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First-rate ride

Take a fast trip to bliss in Seeger's luxury culinary machine

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Seeger's is not your father's Oldsmobile. It's not even your favorite uncle's investment-grade BMW, the one that ventures out of the air-conditioned garage only on sunny Saturdays.

Nope, Seeger's is a Mercedes Benz touring car -- German-made, relentlessly understated, designed to whoosh past everything on the Autobahn and typically driven by millionaires concerned less with price than with comfort and safety.

Now three years old and just broken in, Seeger's is the namesake of owner-chef Guenter Seeger, the much-acclaimed winner of the 1996 James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southeast, and former chef of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Mr. Seeger, along with Joel Antunes, his Dining Room replacement, is considered a regional leader in the rarified field of European-accented, modern luxury cuisine.

The Buckhead restaurant, a bungalow stripped bare and sleekly refitted with gray marble, glass, minimalist furniture and an exhibition kitchen, suits Seeger's cooking like lacquer on a rosewood dashboard. The imported Morice stove in the restaurant's kitchen is said to have cost $50,000, roughly the price of a decent Mercedes Benz sedan.

Contemporary Italian light fixtures, oversized European tableware and first-rate organic and local ingredients are among the features that draw discerning, well-traveled, price-is-no-object customers to the main floor's handful of tables night after night.

Having reserved a table more than a month in advance, my colleague Cliff Bostock and I arrived on a weekday night dressed in our best. We were immediately shown upstairs to Siberia, an otherwise empty loft with tables. (A second party was eventually consigned there as well.) It was quieter in this gulag, I decided. We weren't excessively bothered by the click of diamond bracelets and high-heeled pumps downstairs.

As at the Dining Room, set menus are offered, albeit with several choices per course in one of them, and substitutions generally allowed from menu to menu. We chose from the five-course omnivore's menu ($64 per person), substituting here and there from the five-course vegetable tasting menu ($58) and the eight-course chef's tasting menu ($80). For an additional $55, wines can be paired with the eight-course menu. Otherwise, an extensive, pricey list may be consulted. Bottled water is more or less mandatory at $3.50 per person.

Menus change as often as supplies. What wowed us last month may not necessarily be available this week. When reserving a table, you may want to inquire about favorite Seeger dishes.

A fish entrée, a pork main course and a dessert stood out. Loup de mer (sea bass) poached in sake with a Japanese plum beside it, was lovely -- firm but buttery, a unique variation on a European classic dish. Each bite of the fully cooked fish, when paired with the warm marinated plum, was a statement of culinary personality.

So was the grilled Niman Farm pork chop: tender, delicious and full of pork's characteristic woodsy flavor. Topped with macerated dried fruits and served on potatoes and apples bound with olive oil, this meat course sold itself as an up-to-date, healthier version of yesterday's North European farm fare.

The final bite (at least as far as the formal menu went) was easily the most exciting: a stellar fresh-fig tart tatin with vanilla sorbet and almond froth. The pastry, made with Normandy butter, was as light and flavorful as might be imagined, the figs a clever seasonal variation on apples. Pastry chef Chika Tillman can mark this one up as a potential medal winner when she competes in the culinary Olympics.

Mr. Bostock has already published his appreciation of sashimi-grade sardines in onion broth and lemon confit, served in a bowl the size of half a basketball. Being a fan of neither sashimi nor sardines, I was less enthusiastic. To my South Floridian tongue this was bait in a hubcap. The onion broth was certainly nice.

Steamed Georgia white shrimp on melon balls with vanilla sauce seemed more my kind of thing. It wasn't. The shrimp were too noticeably shrimpy. And even Guenter Seeger, no less than the name-brand European chefs who've tried the trick with lobster, can successfully pair vanilla with shellfish.

Columbia River sturgeon fillet poached in duck jus with fat back, chanterelle mushrooms and apple skins, was rich as a Gilded Age industrialist. The flavor and texture combinations reminded me of the upstate New York cooking of chef Waldy Malouf at the Hudson River Club in Manhattan. Foie gras roulade with onion marmalade and red wine-apple puree, though in the same historic-recipe category, was so mild as to lack flavor.

Ms. Tillman's other desserts included lavender-marinated kiwi with delicate goat yogurt sorbet; stacked peach cobbler, cooked in parchment, with vanilla sorbet; and a plate of mini cookies and sweetmeats, served with the coffee, that we shouldn't have eaten -- but did.

Service, though professional enough, can run on automatic. After considerable initial discussion with the waiter about wanting neither raw herring nor raw tuna, he brought us each a complimentary starter dish of raw-cured salmon on halibut gelee.

"Didn't we just talk about raw fish?" I asked sweetly. I could hear the wheels turning in his head. "Be right back," he answered, dashing down the stairs and returning with a demitasse of chilled gazpacho. I lapped it up while Cliff did the same to the salmon.

Portions are agreeably small. After an hour and a half at table, we came away feeling satisfied but not stuffed.

Charity-minded high livers can attend Seeger's anniversary party on Oct. 22, a fund-raiser for Share Our Strength. Besides Mr. Seeger, celebrity chefs scheduled to cook include Patrick O'Connell (The Inn at Little Washington), Julian Serrano (Picasso's at the Bellagio), Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter's) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean George, Vong and Jo Jo). Prices start at $500 per person. Call 404-355-0193, ext. 102, for more information.

Seeger's, 111 W. Paces Ferry Road, 404-846-9779. Open Mon.-Sat. 6-10 p.m. Fixed menu ranges from $64-$80. Cash and credit cards accepted.

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