No parking on the dancefloor 

Buckhead's Aiko proves more nightclub than supper club

Walking into cavernous Aiko on a recent Thursday night, I began to wonder if I had stumbled onto the latest Atlanta nightlife trend -- the nightclub/ restaurant hybrid. There's another one just down the street called East Andrews Cafe, and Halo in Midtown has a respectable small-plate menu. The hostess led us across the dancefloor to a table, and over the pounding beat of deep house told us to enjoy our dinner.

It was an odd feeling, dining in a near-empty dance club on a Thursday night. The space is striking. From the outside, all you can see are filmy, fluttery white drapes and hazy light. Inside, the focal point of the room is the giant circular dancefloor made of blond hardwood with a dark pattern inlaid in the center. The decor is done in shimmering white and crystalline blue for dramatic effect.

Our waitress sashayed over to take our order. She was a dead ringer for the Olsen twins, dressed in a short skirt and a poufy hooded parka (and if that's the new trend in club wear, I really am getting old). I guess I should mention that Aiko serves sushi, though if you're expecting serious sushi, you've come to the wrong place. Almost nothing on the menu is actually raw, and everything has a suggestive name, from an appetizer called Magic Mushrooms to a trio of hand rolls called the Threesome. There's also the Foreplay, the Aphrodisiac, the Ecstasy. The list goes on.

The Magic Mushrooms were one of the weirder things I've tried lately. Thin strips of salmon were wrapped around pieces of avocado and formed into the shape of cute little mushroom caps. The entire thing was baked, turning the avocado interior molten. That's right, molten avocado. It's a little unpleasant. The dish was drizzled in some kind of a sweet sauce that did nothing to improve the situation. Tempura green beans, called "Chopsticks" on the menu, were a little greasy but otherwise fine.

The aforementioned Threesome was my favorite of the rolls we tried. Spicy tuna had great flavor and nice texture. A California roll seemed almost sophisticated with its unstructured, freeform shape. The third roll was stuffed with something that looked and tasted like shrimp salad. Go figure. The other rolls we tried were heavy on baked salmon and cream cheese, with bits of tempura this and that stuffed in for good measure. I think they call it sushi for people who don't like sushi.

I'm just not buying Aiko as a restaurant. By the time we left around 9:30 p.m., the once-empty club was starting to fill up. People were congregating at the bar and around the periphery of the dancefloor, but one thing's for sure: They weren't there to eat.

florence.byrd@creativeloafing.com
extra helpings

Covering Brookhaven to Inman ParkCHRISTMAS IN THE KITCHEN The big guy in red will be making his appearance in just a few weeks, so now's the time to prepare. Local chef Virginia Willis will be teaching a class at Cook's Warehouse called "Sweet Treats and Cookies for Santa" on Sat., Dec. 4, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. The hands-on class ($65 per person) focuses on festive goodies like gingersnaps, cookie press cookies, and easy chocolate fudge. 549-I Amsterdam Ave. 404-815-4993. www.cookswarehouse.com .

BUCKHEAD BIRTHDAY BASH Dantanna's, the tony sports-and-seafood hangout by Lenox Square, celebrates its first anniversary with a Guest Chefs Week Dec. 6-9. Monday through Thursday, three Atlanta chefs will join executive chef Tim Williams in the kitchen, with all proceeds benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Brookhaven. Guest chefs are: Rainwater executive chef Todd Annis (Mon., Dec. 6), 101 Concepts corporate chef Scott Crawford (Tues., Dec. 7) and Che executive chef Carvel Grant Gould (Wed., Dec. 8). The week culminates with a special three-course prix-fixe menu prepared by Williams on Thursday night. 3400 Around Lenox Dr. 404-760-TURF. www.dantannas.com.

SWING INTO THE SEASONS Vine in Virginia-Highland gets into the spirit of the season with a new selection of wintry drinks like ginger-spiced latte, hot buttered rum, peppermint cocoa, and hot Irish cocoa. The restaurant will also be hosting a special dinner Christmas Eve. There will be a single, reservation-only seating at 7 p.m. The five-course menu will be $45 per person (a three-course option for $36 is also available). 1190 N. Highland Ave. 404-892-2393. www.vinerestaurant.com.

SANTA'S COMING TO TOWN It's not too soon to make reservations for Breakfast with Santa at Buckhead Diner. The annual event, held this year on Sat.-Sun., Dec. 11-12, is a family favorite. Kids and parents get to enjoy a special holiday breakfast and a visit with Santa Claus. Santa's elves provide the entertainment, and each child will receive a special surprise stocking from Santa. $30 per person. 3073 Piedmont Road. 404-262-3336. www.buckheadrestaurants.com.

SANTA'S COMING TO TOWN, TAKE TWO Another option for intown families is the Food Studio's Breakfast with Santa. It will take place Dec. 11-12, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Parents and kids will be served a two-course breakfast followed by a special visit with Santa and a gift to take home. Cost is $34 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Children under 1 are free. 887 W. Marietta St. 404-815-6677. www.thefoodstudio.com.

HOLIDAYS, IRISH-STYLE During the month of December, Meehan's Public House in Brookhaven will offer a special Irish holiday menu in addition to its regular menu of pub favorites. The four-course prix-fixe menu ($25 per person) features Galway Bay oysters, pan-roasted guinea fowl with chestnut stuffing and caramelized parsnips, and gingerbread cake for dessert. The menu is available at both lunch and dinner. 4058 Peachtree Road. 770-467-9531. www.meehansalehouse.com.

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