Thursday, August 31, 2006

Two Urban Licks

AUG 31st.
I sat down a few days ago and penned a blog entry about “good things”. About how 2 of my friends, on of them particularly jobless got jobs. And how my friends’ baby just turned 1…. Her story is one of heartache that has ended in delight. But see, then one of my aforementioned jobless friends’ dad died. He lost his battle with AIDS last week, and she is devastated. And that job fell through. Now another friend is sitting beside her dad as cancer closes in, and there are others.

So, amid the mixed emotions, I suppose I’ll write a restaurant review. Certainly a few good things in the form of food and my husband have come along for me this week. We had a lovely birthday dinner out at a restaurant I’ve wanted to try: Two Urban Licks.

Upon opening, “Two” was the IT restaurant in Atlanta. Part of the now-booming downtown revival, just down the road from the Carter Center and MLK memorial, the folks of Two took an old garage / warehouse and converted into the hipster foodie hangout that needed months for weekend reservations early on.

It’s a hunt to find, but once there, and once having turned your car over to complimentary valet, the place oozes urban hip. Tall stainless steel doors bring you into a high-ceilinged, well, warehouse. Complete with steel grey curtains, candelabras climbing up the black walls and a trend-setting crowd around the bar, sipping mixed drinks listening to live jazz. Further into the space, the open kitchen is the centerpiece. Fires blaze while hurried men in white coats flip things, prep plates and look busy. It is anything but distracting though; rather, the stainless appliances and white-coats tend to meld into the modern, industrial d├ęcor.

The edginess of the black, gray and stainless steel is tempered by candlelight and the giant red silk chandeliers that cast a pleasant hue on diners. Then there’s the calm that comes from the art. On one of Two’s giant walls, an equally giant painting looks over the space and brings serenity. I’ll leave the painting for you to discover and get on to the meal.

If the review thus far sounds vaguely familiar – converted warehouse space, haven of the new urban hipster scene – you’re right, from the moment we entered it had the feel of Rathbun’s, which I’ve previously reviewed. Thus the bar was set, everything which followed our first steps inside Two Urban Licks had to be compared with Rathbun’s, whether we wanted to or not.

The service did not disappoint. Kerry was informative, seemed to enjoy his job, and had some good tips and descriptions as we sorted through an appropriate wine choice. More on that later.

Despite Jeff’s general aversion to tomatoes, it was my birthday and I wanted to try the recommended Two Salad – think Caprese with class. It was predictably scrumptious with vine-fresh tomatoes topped with fine Italian mozzarella and fresh basil. The three little pieces of art were then drizzled with olive oil. Jeff even ate one! I thought it was a tad salty, but Jeff disagreed. Regardless it was an exploration in local, fresh ingredients, so hard to come by in restaurants these days.

Ah, a brief bread mention…uninteresting to say the least. An apparent hoagie roll sliced then buttered with garlic and herbs, wrapped in paper. Not a far cry from any Italian restaurant’s opener, but very far from the wonderful artisan breads we enjoyed at Rathbuns.

But the bread is not the feature here. So, it was on to the meal. Two, like Rathbuns, crafts its menu around a New South type cuisine incorporating elements like grits, low-country shrimp and the like. But while Rathbun’s combined these things into fresh-tasting memorable dishes, we were less impressed with Two’s version. They arrived in boat-like oblong dishes, more hip, less artful than I would have expected. The first hint that maybe Two’s fancy comfort food concept is lost somewhere in the middle. And, as I told Jeff, no matter how gourmand you are, Fried fish and coleslaw is still fried fish and slaw. Granted, it was the best fried fish I’ve ever tasted, and probably the most intricate, flavorful slaw, it was still…well, you know, fried fish n slaw.

My scallops were seared beautifully, that succulent melt-in-your mouth quality that just comes from good scallops. I rarely eat them, but when I do, I savor every bite of those tasty medallions. These were dusted with something a little more fiery than I was expecting, which took a little from the scallops’ flavor and the wine. They rested, er, floated on smoked Gouda grits, which were richly delightful, but less than hearty. The smoked tomato puree on the side was a lovely addition and nice, inventive dip for the scallops.

I was perhaps most pleased with the wine, a California Pinot from Russian River Valley. It had a beautiful complexity that, surprisingly for a Pinot, was great for sipping, but of course, paired well our food. Especially the Caprese salad.

In all, we really enjoyed our time there, the space was amazing, and the food was great. But... it just didn’t have the Wow factor that Rathbun’s did, where every bite seemed perfect and where any conversation took back seat to the food.

P.S. If you're not so much into restaurant stuff, at least go see Little Miss Sunshine. Great performances and quirky characters brilliantly craft potentially sad situations into humourous ones...I laughed hard.