The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton may have been the best restaurant in Buckhead, but it didn’t have a shrimp cocktail. That knocked it down a few notches in my book.
For my 11th birthday, for reasons that can only be explained by bourgeoning adolescence, I wanted to go to dinner at the nicest restaurant I could think of. On the verge of my teens, I wanted to project a more sophisticated air.
My parents were impressed, or perhaps grateful they didn’t have to host a bunch of my friends for a sleepover. A previous year’s party resulted in raw eggs on our neighbor’s house, calls to parents and an early pickup.
A quiet night out with just our family seemed improbable, if not impossible.
We were seated at a large table near the back wall. My father sensed I was struggling for something I could understand in the oversized menu. He asked me if everything was OK, and I whispered, “They don’t have a shrimp cocktail.”
The oversight became a topic of discussion. When our server returned, my father pointed out the discrepancy. He seemed more amused than anything else, which was embarrassing.
However, when the appetizers came, they included a large stemmed glass, half-filled with shaved ice, with a ring of huge pink prawns protruding from the top, and a metal saucer in the center with the prerequisite ketchup and horseradish sauce.
It was an apparition, and yes, it was delicious.
I got to thinking about The Dining Room and my fancy birthday as our son Thornton, a junior in high school, went to prom two weekends ago.
I wondered where I would have taken my date in Buckhead in 1992 for the pre-prom dinner. I went to boarding school in Virginia and therefore missed the opportunity. I asked where people went back in the day. No one said The Dining Room. One couple said the Grand China.
The most popular response was The Coach and Six, which was a favorite of my grandfather. New Yorker Hank Soloff opened what many consider to be the first fine restaurant in Atlanta in 1962.
It was known for the celebrities, the cheese toast and the shrimp scampi. Hank’s wife, Beverlee, operated The Coach and Six after he died unexpectedly in 1974. It switched hands a few times, but in 1997 it closed after the building was sold.
Several folks said Pano’s and Paul’s. Perhaps the most unassuming entrance in the history of great restaurants, it was in the strip mall at the corner of West Paces Ferry Road and Northside Parkway in Buckhead, in the space that is now a furniture store.
The Pano of Pano’s and Paul’s is Pano Karatassos, the incredibly successful entrepreneur behind the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. The Paul was noted Atlanta chef Paul Albrecht, who later operated Paul’s for years in Peachtree Hills. Together, they helmed one of the best things that ever happened to Atlanta. It closed in 2009, after three decades in business.
Other folks said The Ambassador Restaurant on Roswell Road. More than a few said The Diplomat. I’d never heard of either.
I would have taken my date to Abruzzi in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center, which was our family’s go-to restaurant for special occasions around the time I was in high school. If I recall correctly, The Coach and Six wasn’t the same after the Soloffs sold it. Like Pano’s and Paul’s, Abruzzi had an unassuming façade in a strip mall, but the food was excellent and the service exemplary.
I was heavily influenced by the fact it was a favorite of television star Tom Selleck. After we saw him in there one night eating alone, we asked the owner about him. He said the “Magnum P.I.” star came in whenever he was in town. When someone who I imagined eats in the best restaurants in the world chooses a place in Atlanta, it’s noteworthy.
For his pre-prom dinner, our son and 60 of his friends dined at a country club. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he missed out on an opportunity to explore contemporary Atlanta cuisine. However, I’m not sure we have a Coach and Six or a Pano’s and Paul’s any longer, or a Ritz-Carlton Dining Room for that matter.