Livingston, I presume?

Even as Atlanta’s business community continues to reel from the economic downturn, the city’s downtown restaurants seem to be pushing their chips to the center of the table and announcing, “All in.”

Some already had planned renovations – or lush spaces in ritzy new hotels – before stocks began to slide. Still, it’s both heartening and a little frightening to see these audacious enterprises where we’ve all longed to see them – in beautiful spots on downtown Peachtree Street – just as businesspeople and diners decide to cut corners.

Dogwood opened a serene, contemporary space just before the crash. The downtown Ritz-Carlton just underwent a dramatic new make-over. But perhaps no restaurant has created as much buzz as Livingston, the new restaurant in the recently refurbished Georgian Terrace Hotel.

This ornate, historic spot (site of bon vivant mayor Livingston Mims’s home in the early 1900s; in 1939, the hotel hosted stars for the Gone With the Wind premiere) has long begged for the right management, and the right restaurant. Thank heavens – both have arrived.

As Garry Mennie discovered, when one door closes, another one can be turned into a champagne display case. The former chef of Taurus, which shuttered in January with the first puff of ill wind, was tapped to helm the kitchen of this ambitious project, which includes an $11 million renovation by The Puccini Group, a San Francisco firm.

The décor maintains the hotel’s classic lines and cool marble, and sexes it up with bold swaths of metallic sheen and velvet. What was once the revolving front door now showcases bottles of bubbly in a giant ice bucket – an appropriately blingy backdrop for viewing the Fabulous Fox directly across the street. The Peachtree entrance now funnels into the restaurant’s beautiful and spacious bar, usually filled to the brim until the Fox’s 8 p.m. curtain. (If you’re going to the Fox, you’ll save on parking by eating at Livingston, and using the complimentary valet.)

Most important, the food is wonderful – more like Mennie’s clean and elegant inventions at Canoe, where he earned his first major accolades, than his muscular, fiery dishes at Taurus. The oyster “gratin” is a great example – they’re Rockefellers by any other name, the cheesy, satin spinach flecked with bits of Benton’s bacon.

I’ll order anything Mennie makes with a slow-cooked shortrib (the menu offers both ravioli and a hangar steak/shortrib duo), but I’m a gnocchi snob. The chef again won me over with these little potato-y pillow-puffs. Be sure to order soup – any soup – as every one I’ve tasted has been fabulous, most notably the rootsy Jerusalem artichoke and minty spring pea.

Some have complained of small portions, but the burger and 28-ounce veal porterhouse will surely win over any meat-head. The Ashley Farms chicken, with shelled peas and chanterelles, is the kind of dish you might imagine Mims himself serving.

Desserts are as elegant and graceful as the room – try the peanut bon bon for your chocolate fix, with toasted nuts and peanut ice cream. Like the hotel itself, it’s a homegrown classic, reinvented.



Livingston


659 Peachtree St. NE (in the Georgian Terrace Hotel)


404.897.1991


www.livingstonatlanta.com


Reservations: Encouraged


Credit cards: All major


Parking: Complimentary valet


Dress code: Theater style – anything goes,


but with an eye for fashion

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