrooms, so I skipped enjoying the amuse. Bill happily enjoyed mine for me and pronounced it heavenly.
It wasn’t long before our first courses arrived, served in small platters with serving forks so that we could help ourselves. The salad was a pleasure to behold, with beautiful bright green spinach leaves mixed with small pieces of flavorful bacon and bright majenta slices of beets and bits of boiled egg. The quail was delicately split and arranged on a plate with sprigs of rosemary and slices of peach. The flavor was slightly smokey and the texture was tender and juicy. I was sorry to finish it. We did leave about half of the salad because we knew the main courses would be substantial and didn’t want to fill up too much.
After our plates were cleared and silverware replaced, servers wiped down our table, refilled our water and wine glasses, and brought out our main dishes. The duck breast was cooked to medium rare, the temperature I had requested, sliced and arranged neatly in a small metal pan. It rested atop a nest of confit made from duck leg and apricots. But as delicious as the duck was, the real star on the table was the magnificent rib-eye steak, cooked to medium and sliced delicately. This meat was tender, juicy, flavorful, and absolutely mouthwatering.
The side dishes were also impressive. We were presented with several healthy stalks of roasted asparagus, which had been peeled before it was cooked. The small pot of pureed Yukon Gold potatoes were rich and satisfying, very buttery and, I suspect, mixed with some type of mild, but flavorful, cheese to make it stretchy. My only negative comment about the food is that I wish the potatoes had been served just a little bit hotter. But they tasted so good I didn’t want to send them back.
We knew we wanted dessert, so we left some of that fantastic meal on the platters. Servers enthusiastically packed the leftovers for us and gave my husband a number to present to the maitre d’, where they would be waiting for us at the end of our meal. Ultimately, I chose a chocolate souffle served with Chambord liqueur, candied ginger, and blackberries ($11). Bill had a ricotta cheese tart with Bing cherries, almond ice cream, and lemon curd ($11). While we were enjoying our delicious desserts, a member of the wait staff brought Bill a small plate of tiny chocolate chip and almond cookies with a birthday greeting written in chocolate sauce on the plate. I think I enjoyed the simple and delicious tiny cookies more than I did the desserts, although they were all fabulous.
Our meal ended up costing about $235. Craft Atlanta gave Bill a complimentary dessert. Had they not done that, the check would have been closer to $250. It was definitely not the cheapest meal we’ve ever had, but we still felt it was worth every penny. The food was exquisite and the service was very professional but not at all snobby or stuffy. They even presented us with little packets of homemade granola as a morning snack.
A note on the service
I want to take a moment to reflect on the service at Craft Atlanta. I’ve been a server myself and have eaten at a lot of restaurants. The service we experienced at Craft Atlanta was exceptional. The servers all knew the menu backwards and forwards. Everyone worked as a team. I didn’t see anyone “horsing around” or goofing off. When I got up to use the restroom, I came back to find my napkin neatly folded for me. The manager was impeccably dressed and helpfully pointed me toward the unisex, one room bathrooms, which were very clean and stocked with heavy duty towels.
What really stood out to me was that the wait staff seemed genuinely invested in seeing that we had a good time and enjoyed our meals. When the server noticed how much we raved about the food, he looked truly glad for us. I didn’t get the sense that it was because he’d get a better tip. I got the sense that he was genuinely proud of the quality of the product he was selling.
A note on the ambiance
Bill really enjoyed the music that was playing at Craft Atlanta. It was mostly cool alternative music by bands like Coldplay or singers like Beck and Amy Winehouse.
I enjoyed the way the tables were situated at Craft Atlanta. I really appreciated the fact that there was plenty of space between tables so that everyone got a sense of privacy. I didn’t feel the need to whisper to my husband, nor did I feel like I was sitting at anyone else’s table. That little bit of extra space really enhanced our dining experience… and that, along with the extremely fresh and locally produced ingredients used in Craft’s menu items, is probably why it costs a bit more to eat there. Personally, I don’t mind paying a little extra for a little more elbow room. I wish other restaurants could afford to follow Craft’s lead.
Most people were dressed in business casual attire, though I did see one woman wearing shorts and a tank top.
I would definitely choose to eat at Craft Atlanta again. Next time we have an occasion to celebrate something special, you can bet Craft Atlanta will be at the top of my list of places to go.
For more information: http://www.craftrestaurant.com/craft_atlanta_style.php