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There are two reasons I'm not going to talk about money in this review. First, Emily Post says it's rude. And second? If you're eating on a budget, then Buckhead's is just flat-out not the place for you. So I won't go into the prices at this old-school steakhouse beyond noting that by the time this review is published, I'll have nearly paid off the debt I incurred treating my fresh-from-the-Midwest mother, my in-town mother-in-law, the mother of my child as well as said 3-year-old to a Buckhead's Mother's Day feast.

I had doubts about the location. There's something horribly distasteful about dressing up and driving across town to walk across a strip mall parking lot and into some "transformed space." But from the moment the doors close behind our little party, Buckhead's hardwood floors, heavy-framed oil paintings, ambient lighting and oak paneling cast a spell so strong you could almost believe the place is nestled in woodlands thick with 12-point bucks like the one hanging over the bar.

The flavors, like the décor, are what guests expect from high-end chophouses where tradition, not innovation, rules. The menu reads like a classic: the French onion soup. Anchovy the primary flavor in the Caesar salad. A traditional lobster bisque that tastes like liquefied lobster shell. French sauces: béarnaise and beurre blanc, creamed blue cheese and rosemary demi-glace, all deep and luscious.

The only strange hue comes from a too-sweet Americanized Asian influence — a barbecue ponzu pucker, though the diver scallops were plump and nicely seared. A chop, two ribs thick, might have been the hit of the table (especially at only $27 — but then, who's counting up the bill as we go?) if it hadn't arrived well past the promised precision of the kitchen. We were told it was possible to have it between medium and medium well.

My mother-in-law, excellent at finding value, ordered the salmon. With its beurre blanc (rich, butter-mounted pan reduction), the gently roasted fillet is perfect. My own mom, meanwhile, said with Midwestern practicality, "Well, we're here for steak, right?" The petite filet, at 8 ounces, is the better choice, because you'll want dessert — all classically rich and to-die-for filling. You'll want to share.

From the endless bread basket to the enormous baked potato and the ubiquitous sour cream and butter, Proustian triggers sent me back to remembrances of steakhouses past — Morton's in downtown Chicago and the treat of a kiddie cocktail (or, as my grandmother would say, a "Shirley Temple") nearly making up for the imposition of a clip-on tie.

But … Emily Post be damned, I can't do it. I can't tell the Buckhead's story without mentioning that the menu offers an $1,800 bottle of wine and a surf-and-turf option I don't inquire about for the obvious reason: If you have to ask … Good reds are available at around $7 a glass, even if the waiter wants to play sommelier and suggest something in the $15-a-glass range. You'll also be tempted to order big, with additions of asparagus with hollandaise and mushrooms demi-glace for the signature filet. The payoff is getting a sense of the food itself beyond all the oak-paneled trappings and pleasantly distant aroma of good cigars and single malt.

And while those trappings aren't as venerable or as naturally weathered as Chicago's Morton's, that $50 filet, encased neatly in a cloak of cream and piquant blue, is perfectly medium rare with the emphasis on rare, just as it should be. It is rich to the point of making it nearly impossible to finish the whole pound of tenderloin by oneself and then consume a chocolate terrine with coffee for dessert. Nearly.

It's a good thing to be able to treat the ladies, even if, or maybe because, the check runs well beyond the budget. It's a meal that creates its own occasion, and yes, you will need a reservation. S

Buckhead's Restaurant & Chop House ($$$$)
8510 Patterson Ave.
750-2000
Dinner daily; brunch only Sunday.
Reservations required.
Cigars and smoking at the bar.
Wheelchair accessible.
www.buckheads.com



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