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Grant Park goodies 

Neighborhood eateries, new and old

We've lived in Grant Park 10 years. When we first moved here, Grant Central was the only restaurant in the neighborhood. If we wanted something besides pasta or pizza, it meant a drive to Little Five Points or, a bit later, to East Atlanta Village.

Happily, a handful of restaurants have opened since then. Some, such as Agave and Redfish, draw customers from all over the city, while others appeal mainly to neighborhood residents. I visited two such places last week -- the new Solstice Café (562 Boulevard, 404-622-1976) and Dakota Blue (454 Cherokee Ave., 404-589-8002).

Solstice is in the location last occupied by Nayarit, a taqueria we still miss. Before that, it was the immensely popular Café la Glace, a bistro serving light French fare. This new venture -- opened by two former waiters, Eric Newman and Sean Germain -- is a dark, moody space full of candles. Far-better-than-average art hangs on the dark walls and the music actually makes you stop chewing to listen. One night when we visited there was a live jazz trio playing, but even the recorded music is stimulating -- especially if you've overdosed on obnoxious Christmas music.

The restaurant is obviously inspired by Après Diem and Carroll Street Café, where Germain worked. Newman worked at Eclipse di Luna and the chef, Brian Scott, most recently cooked at the now-defunct Roman Lily Café. He, too, is a veteran of Après Diem.

The restaurant is inexpensive and most of the food I sampled was good. Fried calamari was tender and served piping-hot with a marinara sauce. (The menu promises a fra diavolo sauce, but, if it is that, it's the mildest I've ever tasted.) Beef carpaccio, streaked with a horseradish aioli, melted in the mouth. A Caesar salad was crispy-fresh, with a hint of anchovies. A cheese plate featured a decent fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese. They were topped with various sauces -- tomato, apple butter, balsamic vinegar.

Among entrees, my best luck has been with a special -- medallions of beef topped with a compound butter enlivened with chives and garlic. Next best was an open-face steak sandwich whose tender meat was topped with caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese.

Less satisfying were two pasta entrees. Linguini, though advertised as "al dente," was slightly overcooked, although its light pesto sauce redeemed that problem. Spaghetti was cooked right but its carbonara Parmesan sauce was entirely too thick for my taste. After eating half the noodles, I picked out the pancetta, peas and optional shrimp I ordered to garnish it.

Like Après Diem, Solstice offers a lengthy list of coffee drinks. My favorite so far has been the crème Solstice, espresso infused with brown sugar and mixed with steamed milk and whipped cream. It went well with a slice of Boston cream cake.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, featuring quiche and crepes, as well as eggs and bacon. Service by the owners and lone server, Tereza, a young Czech woman, has been friendly and solicitous.

Not far from Solstice, Dakota Blue has vastly expanded its menu since my last visit for review when it opened a couple of years ago. You still find good burgers and sandwiches (including a Cuban), along with burritos and tacos.

But there's a chalkboard with some interesting, low-priced specials each night. These are the work of Tony Stewart, who was chef at the long-defunct but once wildly popular Capo's in Virginia-Highland (where La Tavola is today). The most popular dish at that restaurant was called "chicken diablo," a breast stuffed with cream cheese and mushrooms. It makes occasional appearances on Dakota Blue's specials menu with the new name, "chicken Mona Lisa."

I ate so many meals of chicken diablo at Capo's in the early '80s, I eventually completely burned out, but it's very cool to have Stewart back in the kitchen at Dakota Blue.

My favorite starter has been the green tomatoes fried in a seasoned beer batter, topped with crumbled feta, and served with a lime-cream sauce on the side. An entree of darkly grilled andouille sausage, served over creamy grits with sauteed onions and red peppers, was a terrific bargain. It was served with a side of mellow cooked apples.

Angel hair pasta in a light tomato sauce with mussels, clams and shrimp is another special worth ordering. Regular menu items, such as the Caesar and Greek salads, remain good light choices. I love a cup of the chili con carne as a starter here, too.

Desserts are killer. Although the cobbler has sold out during two visits, the bread pudding, intensely sweet, is a good second choice.

Service at Dakota Blue is, like Solstice's, personable and funny, befitting a neighborhood restaurant. It's the quirky personalities and novel ambiance that I love about such restaurants. And the crowd at Dakota Blue is diverse, to say the least. One night, we counted four tables with children under five or six, two detectives with flashy handcuffs, a gay couple, a table of handicapped adolescents and a long table of a dozen or more twentysomething guys.

Gossip

The agonizingly slow closing of Seeger's makes way for a new restaurant from Tom Catherall, owner of Noche, Prime, Twist and Shout, among others. Catherall's new venture will be called Posh and he intends to head the kitchen himself after 10 years of mainly overseeing his mushrooming business.

PR material for the new restaurant, which will open in January, promises fine dining that "won't break the bank." Seeger's incomparable cuisine was so expensive that he could not fill the 80-seat dining room.

Posh will serve lunch weekdays and be open for dinner nightly. The menu, featuring "market-fresh" dishes, will change weekly.

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