Weekend Eats ATL

…because calories don't count on the weekends

Marcel Atlanta


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All’s Well at Marcel

Up until the end of June, a classic steakhouse was one of the few things in Atlanta that Ford Fry didn’t have.  Things changed in July when he opened Marcel in the former Abattoir space.  Although I was sad to see Abattoir go, I was pretty excited about the new addition to Atlanta’s steakhouse scene.

At first glance, I loved what they did with the space.  The dim lighting, leather booths, and velvet curtains definitely gave off an “old school” steakhouse vibe, but then there were modern twists like the bright and mirrored bar in the center.

We ended up sitting in the bar room, so there was no reason not to start with a dirty martini.  One martini later, Marcel got its first check in the blue cheese-stuffed olives box.

Marcel Atlanta

So far, so good.

Marcel Atlanta

By 9 pm, the bar was packed.

To soak up all that vodka and vermouth, our server immediately brought out a plate of piping hot bread that was likely pulled out of the oven 25 seconds earlier.  If you’ve ever tried one of the famous English muffins at the Model Bakery in Napa, then you’ll know why I was so excited about this particular bread basket.  Marcel’s version looked deliciously similar and melted in your mouth just the same.  Thank goodness they only gave us one each, or else I might have skipped the steak altogether.

Ford Fry Marcel

Extra butter, please.

Although I was hoping for a tableside preparation when I ordered the Caesar a la minute, everything else about the salad was exactly what I wanted.  The romaine was crisp, the croutons were buttery, and the dressing was perfect.  Although it wasn’t served tableside, you could tell they had just mixed everything up minutes ago, hence the “a la minute.”  Also, never underestimate the importance of a chilled salad served on a chilled plate.  It can make all the difference in the world.

Marcel Atlanta

Caesar, a la minute

If steak isn’t your thing, Marcel has tons of fresh seafood options.  There were several east and west coast varieties on the oysters du jour list, and they were served with baked sea salt crackers and all the necessary fixings.

Marcel Atlanta

Oysters on ice

The sole meunière was classically prepared and beautifully presented.  They brought the fish out whole for a preview, and then returned it minutes later, filleted and ready to eat.  The fish was cooked nicely – flaky throughout with a crispy pan sear.  The subtle lemon-butter sauce really allowed the sole to shine on its own.

Marcel Atlanta

Sole with some soul.

A day or two before I dined at Marcel, I read an interesting article that compared steaks on a price per ounce basis at all the big name steakhouses in Atlanta.  The verdict?  Marcel was the most expensive steakhouse in Atlanta.  So naturally, this made me even more eager to give their steak a try.

I went with the 8 oz filet madame, and Chad with the 14 oz bone-in filet monsieur.  Fitting, I suppose.  Ever since my horrific experience at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, I am extra careful and overly specific (almost to the point of obnoxious, really) when ordering a steak.  In this particular instance, I am pretty sure I used some combination of extremely rare, blue, barely cooked, and cold center.  I also specifically requested a cool plate.  Crystal clear, right?  Wrong.  My first steak came out on a piping hot plate and was barely medium rare.

Marcel steak Atlanta

This is how a normal person might prefer their steak…overcooked.

Contrary to popular belief, I really don’t enjoy sending back $50 steaks.  So if anyone has a suggestion about how I can be more clear about the whole rare thing, I’m all ears.  I will say though, that Marcel recovered very gracefully from this misstep.  The manager was extremely apologetic and brought out a new steak right away (not that it takes much time to sear a steak for 20 seconds on each side).

Marcel Atlanta

And this is what I prefer…perfection.

The second steak was served on a cool plate (check), with a cool, red center (double check).  The outside of the steak was nicely seared  with a salty-buttery crust.  The filet was ever-so-slightly marbled, and flavorful enough that it didn’t need any of the additional sauce add-ons that the menu offered.  It was really delicious, and worth waiting for.  Did it taste $.62/oz better than Kevin Rathbun’s filet?  Probably not, but keep in mind that, like any other steakhouse, you’re paying for the entire experience, not just the steak.

Side-wise we tried the creamed corn and the scalloped potatoes.  Both sides were creamy, cheesy, and decadent to the point where a few bites was enough.  They were definitely sharing-sized portions.  The crispy, baked crust that encased the creamed corn was to die for, and I don’t even really like corn.

Marcel Atlanta

Creamy & crispy, with a hint of corn.

Marcel Atlanta

They do offer some sides that aren’t covered in butter & cheese…but where’s the fun in that?

