Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Table 1280: Best Seat in the House

Table 1280
Table 1280
On the same day I visited the High Museum of Art, as I was leaving the Sifly Piazza I glanced up at one of the adjoining buildings and a high interior wall decorated with various size disco balls drew my eye and piqued my interest. I walked over to investigate and discovered that it was the lounge of Table 1280, an artfully appointed restaurant and tapas lounge.

I couldn't resist the urge to go in, even though I wasn't hungry. I was brightly greeted by Elizabeth, the hostess, who welcomed me cheerfully—a surprise given it was the end of the restaurant's lunch hours. I explained, non-committing, that I only wanted to see the dining room and look over the menu. Elizabeth graciously invited me in.

After a peek in the dining room and a glance at the menu, I gave in to the temptation to have lunch—a tourist has to eat, right? Elizabeth escorted me to my table, which had a clear view of the piazza and the dining room in their entirety—the best seat in the house!

Elizabeth and Vangel
Elizabeth and Vangel
Within moments, Vangel, who seemed to me to be Italian based on his accent and demeanor (I have friends from Rome back in DC), welcomed me to Table 1280. I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc (the generous pour arrived quickly) and perused the manageable but descriptive menu. Decisions, decisions.

I was soon enjoying a hot and perfectly seasoned fettuccini with a wild mushroom ragout drizzled with a balsamic reduction and topped with a generous portion of shaved parmesan cheese. I ate far more than enough to satisfy my appetite—again, I couldn't help myself. As I began to wonder if it was really that good or whether I actually was hungry when I came in and just hadn't realized it, I noticed a mother and daughter duo who had just finished their meal and were preparing to leave.

The daughter wheeled her mother (they just had to be close relatives given the remarkable similarity of facial features), a seemingly delightful woman with a fluffy but well-kempt head full of silver hair, to where a tables where one of the restaurant's chefs had joined his family who were having lunch as well. He was wearing his chef's apron and Vangel later told me that he indeed was one of the restaurant's chefs. The mother offered a kind greeting and then told the chef, "That was the best pasta I've had in my entire life." That was enough to confirm without a doubt that my pasta was just as delicious as I thought it was.

Table 1280 Dining Room
Table 1280 Dining Room
When I could eat no more, I settled in with my sauvignon blanc as I watched the mother and daughter venture across the piazza and into the High Museum of Art where I had come from not too long before. Vangel returned promptly and offered the dessert menu, which I agreed to view, just out of curiosity, of course. As he handed me the menu, Vangel told me about one of the restaurant's signature desserts—a poached peach on a scone-like biscuit with vanilla ice cream, candied ginger and a not-too-sweet whipped cream. Without even looking at the dessert menu, I gave it back and ordered the peach…every bite was delicious!

When I asked for the check, Vangel inquired if I was a member of the High Museum. Presumably he'd noticed the museum literature I'd been reading between courses. My membership entitled me to a 20% discount on my meal, as well as parking validation.

A friend's 80-something year old mother once proclaimed, "Dining should be an experience." I whole-heartedly agree with her. So, the question is: Will I go back? Definitely, without question. I'm actually rather curious about the tapas lounge and from their Sunday brunch menu I can already hear the bananas foster pancakes calling my name!

Visiting Table 1280

Date toured: Friday, August 27, 2010
  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday-Wednesday: Lunch, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Dinner, 5 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.; Lounge, 3 p.m. - 9 p.m.
  • Thursday-Saturday: Lunch, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Dinner, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.; Lounge 3 p.m. - 10 p.m.
  • Sunday: Brunch, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Lounge, 12:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Location: 1280 Peachtree Street, NE (map and directions)
Parking: Woodruff Arts Center parking garage, and surrounding area
Reservations: Open Table
Website: http://www.table1280.com/content/home.asp

Monday, August 30, 2010

High Museum of Art: High on My List

High Museum of Art
High Museum of Art
Years ago I was an enthusiastic member of the High Museum of Art, loved attending the member-only sneak previews of exhibits and enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Museum Director at special member events, not to mention just popping in for a stroll through corridors of incredibly talented artists. And when I could, I welcomed the company of friends who have an interest in art but would not otherwise visit an art museum...not without a little nudging. Now I'm back in Atlanta and the High is high on my list of places to visit regularly.

Today's High Museum of Art sells itself…the allure of its award-winning design, the $130 million expansion of three buildings and the high-caliber exhibits it offers continue to draw families, future artists and the art-curious.

