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Four Seasons' dream team debuts at Park 75

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Kevin Hickey, executive chef of the Four Seasons Atlanta since November, brings a delicacy and subtlety to hotel cooking not seen here since the glory days of Guenter Seeger at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Sidekick David Jeffries, the luxury property's newly arrived pastry chef, is producing refined, American-style breads and blockbuster sweets to match Hickey's Yankee savories.

Four Seasons, the ultra-upscale chain based in Seattle, makes no secret of its intention to surpass once-dominant Ritz-Carlton, the latter now floundering as an over-committed brand within the Marriott hospitality conglomerate. In local terms, the arrival of Chicago-born Hickey and California-trained Jeffries, both with experience in first-rate kitchens, makes it clear that Four Seasons management means to best all competition. Jeffries, who studied at the California Culinary Academy, has worked at Patina and Coyote Cafe. Hickey's seasoning includes stints carrying successively greater responsibility in Four Seasons kitchens in Los Angeles, London and Dublin. He medaled at the 1988 Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt.

A four-course tasting menu offered in the hotel's Park 75 restaurant last month was an All-American parade from start to finish. Seared Nantucket Bay scallops, browned at the edges, pearly within, were presented with a mound of saffron risotto, the latter perfectly balanced between the wiry sharpness of the saffron and the musky creaminess of imported hard cheese. I have never encountered a better version on any public table outside Italy. The second course, seared Hudson Valley foie gras with rhubarb compote and r aspberry vinegar-pink peppercorn jus, came off almost as well. The liver, properly pink and wet inside, had a nice salty edge. The rhubarb might have made its presence a bit more strongly felt but the classic combination of foie gras, fruit and reduction sauce worked its evanescent magic, as always. Veal tenderloin with black chanterelles, braised baby leeks and mushroom jus was simply wonderful -- the meat pink inside, fork tender and extremely flavorful. That goes double for peanut butter ice cream with a cosmic bourbon anglaise, both garnishing a just-OK chocolate croissant pudding.

Quality does not come cheap: $48 for the tasting menu just described ($64 with wines paired to each dish); around $45 for a vegetarian spread. The latter menu on the night I tried it began with an ethereal black truffle flan with mushroom essence; hit its peak with a salad of baby frisee, blood orange sections, shaved Anjou pear, crumbled blue cheese and a remarkably suave vinaigrette; coasted a bit with sweet potato-stuffed ravioli in ginger cream with arugula, and peaked again with a ravishingly fresh blueberry slump (a kind of cobbler) served with Meyer lemon and clove ice cream. I kept reminding myself not to finish the huge bowl of cobbler. In the end, the berries were too sweet, plump and tasty to waste. I scraped the dish clean.

This being a no-expense-spared hotel, the a la carte menu offers bits of almost everything rich and rare. (There's no sushi bar, thank heaven.) Weary travelers and hungry natives alike can graze amongst corporate health-and-nutrition recipes (hot smoked Atlantic salmon glazed with sourwood honey and homemade mustard at $24, for instance), vegetarian stand-alone small plates (shaved apple and blue cheese tart with candied walnuts and organic watercress, $11) or march all the way out to surf-and-turf (butter-braised lobster and milk-fed veal filet with foie gras mashed potatoes, $39) or a 16-ounce Kansas City sirloin with baked macaroni and blue goat cheese ($36).

Although each of those sounded fine, I went with lush, rich diver sea scallops "Rockefeller" with white truffle Hollandaise (and a few shards of shell, $16); lightly floured and sauteed John Dory (a white Atlantic fish also known as St. Peter's fish) with fresh sweet peas and overly-truffled grits ($26), and pastry chef Jeffries' signature dessert, a "Milky Way" composed of chocolate mousse dome, caramel center, hazelnut-crunch base and pomegranate-orange sorbet, $8). Swoon.

We asked for seconds on the basket of delicious breads and cocktail crackers. Waiter Nils, eagle-eyed from start to finish, kept them coming, along with a full range of menu knowledge, wit and charm. That said, service might benefit from a few more pairs of hands at even moderately busy times, not to mention a bit more polishing. Pre-appetizers consisting of large coconut- crusted prawns riding waves of coconut foam were delivered without utensils. When we finally managed to get someone's attention, and asked for forks and spoons, they were speedily provided along with a lot of "Oh-how-could-we-forget" patter. But I noticed that when the tiny plates were brought to other guests, they arrived without implements.

Because the room is used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, its tone and decor are lighter and less traditionally formal than comparable dinner destinations such as Pano's & Paul's, Nikolai's Roof and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Seeger's and Joel, meanwhile, are more emphatically hard-edge modern and European. Park 75, happily, is more adaptable to circumstance. I've used the large center table to entertain out-of-town family and a terrace two-top for a lunchtime interview with a visiting author. By any measure, the high-ceilinged room is bright, sunny and grand. The oversize floral arrangements might grace a palace ball. Polished metal sconces light a small fantasy world with grace and charm. Slab-glass butter plates, rich fabrics in spring colors, seasonal ingredients, truffles, foie gras, salmon, champagne, chocolate -- and chefs to make the most of them. Who says we can't have it all?

At Park 75, indeed we can. We just need to dress nice and bring plenty of money.

Contact Elliott Mackle at elkcam1@hotmail.com or leave voice mail at 404-614-2514.

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