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First Look: Café Lapin 

French/American in old-school Buckhead

Decades ago, in my early 20s, I lived around the corner from Peachtree Battle Shopping Center. I was married, paid $85 a month to rent a house, and drove a VW bug, whose upkeep I could not afford. I remember regularly rolling the battery in a grocery cart to a nearby service station for recharge.

Peachtree Hills was in the early stages of gentrification at the time. In the years since, it’s basically become a suburb of Buckhead. The shopping center, home to a lot of restaurants, now seems quaint in its design compared to the mixed-use brick developments that are popping up everywhere.

And quaint is a word I’d use to describe Café Lapin (2341-C Peachtree Road, 404-812-9171), which could be a cross between the Magnolia Tea Room at Rich’s and the original Violette. Walls are peach, cakes and other desserts are displayed in the center of the restaurant with flowers, and most of the crowd during my two visits was very old-style Buckhead. I’m talking pearls, mellifluous Southern accents and gales of compliments whenever anyone from the kitchen visits a table.

They have the fake cut-glass plates, too. The only thing missing is a baby grand piano.

Café Lapin has been opened by Mattie Hines, who also owns Le Lapin Café in the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center. The restaurant serves all three meals every day of the week, except Sunday when only breakfast and lunch are served.

I hit the restaurant alone for lunch and was excited when I saw a notice outside that rutabaga-apple soup was on the day’s menu. Except that it wasn’t. Instead, there was white-bean chicken chili, and turkey vegetable. No, thanks.

The lunch menu is mostly sandwiches, salads and a daily quiche. In a hurry, I wolfed down a sandwich made with pimento cheese, bacon and tomato on grilled multigrain bread. On the side, I ordered beets with bits of orange. It was decent, although the sandwiches at Savor, also in the shopping center, are more exotic. Café Lapin will appeal more to the ladies who lunch and want their shrimp salad and a comfortable dining room. Savor is mainly takeout.

Dinner, however, was a pleasant surprise. The menu changes daily and features French dishes that have become American favorites. I ordered beef stroganoff over egg noodles with a Caesar salad. It was a huge portion, and while the chunks of beef were slightly dry, its rich sauce more than compensated.

Wayne ordered Cod Mitonee, which included seared filets of the fish in a broth with tomatoes and white beans. If my portion was gigantic, his was mega-ginormous. The bowl’s broth had a distinctive flavor that I recognized but couldn’t name. I asked the server, Jonathan, to find out what herb the kitchen was using and he returned with the news that it was Old Bay, the powdered stuff from McCormick. Thanks for being honest. It works.

Both entrees were served with carrots, yellow squash and asparagus, all fresh and al dente.

Hines, the restaurant’s owner, is best known for baked goods. So we were anxious to try dessert. Wayne ordered German chocolate cake and I ordered a rather complicated cake made with chocolate ganache icing sprinkled with sea salt. The four layers were separated by caramel. I have to say it was way too rich for my taste. I much preferred the German chocolate. Here again, servings were big enough to satiate an elephant.

I really like Café Lapin. It’s not perfect; it’s charmingly quaint, and has lots of heart. The food is like good home cooking. Besides serving three meals, the restaurant also caters and offers an assortment of baked goods for sale.

Nostalgic for Spain

It’s been more than two years since we visited Krog Bar (112 Krog St., 404-524-1618), the small tapas venue in front of Rathbun’s in Inman Park.

It remains the most authentic Spanish-style tapas venue in our city. In fact, I got painfully nostalgic for Spain sitting on the café’s terrace under a full moon on a spring night. I didn’t, however, get as comfortable as a couple in the corner who put their feet up on the banquette and snuggled while gulping wine.

The cured meats are the main attraction to me. We ordered the $20 assortment that included chorizo, lomo, bresaola, soppressata and the best prosciutto I’ve eaten in memory. (Does anyone else keep running into really inferior prosciutto?) I was disappointed that the Serrano ham, the most expensive of the meats and the hardest to find in Atlanta, was not on the plate.

We also ordered a little panino-like sandwich of blue cheese and prosciutto, a plate of raw ahi tuna with black fig vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and La Corte, a Spanish cheese that blends the milk of cows, sheep and goats. Savor them because you’ll be tempted to swallow both servings whole.

To conclude the meal, I had a bowl of toasted-almond gelato (made by Rathbun’s pastry chef) and Wayne ordered dark chocolate bruschetta with EVOO and sea salt.

We arrived at Krog Bar about 9:30 p.m. and I remarked to Wayne that if we were in Spain, we’d probably still wait another 30 minutes or so to have dinner. The food at Krog Bar is really not meant to substitute for dinner, but we certainly got quite full.

Our bill – with no wine, before tip – was about $45. That’s not a cheap meal, but not too bad considering the inflationary costs of imported meats and cheeses, and I really doubt you’ll find better in the city.

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