As soon as I figured out where to park (I easily found the Woodruff Arts Center parking deck immediately behind the museum, a block off Peachtree Street) I walked around to the "front" of the museum—where many years ago visitors entered. Well, a lot has changed! The main entrance is now in the "Sifly Piazza," the main courtyard of the Woodruff Arts Center, surrounded by the new, multi-story High Museum buildings, all donning the High’s signature brilliant white and clean line design.

The admissions desk staffers were very professional and courteous. Chris, one of the admissions associates, helped me with general information, mapping out the museum and told me what benefits and discounts I would receive for supporting the museum with the purchase of a membership. As a supporter of the arts, I didn’t need much convincing, but it was nice to hear the excitement from a fellow enthusiast.

High Museum Stent Family Wing
Stent Family Wing
I highly recommend picking up a museum map at the entrance. Mostly because the museum has grown substantially in size (approximately double what it was a few years ago) and galleries as well as collections and exhibits—you don't want to miss something you would find interesting, fascinating or inspiring, right? Getting around the High complex is easy. The museum's buildings are connected via glass bridges, which offer some eye-catching, unique views of the city's Midtown skyline. Each building also has a main entrance from the piazza.

On display now, the "Salvador Dali: The Late Work" exhibit is quite remarkable. I've not seen such a collection of Dali originals since visiting the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The most exciting artifact in the exhibit (including paintings, jewelry, drawings and sculpture) was the painting "Santiago El Grande," which is at least 15 feet tall. Part of my fascination is that this is the first time the painting has been on display in the United States since its original 1957 debut. As in many Dali paintings, this piece also contains a depiction of his wife, Gala. The exhibit is on display through Sunday, January 9, 2011.

Chrome Bench, European Design exhibit
European Design: Chrome Bench
Although there are many design esthetics I admire and appreciate, I'm particularly drawn to modern and contemporary design. The exhibit "European Design Since 1985" (now closed) was far more enticing, unique and well-beyond what some think of as current European design…which is a lot more than IKEA furniture and fixtures. And I want to go back to the museum to see the "Signs of Life: Photographs by Peter Sekaer" exhibit. At the High through Sunday, January 9, 2011, the exhibit depicts candid depression-era life in North America.

The Veiled Rebecca
Veiled Rebecca
The artifacts of the museum's more than 11,000 piece permanent collection are regularly rotated, but some of my favorites are seemingly on display continuously, which makes me quite happy. Particularly, I was on the hunt for "The Veiled Rebecca," one of the museum's many marble statues. Of course, mostly all fans of statuary recall the famous Michelangelo quote, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it," but I remain in awe at the artistry it takes to create something so remarkably beautiful.

As with most museums today, photography is permitted in the galleries housing the High's permanent collection (except where marked). However, photography in special exhibits, like the current "Salvador Dali: The Late Work," is not permitted. I committed a faux pas when I toured the exhibit "European Design since 1985" by snapping a few photos after which I was gently scolded by one of the security guards—who was of course properly doing his job.

The piazza's shade trees, sitting areas and surrounding white and glass buildings offer an almost ethereal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as from the suburbs. The piazza also serves as a passage between the High Museum of Art buildings, should one find themselves not near one of the three enticing glass bridges. Also in the piazza is Table 1280, an artfully appointed restaurant and lounge, with delicious food and excellent service. I highly recommend including Table 1280 (blog post) as an option in your pre- or post-museum-visit dining plans. The museum also has other dining options.

Will I visit the High Museum of Art again? I’m very much looking forward to it. On this particular visit, I toured for a couple of hours and still did not see all of the collections. I can hardly wait for the email or mailer announcing the next special event and new exhibit(s). I’m anxious to learn what it/they will be.

High Museum of Art
High Museum of Art
Visiting the High Museum of Art

Date toured: Friday, August 27, 2010

Hours: Closed Mondays; Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Tours: Docent-led 45-minute tours are offered Tuesday-Saturday at 1 p.m. and start in the Margaretta Taylor Lobby (the lobby level of the Wieland Pavilllion, at the main entrance); Family tours are offered by museum education staff on Saturdays and Sundays and begin in the Greene Family Learning Gallery in the Stent Family Wing (the building facing Peachtree Street).

Location: 1280 Peachtree Street, NE, Atlanta (map and directions)

Parking: Parking is available in the Woodruff Arts Center (members can receive a discount) for $3.75 per hour, a maximum of $12 daily during the week and $12 for weekend evening special events.

MARTA: Arts Center Station

Accessibility: The museum’s buildings, restrooms, exhibits and tours are provided for groups with sight, hearing and mobility challenges. Limited parking for people with disabilities is available in the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office lane off Peachtree Street at 15th Street. A handicap drop-off is also available on 16th Street.

