Atlanta is haunted. Despite the effort to completely obliterate the city's past by burying it under hideously bland architecture, those of us who have lived most of our lives here can't drive anywhere without seeing forms of the past.
Thus when I dined at Spoon (768 Marietta St., 404-522-5655), a cool new Thai spot downtown, I couldn't shake the feeling that I should be eating fried chicken and okra pancakes. This was, for over 10 years, the home of Thelma's Kitchen, probably the city's best-known soul food cafe. But in truth, I never got used to that location, because over 20 years ago I used to eat at Thelma's with my editor at the Journal-Constitution when it was located in a tiny spot on -- I'm thinking -- Luckie Street.
It gets weirder. Now Thelma Grundy has moved to the location of the Auburn Avenue Rib Shack, once the city's most famous barbecue joint, which I've never forgiven for closing in 1997. Unless you know Thelma's is there, it's almost impossible to find, since the Rib Shack's sign overwhelms any indication that Thelma's has moved in.
Just a little history for you newcomers.
My usual complaint about Thai food in our city is that, apart from a few gems like Tamarind and Little Bangkok, most of it tastes the same. Happily, Spoon, although its menu deviates little from the usual, is an exception. It is owned by a pair of sisters, Aim and Sjuaree Suteeluxnaporn, and local investor David Hewitt. Aim is the chef, who for the present is being assisted by her mother.
While Chef Aim says the principal difference in Spoon and many other Thai restaurants is her refusal to use MSG and her adherence to Bangkok cooking, what comes through is an intensity of layered flavors you don't ordinarily encounter around town. The penang sauce, for example, is deliciously heady, as is a three-chili sauce (sam ros). The menu offers nine different sauces that can be made with chicken, beef or seafood.
Order one of those but be sure you also check out one of the fish dishes. Three red-snapper dishes are available (and there's often a special, like tilapia, too). The snapper with ginger sauce is piquant, slightly sweet and oniony -- a killer compliment to the creamy fish. Presentation, sizzling on a hot iron skillet, is dramatic enough to cause a slight gasp.
Appetizers likewise excel. The fried tofu-corn cake, barely crunchy comfort food, was a new dish to me and, although I liked it, Wayne's fried fish cakes were even better. Absolutely do not miss the lemongrass panna cotta if it's available. The subtly flavored custard was topped with a halo of caramelized sugar and tamarind sorbet. A citrus sauce surrounded the panna cotta.
The ambience is terrific -- dark red tables, lacquered stools, an unfinished pine banquette, a snazzy bar (that was not yet serving alcohol) and really good music. There's plenty of parking on the street or in a parking lot next door.
Here, there and feedback
Paul Albrecht, who left Spice, has opened Paul's in Peachtree Hills in the old Philippe's location. ... After one visit to Atlantic Station, I am working my way up to another -- this time to Lobby at Twelve, Bob Amick's latest. I'm hearing good reports of the look and taste of the place under Chef Nick Oltarsh's direction. ... I continue to receive high-fives from other people who experienced bizarre service and dubious cooking at Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro in Atlantic Station. ...
My friend Michael Saunders cooked me a lunch of flawless jambalaya last week and we got to talking about what a shortage of really good New Orleans-style cooking there is in this city, despite the presence of Emeril's. Perhaps that will change when Jack Sobel of Agave opens Redfish, featuring Creole cooking, on Memorial. But, meanwhile, let me hear your own favorites. Where can you can get an authentic étouffée in this city?
Bobby Cone wrote to dispute my review of Staley's Grace: "I have had lunch and dinner on several occasions at Staley's and I've found their food to be excellent. The appetizers are some of the best in Atlanta. The presentation is extremely pleasant and the portions are generous, but not too large. Give the place another shot, maybe try it for lunch instead of a late-night snack." ...
For you rustic diners who want to eat in a fancy spot: Restaurant Eugene is cooking a traditional Southern meal every Sunday. Cost is $29.50, including an entree and dessert. Wait'll Thelma hears what she could be charging!
ZifTy.com not so nifty
Patric Bell, chef of West Egg Cafe, sent me this review of zifty.com: "Zifty's this online thing where you can have food and stuff delivered in the Midtown area from various restaurants around town. The only good thing about it is getting DVDs delivered, because I have ordered food from three separate restaurants and it almost always arrives cold.
"Like, you place your order at 6 p.m., and the delivery time is 8 p.m., and you think the restaurant will prepare it closer to 8, but I think they fix it at 6 and it sits. I've ordered pasta from Figo, and it arrived stone cold and congealed in an aluminum tray. I ordered a burger from Joe's on Juniper, and it was almost like they'd refrigerated it ... but the wedge of iceberg I ordered as a side came piping hot! Last night, I ordered pad thai from Spoon, and a pineapple upside down cake with coconut rum sauce from Chocolate Nirvana.
"Well, the pad thai was still hot when it arrived, and was actually palatable (although it could have been wetter), but the pineapple upside down cake looked and tasted like it had been baked in an Easy-Bake Oven circa 1974. The garnish of 'candied' almonds was laughable -- they were toasted, but not candied. And the coconut rum sauce had the consistency of evaporated milk."
The only thing getting me to ClusterFuckhead is Umi.
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