In celebration of moving into our fabulous apartment, Jason and I decided that a nice dinner date was in order. How convenient, then, that right across the street from our loft is TWO urban licks, a staple of the hot, hip, happenin’ Atlanta dining scene since it opened in 2004. We made reservations for 9 PM on our first Saturday night in our new place, got gussied up, and headed on over.
Located in a revamped warehouse, TWO urban licks definitely keeps up with the industrial aesthetic that permeates this part of Atlanta (the restaurant is located on Ralph McGill Boulevard, near the Freedom Parkway intersection). The ceilings are incredibly high, and various chandeliers and colorful light fixtures hang and give the large room a warm glow. On the “main” wall of the dining room, there is a gigantic painting of a girl surrounded by a pack of wild animals; the other enormous walls feature rows and rows of flickering lanterns. Even with all the accent lighting, however, the space as a whole is fairly dark and the tables necessitate individual candles in order to illuminate the menus. Also, because of the setup, it is quite noisy, particularly in the center of the restaurant. In the bar, a live blues band was playing, as it does every Tuesday through Saturday night. In the middle of the restaurant, the open kitchen was bustling. At the far end of the space, the doors to the outdoor courtyard opened to lovely views of the downtown Atlanta skyline (which I’d actually missed—skyscrapers can be quite beautiful at night).
Oh, you want to hear about the food? That’s right, this IS a food blog! In terms of opening beverages, Jason ordered a top-shelf gimlet ($10) and I had a glass of cava ($6). For appetizers, we shared the oxtail empanadas with roasted garlic aioli ($10) and the sweet and spicy calamari with basil and cilantro ($10). The empanadas had a very healthy helping of queso on top, which, when combined with the aioli, greatly overpowered the dish. However, when I scraped off the excess toppings and got a bite of just oxtail and pastry, the flavors really sang–the meat was insanely tender from braising and incredibly well-seasoned. The calamari was fried perfectly–not chewy, not greasy, just crispy and tender–and the chili glaze delivered the as-promised one-two punch of sweet and spicy. I could have used a little more cilantro to cool things down, but overall, I thought it was a delicious version of the ubiquitous squid starter.
Before our main courses, we decided to order some vino (we splurged on a $75 bottle of chenin blanc, and it was superb). In terms of wine, TWO urban licks has an interesting program; the restaurant has special relationships with certain wineries that allow it to buy in large quantities and then store the wine in temperature-controlled stainless steel barrels. While it all sounded nifty, I wasn’t thrilled with any of the by-the-glass selections, and we were there to celebrate. So, a bottle it was–and, like I said, it was really excellent (thanks to our server for the recommendation).
Entree-wise, Jason opted for the bronzed scallops with gouda grits and smoked tomato broth ($20). He said they were quite possibly the best scallops he’s ever had–very high praise! I’m not sure I agree that they were superlative, but they were nicely cooked (bordering on underdone, which is how I like them) and subtly seasoned. The accompanying grits and broth were very tasty as well and did a good job of complimenting and highlighting the bivalves. I opted for the braised pork with baked cheddar macaroni and pork jus ($19). Let me just get this out of the way: that macaroni and cheese may have been the best I’ve ever had. Ever. Served in a mini cast-iron pot, the cheddar cheese on top was perfectly browned and just a tad crunchy, and the macaroni underneath was rich, creamy, tangy deliciousness. The waiter said that the secret was bechamel sauce. Drooooooool. The pork was a HUGE portion, and it was definitely well-braised (it fell off the bone), but it was waaaaaay too heavy on the fennel, which surprised me all the more because the menu didn’t mention it as a component of the dish.
For dessert, we ordered port, coffee, and the chocolate mousse rice crispy treat with chocolate malt ice cream ($7). Basically, it was like Atlanta’s take on the Michel Richard “Kit Kat Bar,” the praises of which I’ve sung on this blog before. However, I sometimes found Richard’s version to be a little heavy (i.e., not enough air in the mousse), and TWO urban licks corrected that problem. The mousse was light in both flavor and texture, and the “rice crispy treat” bottom was delicately crunchy. I didn’t get a lot of malt flavor from the ice cream, but Jason really liked it.
At the end of the meal, in addition to our bill (which came out to $187, without tip), we were presented with a $25 gift certificate to each of two other Concentric (the hospitality group that owns TWO urban licks) restaurants, Trois and STATS. I thought it was a nice gesture, and VERY smart–in this economy, even popular restaurants need to make extra efforts to encourage diners to eat out. Service was very good, and the experience as a whole went much more smoothly than I was expecting (since it’s such a “see and be seen” place, I anticipated more waiting and certainly more aloofness).
In sum, though the kitchen could use a lighter hand with certain seasonings, and though the atmosphere is more clubhound than chowhound, I am thrilled to have TWO urban licks right in my backyard. Oh, and it’s been voted “Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners”…so whenever you want to visit (ahem, Lemmonex), I’ll have a table reserved!