Website: http://www.high.org/

Saturday, August 28, 2010

ONE midtown kitchen: There is Only ONE

ONE midtown kitchen exterior
(Photo courtesy ONE midtown kitchen)
Dining in Atlanta has long been a personal passion and the city's restaurants consistently tempt and often please the palette. ONE midtown kitchen was a favorite of mine when I visited Atlanta several years ago and I hoped I'd not over romanticize previous dining experiences there, especially living here again and being on the hunt for a new short list of favorite restaurants. The reputation it earned then remains intact—superior service, delicious food and a New York City look-and-feel atmosphere.

The restaurant's selections change daily, which puts forth a challenge: How does one select only a few courses from a continually well-rounded, delicious-sounding menu?

This particular dining excursion started with vino, of course. At the recommendation of our server, Candice, I had the John Anthony Sauvignon Blanc and my dining companion, whose birthday we were celebrating (it was the day before), had a pinot noir. Both were generous pours, balanced in aroma and flavor, and were well-suited for the meals we were about to enjoy.

The first course was a plentiful cheese board—their "Artisan Cheese." I could have made a meal out of this dish—a selection of five cheeses (goat, sheep and cow's milk) from the U.S. East and West Coast and Italy—paired with a passion fruit mostarda (a gelatin/jelly consistency accompaniment) and a compressed carrot cake. Pleasing my always cheese-curious ready-do-dine nature, my favorite combination was the New Hampshire Farmstead Cheese and the compressed cake. The contrast of the sharp and sweet flavors targeted just the right nodes on my tongue.

The Carnaroli Risotto, my entrée, was infused with white truffle, ricotta and warm tiny tomatoes that burst in my mouth when I bit down on them. A side of asparagus drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette rounded out the pre-dessert portion of the meal, which I was enthusiastically looking forward to.

Dessert, which I sometimes forego to save a few calories, was mind-bending phenomenal. A cylindrical lemon curd and a scoop of raspberry sorbet, sprinkled with candied ginger and chocolate crumbles, were accompanied with a perfectly swirled dollop of crème fraiche. This union of flavors would satisfy any dessert connoisseur. The best part…the portion was such that it was satisfying without being guilt-inducing.

During the course of our meal, the restaurant manager visited our table to inquire if we were pleased with our meals. A resounding positive affirmation flew from our lips, but what made that tiny experience remarkable was that the manager wasn't traveling in an obligatory manner from table to table, he had visited only our table and then returned to his duties in the kitchen or office, I wasn't sure, but I was impressed.

After dinner, I asked Candice what is her favorite dish on the menu. She very confidently replied, "the Crispy Flounder." She noted the silver queen corn as the determinant for her choice and pointed out that other dishes also contained this ingredient. One midtown kitchen has made a public commitment to using sustainable, local products—a popular and respectable choice in today's restaurant world.

ONE midtown kitchen dining room
(Photo courtesy ONE midtown kitchen)
In the realm of atmosphere, ONE midtown kitchen is, from my observation and experience, a combination of a wine bistro (the bar) and a fine dining experience (the dining room), sharing the same open space. My favorite design feature, by far, are the wide-spread, but ample collection of test tube shaped light pendants hanging in the dining room…those and the overall ambiance are what gave me the feeling of dining in a New York City restaurant on my very first visit to ONE.

The wine selection is ample, but not obnoxious, and the wine menu is organized in a way that makes it a breeze to choose a varietal, whether a novice wine drinker or an experienced sommelier. The restaurant offers wine by the bottle, glass, ½ glass and they have a bottomless option.

The restaurant has a nondescript exterior and is located on a quiet street in Midtown—Dutch Valley Road. You indeed do have to know where you're going. It's not one of those places you just happen upon. Once you find it, you'll recall exactly where it is because it's absolutely worth remembering.

Making reservations couldn't be easier. I made mine through Open Table, a free online reservations website, accessible from the restaurant's website or directly from the Open Table website. You can also call the restaurant and they'll be happy to assist with your dining arrangements.

The restaurant manager checked on us more than once and I asked about the number of sister restaurants, which he confirmed is now up to eight establishments, and then he added amusedly, "But there is only ONE." ONE midtown kitchen indeed remains a favorite and I'll definitely be back. With their ever-changing menu and talented chefs, the next dinner promises to be a pleasant surprise.

