Tucked away in a discrete warehouse community near the Jimmy Carter Center, Atlanta’s TWO urban licks is a haven for those who want a chic experience. They come in groups to chill, congregate, and celebrate in a loft-like atmosphere with a distillery-esque feel, due mostly to the wine wall towering 26 feet in the air. The wall supports 72 temperature-controlled wine barrels displayed in glass and steel, and is the only one of its kind in the nation. For those who prefer to cut to the chase and sip something a little more potent, be advised that the infused cocktails hanging from the rafters are more than just decoration!
This past February, the restaurant introduced a new chief in charge of the kitchen: Chicago's celebrated and decorated Todd Stein. As he told Luxe Crush, he plans "to continue the ever-popular cuisine that has already been established at TWO, while adding my signature style."
In the top left section of the quadrant-style menu is where you'll find the signature favorite of Atlantan's citywide: salmon chips. This starter consists of smoked salmon atop velvety smooth cream cheese accented by pungent red onions and capers all set atop a deliciously crisp kettle-style potato chip. In the same category you'll find shaved calamari, a sweet and spicy treat of cilantro wasabi oil and sambal sauce that is perhaps the perfect seafood analogy to the concept of salted chocolate caramel candy. Simply irresistible! Stein's tuna tartare combines Asian pear, mint, and pine nuts with a spicy sesame dressing and a good dousing of serrano chile — all of which blends harmoniously while begging for a glass of riesling. Empanadas are also in this section. With a crispy crunchy crust, the brisket meat accompanied by a plate of pico de gallo and feta cheese was purely delicious. And while all of the above were simply marvelous, the ceviche was amazing. Beautifully fresh rock shrimp, flounder, scallops, and clams tossed with red onions, cilantro, and peppers were also flavored with leche de tigre and a sweet potato purée. You can only begin to imagine the party going on inside of your mouth.
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Highlights from the lower left section of the menu include the extremely tender and flavorful lamb ribs with Coca-Cola barbecue sauce. If you recall the lyrics to a Marvin Gay song where he says, "Will make me wanna holler and throw up both (of) my hands," chances are, he was referring to Stein's lamb ribs. For the watermelon salad, Stein compressed the melon to intensify the flavor before combining with fresh mozzarella, almond mint pesto, watercress, and green chiles. If you're trying to get into that wedding dress by next month, this dish is guilt-free.
The upper right side of the menu is home to the beef shortrib. Here in the South, where pork reigns, a good beef shortrib is a rare find. Too often the meat loses its flavor between braising and serving, but Stein has the right touch. The natural savory richness of this marbled cut of meat shined clear through the sweetness of the red wine reduction, for an "off the chain" rating. Two others worth going on and on about are the bronzed scallops served with Gouda cheese grits (not to be confused with "cheesy grits") in a smoked tomato broth, as well as the duck, an entrée of Andouille sausage, Brussels sprouts, and butternut squash with ancho honey glaze. It's lighter than a cassoulet is and is beautifully flavored.
The final quarter features (you guessed it) dessert. TWO's signature carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream (rich and not too dense) and the newest addition of luscious tiramisu with Amaretto ice cream are both winners.
Aside from having chef Todd Stein appear at your table in between several courses of incredibly good food and a few good friends to share it all with, the best you could hope for is a cool and knowledgeable waiter like Dan Hott. Should you forget his name, just ask for the guy who looks like Mark Wahlberg.