Some restaurants get better with time. Some get worse. I’m looking at one of each this week and we’ll start with the one that’s gotten worse.
Udipi Cafe (1707 Church St., Decatur, 404-296-6771) moved a few months ago from its original location on Lawrenceville Highway across the street to the shopping center that houses mainly Indian businesses.
The first shock here is the appearance of the place. The original was a rather picturesque spot – a bit gloomy – with quirky architectural details. This new location is completely undecorated unless you count a color scheme that would never occur in nature. I’m talking orange – OK, maybe saffron – with bright red in equal portions. Even the booths are red. There’s one of those glass waterfall things out front, but not a bit more decoration.
The restaurant was basically empty when we visited on a Sunday night. That in itself was a shock. Udipi was many Atlantans’ introduction to dosai, the huge rice crepes folded around spicy ingredients. It was also generally many people’s first taste of authentic South Indian vegetarian food. Carnivores were amazed that they didn’t miss meat when they ate at Udipi.
It’s entirely possible that the quality of the restaurant’s food has not changed as much as our palates have. Udipi has plenty of competition now, so the novelty has worn off, making us all pickier.
The first thing we noticed was that the food generally was not served very warm. Wayne ordered the classic iddly – rice and lentil patties – served with sambar and mint chutney. The iddly were room temperature and strangely misshapen.
My own starter, Mumbai pau-bhaji, didn’t live up to its promise. Although the thick spread of spicy vegetables, cashews and cheese had decent flavor, it was served with unappetizing bread that resembled the bottom pieces of hamburger buns. I’ve been informed that this is appropriate but my own research says the bread is usually a whole, small bun that has been seasoned and toasted with butter. These tasted straight out of the bag. If they were toasted, it was long before they came to our table.
The biggest disappointment was my dosai. The restaurant offers 17 different versions (along with six uthappam, which more resemble pancakes). I ended up with the usual mysore masala dosai, which is filled with hot chutney, potatoes and onions. Again, flavors were strong, but the dosai itself was barely crisp. In fact, it grew quite soggy halfway through my eating.
Wayne made the better choice with the Royal South Indian thali – a large collection of little bowls of various dishes, all of them zingy and complementary, and perfect for someone like Wayne who is addicted to sauces, dunking and sampling as many flavors as possible.
Dessert, badam halwa, featured ground almonds cooked in honey and butter. Think baklava without the pastry. I ordered it with a scoop of intense rose ice cream.
Perhaps the restaurant’s kitchen was having an off day, but our meal was not up to our prior experience. The owners, by the way, have opened another restaurant in Duluth.
D.B.A. Barbecue improves
When I first visited D.B.A. Barbecue (1190 N. Highland Ave., 404-249-5000) soon after its opening in June, I was disappointed by the dry meat, no matter what variety I sampled.
The restaurant was using electric smokers that, weirdly, did not vent a whiff of smoke to the open air. I’d never been to a barbecue joint where you didn’t get a strong hit of the stuff while you waited for your meal.
That has all changed. The restaurant has a new chef, Drew Kirkland, who was chef de cuisine for Kevin Rathbun for four years. Kirkland brought his own outdoor Lang smoker to work with him and the restaurant ditched its electric smokers for a classic Ole Hickory.
As we did during our first visit, we ordered the outrageously gigantic platter, the D.B.A. Whole House, which allows you to taste all seven meats, with four sides. Just a taste of the moist, tender brisket was enough to prove things had changed. Everything on the platter had a pleasantly aromatic, smoky taste. Standouts included the spare ribs and the baby back ribs, both rubbed with spices. You can order them cooked wet but we prefer to add our own sauce.
The only problem on the platter was the turkey. I’m not sure how you keep the white meat of turkey moist in the best of conditions. I do know that the turkey at Daddy D’z is moist. It is sliced a good bit thinner than D.B.A.’s.
I'm still not terribly happy with the sauces. The “spicy” is only spicy if you’re a barbecue novice. Oddly, the sweet sauce had more of a kick than the spicy, so I ended up using more of that – a complete reversal of my usual choice.
As it happens, the restaurant had debuted a few new dishes the night of our visit, mainly side dishes and a starter of bacon-wrapped shrimp. (I still do not want the starter of smoked and fried frog legs over red beans and rice.)
My favorite side was the grilled creamed corn. Collards, potato salad and Brunswick stew, thick with okra, were done right, too.
Yes, we took home a gigantic amount of food. Honestly, I think the Whole House platter, $40, would fill four average eaters.
The latest entry into the Atlanta pizza wars is Antico Pizza Napoletana (1093 Hemphill Ave., 404-724-2333), which Jennifer Zyman discovered last week. Although it has no place to sit, you can stand and eat at a communal table.
The pizza is truly a breakthrough in our city. It’s a dollar or two more than the average gourmet pie in town, but the kitchen is using such high-quality ingredients, the pies are a bargain. For example, many of the pies feature pricey bufala mozzarella, which is special-order-only at Varasano’s.
The new pizzeria is only open for dinner, from 4 p.m. weekdays and noon Saturdays “until the dough runs out.” My efforts to learn when the dough typically runs out have been futile.
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