Monday, July 14, 2008

From Boutique to Beef

I've come to a conclusion about boutique hotels; I'll be sticking to a true boutique and avoid the attempts by chain hotels to imitate the boutique style and experience.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I made a trip to Atlanta for the weekend. After hearing good things for a number of years about the W hotels chain, plus seeing their website touting their "Whatever, Whenever" service and trendy upscale style pushed us over the edge to give them a try. This was one case of a website with polish & ideals that don't translate over into the real world. Stepping off the elevators on our floor it went from all glittered t-shirts and uber-cool style to something that in its previous life was not the W Hotel. The Wow Suite we had booked didn't quite "WOW" us as we walked in, but the square footage was generous. Downsides we discovered quickly were the three light blubs that were out, the shower curtain that would blow in on your while you were taking a shower and the safe that wouldn't unlock. For the caliber of hotel this is presented to be, it should be walk-in shower and the amenities should be in fully functioning order. While we were there, we found the advertised "Whatever, Whenever" service was only available if "whatever" you wanted fit within their small parameters. Food in the restaurant was overpriced and I suspect not much more than heat & eat food service items; for the price, it was seriously lacking in quality. Having said that, it wasn't all disappointments. The room was incredibly quiet, which I value highly. The multiple views were pleasant, and the balcony would be more enjoyable if the city wasn't busy living up to it's Hot-lanta nickname. Mostly, I'm glad we got the room at a good rate.

Then there was the food. Oh my, was there ever the food! I'll start at the bottom of the barrel with Atlanta Fish Market, which by no means would normally be at the bottom of most barrels. With a very large selection of very fresh seafood, it was hard to decide what to eat. The most notable item we had was the buffalo shrimp appetizer. I'm not a buffalo-wing kind of gal, but this was good. Good enough to inspire ideas to take home and try later. I also had some of the best scallops here I've ever had; they're nothing like the rubber pucks most restaurants serve.

One of the most pleasant surprises of our trip was the Marietta Diner. (Thank you Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.) We went there for lunch and when I walked in the door I was in awe. The cakes! The minimum height requirement for a cake in that display case was at least 8" tall. That was the smallest of the cakes, and there were so many to choose from. For a pastry nut like me, it was like a slice of heaven (get it?) Anyway, carefully choosing my meal from the novel also known as a menu was challenging with that much variety. I stepped out of my usual health-conscious mode and ordered the Monte Cristo wrap, which was fantastic. Next up... "One slice of the Carmel cake, two forks please." The waiter returns with seven layers of goodness, that's seven real cake sized layers with icing and caramel between them all. The single slice arrived on its side, covering the entire dinner plate, and stood up at least 3 inches. Enormous. How one person could ever consume this much cake and not spend the next 24 hours in a sugar rush I do not know. In an effort to provide those who read my blog with a complete experience, my husband and I gave it our all and tried our best to eat the whole slice. We failed this time, but we both have vowed to return and make another run at that cake. I do believe it was the best cake I've ever eaten, and I have no doubt it was the largest.

That wasn't the only "best" I had while in Atlanta. I saw a number of reviews highly praising Rathbun's, a local hot spot. From their website, I found Rathbun's Steak. Now you're talking to me. I'm a true Ruth's Chris fan and place their fillet as the barrier to match or beat, and I finally found a steak that does it. For a true piece-of-beef that is fork tender, juicy and requires nothing else on the plate to interfere with it's simply delicious taste, this is the place to get it. Beyond the steak, the Asian meatball appetizer is impressively light in taste. The mashed potatoes were very good, but I'd have preferred the macaroni and cheese use a bit stronger of a cheese. The deserts were all exceptional, including the black-bottom creme brulee. Rathbun's Steak and Marietta Diner are two places I'd tell anyone visiting Atlanta to put on their priority list. Both are busy so be prepared to wait, and with Rathbun's Steak plan to make reservations a bit in advance.

On our way out of town, we made a stop at La Madeline's for Sunday brunch. It's one of those places everything I've tried is good, and the quiche is exceptional. It's fortunate there's not one closer to my hometown or I'd really struggle to not make it a part of my daily route.

One of the reasons we went to Atlanta was to participate in the Lexus Performance Driving Academy. While I do post on here about the roads and the food along the way, the vehicle that gets me there is important too. The class gave us time at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in a Lexus IS-F. It's a beautiful piece of machinery that handles even better than it looks. Driving it for the day was a real pleasure and loads of fun as we put it through it's paces around the road course and in the autocross. I have to give Lexus a lot of credit, any event I've attended of theirs has been put together very well. No details are forgotten, and they treat their attendees very well the entire time. There's none of that feeling like cattle being herded through long lines or a lackluster attitude from any of the staff that I've seen at a few too many events. They do a fantastic job and I would highly recommend their events to any car enthusiast.

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