Visiting ONE midtown kitchen

Date toured: Thursday, August 26, 2010
Hours: (Dinner Only) Sunday-Monday: 5:30-10; Tuesday-Thursday: 5:30-11; Friday-Saturday: 5:30-12
Location: 559 Dutch Valley Road (map and directions)
Reservations: Open Table
Contact: (404) 892-8111 or email
Parking: complimentary valet (courteous and fast!)
Website: http://www.onemidtownkitchen.com/

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Atlanta Botanical Garden: Oasis in the City

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly in the Atlanta Botanical Garden
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
I had been a member and frequent visitor of the Atlanta Botanical Garden from1987, when I moved to Atlanta (the first time), through 2001 (when I moved to DC) and vividly remember the opening of the Fuqua Conservatory in 1989, as well as other visits. My recent visit was the first time to the Garden in more than a decade. All I can say is, "Wow!"

Alright, that's not all I have to say. Since returning to Atlanta (three weeks now) following an 8.5 year life in Washington, D.C., I've driven by the Garden numerous times and it kept calling to me—it was determined to be at the top of my list of places to tour in the near term. I am so glad I went.

The Garden is vastly different from what I remember. There's a new entrance, and many new gardens and vistas, including a Canopy Walk, an Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen, Cascades Garden and a new visitor center—all breathtaking.

On this particular visit, knowing that there had been some changes, I decided to attend one of the tours—offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. Our tour guide, Angie, a native of London, greeted us enthusiastically and it was quickly obvious that she knows what she's talking about.

Canopy Walk
Canopy Walk
We'd arrived a little early and had already explored the Canopy Walk, which opened in May of this year (2010). The 600 foot long Walk takes visitors 40 feet above the floor of the Storza Woods forest. The Walk itself is recognized as the only reverse-suspension forest canopy in the United States. The views from the Walk and from the forest floor are quite 'lifting,' in spirit and sight.

Angie started with a brief history of the relatively recent additions and upgrade projects in the Garden, including a background discussion of the bright green, pitcher plant-inspired parterre hanging in the two-story Hardon Visitor Center. The parterre once hung in the carnivorous plant rotunda of the Fuqua Conservatory, but was moved to the Visitor Center when it opened in 2008 so more visitors could enjoy its beauty.

Levy Parterre
Levy Parterre
The first stop on this particular tour, tailored for the tourists in our group (five of us, all Atlantans), was the Levy Parterre, centered between the Alston Overlook, Day Hall, the Rose Garden and Mershon Hall. The garden hosting the Levy Parterre is one of the two best spaces in the Garden to catch a glimpse of Atlanta’s Midtown skyline. Parallel to the Levy Parterre garden is a walkway, leading to the Great Lawn, which is lined with towering Crape Myrtles…I'd never seen this species reach such heights!

Next, we visited the tranquil Japanese Garden, which we entered by passing through a Chinese Moon Gate. Remember to make a wish when you pass through the Moon Gate! Angie told us that one of the stone Japanese lanterns (near another entrance to this particular garden) was a gift from Atlanta's sister city in Japan and is more than 300 years old.

The Edible Garden has a design that I found particularly fascinating and amusing. Crop Circles! Although there was nothing "alien" in this section of the Garden (or any other section for that matter), it was amazingly well-designed and mature compared to many other fruit and vegetable gardens I've seen in other public botanical spaces. The Outdoor Kitchen, occupying one of the circles, is a fully-functional kitchen and is used for cooking demonstrations, mostly on the weekends and during special events. It even has an outdoor fireplace with a sitting area, presumably used in the fall and early spring.

Fuqua Conservatory and the Great Lawn
Fuqua Conservatory
Next, and one of the most popular destinations within the Garden, was the Fuqua Conservatory, home to more than 2,000 species of orchids, desert plants and approximately 800 species of palm trees. I'm not sure how they got 800 species of palms in a relatively small space, but it's as dense as a tropical rainforest, so I shouldn't be surprised.

One of the Garden's conservation projects includes the preservation of frogs. Currently, frog life around the world is threatened, and in some cases endangered, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, home to frogs for more than two decades (that I know of, maybe longer), is actively supporting the effort to return frogs to their native habitats. The bright yellow, blue frogs and the leaf frogs are particularly fascinating.

Vine Arbor
Vine Arbor
Our tour wrapped up with a visit to the Aquatic Plant Pond, a discussion on the creation of the Atlanta Botanical Garden relative to Piedmont Park and a walk around the Great Lawn through the Vine Arbor, where live music is regularly enjoyed by Garden visitors and tourists.

