One Singular Sensation

Art of the Meal

It's a quiet, homey street, except for the swarm of valet parking near a squat structure with a purple neon panel. The former residential loft sports a ranch house-style picture window in front, revealing a troop of bandanna-wearing chefs madly whisking and sauteeing. You open the steel front door to confront ... a heavy, closed curtain. You stand nervously for a moment, listening to the muffled sounds of cutlery and chatter on the other side, wondering what to do next. Wait for someone to invite you in? Hang up your coat? (No hooks or hangers.) Brace yourself for a scene from "Eyes Wide Shut" as you whisper the secret word through brown velvet?





Finally, you gather your courage and throw open the veil to reveal Atlanta's midtown skyline, overlooking the city's hottest new restaurant. One Midtown Kitchen taps the skills of a trio of talents: designer Bill Johnson, Chef Kevin Reilly (formerly of New York's Union Square Cafe) and owner Bob Amick, former partner in the Pleasant Peasant restaurants. Like the funny little light fixtures hanging over the dining room, which look like the glowing tubes of an old Philco radio, the three seem to have caught lightning in a bottle.





Johnson's organic curves in the bar, exposed kitchen and high-backed padded booths warm the room's exposed brick and antique mirrors. Through floor-to-ceiling windows, the skyline is a gaudy necklace, suspended over tranquil greenspace.





Reilly's menu cribs from Union Square Cafe's playbook: Nothing too fancy or overwrought, just top-of-the-line ingredients with crisp, clear flavors. The food is sure to recruit a corps of regulars, with its hip but accessible bistro fare, on small plates and main dishes, with nothing over $19. The wine list is ingeniously concocted in four progressively priced tiers of a dozen or so each, with lots of interesting stuff offered by the bottle, glass and half-glass. Our quibbles are minor: 1.) Why the tired Rod Stewart audio? 2.) We wish reservations were accepted after 6:30.





Near the 30-foot wall of wine bottles, the raw oysters are listed by provenance on the blackboard, and you may even order them individually, at $1.75 each. Tiny, potent Kumomotos from Washington state, silky Pearl Points from Oregon and saline Coleville Bays from Canada come to life with sharp-edged sauces: tomatillo, lemon horseradish, and Peppar vodka mignonette. You can easily make a meal of the small plates, starting with the trio of tightly curled lettuces (romaine, raddichio, Boston), with fatty, brown-edged cubes of smoked bacon and nubs of blue cheese in buttermilk dressing.





Shrimp scampi pasta is a perfect example of Reilly's comfort food with an Exacto blade edge. Thick, al dente orechiette (ear-shaped pasta) is almost dumpling-like, with young spinach leaves, dewy shrimp and vibrant, oven-dried tomatoes in garlic broth. A big wedge of sourdough, griddle-browned on all sides and stuffed with gamy goat cheese, is a glorified, and glorious, grilled cheese sandwich, slathered with sauteed mushrooms in a trace of truffle oil. The chargrilled hanger steak is perfectly medium-rare, finished in a red-wine shallot sauce and heaped in slices over a massive pile of crunchy, twice-fried potatoes, dusted with herbs and crumbs of Parmesan.





The lemon pudding cake is more like a deflated souffle -- its delicate crust and steamy, citrus innards represent the kind of spoon feeding we look forward to. It's wonderful with a glass of the aptly named Danielle chocolate port ($10).





Despite One Midtown Kitchen's dramatic debut, it reminds us of nothing more than Amick's Peasant salad days, with unpretentious but totally delectable food, in surroundings that created occasions rather than ceremonies. That was something new in 1970s Atlanta, and One Midtown Kitchen brings it full circle.





One Midtown Kitchen


559 Dutch Valley Road, Atlanta404-892-4111


Reservations: before 6:30 only


Hours: 5:30 p.m.-midnight Mondays-Thursday;


5:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays;


5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Sundays;


10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.


Late supper menu starts at 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.


Parking: On-site. Complimentary valet.


Dinner entrees, $14-$19. Small plates: $5-$9.


Sunday brunch, $4-$12.


Credit cards: All major.


Attire: Hip-casual.





Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact her at gtcritic@mindspring.com.



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