In the end, despite the minor steak snafu, I had a great experience at Marcel.  I was impressed with the food, and the service didn’t skip a beat.  Judging by the jam-packed crowd at the restaurant, I don’t think Marcel is going to struggle to sell any steaks, higher price tag and all.

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Beltline Bites: Two Urban Licks

I made my first stop on the beltline a few weeks ago at Parish, and decided to check out Two Urban Licks for round two.  I had actually been to the restaurant before back in 2010, but decided it was time for a revisit.  Two Urban Licks’ patio also backs right up to the beltline, and even has an outdoor bocce court.  In circumstances outside of the hot and humid 95-degree summer we’ve been experiencing, I’m sure the patio is great.

Before I jump into the food itself, I’d like to discus a few *other* items:

  1. The menu has not changed much since 2010. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely surprising for a place that seems like it’s trying to be somewhat modern/edgy.
  2. The restaurant is really loud. I’m not sure if it’s the high ceilings or just the fact that the place is massive, but it was difficult to carry on a conversation.
  3. They served their wine in a cocktail glass. I’ve ranted before about martinis served in coupe glasses, but this offense is even worse.  Wine glasses exist for a reason, use them.

Okay, glassware rant over.  Back to the food.

We started with a round of salmon chips to share.  The smoked salmon was mixed with red onion and a slightly spicy chipotle cream cheese and served on a crispy kettle-cooked potato chip.  The chips were topped with capers & chives.  Given the way the dish was described on the menu, I was expecting more of a lox-type smoked salmon, but the chips were tasty nonetheless.

Two Urban Licks Atlanta

Perfectly crisped chips

The Caesar salad was slightly reinvented, with a spicy chipotle dressing and chili croutons.  I’m more of a classic Caesar kinda girl, so I honestly didn’t love the spicy twist.  The presentation too, was just blah.  The romaine was almost drowning in a sea of pink dressing, and they didn’t bother to offer any fresh cracked pepper.

Two Urban Licks appetizers

If you’re going to make me cut my own romaine, at least make it pretty

I had the bronzed scallops, which I’m pretty sure was the entrée I ordered on my last visit.  The scallops were perfectly bronzed and caramelized on the outside.  They were served with a smoky tomato broth over a pile of cheesy gouda grits, and topped with a spoonful of fresh pico de gallo.  I loved the flavor combination of the creamy grits with the smoky broth, and the textural contrast of the slightly-chilled pico.  Again, though, the presentation was a miss.  The broth looked like it was just thrown onto the side of the plate as an afterthought.

Two Urban Licks menu

With the heaviness of the grits, three scallops was all I needed

The striped bass was definitely a lighter dish.  The fish was oven roasted in a lemony brown butter vinaigrette.  The fish was simple and flaky, with a nice crispy crust on the outside.

Two Urban Licks seafood

…and an extra side of gouda grits

The amberjack was another tasty piece of fish, although it was a bit difficult to find beneath the massive pile of French fries.  The fish was served au poivre, but the sauce was off to the side a bit, so it didn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the fish.  The French fries were also crispy and tasty, but like I mentioned, unnecessarily piled on top of the fish.

Two Urban Licks Atlanta

There’s a fish under there somewhere, I promise.

For dessert, we tried the German chocolate cake, which was disappointing.  The cake was dry and didn’t even taste very chocolatey.

Two Urban Licks dessert

Deceptively delicious-looking…

Two Urban Licks dessert

…dry and disappointing

Overall, I thought the food at Two Urban Licks (aside from the cake) tasted good, but everything else about the place seemed tired.  They could definitely benefit from an updated menu and some sprucing up on the presentation.  Oh, and maybe some wine glasses as well 🙂

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Burning Bridges at Bern’s (Travel Eats: Tampa)

It’s not exactly a secret that I love a good steakhouse.  A recent meal at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa got me thinking about what specifically I look for in a steakhouse.  I’ve narrowed it down to six important criteria:

  1. The steak.  There are few things in life that I love more than a perfectly rare filet.
  2. The service. Believe it or not, this is almost as important as the steak.  Part of the reason I’m willing to pay $50+ for a piece of meat is for the excellent service that usually accompanies it.
  3. Caesar salad. I’m a creature of habit.  A steak dinner always starts with a Caesar salad.
  4. French fries. You won’t find any baked, mashed, or scalloped potatoes on my plate.  Always French fries, preferably drizzled with truffle oil.
  5. Dirty martini. This classic drink goes perfectly with a steak.
  6. Chocolate cake. No matter how full I am, I always have room for a rich and decadent chocolate cake.