Is the Atlanta Botanical Garden on my visit-again list? I'll let the fact that I purchased a new membership speak for itself. There’s a lot more to see and do than what I’ve mentioned here, including classes, a Children's Garden, the Garden Cafe and special events. So be sure to ask for a garden map at the visitor center and plan ample time to see all the points of interest that pique your curiosity.

Visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Date toured: Tuesday, August 24, 2010

April - October, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
November - March, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Thursdays, May - October, 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Closed Mondays except for Monday holidays such as Labor Day and Memorial Day. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Location: 1345 Piedmont Avenue, NE (map and directions)

- Members admitted free
- Children (under three) free
- Children (3-17) $12
- Adults (18-64) $15
- Seniors (65 and over) $12

Drop-off (0-15 minutes) free
16-30 minutes ($0.75)
Each additional 30 minutes ($1.00)
Multi-visit parking passes available at the Gift Shop

Website: http://www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org/

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Piedmont Park: Communing with Nature

Piedmont Park is one of the most vibrant public spaces in the City of Atlanta. It attracts festivals, fairs, markets, athletes, musicians, sunbathers, dog-walkers and city-dwellers wishing to commune with nature.

As a tourist of the Park, evident by the cameras in tow, I was astounded by the friendliness of the Park's other visitors, and animal residents too, not to mention its beauty following a recent refurbishment.

A young couple relaxing in Piedmont Park
A young couple, shoes cast aside with sketchpads in hand, sitting on one of the Lake Clara Meer’s docks, remarked without provocation on how beautiful the view was from the site where they had perched and were more than willing to share with others. After admiring the view they had discovered, I asked if I could take their photo for a tourism blog and they enthusiastically agreed, without deliberation. They donned a smile for the first "candid" photo, then quickly returned to their relaxation and enjoyment of the serene setting. The second photo perfectly captured that they'd accomplished what they came to the Park to do that day.

A short while later, I and my fellow tourist—also a photographer—passed a young lady who, noticing our cameras, excitedly told us about a "giant" hawk she'd seen by the lake a couple of days earlier. My friend quizzically said, "What an odd thing to say." My rebuttal was that she obviously knew we were there to experience all the Park had to offer—again, the cameras were very telling—and she was merely excited to share. Satisfied with that explanation, my colleague accepted that we were indeed in a friendly land.

A squirrel in Piedmont Park
Within minutes, and throughout our visit, we encountered life of many species, the friendliest of which were squirrels…yes, squirrels! Other creatures sharing the rolling hills of the 100-plus acre park are chipmunks, ducks, geese, butterflies and canines (hosted by their human friends). The Park recently opened an expansive Dog Walk near the Park Drive bridge, accessible from Monroe Drive. Oh, and the "Eagles" will be performing on October 15 as part of the city's "The Green Concert."

The Park has a public swimming pool that when I saw it in its refurbished state, I was certain that it must belong to the nearby Piedmont Driving Club. I mean, how could a pool that beautiful be open to the public? Just prior to this visit, I'd seen the pool on an evening stroll around the park, illuminated against the night sky (the Park is open until 11:00 p.m.), and reveled in its pristine condition. Seeing the pool a couple of days later, filled with frolicking youngsters and playful adults, was yet another indication that Atlanta is indeed a great city in which to live and visit.

We had just missed the weekly "Green Market," which is open every Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., May 1 through December 11. Near the 12th Street entrance, the Market features local produce, juices, cooking demonstrations, baked goods, artists and more. I'll see them next weekend for breakfast!

View of Atlanta's Midtown skyline from Lake Clara Meer
With origins dating to 1887, Piedmont Park has in recent years undergone a transformation giving it a beauty that rivals the spectacle of the city's glass and marble skyline, some of which can be seen from vistas around the Park. The Park itself was designed by the sons of the founder of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, whose works include Central Park in New York City, the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington, D.C., and the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina. Although not built precisely according to the original Olmsted plans, the recent restoration project honored the original design.

Am I going back to Piedmont Park? Absolutely. in fact, next time I will likely bike through the Park. Immediately after this visit, I stopped by "Skate Escape," a skate and bike shop adjacent the 12th Street entrance on Piedmont Avenue, where Park visitors can rent or buy skates and bikes. I purchased a bike rack for my car, went home, bought my bike back to the shop for a tune-up, and amazingly it was ready within one business day. Piedmont Park is definitely on my list of regular sites to visit and to bring fellow tourists.

Visiting Piedmont Park

Date toured: Saturday, August 21, 2010
Cost: Free
Hours: 6:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., every day
Location: Between Monroe Drive, 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue (map)
Website: www.piedmontpark.org