Bacchanalia (Atlanta)

Bacchanalia is one of Atlanta’s top restaurants, if not The Top restaurant (second only to Seeger’s). Yet, everyone I know who has eaten dinner there–myself and my family included–comes back disappointed. Why?

Well my memory from the family trek to Bacchanalia three years ago (and remember, this was before Adam became food conscious) is one of dainty dishes, small portions and esoteric ingredients. I remember my dad being unhappy. I remember a subtle, snobby vibe.

Today, though, my dad and brother went to a golf tournament and mom suggested that she and I go to a nice lunch. I suggested Bacchanalia since, most likely, I won’t eat there again before I leave Atlanta. She approved.

I picked her up in front of the mall where she “got a lot done at Saks,” and drove her–stupidly–through heavy traffic because of the Dogwood Festival. When we finally got to Bacchanalia, we were ready to eat.

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Already, walking in, I knew this was a good idea. Things are quieter at lunch, and there’s a breezy charming feel. The cheery woman at the hostess stand led us to our table. “Enjoy your lunch.”

On the way, we walked past the bar.

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The windows overlook the kitchen, and it’s nice enough. But I have to tell you this: Bacchanalia is ugly.

I can’t describe the tiles on the wall any other way than to say that they look like urinal tiles. Not that urinals are made of tiles, but they looked like tiles you see on the wall above a urinal. And worse, they look HIGH SCHOOL urinal tiles. Yellowy and gross.

With that out of the way, though, the place overcame its ugliness with gorgeous weather outside and good cheer in the room. Mom and I ordered wine and the waiter snapped a photo of us:

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The menu changes daily and the waiter gave us the lowdown: go for the blue crab fritters as an appetizer and the duck for an entree.

Unfortunately, my curious nature feels wasteful ordering two of the same thing so I let mom order that and I ordered the tomatillo cucumber gazpacho with lobster and a lobster roll, to round out the theme.

Soon, the first course arrived. Here’s my gazpacho:

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And here’s mom’s fritter:

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I hate to say it, but mom clearly picked the winner. The fritter was mind-bogglingly delicious. With hints of vanilla, citrus and chili, that ball of crabby goodness was a piece of heaven.

The gazpacho was light and refreshing.

“Mom,” I said innocently, “that fritter’s so heavy. Why don’t you have the rest of my soup: it’s light and refreshing.”

“Nice try,” she said, “but fine, you can have the rest of mine.”

I accepted her offer and scarfed down the remnants on her plate. She made her way through my gazpacho.

And then the entrees.

Mom’s duck:

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And my lobster roll:

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Mom hates to say it, but I clearly picked the winner. The lobster roll was mind-bogglingly delicious. The best thing about it was the orange zest mixed right in; it gave it such a light, tart flavor it made my whole face light up.

Mom’s duck was tough, but still good.

“Want to trade?” asked my mom.

“Yeah right,” I replied.

Soon our plates were taken away, and the chef sent over two plates of strawberries with bitter orange sorbet.

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And, being the indulgent people that we are, we took the waiter’s recommendation (which had proved worthwhile with the fritter) and ordered a brown sugar cake with walnut ice cream:

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Oh my God, was this good. Lip-smackingly good. I fought mom’s spoon out of the way to get more cake, more ice cream.

“I raised a monster,” she commented.

And so the lesson learned today is that people get disappointed with dinner at Bacchanalia because it’s a perfect lunch place. It’s not wildly expensive and the food is marvelous lunch food. I can easily say that this is the best meal I’ve had in a long while, and you know as well as I do how many meals I’ve eaten in a long while. I loved it.

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