An unforgettable meal at Empire State South (Atlanta)

Above: The “jars” at Empire State South in Atlanta, pork rillette, “smoked trout mousse, pickles, pimento cheese & bacon marmalade, boiled peanut hummus.”

It wasn’t so much the food or the scene at Empire State South that blew me away on an early Saturday evening in the wake of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival where I led a couple of seminars over the weekend.

However much the food has shifted from the restaurant’s original mission of forging a “New South” cuisine (according to my friends Eat It Atlanta and fra’ Aronne with whom I shared the repast), everything I had there was 100% delicious and elegantly and smartly presented (although I felt more like I was eating in a Lower East Side hipster joint than in the capital of the Deep New South; the utopian name of the restaurant imho opens the gastronomic discourse with an aporia).

And the scene? Empire State South was THE place to be during the festival. John Besh walked in right after me, nursing a pretty serious hangover from the looks of him.

Above: One of the things that impressed me the most about my trip to Atlanta was the mastery of charcuterie that the dudes down there have. In SF, LA, and NYC, you see folks doing super flashy, sexy things with their pork, often with good-to-great results. But down there in the Deep New South, the young salumieri get it right consistently. I LOVED the charcuterie plate at Empire State South and was moved by its focus and precision. No flash, just wonderful substance and perfectly balanced and distributed fat.

But, no, it wasn’t the celeb vibe or the excellent food. It was the incredible wine list — the last thing I expected to find here, in a state — like Texas — with backward regulation of the wine industry based on anachronistic post-Prohibition legislation scribed by stinking good ol’ boy retailers.

2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco for under $60?

Grower Champagne for under $40?

2008 Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria for under $50?


Above: I had never tasted and entirely dug the Claude Genet Blanc de Blancs. It was the ideal wine for the shared plates meal we ordered for the three of us.

I didn’t get a chance to meet wine director Steven Grubbs but he’s one of those dudes who wins all sort of awards and stuff. And rightfully so: his list is tight and extremely focused but with a wide range of wines that will quench the thirst of nearly everyone, from someone like me (or you, if you’re reading my blog) to someone who likes the type of barriqued Cabernet Sauvignon from California that makes you have to go poop (the bad kind) before you even get up from the table.

Above: I was tempted to go Nebbiolo but Cerasuolo di Vittoria was just right for the pork belly and rice grits and sweetbreads on a sultry southern Saturday afternoon. And, man, the price! 100% awesome…

There are great restaurants and great wine lists and then there are destination restaurants and wine lists. I’d really like to get back to Atlanta just to walk through Grubbs’s hand-picked Riesling shortlist (German seems to be his fetish) and I’d love to spend some more time with the bigger entrées on the menu.

I really appreciated Grubbs’s palate as told by his list but I was blown away by his aggressive pricing. I always tell people that a wine is good if you enjoy it and I’m here to tell you that a wine can’t be good if you can’t afford to enjoy it. (How’s that for a syllogism?)

Chapeau bas, Steven!

There’s a reason why everyone I know through blogging in Atlanta told me that I had to check this place out. If Tracie P and I lived there, we’d be there at least once a week…

Dale DeGroff & scenes from the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

When “Master Mixologist” and “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff (right) leans into the bar to tell you something, you LISTEN… That’s Master Sommelier Virginia Philip (center), wine director at the historic landmark Breakers Hotel in Florida, and Heath Porter, wine director at the equally storied national landmark Greenbrier resort in West Virginia and one of the coolest people I hung and tasted with at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival over the weekend.

“We don’t need mixologists,” said Dale. “We need BARTENDERS!” Great Bartending is as much about personality and hospitality as it is about palate and creativity — as he told us and illustrated by example. He was mixing classic Margaritas at JCT Kitchen

Dale is simply one of the coolest dudes on the planet. What a treat to get to hear him chat about bartending today, his fav bar in Midtown NYC, and even tell an accordion joke! HA!

