Heirloom tomato salad with a dollop of tomato sorbet

Growing up, we knew Summer was on for real when the tomato salad turned up on the menu. It had no recipe to speak of, only an insistence on seasonal ingredients: ripe tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, fresh basil. The tomates had to be homegrown, deep and red and oozing juice.
The juice was a key ingredient, for it had no dressing  — just a few tablespoons of water and some olive oil. A few aggressive stirs of the mixture produced a juice ideal for the crusty Italian bread that was the only unseasonal ingredient in this dish.

It was a peasant food before peasant food was haute. The older generation would be shocked to discover this humble dish, slightly upscaled, as a $12 starter on the menu at The Floataway Cafe. In this case, the upscaling took the form of a savory tomato sorbet, distilled from those very same juices. But everything else was the same, down to the little portion cups of olive oil and tomato water, as I had requested that the dressing be served on the side. Its only flaw was a slight bitterness to the whole basil leaves. Next time, use a chiffonade.

This was diet food that did not taste so. It was as rich and delicately flavorful as remembered from my childhood. Perhaps the only difference was that I made do with a single piece of crusty bread to soak up the juice, not the half loaf I might have eaten.

Both I and my spouse chose this as starters. Our friend had beau-soleil oysters, itself a light and lowfat choice. That the meal ended in an orgy of dessert was a testament to what makes Floataway Cafe (est: 1998) an enduring presence on Atlanta’s upscale restaurant scene. Everything is executed perfectly.

Floataway is from the stable of restaurants owned by Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, who got their celebrated start in 1993 with Atlanta’s Bacchanalia.
The menu, which changes daily, is diet friendly. And if it is not, then the service at least is. When my companion asked if he could substitute the braised summerland farm greens for the pommes frites, our server responded brightly, “of course.” They arrived bathed in a fat of some kind, which turned them from diet to decadent. Had my companion asked for them steamed with a tad of butter on the side, I have no doubt the kitchen would have obliged.

Summer succotash

Besides the tomato salad, diet-friendly starters included a montauk bluefin tuna crudo with chilis and preserved orange and marinated roasted beets with housemade strained yogurt and avocado.

For my main, I chose the whole roasted loup de mer, served stuffed with lemon and fennel and served with a small salad of arugula. This was a fish dish that celebrated, rather than buried, the fish. A Georgia mountain trout with ratatouille looked like another good choice. My spouse had the roasted organic chicken, which might have worked for a dieter — save that it was sitting on top of a mound of the most buttery mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted.

The fresh summer succotash side was a medley of fresh limas, corn, green beans, zuchini and peppers. The green beans actually had some bite left to them. This side, too, was bathed in a buttery fat, but given the healthy nature of the rest of the meal, I let it slide.

The dessert menu had the requisite mondo-chocolate cake of some kind, a vanilla cheesecake, a toffee cake and a warm peach upside down cake. The lightest thing on the menu appeared to be the popsicle plate. Our companion went for a blueberry brown butter tart, which paired wonderfully with a lemon buttermilk sorbet. I tasted just enough to appreciate the taste, but minimize any diet damage.

My bite of cinnamon ice cream

The Restaurant Dieter Spouse went for a trio of gelati — chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon. They came as three tiny scoops, so I had half of the cinnamon and felt pretty virtuous. It was creamy and intense, every bit as good as the Williams-Sonoma heavy cream cinnamon my spouse made during our fattest years.

Oh, and that disasterous orgy I mentioned? My spouse and companion decided they needed to taste the toffee cake with vanila gelato. I took a bite enough with just enough of the dark, rich, molten toffee to know it was dangerous and that I needed something to break the fall.

A sip of Floataway’s rich French press coffee was the antidote. Like nearly everything at Floataway, it was perfect.