Strange brew 

Den Chan reincarnated as a top brewery in Sandy Springs

When Yakitori Den Chan owner Dennis Lange closed the restaurant after a few years, I lost any reason to drive to Buckhead at night. Walking into that intimate space was a quick trip to Asia by way of Lange's entertaining demeanor and passion for the food he studied while living in Japan. A late-night following of Japanese and Americans was devastated when he closed; he was sick of the Buckhead hassle and wanted a new challenge.

Happily, Lange is back, though I can't congratulate him on the choice of location -- Sandy Springs. It gets weirder. He's gone from a small space specializing in grilled skewers to a gigantic brew pub restaurant. Five Seasons Brewing (5600 Roswell Road, 404-255-5911) is in the middle of that bizarre development called The Prado.

My friend David Story, who was visiting from Auburn, and I were agog at the scene. Kids in prom clothes were milling about, along with what we presumed to be costumed employees of the Renaissance Festival. Across the street, I explained to David, was the apartment development where I lived when I was married decades ago and, in fact, I whined, I grew up in Sandy Springs and remember when there was nothing but a dairy store on Roswell Road. But the strangest thing of all was that every time I turned around in the restaurant I ran into someone I knew.

"What the hell are you doing out here?" I'd ask.

"Oh to see Dennis, of course, and the food is incredible," was the inevitable response.

In other words, barely open a month, the place has already become a destination hit.

I like it a lot. Of course, because I don't drink booze, I didn't sample the hand-crafted beers, still made by the brewer employed by the previous tenant, Phoenix Brewing Co. My friend Lulu, the beer-swilling Parisian, says the ales and lagers are all straightforward and well made.

Lange's partner in the venture is David Larkworthy, formerly Paul Albrecht's sous chef and then general manager of Buckhead Bread Company. I most remember him as the first operator of tiny Gourmet Grill at Peachtree Battle. The two have designed an affordable menu of uncomplicated new American favorites with occasional Japanese inspiration.

The latter shows up mainly among starters, like the deliciously chewy grilled rice balls ($2.95) and a pair of yakitori lamb chops ($6.95). There's also calamari fried with onions and served with an orange-chili dipping sauce that tastes a hell of a lot better than it sounds. Orange turns up again as the glaze in a pair of gigantic seared scallops ($6.95). "I just ate the scallop to be nice," landlocked David told me, "and it was the first time in my life I've liked them." There are four salads. We loved the chopped beets with micro greens ($3.95). You'll also find a cheese plate worthy of Star Provisions ($6.95), a crispy quail ($7.95) and even braised bratwurst with homemade kraut for eating while you sip your German beer.

Next, you can to move on to grilled pizzas, including one made with house-cured salmon and avocado or Granny Smith apples and Serrano ham ($7.95 each). I did not try one, preferring to sample the more serious entrees. I picked the erotically named "duck both ways" which turned out to be sliced breast paired with a confit leg, served with a peppery demi-glace ($14.95). Flawless. Ditto for David's lamb tenderloin, grilled, blooming with springtime flavor, served over smashed potatoes. It's available as a large or small portion ($12.95 or $17.95). The small is plenty if you have an appetizer.

I did not try dessert, but I am most tempted by a creme brulée, which includes mascarpone, similar to the way I've eaten it in Rome.

Here a squid, there a squid
Last week must have been national squid week. While I give top awards to Five Season's tender, oniony calamari, I also ordered salt and pepper squid at Hong Kong Harbor last week. I hadn't dined there in well over a year and found the squid a bit overcooked, not nearly as tender as I've found it at the nearby Little Bangkok. Part of the reason is that Hong Kong Harbor coats the squid more heavily and, while it can make the squid tough, it does add a crunch lacking in Little Bangkok's version.

I also ordered calamari at Andiamo last week. This was my first visit to the Italian restaurant that replaced Terra Cotta on Greenwood Avenue in Virginia-Highland. Andiamo's calamari is tender, just crunchy enough and served with a fra diavolo sauce. I also sampled the restaurant's decent bruschetta. An entree special of red snapper was unfortunately cooked almost to mush, served under a decent sauce made with chopped tomatoes and calamata olives. Veal marsala was tender, though the sauce's flavor was muddy and in need of better-quality mushrooms.

Rose D'Agostino and I ate a nearly perfect meal at Canton House last Sunday. This restaurant on Buford Highway arguably serves the city's best dim sum, but we decided to order from the regular menu. (We couldn't resist a few orders from the carts, including batter-fried shrimp wrapped in bacon.)

Oysters in ginger and shallot sauce and jumbo prawns in black bean sauce were both delicious. Be sure to order the prawns in the shells with the heads on or you will suffer a considerable reduction in flavor, in my opinion. We also ordered a plate of on choy in shrimp sauce, crunchy and salty, greener than green.

Contact Cliff Bostock at 404-688-5623 ext. 1504 with restaurant tips and comments.

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