Lobby Bar and Bistro, Atlanta GA

A couple of weeks ago, Marie and I were invited to visit Lobby Bar and Bistro, an interesting little space in the Twelve Hotel on 17th Street in front of Atlantic Station. Bearing in mind that we’re awfully low-maintenance when it comes to hotels, and, apart from a morning bowl of fruit and glass of juice, never dine in their restaurants, we just about never see spaces like this. So I was very interested to learn that this restaurant – originally called Lobby at Twelve some years back – has actually been racking up a sizable number of awards. It’s on Conde Nast Traveler’s “Hot List”, Atlanta Magazine‘s “Best Hotel Dining,” and one of the AJC’s “Top 50 Restaurants in Atlanta,” and they have a brand new executive chef.

Justin Kurtz is new to metro Atlanta, and, as he talked with us about his new menu, he hasn’t tried too many of the local restaurants. He and his family currently live in Gwinnett County, not too far from his last job. He had been the executive chef at Château Élan for three years, and before that had been with several Ritz-Carlton properties in south Florida, where he grew up. We encouraged him to check out our friend Bella Vivere to get some great suggestions for Korean and Chinese meals around Duluth, and then sat back to sample how he’s changed Lobby’s menu.

A couple of disclaimers before we get started: the portions pictured below are smaller than what will be served to guests. Chef Justin wanted to give us a good variety of things – seven, plus a dessert – so we enjoyed little samples. Also, while I see that Lobby has been written about many times over the years, this menu is only about a month old, its plates first offered as specials during the transition period of late July and August. And a final disclaimer: Holy freaking bajole, this place is AMAZING. Objectivity is out the window and running for the horizon.

We started with the only dish about which either of us expressed any reservation. The cucumber and green apple caprese salad comes with tomatoes, mint, spiced pecans, and fresh mozzarella in a little bath of olive oil. I thought that it was all quite tasty and the flavors went very well together. However, my Yankee wife has never learned to appreciate pecans, and felt that the olive oil was too mild to really accompany the bold cheese. And if that’s the most of a complaint we could muster for the whole meal, everything else was bound to satisfy.

It was more than just the presentation of the scallops that tickled us, these were remarkably flavorful and set the stage for what we saw a lot of as the courses continued: being pleasantly surprised by flavors that we did not expect to blend as well as they did. The scallops come on little streams of creamed corn and a poblano vinaigrette. Guests will agree that just the right amount is provided to accentuate the flavor of the scallop. Then they will go home and wish they had a great big sixteen-ounce jar of the blend to pour over everything in their kitchen. The scallop is topped with a fantail crispy cracker of Manchego cheese, a trifle eccentric but really tasty.

Marie was especially taken with the duck confit flatbread, served with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and roasted grapes, and while she has never been a particular fan of ceviche, the shrimp cocktail Veracruz reminded her of what a good ceviche should be like, in the right hands. The shrimp are served with cilantro, avocado, and mildly spicy chile peppers in a wonderful little mix of lime, lemon, and orange juices. I was enjoying everything, but it was the next course that bowled me over. These lamb sliders. I love these so much.

The lamb sliders come with more of those mild chile peppers, tomato jam, and feta cheese. The lamb is ground with just a dash of mint. They are crazy delicious. One bite and you will come to the same conclusion that I made: if you could get ten of these in a sack from a fast food drive-thru at three in the morning, you would change America for the better.

A sweet empanada with cranberry and Brie followed. It’s served with a little drizzle of orange honey and some macadamia nuts. For the purpose of our tasting menu, this was sensibly positioned between the two very savory meat dishes, but when we return sometime, we’d consider this for dessert instead. It’s delicious, but I think that I would prefer something so delicately sweet at the end of a meal.

For our entree, we each received one of the grilled filet medallions, and these are just wonderful. They come with potatoes, the best asparagus on the entire planet (peeled and cooked perfectly with a little butter) and a red pepper mojo emulsion. By this point, we had slowed down and so the potatoes were left mostly untouched, but I wasn’t leaving any of those vegetables behind. Seriously, friends, go get yourself an order of lamb sliders and ask for a side of this asparagus, for it is remarkable.

Dessert was warm chocolate cake topped with bourbon ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries. We’ve never photographed anything so quickly before. Not at all a dessert to linger over, it melts quite quickly, but you and a sweetheart are certain to enjoy it.

So, yeah, this place? It’s not accurate to say that it’s one of Atlanta’s hidden treasures, because it’s won so many awards, but it’s not been on our oddball little radars before, and it served up one of the best meals we’ve had in Atlanta in the last several months. Like Parish, I found myself wishing that we’d come before, so that we could compare what Chef Justin is doing with his predecessors. Definitely plan to make a date night here soon. Valet parking is complimentary for diners, although that inconvenient median on 17th is going to mean getting back to the interstate’s a little tedious. Don’t let that stop you.

(As noted, this was a media event and our meals were complimentary. It’s our policy to always note when we’ve received our meal without charge. If you would like to invite us to your restaurant’s media events or your product launches, please drop Grant a line at gmslegion@gmail.com .)

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