About four months ago, a compellingly eccentric French cafe, Le Cafe Hinds (543 Stokeswood Ave., 404-389-0954) joined Iris there. Located in a former tire warehouse, the cafe was hand-built by its owner/chef, Anderson G. Hinds, an electrician who has long worked in the neighborhood. A little neon sign marks the restaurant, which is easy to miss. Dim, with walls painted in deep hues, there's not much decor, but it's cozy and friendly.
Although he has worked as an electrician, Hinds, 37, owned a restaurant by the same name for a few years in a village south of Paris in his early 20s. A native of Amsterdam whose parents moved to the Caribbean when he was 6, Hinds came here seven years ago. "It's been my dream to open a cafe here," he told me on the phone.
Hinds' cuisine is mainly fish prepared the way you'd find it at the typical Parisian cafe. Everything is sauteed or grilled. He also pays homage to his time in the Caribbean, however, with occasional flashes of island spices, adding zing, for example, to his rice pilaf. "Mainly," he said, "I use creamy garlic sauces popular in Paris, but here and there I go a little wild." Indeed, the use of garlic is a bit overwhelming for my taste. Don't eat here and then go to a club in search of love.
The menu is surprisingly comprehensive. The regular menu of eight entrees was complemented by seven specials the night of my visit. I ordered shrimp and scallops over pasta with the inevitable garlic sauce. A filling dish, with far more shrimp and scallops than I expected, it suffered only because of a side of mushy green beans that could have been canned. You'll want to nibble on the fruit that's also on the plate for a bite of acidity to counteract the heavy sauce.
Wayne's dish was even better than mine, a large sea bass fillet -- crispy, flaky, juicy -- lightly awash in the same garlic sauce. The fish was so big, it was served on a plate separate from his rice pilaf, green beans and fruit.
For starters, we both had soup -- a creamy potato for me and a rather odd melange called "jerk soup" for Wayne.
Le Cafe Hinds is also open for lunch. I recommend the farmer's sandwich -- goat cheese with tomato, corn and 'cumber -- or the smoked salmon anointed with lemon-chive cream. The salmon is also available as a dinner starter served on croutons.
How many times have I driven past Red Snapper Seafood Restaurant (2100 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-634-8947) and wondered what lay beyond the funky retro awning over the front door? I finally decided to check it out a few weeks ago.
The place totally appealed to my sense of the surreal, having much the same crowd as nearby Alfredo's. Here, under crystal chandeliers suspended from acoustic tile, older folks who have eaten here for a thousand years behave as if they're at home. A woman, caked with makeup applied more thickly than I've seen since my Great Aunt Ida was laid out in her coffin, paused with her friends near our table and pointed. "That's good, very good," she said.
"Thank you," Wayne replied, beaming.
She frowned at him and returned to talk of an upcoming bar mitzvah.
It gets stranger. For all its retro-mainstream looks, the restaurant is heavily influenced by Thai cooking since the owners, who bought the restaurant from Billy McKinnon years ago, are Thai themselves. The good news is that you get the Asian finesse with seafood. Every dish we sampled was competently cooked.
The bad news is that you get too much of the sweet side of Thai cooking. A crab cake starter special couldn't have been better cooked, but I'd happily pass on the mango-strawberry salsa. A salad of fresh lump crabmeat tossed with Vidalia onion slices and tomato is tasty despite the menu's failure to mention that these ingredients are atop iceberg lettuce. Again, the vinaigrette is quite sweet.
Entrees were not sugary. A special of seared salmon was in a light herb sauce, served over mashed potatoes with fresh sauteed spinach and crunchy asparagus. I, feeling very much like I was back in one of those restaurants favored by my parents during summers at the beach, ordered the fried seafood platter -- the menu's most expensive dish at $17.95. Shrimp, scallops and oysters were batter-fried with Asian precision. I stuck with the cocktail sauce and avoided the honey-mustard dip.
For dessert, we ordered a take on the baked apple -- a thin pastry shell loaded with cinnamon-cooked apples and raisins, topped with vanilla ice cream.
Here and there
About the worst news I've received in quite a while is that Salumeria Taggiasca, our city's most authentic Italian deli, has closed. Located in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, the deli, a near-weekly stop for me, has been plagued by the downturn in the dollar's value against the euro, which caused the owners to raise prices on their Italian imports nearly 25 percent. There is a rumor that the deli may resurface somewhere else, but for the present, it is history. ...
Shawn Vinson, owner of Vinson Gallery in Decatur, writes to solve the culinary crisis of a reader looking for all-you-can-eat crab legs. You'll find them at Levi's Key West Fishouse (308 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-378-8881) in Decatur on Tuesday nights. ...
Speaking of Decatur, try out Ashton's (314 E. Howard Ave., 404-378-6310), which styles itself as the "anti-Starbucks," and, besides coffee, is serving up designer sandwiches, ice cream, poetry readings and live music. Heavily catering to the student crowd, it even offers a dating service. Hook me up with some foie gras!
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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