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Thrive: Style over substance 

Downtown's new hot spot fails to truly thrive

On Thursday evenings, the management of Thrive removes the large table at the far end of the dining room to make space for a man-sized cage. Or I should say a woman-sized cage. At the other end of the room, tables are removed in order to accommodate a DJ table. If you choose to eat between the DJ and the half-naked women dancing in the cage, you will be taking part in Tantric Thursdays, Thrive's downtown answer to Bluepointe's Martini Tuesdays. Much of what Thrive does is modeled on Bluepointe, that Buckhead Asian fusion spot catering to celebrities and the young, rich and beautiful. But where Bluepointe stopped at ice martini glasses (they melt if you don't drink quickly), Thrive pushes on to dancing girls, waitresses in heels and skirts so tiny they could be made from dinner napkins, and an unabashedly clublike vibe.

If Thrive resembles its parents, that's no coincidence. The Bluepointe genes come from A.D. Allushi, longtime manager at Bluepointe and the man who's responsible for the front of house here. Ian Winslade, Bluepointe's former executive chef, created the menu at Thrive, although it is now being executed by executive chef Oscar Pinto. But Thrive also has Daddy's eyes, in that club owner Jeff Safari, responsible for Compound among others, is a partner here, and there's a ton of nightclub atmosphere and attitude. A lot of thought went into the design, which to my eye is more pleasing in the daytime when the wood and celadon coloring is almost soothing. At night, the hard glare of blue neon takes over and sleazes up the place.

The menu is a kind of Asian-American fusion mix, ranging from crab-and-artichoke dip – ahem, I mean "fondue" – to sushi. If you're in the mood for some basic nigiri or sashimi, the sushi quality is decent, but rolls quickly tend toward overdone and muddy flavors. The DL special roll, with spicy tuna and yellowtail, is flash-fried and has that uniform fried flavor where all the freshness and even spice have disappeared.

On the regular menu, food is well-prepared, good quality and rarely very interesting. Chicken-and-ginger pot stickers are full of chunks of chicken meat and are well-spiced. