Rent stabilized 

Aprés Diem and Carroll Street Cafe team up

The restaurant scene in the Grant Park area took a big hit when Kim Vidal closed her delightful restaurant in Cabbagetown earlier this year after barely a year's operation. Located in the studio of the late artist Panorama Ray, the Carroll Street Bakery was as much a Southern Gothic spectacle as a place to get a good sandwich and the best slice of coconut cake in Atlanta.

I never was very clear on why she closed -- something about money and the landlord -- and many of us crossed our fingers when she said she was looking for an investor to help her re-open. Enter Andy Alikbaksh, the charming owner of Aprés Diem. He was an instant candidate for sympathy. Andy operated the very successful and terminally Frenchy Cafe Diem on North Highland Avenue for years. A landlord dispute there forced him to leave and re-open, as Aprés Diem, at Midtown Promenade.

Andy bought the building from Kim's landlord. After a few months of sprucing up the place, it has reopened as Carroll Street Cafe (208 Carroll St., 404-577-2700). Vidal did all of the work in the original with her own talented hands, creating a kind of shrine to Panorama Ray's strange vision, I think, and that's all been preserved. The new dining room wasn't open last week, but it should be as interesting, if the art hung there now is any indication.

The menu remains similar to the former, but changes more often. A different omelet and breakfast sandwich are offered every morning. These are not trifles. The sandwich might be bacon, cheddar and mushrooms folded into a two-egg scramble on toasted spinach bread with cream cheese. Fresh fruit and hash browns are on the side.

Brunch is offered Saturday and Sunday and reprises Vidal's deliciously custardy French toast served with a warm fruit compote. There are also classic eggs benedict and a rococo Neapolitan-like creation of toast points with creamed spinach, sauteed tomatoes, poached eggs and grated cheese.

The regular daytime and evening menu features light starters, salads and sandwiches with a few pasta dishes. There is tapenade spread on toast points, brie enhanced with a crisp parmesan crust, roasted red pepper hummus and a daily soup.

The sandwiches tend to be my favorites. The BLT is amazing, featuring smoked bacon, romaine lettuce, gently sauteed tomato slices, pesto and goat cheese on grilled durum bread. There's also a "Cobb" sandwich with grilled chicken, smoked bacon, avocado slices, romaine and blue cheese assembled on warm ciabatta bread. I also love the Italianesque "Brickhouse" with its prosciutto, salami, goat cheese, tapenade, roasted red peppers, artichokes, herbs and greens on country Italian bread.

Pastas are simple preparations of linguine with spinach, tomatoes and capers in roasted garlic cream sauce or tortellini with a fresh tomato sauce to which you can add grilled chicken, shrimp or scallops.

At least one special is offered daily. A recent one was grilled salmon with polenta cake, grilled vegetables (squash, eggplant and asparagus) and a wilted spinach salad with roasted red peppers, goat cheese and a balsamic reduction. It cost a surprisingly low $9.95. In fact, everything on the menu here is under $8 -- an absurd bargain -- and I've yet to have a disappointing meal.

If you don't do anything else, stop in to try Vidal's cakes. But stay away from the ginger snaps, which are my addiction and send me instantly reeling back to childhood and battles with my brothers for the last of our favorite cookies.

Considering the involvement of Andy Alibaksh in Carroll Street Cafe, it seemed like the right time to revisit Aprés Diem (931 Monroe Drive, 404-872-3333). I confess I found the move from a pleasantly seedy spot on North Highland to a cookie-cutter spot in a shopping center depressing. I'm still not crazy about the gloomy interior, but I do enjoy sitting on the patio there, watching the crowds come and go at the theaters.

I find the food much improved over my initial visits. Sandwiches ($6.95) include grilled chicken on focaccia with a cheese spread and grilled salmon on ciabatta with sun-dried tomato mayo. They are perfect fare before seeing Moulin Rouge, a wickedly wonderful film too extreme for heavy eating beforehand.

I also have been impressed with specials. A recent one of a perfectly grilled petit filet topped with melted brie was served with sauteed squash and snow peas and a mound of mashed potatoes for sopping up the meat's sauce, a simple reduction ($19.95). A filet of mahi mahi, pan seared with red peppers, was served over pasta with veggies last week ($17.95). You can also select from pastas, entree salads and a menu of heavier regular entrees, including roasted free-range chicken with mushroom Marsala sauce ($17.95).

If you go the first Thursday of each month, you get the extra pleasure of watching tango dancers glide about the tables.

Here and there
I dined recently at Andaluz on Peachtree with my friend Michael Saunders and had a really wonderful meal of tapas. Gladys Parada, the very simpatica owner, has opened the restaurant for light lunch. Although I haven't tried it yet, I'm impressed with the menu. Sandwiches include ham and cheese, almond chicken, grilled salmon, a Cuban, portobello and goat cheese. There's also a fried calamari salad, gazpacho, black bean soup and four tapas. Hours are 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday. By the way, flamenco performances resume at the restaurant June 27 and every other Wednesday night afterward.

E-mail Cliff Bostock or call his voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504 with restaurant comments.


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