Athens - Mirko
Actually, this restaurant is located in downtown Watkinsville, in the new Town Center development. But Athens and Watkinsville are sort of a package deal, so....
Wow. These guys make really good food. The pasta is made fresh on the premises, using a really cool multi-tasking pasta machine located front and center in the open kitchen. The owner/head chef is on-site and doing heroic things with multiple sauce pans and a small kitchen staff.
We had sausage ravioli with a wild mushroom cream sauce, which was very rich but amazing and worth the inevitable heaviness, and an absolutely divine pappardelle with bolognese sauce. Really good food, and reasonably priced. The ceasar was pretty good, though I'm no expert on that particular salad, and the wine selection is darned fine, from what we could tell. We drove home with a warm happy feeling after eating these pasta dishes.
On the other hand, the bread was pretty bad, which made the white bean hummous and bread basket they give you (gratis) less than enjoyable. The real insult is the fact that they use the same bread for the bruschetta, which was not so good as a result. Perhaps it was a bad bread night, but I would strongly urge them to call Luna bakery in Athens and outsource their bread baking immediately; bread is best left to the experts, IMO. No restaurant can afford a bad bread night, especially when some of your defining dishes depend upon the bread being perfect.
Another concern is the service metodology. You order at the counter and seat yourself, but that means, at least for now, that you wait in line for a bit, with the front door open as the line snakes outside. We'll see how that plays out as the months grow colder. The wait-staff covers the entire floor as a team, with different waiters asking you if you've had bread yet, etc. It's like a lunch deli, but with multiple dinner courses, and it seemed just a tad chaotic on a Saturday night, with confusion about orders between the kitchen and wait-staff obvious to all. It's a small space, and the restaurant is tremendously popular, so I understand some confusion here and there, but I would think they would be better served with a more traditional setup, ie a waitstaff with assigned tables and clearly defined duties. It's an odd way to handle service at a very good restaurant, I think. That order counter alone takes up enough space for a few tables, or more bar seating....
All in all, the pasta dishes are just a notch shy of awesome, and reason enough to go back again and again. The flaws are obvious, but like La Dolce Vita in downtown Athens, the good stuff is more than enough to bring us back again and again. That homemade pasta is so tender, and yet firm to the bite. There's some real love in that kitchen; too bad the place is flawed, as the pasta alone is enough to put Mirko in the list of top restaurants in the state.
Highly recommended, at least for pasta, and that seems to be their passion.
Mirko has thoroughly worked out the kinks, and I can now give it an extremely positive review. The tiny dining area and subsequent lenghthy waits at dinner time are a little frustrating, but they are open all day and one might choose to visit for lunch or during off-hours for quicker service. But the staff does a remarkable job handling the heavy load, displaying graciousness in abundance.
But the food, good lordy, it's pretty darn good. This is the sort of restaurant that reveals the fraudulance and mediocrity of so many "upscale" Athens-area restaraunts (I'm talking to you, E/W Bistro, DePalma's, and Last Resort).
This time, the bread was excellent, and the rest of the meal was just flat impressive. We had angel hair with a duck and porcini ragu, and fusilli with a lamb sauce. Really, really good. And the fired calamari appetizer was simply divine, so tender and soooo good.
The Athens area seems to be undergoing a slow improvement in its restaurant offerings, and Mirko is definitely setting the bar high. Watkinsville isn't very far to drive for food of this caliber, you Athens folks, and eating one more dish of pasta anywhere else in the area simply doesn't make sense. Mirko is a treasure, a real gem. As with 5&10, this restaurant is just head and shoulders above the competition.
And if you're lucky enough to sit at the bar, it's loads of fun to watch the folks in action as they cook the food.
re: uptown jimmy
I've been meaning to post about this place forever. We've since moved away, but before we left, we ate there twice and both times the pasta was excellent. Perfect, really. If I remember, once I had the ravioli filled with sausage, apple and sage, at the time I remember thinking the filling slightly under seasoned, but good none the less. The second, I had the parpadelle with a nice tomato sauce with red onion and mozzarella cheese. Overall, it was perfect. I think you get a slightly better deal (more food) choosing a pasta and a sauce as opposed to the filled pastas, but all are good.. I'm very glad to hear they fixed the bread.
I've never understood these folks who just insist upon eating at the wretched DePalma's. The food there is appalling, and, yes, I've had the unfortunate time of eating at every location more than once in my time in Athens. Now, there really is no excuse to go anywhere else for pasta.
Mirko really is just about perfect at this point. Just a lovely experience. A friend of mine described Mirko as a blessing for Oconee County. Honestly, it's a blessing for any part of Georgia when a place this good comes along and thrives.
DePalma's exemplifies what is so frustrating about the restaurant scene in Athens. It's just flatly mediocre, and yet people flock to the place.
Mirko is reportedly opening a 2nd location in Athens-Clarke County. I hope to high heaven they don't make the mistake of spreading themselves too thin. Right now, the head chef seems to be there at all times, which as many of us know is THE key to restaurant greatness. I would hate to see things go downhill.
But if they can pull it off, Athens will be very lucky.