Absolutely fabulous 

Einstein's is still the champ for alfresco dining

At last, summer wanes. Enough of the oppressive humidity and afternoon downpours. Give me breezy afternoons and crisp evenings. Give me jacket weather. Give me a glass of wine on the patio at Einstein's, and I just might quit complaining. Einstein's has arguably one of the nicest patios in town, and it's finally pleasant enough outside to enjoy it.

To be honest, I'm not even sure what Einstein's interior dining room looks like. The bar, with its glossy woodwork and funky light fixtures, is pretty fabulous. But nothing compares to that patio. It's big, for one thing, running along Juniper Street for about a half-block. There are enough wrought iron tables that the wait for one is never more than 10 or 15 minutes. A canopy of oak branches overhead provides plenty of shade.

Einstein's is a five-minute walk from my office, and it's been the scene of countless boozy happy hours. The bartenders pour a mean martini, but crowd-friendly appetizers -- hummus, artichoke dip -- never made much of an impression. I've tried a sandwich once or twice at lunch, again without feeling the earth move. So imagine my surprise when I delved a bit deeper into the menu to discover a cache of sprightly, elegant dishes.

Twelve dollars seems steep for an appetizer of crab cakes, but they sure are delicious. Morsels of sweet crabmeat mingle with flecks of red bell pepper, their flavors complemented by a drizzle of chipotle aioli and a scoop of spicy corn salsa. Not a bad choice, if you don't mind a bit of a splurge.

A rib eye steak, blackened and sliced into juicy, tantalizing strips, is presented in a mountainous heap that includes thick, parmesan-crusted potato wedges, grilled asparagus and fried shoestring onions. It's all a bit much -- they could probably lose one of the accoutrements without doing the dish any harm -- yet it's hard to deny the appeal of such a gluttonous feast.

Slightly more spare in presentation was a simple, flavorful wedge of grilled salmon served with jasmine rice, crunchy jicama and watercress. I could've done without the accompanying sauce -- too much ginger for me -- but it was minimal and easy to avoid.

Generally, the staff at Einstein's is chipper and charming. They zip efficiently around the patio in crisp black T-shirts and pressed khakis, cracking jokes and flirting good-naturedly. At this point, the only thing I can find to gripe about is the music, a parade of tired dance tracks that sound like they belong on one of those god-awful Now That's What I Call Music! compilations. I realize it's Midtown, but come on. Update the soundtrack, boys, you're killing us. Still, we won't hold it against you. How could we? That patio is just too damn fabulous.

Sample the South

Canoe celebrates its 10th anniversary this month with a lineup of guest chefs from around the South on four consecutive Thursday nights. First up Sept. 15 is Scott Boswell of Stella! in New Orleans. He's followed by Hugh Acheson of the Five and Ten in Athens on Sept. 22; Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham on Sept. 29; and Michael Kramer of McCrady's in Charleston on Oct. 6. Each chef will create his own four-course, prix-fixe menu (Canoe's regular menu will also be available). 4199 Paces Ferry Road. 770-432-2663. www.canoeatl.com.

Gaucho Chic

On Sun., Sept. 18, Fogo de Chão hosts a special lunch to benefit the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House. Tickets are $75 per person including gratuity (two-thirds of the ticket price benefits the charity). Attendees get to mingle with real South American gauchos. 3101 Piedmont Road. 404-266-9988. www.fogodechao.com.

Beer 'n' Beef

Morton's in Buckhead will host a Samuel Adams autumn beer tasting Fri., Sept. 23. The evening will feature four Sam Adams brews, each paired with hors d'oeuvres: Oktoberfest paired with petite lamb chops, Creme Stout paired with mini-sirloin burgers, Boston Lager paired with chicken goujonettes, and Cherry Wheat paired with fruit and cheese. A representative from Sam Adams will be on site to conduct a brief brewmaster class. The evening will also feature a raffle for Samuel Adams and Morton's items. $25 per person. 3379 Peachtree Road. 404-816-6535. www.mortons.com.

Tune In

There's a new draw Wednesday nights at Nava's patio bar: live music by flamenco guitarist Rouzbeh. Drop in, have a margarita or a fresh fruit mojito, and dig the Latin vibes. Music starts at 8 p.m. 3060 Peachtree Road. 404-240-1984. www.buckheadrestaurants.com.

Go Greek

Taverna Plaka is offering a couple of weeknight specials worth checking out. Tuesday nights are two-for-one appetizers and $2 ouzo. Stop by on Wednesday for the $15 chef's special with a glass of wine. 2196 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-636-2284. www.tavernaplakaatlanta.com.

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