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Athens, GA: a few reports

The National (downtown Athens): this is the new joint partly headed by the mighty Hugh Acheson of Five and Ten. The atmosphere is sorta stark and awkward, with really friendly yet amateurish and rather timid service. We had one of the flatbread pizzas and a sardine appetizer. The food is good, but not great: it lacks the subtle sublimity of most of the food at Five and Ten, but at a similar price point. I looked over at my wife about half-way through the meal and told her that I would always, always choose Five and Ten over The National. At similar prices, why choose really good when you can have sublime?

On the other hand, we ventured out to a place in Madison called Town 220 Bistro. This is a nice little operation. The food is, again, not nearly as sophisticated as the food at Five and Ten, yet it's really solid and it's a bit less expensive overall, and with a fantastic ambience in a huge space. Really fun time, with some of the best service we've ever had anywhere from the bartender-esse who served us at one of the tall bar tables near the bar. They have a nice mix of fancy and fun on the menu. We had several appetizers and a bottle of Napa chardonnay. Nothing was astounding, but it was such a beautiful time, and the food was darned good. Little details were slightly off from excellent, like the escargot needing just a little lemon, or the bread being slightly underdone by just two minutes. But they are trying hard to provide a lot of bang for the buck, and we will return for some entrees, all of which looked amazing on nearby tables. The lemon-pepper chicken wings with homemade Ranch dressing were divine, actually, and it is a measure of how good the restaurant is that they can make a dish of chicken wings that pair so well with a glass of crisp California chardonnay. Everything is made from scratch, and the ingredients are of high quality, which unltimately makes a few minor slip-ups in execution easily forgiven. And I love a restaurant that isn't afraid to include a tuna sashimi martini dish on the same menu as chicken wings, and is able to get both dishes so right. In the end, a flawed but impressive effort, and we look forward to giving it futher inspection. And what a beautiful space, so huge and full of light....

Ta-ta for now.

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  1. I'm really surprised that you didn't like The National. Me and my wife really enjoyed it and our bill was much lower than a comparable meal at 5 &10.

    Granted, I would typically prefer 5 & 10 over The National, the lower prices and different style of food make it a winner in my book.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Awall25

      I didn't say I didn't like The National. I said the food was good.

      As for prices, I'm a little confused about you saying The National is cheaper. The average appetizer there is more expensive than at Five and Ten, and the average entree price is only $4.00 higher at 5&10. Hmmmm. That doesn't consitute "much lower" prices.

      And the food is quite different. The National trends almost entirely to the Spanish/Mediterranean end of things, where Five and Ten offers a much wider pallette of influences and possibilities. At least that's my take on it.

      1. re: uptown jimmy

        The apps at the National run a little less expensive than 5 & 10 ($6-9, as opposed to $7-12). The entrees are comparably slightly less expensive (by a few dollars).

        Also, I thought a couple of things _were_ astounding.

    2. I've eaten at the national twice so far, but only for lunch. It's good, but not great. Both times, we ordered a flatbread, the first time it was delicious, the second, it seemed very uncomposed and not nearly as good. Chorizo sandwich was a win-win choice. I agree about the atmosphere being a little bit awkward, which wasn't helped by every single graying banker with a cell phone glued to his belt in town dining there at the same time.

      4 Replies
      1. re: charlottecooks

        Yeah, charlottecooks, that gets it about right. There's some good stuff there, and I have no shortage of admiration for at least one of the owners, as anybody who reads my posts here can attest.

        But The National just doesn't quite measure up to its own clearly stated pretentions and aspirations, at least so far. If I'm going to spend that kind of money on dinner and wine, it simply must be excellent from start to finish. Those prices are "expect superb all the time" prices, not "expect pretty darn good most of the time" prices. I hope they get things ironed out, and perhaps they don't need my entusiastic approval in order to succeed, but, in the end, we just don't get tired of the consistent greatness I get at Five and Ten.

        1. re: uptown jimmy

          As you're likely well aware, most good restaurants tend to suffer during the start-up phrase in major cities; I cannot imagine why Athens would be any different, Hugh or no Hugh. I plan to try the National on my next visit home (within the next two weeks) but will not necessarily be expecting perfection since it's still in its infancy stage.

          1. re: uptown jimmy

            I'm with you jimmy- I love our five and ten dear mr. Acheson. It is a place where I will remember every single meal I've ever had there. Not in love with the national so much.

            1. re: charlottecooks

              I really think y'all just haven't ordered the right things. I'd say the boquerones, the patatas bravas, the chorizo with apples, the roasted chicken entree, and the wedding soup they had on special at lunch are all _sublime_.

        2. After two or three belly-stuffin' repasts at La Nacional in NYC, I tell ya, The National is a welcome addition to the Athens chow-scape. I had lunch at the National, and my roasted scallops were divine! ...blackened along the edges and yet very tender with a lovely sauce, creamy roasted pepper, I think... Eh, I've heard a few tales of mediocrity, but I figure they need a little time to grab that groove. Hate to say, but the atmosphere at The National really is a little staid.

          A few days later, I swung by Casa Mia with friends. The place doesn't shoot as high as The National, feels more relaxed. Dug the food... of the eight or so tapas on the table, I wanted a second taste from each plate. None of us could get enough of the potatas bravas or of their cerviche either. Good white sangria, too. I liked the chunks of apple, added a nice twist.

          -----
          La Nacional
          239 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011

          Casa Mia
          269 N Hull St, Athens, GA 30601

          1. Whoa. I gotta pop back in and STRONGLY recommend avoiding Town 220 Bistro. We ate there again recently and it was just short of disastrous. And I'm going to leave it at that, because it pains me to think about that meal, it was just that bad. I felt a responsibility to update my previous good review. It's a shame, because the place showed such promise on our first visit....