The walkway to the front door is a tunnel of bushy, flowering vines. At the door, the host welcomed us and ushered us to a table. At 7:30 on a Thursday night, we had the restaurant to ourselves. Normally, I get suspicious when a restaurant is empty during dinner hours. But on this night I felt lucky.
Panita's dining room is a big, airy screened-in porch. There is a small, enclosed dining room off to one side, but unless there's a typhoon blowing down Greenwood, opt for the porch. The place is truly otherworldly. On one side of the porch is a massive stacked-stone fireplace. The space has a peaked roof and rough-hewn beams, with colorful paper umbrellas replacing the usual dull knick-knacks and wall hangings that pass for decor in Thai restaurants. Overhead fans kick up a light breeze, adding to the sensation that you're someplace more tropical than Atlanta.
The food had the same quality of rustic authenticity as the decor. Nam tok, an aromatic saute of beef, onion, Thai chilies and basil, came on mild but left my sinuses burning. A few bites of the citrusy "sunburst salad" helped cool my palate before I faced the heat again in a fiery dish of chicken in green curry sauce. The showstopper was an appetizer called "bags of gold." It looked something like a free-form egg roll: A crispy bean curd wrapper cradled sauteed vegetables and tofu, the whole thing blanketed in sweet, mellow peanut sauce.
Panita is a one-man show. The owner, Panjakarn Thammaset, is as gracious and friendly a host as you're likely to encounter, and he somehow manages to keep an eye on the front of the house while cooking up a storm in the back. Granted, it may take a little while for your entree to arrive -- just order another Singha beer and relax.
I feel like I'm coming late to the party, having just discovered Panita for myself. It's been in business since 1993. And yet it still feels like a well-kept secret. Here's hoping it stays that way.
GOURMET GOES GLAM -- Gourmet magazine hosts a culinary demonstration at Compound on Thurs., July 22. Chef Shaun Doty, along with other local chefs and mixologists, will turn out hors d'oeuvres and cocktails from 6-8 p.m. 1008 Brady Ave. 404-872-4621. www.compoundatl.com.
MOVE OVER, DISCO KROGER -- Next time you have to run out for groceries on a Saturday evening, swing by Market One for the weekly "Sip and Shop" wine tasting. Every Saturday from 5-7 p.m., shoppers can sample up to seven wines for $7. The shop also offers a discount when you buy several bottles of wine: 10 percent off when you buy up to 12 bottles, and 15 percent off when you buy more than 12 bottles. 1061 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-439-1100. www.m1atlanta.com.
FRESH FLAVORS AT SPICE -- Midtown's Spice introduces a new menu Fri., July 23. Look for dishes like Vidalia onion soup, slow-roasted short ribs, five-spice duck breast and pistachio-crusted halibut. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.
BLOCK-ROCKING EATS -- Three of Atlanta's top tapas restaurants -- Eclipse di Luna, Loca Luna and Pura Vida -- are coming together to host a summer block party Sun., July 25 in the Miami Circle parking lot. The fiesta will take place from 5-10 p.m., with tapas and sangria sold throughout the night. Local salsa band Rue 6 will provide the tunes. A $5 suggested donation benefits Pets Are Loving Support of Atlanta (PALS). 764 Miami Circle. 404-846-0449.
BEHIND THE VEIL -- If Latin's not your thing, how about Moroccan? On Sun., July 25, Horizon Restaurant will host a Moroccan-themed dinner. The three-course meal for two costs $40 (plus tax and gratuity) and includes a bottle of wine. The dinner begins at 7 p.m. Reservations are recommended. 1397 N. Highland Ave. 404-876-0676. www.horizonrestaurant.com.
LA BELLA CUCINA D'ITALIA -- Sotto Sotto will explore the cooking of the Italian region of Campania Tues., July 27. South of Rome, Campania is home to the city of Naples. This is the seventh dinner in the restaurant's monthly Tour of Italy series. The four-course, prix fixe dinner is $39 per person. 313 N. Highland Ave. 404-523-6678. www.sottosottorestaurant.com.
FOR ALL TOMORROW'S PARTIES -- Come fall, Rathbun's -- the swanky new spot in Inman Park's Stove Works -- will debut its private dining room. The new space, overlooking the patio, will accommodate 40 guests for cocktail parties, rehearsal dinners or holiday soirees. Look for it this October. 112 Krog St. 404-524-8280. www.kevinrathbun.com.
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