The good news is that Bill Addison, who has been writing the lead reviews for the cuisine section, has taken Jane's place. He will continue to write his reviews as well as make life miserable for freelancers like myself.
I met Bill at the Ansley Starbucks 10 months ago, just as Elliott Mackle was leaving the paper to write books and we were desperately seeking someone to replace him. Bill was at a table with his laptop and several fancy books about food -- along with some boring business mags he utilized to research the business reports he wrote. It turned out that he was taking a class in food writing. I asked to see some sample reviews. I gave them to Mistress Jane, who immediately hired him.
This is a bit of deja vu for me, since I hired Elliott for his first dining critic job when I was editor of Creative Loafing in the '80s. He moved to the AJC, where he developed a fierce rep, and then returned to us a few years ago. As I told Bill, I feel like I've created two monsters.
Actually, Bill is a nice guy. Maybe too nice. It's probably the result of growing up with a politician father. He has a degree in acting from Emerson College in Boston. Although he dreamed of a singing career, he fell in love with food while working as a cook at a bed and breakfast during college. Later, he waited tables in New York where, being vegetarian at the time, he also wrote recipes for a local vegetarian publication, whatever that is.
Then, tired of waiting tables, he talked his way into the kitchen. Because he was still a vegetarian, he did not want to cook murderous meat. He made innocent pastries instead. Then he moved to Seattle. A "devastating relationship" -- aren't they all? -- drove him from there to Atlanta and to eating meat. Here, he became pastry chef at the now-defunct In the Shade Cafe. Then he went to work doing business writing, which I repeatedly told him would destroy his soul. Instead it wrecked his finances. He was laid off from that job recently and now he is wallowing full time in the luxury of CL.
So much for the toast. Let's eat!
Speaking of vegetarians, I recently received, by e-mail, a rave review of the take-out vegan cuisine at Sevananda (467 Moreland Ave., 404-681-2831) in Little Five Points. Having never been remotely tempted to avoid the consumption of our woodland friends, I've not had much interest in Cuisine Birkenstock.
It was something of a shock, while stumbling around the store in search of the vaunted hot take-out food, to run into an old friend, Trishula Eltz. Well, I never knew her as Trishula, but you know how vegetarian types love to assume exotic names. As it turned out, Trishula, who was at the Carroll Street Cafe when Kim Vidal owned it, is the chef at Sevananda.
I was, I admit, bowled over. The food certainly beat the hell out of the stuff I tried at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago. In fact, even served out of steam trays at the front of the store, it's better chow than you'll find at most vegetarian full-service restaurants in town. An African peanut soup was sharp with chiles, smooth with bits of peanuts and garnished with very flavorful cubed tomatoes. It alone was worth the trip. But I loved most everything else too. Tofu, the firm variety, was sauteed until a bit chewy and glazed in a very complex sauce with red and green peppers. Black-eyed peas were cooked without fuss and I could make a meal of them over the market's rice.
Spinach, similarly, was sauteed straightforwardly, bursting with the flavor that Popeye loved. Curried vegetables -- green beans, carrots, potatoes and raisins -- were the only dish I didn't like a lot. The beans were overcooked and the seasonings too much resembled bottled curry powder.
The huge surprise was a slice of chocolate cake that Trishula insisted I take with me. It was, despite its vegan purity, deliciously rich, with two creamy frostings -- one light and one dark.
The store has tons of other refrigerated take-out food as well as a salad bar. Some of the prepared food is from R. Thomas and Arden's Garden. But, honestly, you need to try the hot bar, which is open noon-6:45 p.m. Cost is $4.99 per pound.
Papi's (216 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-607-1525) is a tiny new Cuban restaurant, mainly take-out but with a few counters and stools for eating in. Having a long history of Cuban dining (starting with a brief marriage to a Cuban woman), I was curious about the restaurant's claim to be serving "east Cuban cuisine" and I've visited twice.
According to the menu, the food of east Cuba, whose largest city is Santiago, is influenced by the French refugees from Haiti who settled there, creating a "Cuban-Creole" cuisine.
Fine, but it's hard to discern much difference. The classic Cuban sandwich ($5.25) tastes like most others, though the pork is shredded. Black beans, which the menu states to be flavored with bacon and Creole spices, taste usual to me. The only dishes that struck me as different from generic Cuban cuisine in Atlanta are the specials, which are only available now and then. Congri, black beans and rice cooked together, feature ham and bacon ($2.75). Garbanzos are cooked in a heavily spiced tomato sauce ($3.50).
Maybe the best dish veering from the norm is the hallaca, a tamale made with ground corn and pork ($2.50). It's appropriately wrapped in corn leaves and boiled. Tostones, fried plantains, are cooked ahead and put in a display case ($1.85). They, alas, are served tepid and have the texture of shoe leather made out of vegetable matter. Maduros, fried mature plantains, are much better -- slightly caramelized and sweet ($1.85).
You'll also find empanadas filled with guava paste and cream cheese ($1.95), papas rellenas, fried potato puffs filled with ground beef or pork ($1.75) and classic croquettes made with ham ($2.15). The menu appears to be a work in progress, with even dishes on the regular menu not available at times.
Here and there
Apparently, I need to do some catching up. The old Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop in East Atlanta has been replaced by Joe's East Atlanta Coffee Shop. The main thing I noticed, sipping a well-made latte, was the improvement in furniture. The old shop had become uninvitingly bare, most of the furniture being for sale.
I visited Joe's after a meal at the nearby, annoyingly named I Love Thai Cafe (467 Flat Shoals Road, 404-522-5992). This restaurant has become very popular and deservedly so: The food is good, featuring very fresh ingredients and sauces with zing. Service, however, remains clueless. Our server brought other people's food to our table and quickly evacuated before we could react -- and my dish was given to another patron, who happily consumed it. Thus, I didn't get my entree until Wayne had nearly finished his. But the restaurant has class: The owner comped my meal, begged my forgiveness and offered me free dessert.
This just in: Paul Luna, Atlanta's legendary bad boy chef whose last venture took a rapid dive, is back in town, the grapevine says. He's taking over Caliterrra in the Wyndham Hotel and renaming it Lunatique.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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