First Look: Linton's

Clean flavors and pretty food at Linton Hopkins' new Atlanta Botanical Garden cafe

Sunlight streams through Linton's floor-to-ceiling windows giving the dining room at Linton Hopkins' new shrine to local ingredients and seasonality a divine glow. Paradoxically, the sanctuary is a grid of steel, glass, and stone set into the edge of Storza Woods, a dense urban forest of hardwoods within the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Hopkins, a 2012 James Beard Award winner, opened Linton's in late April along with his wife and co-founder of their Resurgens Hospitality Group (Holeman & Finch, Restaurant Eugene, H&F Bottle Shop, and others). The opening aligned with the arrival of 20-plus Garden-bound glass installations from Seattle artist Dale Chihuly. Paying admission to the garden ($15.95-$21.95) is requisite for dining at Linton's during garden hours and there is a parking fee.

Resurgens veteran and former Restaurant Eugene executive chef Jason Paolini runs the kitchen at Linton's. The menu is a New American melting pot with Southern, Italian, and Spanish influences.

The sleek two-story restaurant designed by Perkins + Will features indoor, patio, and rooftop seating. On first glance, the floor-to-ceiling windows and copse of trees outside are reminiscent of the garage where Cameron Frye and Ferris Bueller kill a 1961 Ferrari. The dining room takes a less-is-more approach with light woods and post-modern chairs with backs that mimic branches. Aside from the six Chihuly drawings hanging on the main wall, most of the artistry here happens on the plate.

The small menu is bursting with artistic dishes. A recent version listed five appetizers, seven entrées, and four QC offerings — simple "Quick Café" munchies. A bowl of warm Georgia olives ($7) and a charcuterie board ($15) topped with slivers of Spotted Trotter-cured meats, pickles, and crusty segments of H&F bread is a noble snack after a tour of the garden or a prelude to dinner. They all pair nicely with Linton's rooftop view of the Atlanta skyline.

The appetizer section of the menu is remarkable. Every dish is as visually stunning as the garden environs and it's no accident. Paolini says he routinely looks to the garden for inspiration and ways to create visual links between what's outside and what ends up on the plate. The resulting dishes are thoughtfully assembled and brimming with bold, vibrant colors. The lush asparagus salad ($11) features bright green asparagus stalks draped with shaved country ham, creamy chèvre, roasted beets, and a sprinkling of snappy watercress. Skillet-fried chicken livers ($9) are topped with wild greens, zesty pickled ramp purée, browned butter, and tangy strawberry slices. As the weather continues to heat up, don't miss the chilled English pea soup ($10). The jade-colored liquid, which is poured by a server tableside, is embellished with bouncy crawfish and a mound of crunchy sunchoke chips.

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Entrées here range from $17 to $32 with portion sizes on the smaller side. Panéed mountain trout ($21) (that just means "fried in a pan") is served atop creamed spring onion greens and topped with a handful of fresh greens, salty bits of Benton's bacon, and crispy fried onion curls. Linton's eggplant piramide ($19) is a colorful bowl of triangular ravioli packed with smoky eggplant and crushed tomatoes served with succulent white shrimp, sprigs of basil, and bright pink shaved radishes. Heartier options include braised short rib and a New York strip — both for $32.

For a sweet finale, the rich and decadent chocolate pot de crème is a large enough serving for two (although you may find it difficult to share). Linton's also offers a daily pastry plate ($9) and classic chocolate chip cookies. There is also a regional cheese plate that goes well with a glass of wine and spectacular views.

The wine list is large and varied in type and price-point with lots of choices (16) by the glass. It's a stronghold for uncommon Spanish and Italian whites as well as Burgundies. There is not a separate bar area but there are cocktails which stick to the classics ($10-$12). The beer selection features numerous local brews and a few of those great saisons from Blackberry Farm.

I cringe at using the term garden-to-plate, but when you walk by an edible garden, such as the one within the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and then see those veggies and herbs on your dinner plate, it becomes a meaningful flourish.

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