Back to Bern’s…let’s see how they stacked up.

The steak.  The second steak I received at Bern’s was perfectly rare and delicious.  The first, unfortunately, was medium rare, despite the fact that I ordered it “as rare as possible” and even specified that “yes, I would like it cool throughout the center.”  I ordered the châteaubriand cut, which is essentially a filet sliced differently.  I couldn’t actually tell any difference between the two, but like I said, the second steak was quite tasty.

Bern's steak

Steak # 1. I’d say that’s about as medium rare as you can get.

Bern's steak

Steak # 2.  I think they got the “as rare as possible” thing down on this one

 

The service.  The service at Bern’s was without a doubt the worst I’ve ever received at a steakhouse, and this wasn’t my first rodeo.  In baseball, they say three strikes and you’re out.  Bern’s struck out twice and then some during our two hour meal:

  • After learning this was our first time dining at Bern’s, our server didn’t provide any type of introduction to the restaurant or overview of the menu.   She gave us menus and took our drink order.  Strike one.
  • I asked a question about the châteaubriand cut, and our server explained that I should read the description of the cuts on the menu. I’m quite capable of reading, thank you, but the menu description didn’t answer the specific question that I had.  Strike two.
Bern's menu tampa

The menu provided a detailed description of each of their cuts

  • Refer to the French fries section below. Strike three.
  • Refer to the steak section above. Not only was my steak overcooked, my Mom’s was as well.  I didn’t realized that my request for “as rare as possible” was too vague for Bern’s.  Strike four.
  • Wait, isn’t our server supposed to come by at some point to ask how the food is? Hmm, I guess she forgot that part too.  Strike five.
  • After all of that, our server brought the check over and explained that per restaurant policy, a 12% gratuity charge had already been added to the bill. She then had the nerve to specify that we were welcome to add additional gratuity if we felt that she deserved more than 12%.  This was simply rude beyond belief.   Thank you for the Tipping 101 course, but we have, in fact, dined in a restaurant before and are quite familiar with how gratuity works. Strike six.
  • Refer to the chocolate cake section below. Strike seven.
  • Needless to say, we were all pretty ticked off about the meal, so we called and asked to speak to the manager the following day. He called back three days later and pretty much said, “sorry I’m not sorry.”  Strike eight and Bern’s is out.

Caesar salad.  We opted for the tableside Caesar salad in lieu of the house salad that came with the steak.  I love a good tableside Caesar, and Bern’s is among the best I’ve had.  The dressing was zesty and delicious.   It was actually a tad lighter than a traditional Caesar dressing, which I really enjoyed.

Caesar salad Bern's

The perfect combination of ingredients.

Tablewide Caesar salad Bern's

The preparation.

Tablewide Caesar salad Bern's

The finished product. Perfection.

French fries.  Each steak at Bern’s comes with their famous French onion soup, a salad, a baked potato, onion rings, and the vegetable du jour.  Woah, that’s a lot of food.  We explained to our server that we weren’t really interested in any soup, salad, potatoes, onion rings, or vegetables, and could we just order the steaks a la carte?  No.  Sorry, we don’t do a la carte.  Of course they don’t.  We then asked if instead of the four servings of soup, salad, potatoes, onion rings, and vegetables that we didn’t plan to eat, could we simply substitute one order of truffle French fries.  No.  Sorry, no substitutions allowed.  And that was that, there were no French fries to be had at this meal.

Dirty martini.  My martini was ice cold and just right.  Bern’s even made up a tiny bit of ground with the blue cheese-stuffed olives.

Bern's martini

This was definitely a two-martini kind of meal

Chocolate cake.  After dinner, we headed upstairs to Bern’s famous dessert room in hopes of drowning our dinner sorrows in some chocolate cake.  Unfortunately, 15 minutes later, no one had even come by to take our order, so we left.  Cakeless.

To say that Bern’s was disappointing would be the understatement of the century.  When I think about my favorite steakhouses here in Atlanta, the service at Bone’s immediately comes to mind.  Bern’s was basically the anti-Bone’s.  Now, just in case there’s any hint of lingering doubt in anyone’s mind (although I’m not sure that’s actually possible at this point), there is a 0% chance that I would recommend Bern’s to anyone visiting Tampa.  Ever.

Wine cellar Bern's.

The fabulous wine cellar at Bern’s.

Girl's weekend in Tampa