The Lotus Room, Le Colonial’s answer to private dining
Sometimes, the wait time from announcement to fruition for a buzzy restaurant can seem almost unbearable. Such was my impatience for the debut of Le Colonial Atlanta (The Shops Buckhead Atlanta, 404.341.0500, lecolonialatlanta.com); my knees go weak at the thought of Asian food, and I just returned from a trip to Vietnam earlier this year. I was familiar with the restaurant’s other locations in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and New York City, and knew that Atlanta would have a hit on its hands. That’s what happens when you combine excellent food and beverage with an inspired, transportive setting: a runaway hit, the likes of which Buckhead hasn’t seen since Le Bilboquet.
That’s fitting, considering one of the owners of Le Bilboquet, Rick Wahlstedt, owns Le Colonial Atlanta with Chicago-based partner Joe King. Together the duo has struck gold. (Wahlstedt is an original founder of Le Colonial Manhattan, and King is a partner with him at the Houston, Chicago and Atlanta locations.)
First, the look: Crucial for the Buckhead crowd is Le Colonial Atlanta’s bar and lounge. Situated at the back of the restaurant, it’s the perfect place for a tête-à-tête or to wait for your table in the main dining room… and a place to, if you wish, not be seen in sceney Buckhead, thanks to a well-guarded VIP entrance. There are several other main areas: The Treehouse (glass-enclosed with the ability to be partitioned for up to 35 guests); The Lotus Room (private dining for up to 14); the front bar; the dining room; and the veranda, in which the iconic French bistro chairs beckon to you from the entrance. French company Horus Bronze—responsible for restoring the Statue of Liberty—was tasked with the wrought iron flourishes; Bevolo, the original manufacture of gaslit streetlamps in New Orleans’ French Quarter, created the exterior sconces. Also of note is a focal-point wall mural by Swedish painter Jonas Wickman.
But it’s not all style over substance: Lest you think this is some high-end chain restaurant masquerading as a hot spot, it’s not. Under the tutelage of Culinary Director Nicole Routhier—who was responsible for the original Le Colonial menu in 1993—executive chef Hassan Obaye is producing fine food.
Executive chef Hassan Obaye
You might not be as familiar with Vietnamese as say Thai or Chinese. Says Obaye, “One of the key components for Vietnamese cuisine is the balance between sweet, spicy and acid; you get all those tiers whenever you take a bite. The second thing is texture. You will always have a soft and a crunch.”
“It’s essential for our culinary program that we base the menu off of how much [the farmers] are able to produce for us. We try to source organic and locally to its availability; all the seafood is wild-caught. We try to source all the proteins so that there’s no growth hormones. We are very selective about our partnerships; it’s not a business-based relationship. It’s a partnership because our success is based on [our sources’] success. I really look for passion about food in my vendors. We are very delighted to be a part of the community here,” he says. Obaye, for his part, is often known to visit the farmers himself—something most executive chefs do not do—which speaks a lot about how much he cares about the origins of his food.
While the food might seem fancy thanks to its French techniques, an important element to Obaye is also Vietnamese food’s approachability. For example, the dishes are plated on an array of colorful, size-variant plates—it’s decidedly non-French. He notes, “I think plates should tell a story, but if a guest cannot crack the code, it’s not [a good experience].” Perhaps a radical concept for some, but, for Obaye, a Moroccan-born chef who has done turns at Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s simple: He knows his food is playful, textural, locally sourced and, if the current lunch and dinner crowd prove anything, here to stay.
Photography by: Kathryn McCrary Photography