Big Bucks 

Despite a change at the helm Buckhead's remains as extravagant as ever.

"Without Philip Morris and the law firms, I couldn't make it," admits Tanaka, who estimates that four of five tabs wind up on someone's corporate card.

Extravagance is what Buckhead's is all about, from the prices to the size of the portions to a wine list that is a fixture on the Wine Spectator's annual "best of award of excellence."

That $42 steak was three tournedos of beef surrounded by so many chunks of lump crabmeat that they looked like penne pasta. The extra-aged, grain-fed Midwestern beef, USDA prime, was cooked to perfection and seated in a demiglace sauce of vermouth and pepper. It also came with a béarnaise sauce, which I fortunately had ordered on the side because the two sauces were not compatible, at least in looks.

The only steak that doesn't break the $40 barrier is a ladylike 8-ounce filet at $38. Two others, steak au poivre (pepper-crusted) and steak fromage (with blue cheese) top out at $46.

Most of the seafood entrees are in the lower to mid-$30s, although the 1-pound lobster tail is $45.

The $33 crab imperial, while crammed with baked lump meat, was disappointingly dry, especially compared to a similar entrée I tried a couple of days later for half the price at a Maryland fish house.

Much better was a creamy cup of lobster bisque topped by a dollop of crŠme fraŒche, although it would have benefited from a bit more sherry.

An appetizer of half a dozen scallops was all that could be asked for, lightly broiled, sprinkled with sesame seeds and covered with a honey soy dressing.

The sky-high entrée prices are softened somewhat because, unlike many steakhouses, they include a small salad (with anchovies), a sautéed vegetable and a choice of potato. A specialty is the potato pancake.

Desserts, made in-house, are a mere $6 and include a huge portion of bread pudding, pecan pie, crŠme br–lée or cheesecake.

The atmosphere exudes relaxed luxury, with thick drapes that separate two dining rooms (smokers are limited to the bar and two booths in a rear alcove), stuffed buck heads over the bar and fireplace, paneled walls and a wine rack that runs the length of the main dining room.

Tanaka, a savvy businessman who also owns Kabuto's House of Steaks on West Broad Street (he sold a second Kabuto's on the South Side), thinks that unlike the original owner, he can make it at Buckhead's, because his other business ventures include a construction company and investments.

Buckhead's had been closed for three months when Tanaka bought it in October 2003 from a landlord who was anxious to find a tenant who wouldn't fall behind in the rent. It was a risky venture, because many of the staff had found other jobs, and the restaurant's fabled wine list — more than 800 varieties — was being sold at auction.

Tanaka managed to hire back most of the original crew, although the head chef and wine manager were no longer available, and he won the wine auction only after he convinced a friend to stop bidding against him.

He even gambled that the Buckhead's name was worth $5,000. What he didn't count on were the $50,000 gift certificates that were out there. He honored them, though he was "crying for a couple months," he says.

Tanaka then had to survive a year in which some former customers were slow to realize Buckhead's had reopened, and several new high-end steakhouses appeared on the scene — Morton's, Fleming's and Copper Grill. After many of his regulars tried out the competition, most have returned, preferring the cozy, comfortable surroundings of a locally owned place with familiar faces. S

Buckhead's Restaurant and Chop House ($$$$)
8510 Patterson Ave.
Beverly Hills Shopping Center
Dinner only, from 5 p.m. daily


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