Art of the Meal
So, have you been to the new aquarium? No, not the giant fish tank across from Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park - Midtown's new aquarium, at the Woodruff Arts Center.
Table 1280, the elegant restaurant designed by Renzo Piano, is not so much a bar and dining room as a habitat. Viewed from the outside, its huge, incandescent glass rectangles swim with beautifully languid diners.
Table 1280's gorgeously stark setting - quarter-sawn oak floors, white walls and luminous pop art - is so much a part of the dining experience that you might assume the food would be an afterthought. That would be wrong. Run by New York's Restaurant Associates, known for smart but less ambitious museum restaurants at the Guggenheim and Metropolitan, Table 1280 has more in common with Modern, the hit restaurant at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Its thought-provoking New American menu, hip young chef and ground-floor, glass-enclosed minimalist environment make the same dramatic statements.
Chef Shaun Doty comes to Table 1280 as a freewheeling individualist who earned adoring followers at downtown's late Mumbo Jumbo and at Mid-City Cuisine. Some wondered whether a "corporate" gig would kill his mojo, but Doty counters Piano's exacting design with a witty, sumptuous bill of fare.
It all begins in the bar - and you should, too. Lounge on comfortable leather chairs and sample such small, inventive plates as smoky grilled octopus with black chickpeas and crisp slivers of fennel, and clever cocktails, such as the Moulin Rouge - a tall, frosty glass of champagne, Lillet Rouge and ginger ale.
Beyond the glowing glass wine racks separating the bar from the maitre d' station, an open kitchen connects two big rooms, each dominated by a single work on the wall - metallic domes in the west room, and in the east, a strip of colored fluorescent lights. Here, right-sized "quartinos" of wine afford two small glasses of Campanile pinot grigio for $12, and right-priced glasses of cava (Spanish sparkling wine, $7). More sane pricing options include the pre-theater dinners, available from 5:00-6:30 p.m., for $28 (two courses) or $35 (three courses).
If you want to be wildly impractical, on the other hand, you can order the $50 "seafood plateau," a three-tiered mountain of lobster, shrimp, oysters, tuna tartare and jumbo lump crab. Or you could do as we did: Order a few of the oysters of the day (Wellfleet on our visit) for $2.50 each. Splendid with the wasabi aoli, apple pepper mignonette and cocktail sauce.
From there on out, we swooned with every luxurious ingredient - chestnut foam topping a sweet kabocha squash soup, drizzled with pumpkin seed oil. Barramundi, a thick trout-like filet, with crunchy chickpea fries and Greek yogurt laced with mullet caviar.
The quail is complete with crisp pork belly, fried egg and rice, except here, the fried egg is quail, the rice is creamy risotto and the tiny quail on the side is stuffed with succulent foie gras. Think you're done? Uh-uh. Just wait till it's covered with shaved black truffles. Protesting we only wanted a bite for dessert, we nearly inhaled a fragile-crusted apple galette with caramel cr?me fraiche ice cream.
As much as I like the adventure of dining here, and the space itself, I wish it were more comfortable. The room's acoustics are horrendous. Parking is exorbitant (come after 8 pm weeknights to avoid a $10 tariff.) The chairs are beautiful, but not my idea of high comfort. The bright lights lend an austere tone.
Still, Table 1280 is an exciting milepost of Atlanta progress. And as every shark knows, you're either moving, eating or dying.
1280 Peachtree St. NE (at the Woodruff Arts Center)
Hours: Lunch, Tuesdays-Saturdays. Dinner, Tuesdays-Sundays. Sunday Brunch
Credit Cards: All Major
Dress code: Elegant, bohemian, or somewhere in between
Krista Reese is Georgia Trend's restaurant critic. Contact email@example.com.