Seeger's in Atlanta is Closing - Again
I read in the AJC that Seeger's in Atlanta is, once again, closing. This time it's for good.
What was it about Seeger's that prevented them from procuring a steady income stream? I know that no one but no one argued that the quality of the cuisine was anything but magnificent (perhaps even unmatched), but yet the entire experience there was met with lukewarm reception. People would say, "yeah, this is amazing...but only for a special occasion," and that vibe alone was not enough to bring in a steady stream of customers.
So why this reaction? It is that people in the South don't enjoying dining out at tremendous restaurants on a regular basis? Would Seeger's have a more receptive audience in California, Chicago, or NYC? Why are people in CA willing to pay $300/person for French Laundry but Atlantans not $100/person for Seeger's?
(I've never been, so I'm relying on others' first-hand experience to provide some revelation here)
I'm not sure that it was necessarily the cost of dinner/drinks that hindered Seegars in their goal to be a sucessful upscale restaurant as much as it was a snooty atmosphere and a general uncomfortable environment. If you look as some of the other more expensive restaurants in the Atlanta area (Bacchanalia, The Dining Room at the Ritz (Buckhead), Aria, and Rathbuns to name a few) they are generally priced in the same category (particularly when you opt for the tasting menus), but have a very upbeat, fun and inviting atmosphere where wait staff are attentive and are not constantly looking down their noses at you and acting as if YOU are the lucky one to be enjoying the pleasure of THEIR company. I also think that Seegar's miniscule portions may have also been a problem. Anyway, just my two cents.
So, some first-hand experience to share, from somebody who has eaten at both French Laundry and Seeger's (multiple visits over the entire period that the restaurant was open), as well as plenty of other very high end places in between. Altogether different experiences in every respect, frankly.
1. Condescending attitude: over the years the staff at Seeger's has managed to insult myself and various guests in all sorts of small and interesting ways. It had gotten to the point that I actually warned guests in advance.
2. Inept service: servers unfamiliar with the food or preparation, misinformation, wrong dish to wrong diner, recitation of cheeses entirely unintelligible, bar service positively hilarious.
3. Stingy: wine pours always just the slightest bit shy, food servings just a little bit less than you'd like (and I eat small servings), no surprises not listed on the menu.
As for comparing prices, Seeger's actually is $300/person all in (or at least that's what I spent whenever I went), but in the end you felt like you'd paid twice: once with your credit card, and once with your ego and common sense, both of which inevitably felt trammeled by the end of the evening.
My husband and I were Seeger's target demographic: well-educated, well-heeled, and willing to drop lots of cash on high end dining. And yet my husband had literally come to dread our meals there, and I wasn't far behind him.
Wow, fascinating account. Thanks for sharing that experience. I had heard that they tried a few times to revamp the service and attitude, but I guess they never made progress.
As expected, the demise of Seeger's is far different from the demise of high-end restaurants in my birthplace of Tallahassee, where any restaurant with a classy atmosphere and inspired dishes tends never to stay in business because residents are unwilling to drop a wad of cash on an exciting epicurean experience with regularity. As I suspected, Atlanta is a different animal, which is why Seeger's closing was so beguiling to me in light of its accolades.
I most recently moved from the San Fran. Bay Area to NC and miss the ingenuity of the cuisine out there. I will be in Atlanta in a few days, probably spending the Holidays as well. What high-end dining places would you recommend besides Ritz Carlton or Bacchanalia (or are those the best bets)? Also, any potential places that will let me reminisce about Californian cuisine a la Berkeley's Chez Panisse (perhaps Woodfire Grill??)
Woodfire is definitely the closest to the Cafe at Chez Panisse. Eugene is a bit more upscale (except for Sunday night southern dinners), but still has a strong focus on quality local ingredients. I really like Watershed for a slightly modern take on Southern classics, somewhat of a California meets the South sensibility.
Bacchanlia/Quinones/Floataway all share a strong ingredient focus as well, with varying degrees of formality.
If you have any interest in Asian cuisines, be sure to check out Tasty China out in Marietta - search the board to find some posts that speak of its brilliance. And Nam is a good stand-in for San Francisco's Slanted Door.
mikeh, I've not been to Chez Panisse, so can't say which Atlanta restaurant would most closely approximate the experience there. Michael Tuohy, the chef/owner at Woodfire, is from California (and a very nice guy to boot---do say hello if you go, as he'll be delighted) so you'll likely find it comfortable surroundings. Note that the restaurant's located in an area that features the sort of shops that sell lingerie, model included. Michael jokes that it's "dinner and a show."
As to the very best high end, my pick is The Dining Room (at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, not the downtown Ritz-Carlton). Fantastic service, fantastic food (chef at the moment is Arnaud Berthelier---over the years the chefs have been Gunther Seeger, Joel Antunes, Bruno Menard, and now Berthelier), worth every penny. Bacchanalia is excellent, and there's now an adjacent slightly more upmarket restaurant from the same chefs called Quinones (which I've not yet tried). They've got a third, less expensive and formal version called Floataway that I go to quite a bit as well.
Other options for high end are Joel (yes, Joel Antunes, previously at The Dining Room) and Restaurant Eugene (chef Linton Hopkins a local boy, son of an Emory Univeristy professor of medicine, food a cool mix of haute cuisine meets down south). Had you been planning a visit a year ago I'd have sent you to Richard Blais at One Midtown Kitchen, but he's now in Miami.
As for Seeger's attempts to revamp the service and attitude, in the end I decided that it had to be Seeger himself who drove things in this direction: not only was the experience the same over the years (during which time managers and wait staff changed several times), but managers who moved on to other venues did excellent jobs in other settings.
As per my check of OpenTable, Seeger's is not listed. That space is now occupied by Posh. I've not heard that Seeger is presently cooking anywhere in Atlanta.
Watershed in Decatur is very close to Atlanta, well within what most people would consider the Atlanta metro area, and very close to official city limits of Atlanta proper (which is actually a very small part of the Atlanta area. Very, very in-town, and actually reachable by MARTA train if you're staying downtown (as most visitors to the area are). If you are downtown, avoid eating there: Atlanta's got a lot to offer, but just about none of it is downtown.