The AJC's fall dining guide: 4 star restaurant

Long Island duck, Summerland Farm onions, preserved chanterelles and currants at Bacchanalia. (BECKY STEIN)
Long Island duck, Summerland Farm onions, preserved chanterelles and currants at Bacchanalia. (BECKY STEIN)

Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

After more than 20 years at the top, Bacchanalia has become something of an old friend to anyone who cares about fine food in Atlanta.

Some of us remember back when Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison ran it from a poky little house in Buckhead; others think of it as the place where we learned to love, love, love artisan cheese.

We go once a year or so for a birthday or anniversary, and maybe we have found it better on one visit than the next. That happens after 20 years.

But we keep returning because the one constant about Bacchanalia is that it never stops changing and evolving. Sometimes the kitchen inches its style closer to the cutting edge; other times it falls back into a more classic posture. Because it refuses to ever grow staid, this restaurant always can and will surprise you.

Lately, the kitchen has been making food that is on point in so many ways.

“I don’t want to say this out loud,” joked Quatrano, knowing how quickly staffing can change in a restaurant, “but we have a really nice mix of people in their roles.”

Sous chef Jonathan Kallini, chef de cuisine Matt Adolfi and executive chef Andy Carson bring such personality and verve to the five-course menu.

Snappy Georgia white shrimp rest in a bowl of green gazpacho with pepper jelly, pumpkin seeds and almond, each ingredient working to focus the seawater sweetness of a truly fresh catch. A soft-cooked egg from Quatrano and Harrison’s Summerland Farm comes with crunchy heirloom grains, toast thins, edamame, okra and chanterelles — a study in textures, and proof positive that local foods have more flavor.

Dishes can sound a little listy, but each ingredient builds toward a complex flavor profile. A pairing of blue cheese and figs makes familiar sense, but this kitchen adds in lavender, shaved mushroom, Earl Grey tea and buckwheat. It all tastes the way late summer earth smells.

Service only gets better, year after year. From the impeccable old-school manners of cheese cart expert Raphael Ramos to the gentle geekery of the great beverage director, Rick Blumberg, this team captures the tone of great service better than any front-of-the-house staff in town.

“We try to proactively, intuitively figure out what people want and give it to them,” Quatrano said. Without any question, her team succeeds with that goal, night after night, year after year.

Bacchanalia. 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-365-0410,

» Check out all of the Atlanta 50 from the AJC's fall dining guide.