Postcard From Tom: Atlanta

Sunday, January 4, 2004

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Atlanta is coming of age, restaurant-wise, thanks in part to trend-setting dining rooms such as these three favorites.

BACCHANALIA (1198 Howell Mill Rd., 404-365-0410)

As its name suggests, this former slaughterhouse presents a feast for the senses, from the hip, supper club-posh interior to a menu that tempts you to order one of everything. A few of winter's wonders include local trout with bacon, potatoes and leeks; wood-grilled duck; world-class cheeses; and brown sugar cake with toasted walnut ice cream. If you have time for only one meal in Atlanta, plan to live it up at this Westside destination. Four-course dinner $65.

JOEL RESTAURANT (3290 Northside Pkwy., 404-233-3500)

One of Atlanta's shining culinary lights, Joel Antunes deftly weaves Asian and Mediterranean accents into his French-based repertoire. So diners are apt to find parsley tortellini with an order of buttery snails, star anise dusted on sweetbreads, and coins of abalone atop a bed of tiny dumplings. This beautiful food is set against a sleek backdrop, beginning in the bar, where the counter changes color with every sip of your drink. Entrees $19-$38.

WATERSHED (406 W. Ponce de Leon, Decatur, 404-378-4900)

With its roll-up doors and concrete floor, this restaurant looks much like the service station it used to be. Chef Scott Peacock does southern cooking honor with superlative shrimp grits, a hot vegetable platter and skillet-fried chicken that has fans lining up early every Tuesday-the only night the treasure is served. Co-owned by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, Watershed (five miles from downtown Atlanta) is joined to a witty wine and gift shop. Entrees $10-$28.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company