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Cajun goes corporate 

A grim first visit to Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro

"Golly, it looks like Paris," I said to Wayne as we drove through Atlantic Station, the new multibillion-dollar development in Midtown.

"If Paris looked like Dunwoody, yeah," Wayne replied.

I was joking, of course. The idea behind Atlantic Station is laudable. It's a high-density development that theoretically allows residents to work, shop and live in the same area -- just like people do in real cities like Paris. But the laudable concept has been rendered in the mainly hideous architecture of corner-cutting suburban visionaries. If your dream is to live within walking distance to the Mall of Georgia, this place is for you.

But don't mind me. Atlantic Station is the wave of the future, with a similar development planned for the old Lakewood Fairgrounds, and a smaller version at the obliterated Lindbergh Plaza. In fact, I'm betting New Orleans ends up looking like Atlantic Station.

And, speaking of New Orleans, 2-month-old Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro (265 18th St., 404-815-8800), part of a chain of restaurants headquartered in that wasted city, is among the first of a gaggle of eateries to open in Atlantic Station. There is so much to be said and so little to be savored about this restaurant that describing it reminds me of my early days as a reporter when I had to write elaborate reports of multi-car pile-ups on back roads in rural Georgia.

To begin with, there's the menu -- a 12-by-17 glossy laminated book heavy enough to whoop your waiter upside the head and leave him unconscious while you sneak out of the restaurant without paying the bill. The menu, huge as it is, manages to express everything unlikable about Atlantic Station. There are utterly bizarre, full-page pictures of happy people who are dwarfed by food in the foreground. A family of three beams ecstatically behind a volcano of fried seafood erupting onion rings. A couple of hot chicks -- lipstick lesbians? -- eye one another behind a huge bowl of parsley-garnished yellow cheesy stuff. My favorite is what looks like a younger man romancing an older woman. "Sizzle up your romance," the page says. In the foreground is a huge hunk of rare meat with a slice removed. Talk about your subliminal marketing!

The menu's dishes are a tribute to culinary focus groups. A lot of this, a lot of that, some of it mildly Cajun, most of it bland, all of it in portions large enough to please New Orleans refugees who haven't eaten for three days. But even Wayne Johnson, the Nicest Person Alive, could not contain his displeasure with the food. His starter, a faux tostada, featured puffy fried flour tortillas topped with tepid fried shrimp, red cabbage, pico de gallo, guac and a slimy tartar sauce. Weirdly enough, most of the toppings were OK, but the tortillas themselves, ice cold, appeared to be stale. "A little warmth, just a little, would have been nice," Wayne said.

My own starter was a pair of "creamy crab cakes" served over a ragout of sliced artichoke hearts, mushrooms and diced potatoes, with a completely tasteless oyster cream sauce. I guess this dish is supposed to be all about creamy textures, but "gooey" is a better description. Actually, I have eaten worse crab cakes, but the ragout and sauce were exceptionally hateful. Apparently, canned artichoke hearts and tasteless white mushrooms please lots of people, especially when gummed up with a cream sauce.

For entrees, we both ordered "bistro signature dishes." (This is not a bistro, but whatever.) At that point, the Nicest Person Alive actually began ruminating about the last year of dining to try to recall a dish worse than his paneed chicken over crawfish linguine. Two huge pieces of heavily fried, Parmesan-crusted chicken breast were hurled over rubbery linguine with another obnoxious cream sauce. Wayne ate a few bites and ordered the rest of it wrapped up to throw away at home. He is still too nice to tell the waiter a dish is inedible.

Mine was no better. Did I know that fried ravioli would be literally deep-fried? Hell no. (And I hope you've noticed that the menu is unbelievably heavy on frying.) The crusty, ricotta-filled ravioli was served with a lot of sautéed crawfish tails and yet another "spicy cream sauce." (I hope you've noticed that the menu also is unbelievably heavy on cream sauces.) I picked out the tails and left all but one or two of the funnel cake-style ravioli.

I haven't even mentioned the decor here. Forget the tile floor that is so slippery that I did an involuntary split as I approached a urinal. Look at all the white, corkscrew columns that divide up the dining room. Look up ... to the top. There, at the base of each column, is a big slice of plaster cheesecake.

How the restaurant gets away with borrowing the Cheesecake Factory's gimmick, I don't know. I can tell you the cheesecake is no better. I hoped for the best by ordering the "original," meaning one without one of the gruesome toppings. I think that by "original," the menu must be referring to Sara Lee and her overly creamy cakes. Wayne ordered the "original chocolate," also minus a topping, and for some reason it had more body than my own choice.

What else? Completely weird service. Forks were taken but not replaced. The server walked away in the middle of our order without an explanation and then returned five minutes later to say one of the dishes we ordered was unavailable. The meal ended with the most ludicrous ceremony I've ever endured in a restaurant. The server put two bite-size pieces of chocolate on the table and told us how he liked to give his customers a little something special. He also left behind a printed note calling us "V.I.P. patrons" and urging us to ask for him during our next visit, so that he could treat us "like a STAR!!!"

Oh well. Check back next week when I will have less to say about several good, inexpensive restaurants.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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