Art of the Meal
Covering the state's dining scene usually means reaching for the clouds in Atlanta, and digging for rural roots in the country.
In medium-sized towns in-between, a lot of restaurants are worth knowing about, but typically, I judge them in context. That is, not against Atlanta restaurant standards, but whether the restaurant is a good addition to its environment, and whether Georgia Trend readers ought to know about the place.
Macon's Marco, however, is different. Macon's dining scene is up-and-coming (and Marco is one indication), but unlike most of its local brethren, Marco could move to Atlanta effortlessly and compete. In fact, it's the kind of restaurant I wish I could find in Atlanta. It's a great hangout for people who adore good food, special enough for a big-ticket dinner, but not too expensive for a weeknight if you just want some pasta and a worthwhile glass of wine.
It's the kind of place I'd visit when I need to restore my will to live with something simple but inspiring, with clear, bright flavors, a decent wine list, and a manageable check at the end.
Opened as the sister restaurant to the 1842 Inn, Macon's belle dame B&B (guests may take a courtesy car from the inn), Marco operates under the watchful Italian tutelage of Chef Dario Leo and maitre d' Giordano Filipponi. The menu is rife with Old Country ingredients like Parma prosciutto, broccoli rabe and Modena balsamic, in familiar dishes like risotto and roast duck, with a few specialty items like whole branzino fillet baked in rock salt, dramatically broken tableside.
However, there are also plenty of pretty, innovative presentations of grilled fish and chicken breast. The only false note of the experience is a jarring one - until the food arrives and you forget the bland environment, with its faux-Tuscan-villa-in-a-shopping-mall look. The service, however, is sprightly and observant. (The chef, strolling through the dining room, stopped to ask why one customer's espresso didn't have its requisite fresh froth on top.)
Order `a la carte, or from the four-course "Gastronomic Menu," a bargain at $35, with matching wines for each course only $10 more. Recently, that began with seared duck foie gras on a truffled polenta tart with mushroom emulsion, a combination of aromas that could be described, literally, as pig heaven. It went well with a La Crema pinot noir. Better with a glass of flinty pinot grigio was a crisp salad of fennel, crumbled goat cheese, grapefruit and pistachio nuts - sharp, bracing flavors all, but not a conflict in the bunch.
The pastas are fresh-tasting, from the ribbon-wide papardelle with translucent shrimp in creamy artichoke sauce, to the swoonily delectable spinach ravioli, stuffed with roast veal in a mushroom cream sauce - the best dish of our visit, and just $16. (Every dish is a right-sized portion that leaves you neither hungry nor regretful.)
The beef tenderloin with pears and red wine reduction sounds odd, I know, if I describe it as "candied beef," but that was the flavor that came to mind, and it was delicious, especially paired with a bone-dry cab.
To cap it off: Lemoncello (or grappa) and pistachio gelato, with espresso to trundle you home.
How do you choose 10 barbecue joints to write about? You might as well try to describe your 10 most memorable dates, or your favorite shirts. Barbecue is that personal, and that familiar. It has to do as much with taste as circumstance. In other words, the story involved.
Marco Ristorante Italiano
4581 Forsyth Road, Macon
Hours: Open for lunch Mondays-Fridays; dinner Mondays-Saturdays
Prices: Dinner entrees, $17-$25. Four course "gastronomic" menu, $35; with matching wines, $45.
Credit cards: All major
Attire: From casual to cashmere and pearls
Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.