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Restaurant Review: Little Bacch

Anne Quatrano's dining room offers hyper-local fine dining without the pretension

Much about Little Bacch is abbreviated. There are only 16 items on the restaurant's food menu. The cocktail list is only three drinks long. There is no room in the 52-seat dining room for an actual bar. Instead, a marble table set off to the side acts as the beverage station for wine and cocktails. The room below Bacchanalia is dark. Sometimes too dark for older diners who grumble as they dig their phones out to use as flashlights. I like the soft, dreamy lighting. Furnished with marble-topped tables, bistro-style chairs, and vintage globe lights, the room is reminiscent of a scene out of Midnight in Paris. Shiny teal walls seem to change colors like a prism depending on your point of view.

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Owners Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison are pioneers of farm-to-table practices in Atlanta. Their restaurants Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, and Star Provisions are beloved Atlanta fixtures with cult followings. For a long time, the duo appeared dormant, content to rest on the success of their existing concepts rather than expand aggressively like their peers. But closing the Quinones Room in 2014 citing diners' growing disinterest in expensive, multi-course menus signaled a new chapter. Suddenly, the pair revealed plans to open both W.H. Stiles Fish Camp (Dub's) in Ponce City Market and Little Bacch in the space below Bacchanalia where Quinones once lived.

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Although still pricey, Little Bacch is not as stuffy as its predecessor. It occupies a new space between upscale bistros and fine dining establishments where ingredients and technique reign. It's a lighter version of Quatrano's hallmark hyper-local fine dining style sprinkled with hints of yesteryear's extravagance. And it is worth every penny.

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Quatrano tapped Joe Schafer for the role of executive chef. Schafer, who ran Abattoir until it shuttered in March, and Quatrano share a love of local ingredients and precision. You could say the same about many chefs these days, but there is something different about their brand of localism. Quatrano takes it so seriously she lives on her own farm, which supplies much of the produce Little Bacch serves.

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The menu is a simple list printed on a single page with no delineation between courses. Many of the items are either creative interpretations or straightforward versions of American fine dining classics. According to Schafer, they took inspiration from New York City restaurants from the 1970s, when larger-than-life luxury still reigned.

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Escargot dishes are often heavy and buttery, but Little Bacch's basil-fed snails are flavored with thin pickled garlic slices that lighten the escargot with tons of acid. A cheese soufflé made with Gruyère and Parmesan remained aloft until I pierced it with my spoon. The deep yellow puff of cheese and egg collapsed, forming a smooth, accidental quenelle. A bowl with edges like a cracked eggshell held the best steak tartare I have had in Atlanta in recent memory. Schafer uses the remnants of aged steaks and folds in chopped pieces of freshly shucked oysters. Instead of the sliminess one would expect from bivalves, the oysters snapped with each bite of chewy aged steak. Capers added brininess, and buttery slices of brioche served as the vehicle from plate to mouth.

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The roasted green circle chicken is a must order as it is the kind of dish that creates a hush over the table when it arrives. The chicken, which has foie gras under the skin, is roasted whole and presented with the head and feet still attached. It's placed on a bed of bread and covered with a salad dressed in vinaigrette. As showstopping as the chicken is, I found even more pleasure in the veal shank for two. The colossal shank came on a large platter with grilled toast batons, a creamy farrotto brightened with lemon zest, and a long spoon for excavating marrow. The enormous shank, which was served bone side up, was cooked until it was so tender the swipe of a fork was enough to pull hunks of silky meat off the bone. A red snapper filet baked in parchment with lemon and caper sauce was served over a bed of spaghetti squash. The way the strands of supple squash tangled with the flaky snapper's flesh gave me a new appreciation for the vegetable.

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At first, the thought of offering just three composed cocktails seemed ridiculous to me, but the wide range of flavors the Corpse Reviver, an Old Fashioned, and the El Diablo offer makes it work. The Diablo's tingly, ginger beer spice mixed with blackberries and tequila warmed my throat as I sipped. Beyond the cocktails, an extensive list of spirits is available from Bacchanalia's full bar. If you are budget-minded, it may be hard to find a bottle and wines by the glass are more affordable. If you are willing to push your maximum cost, there are good options and I suggest tapping Floor Manager Christian Kingsbury for a recommendation. Kingsbury helped me find soft and reasonably priced Nebbiolo to go with my lamb one evening.

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Dessert was the only uneven part of my experiences. The creamy, earthy chestnut pot de crème was a beautiful harbinger of winter, but it had pieces of chestnuts that were so crunchy they almost tasted raw. The decision to serve canneles warm (instead of room temperature) with an espresso anglaise was a spin that simply didn't work. The exterior should be crackly and its interior custardy, but the heat amplified the pastry's chewiness. On the other hand, an ethereal, rich chocolate soufflé was a perfect end to the meal.

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Over the course of multiple visits, Little Bacch's dining room remained relatively empty, even during peak hours. Perhaps it is because some find the prices hard to bear. Because the ingredients and technique are of such high quality, a meal here can easily reach $250 for two.

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Although the admission is pricey, Little Bacch proves that Quatrano knows how to stay relevant and evolve. Servers in crisp white jackets move with grace and reverence for the dining experience — a hallmark of Quatrano's service vision. Even though the experience is more relaxed than its predecessor, Little Bacch manages to still feel special, without pretension. This restaurant gives me hope that Atlanta could be entering a new phase of fine dining, one where decadence can be lighter and less pretentious, a phase where every bite is worth the cost. (4 out of 5 stars)

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