I thought the shrimp and grits from Dogwood (Atlanta) was elegant and delicious. It was interesting to get to taste so many different interpretations of grits over the span of a day and a half.

The charcuterie by Table (Asheville, NC) impressed me. From what I saw down here, these dudes in the Deep South may lack the panache of the salumieri in NYC, SF, and LA, but they got the substance… Maybe it’s in the meat and not the motion after all?

Was geeked to hear Anthony Giglio’s talk on Grenache. I’ve known him since my early NYC days thanks to the Scicolones. He and his wife are so sweet and he is a JEDI MASTER at this shit. He had his crowd in the palm of his hand…

Ummm… didn’t taste this… Predictably, lots of Bourbon presenters (a lot of them topflight but all commercial) and even crappy Texas Vodka. You know which one…

This lady was awesome. No marketing schtick whatsoever. Just her trailer and her teacakes. “My trailer’s gonna blush with you taking so many pictures of her,” she said. “No one’s ever taken so many!” She blushed.

My seminars were super fun and so many nice folks came out to taste and riff on wine with me. Food and wine buds Eat It Atlanta and fra’ Aronne came to my afternoon tasting and we ended up eating an early and amazing dinner at Empire State South before I hopped a train, plane, and automobile back to the River City.

But more on our remarkable dinner later…

Fried Chicken at South City Kitchen in Atlanta, the “New South” cuisine

Just had to start with South City Kitchen’s Caesar Salad after being tempted by “grit croutons” (breaded and fried grit cubes) and fried okra.

I’m sure the bartender had pegged me for an out-of-towner even before I ordered the fried chicken but I just had to have it. Must say, it was perfect. The “New South” cuisine may not be so new but it’s going strong. Thoroughly enjoyed this recommendation made by Eat It Atlanta — my number-one go-to blog for when I come to “the A” as he calls it (this is the first time, btw). @EatItAtlanta, thanks again, man, you ROCK!

Italian sayings: buona visione, buona degustazione, e buon weekend

It’s been a busy week here at Do Bianchi.

The other night I spoke about Fellini’s Notti di Cabiria and my semiotic approach to Fellinian wine pairing (semiotic or “Econian” as Vintuition pointed out) at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.

I wish the weekend at home with Tracie P were in the cards for me but — ahimè, alas — today I’m heading to Atlanta where I’ll be leading two wine tastings and seminars tomorrow at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

It’s been a long week and it’s going to be even longer. And as I head off to another working Saturday, I’ll wish you all a buon weekend (a great weekend) with a list of Italian optatives… (Briciole and Avvinare, which ones am I missing?)


Buon lavoro = may your work be fruitful.
Buona lettura = enjoy your reading.
Buona lezione = may the lecture/class be fruitful.
Buon seminario = may the seminar/class be fruitful.
Buono studio = may your study be fruitful.


Buon appetito = enjoy your food.
Buon ascolto = enjoy the music [listening].
Buona degustazione = enjoy the tasting.
Buona spaghettata = enjoy your spaghetti [pasta].
Buona visione = enjoy the movie.


Buona continuazione = enjoy the rest of your day/activity.
Buona domenica = enjoy your day of rest [the day of the Lord].
Buone feste = happy holidays.
Buon fine settimana [buon weekend] = have a great weekend.
Buona permanenza = enjoy your stay.
Buon proseguimento = enjoy the rest of your stay/activity.
Buone vacanze = enjoy your vacation.
Buon viaggio = have a safe trip.
Buon volo = have a safe flight.
Buon weekend [buon fine settimana] = have a great weekend.


Buona guarigione = I wish you a speedy recovery.
Buon riposo = sleep well [get well soon].


Buona giornata = have a great day.
Buon giorno = good day [greetings].
Buona notte = good night [good-bye].
Buon pomeriggio = good afternoon [greetings].
Buona sera = good evening [greetings].
Buona serata = have a great evening.