Remember when "chain restaurant" referred to McDonald's and Burger King? Stand on any corner in just about any city and you'll see at least two members of fast-food chains facing one another. These days, they all seem to be competing by offering lunch specials that will feed a family of 10 for $3.50.
Now you can stand in Buckhead and see expensive gourmet chain restaurants staring one another down. Among the latest to open is Market in the W Buckhead (3377 Peachtree Road, 404-523-3600). It's across the street from Craft. Both restaurants are part of New York-based chains owned by big-name chefs – Tom Colicchio in the case of Craft and Jean-Georges Vongerichten in Market's case.
This is Vongerichten's second Atlanta restaurant. His other venue here, Spice Market, opened in early 2008 at the W in Midtown and features mainly Asian flavors. (He also operates a Market in Paris.) The newbie's menu, while also including some Asian flavors, is described as a compendium of "greatest hits" from Vongerichten's popular New York restaurants, including JoJo, Vong and Jean Georges.
Market's interior was designed by Karim Rashid, well-known to New Yorkers for his ultra-modern, slightly Jetson work in multiple disciplines. The operative word here is curvilinear. I'm sure you'll find a straight line somewhere in the two-level restaurant, but it won't be easy. Some of the super-graphics remind me of those biomorphic psychedelic projections you used to see on stage when groups like Jefferson Airplane performed. You remember those, right? Picture yourself inside a colorful lava lamp.
The restaurant's chef is Ian Winslade, who was opening chef at Spice Market, too. Winslade is well-known to Atlantans for his earlier work at Bluepointe and Shout. Here, he's featuring – all together now – a menu of local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible.
The restaurant was empty except for a couple of other tables when we visited on a recent Sunday night. Frankly, it's not the kind of room that feels very comfortable when empty. And speaking of comfort: Avoid a seat on the long white banquette. You have to sit forward to eat without back support. You could carry your own bolster cushions. Or just plan to spend the evening propped on your elbows if you land on the banquette.
The food, unsurprisingly, was mainly good, although I started with the evening's lone disappointment, one of Vongerichten's classics – goat cheese custard with pistachios and cubed sweet-and-sour beets. I found the dish more foamy than custardy. The ingredients were separated in the bowl and I'd caution you against mixing them all together. The custard simply isn't dense enough to support it without dissolving a good bit because of the beets' juices.
Wayne made the better choice with a superb little cake thick with sweet peekytoe crab meat. Peekytoes are a longtime favorite of Vongerichten. Here, the crab cake is served with a celeriac remoulade and glistening sections of pink grapefruit with ginger. It's a measure of the crab's sweetness that the stinging grapefruit is a perfect complement.
I couldn't resist trying the oddly named "crispy organic chicken." Normally we call that fried chicken, although our server noted that the chicken is baked before it's fried in a light tempura batter. It was two breast pieces served over an oddly shaped swipe of pureed sweet potatoes in which some chili oil was pooled. Buttery bok choy was also on the plate. It's going to rate among the best fried chicken in the city.
Wayne selected roasted cod with marinated vegetables and an "aromatic sauce." As I've written many times before, cod isn't my favorite fish, but Winslade's treatment is far superior than the usual. Cod often ends up being a bland sop for whatever else is on the plate, but you get full flavor here.
Pastry chef at the restaurant is Deborah Craig. A lemon meringue tart with crushed raspberries and lemongrass ice cream, served with a streak of minty oil, tasted better than it looked. As I photographed it, I watched the meringue topping slowly slide to one side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
I preferred the crème fraiche cheesecake with poached cherries, cabernet sorbet and Riesling gelee. But both desserts were fun riffs on their separate themes.
The menu here is fairly brief but Market also serves breakfast and lunch. Plan to spend a good bit – entrees range from $15 (for a burger) to $38 (for lobster). Service is smart and snappy.
HERE AND THERE
Memo to Grant Central: Enough with the stuffed shell specials. Someone's been on a jag with these things, in the same way the kitchen couldn't stop serving broccoli for, um, years. ...
Whining of the Week: It seems like I hear a complaint about the wait for a table at Flip from someone every day. I would suggest making a trip to Ann's Snack Bar, but you'll likely wait as long there. Ever since the Wall Street Journal called Miss Ann's Ghetto Burger the best burger in America more than a year ago, there's been a wait for the seven stools inside the tiny restaurant. Even when I showed up at the Earl recently for a burger, there was a lengthy wait. I guess it's obvious what's hot these days. ...
Battle at Sevananda: Members and shoppers of the longtime cooperative grocery in Little Five Points are dividing into two camps – those who want the market to remain vegetarian and those who, like manager Steve Cook, want to begin selling grass-fed beef and high-quality seafood.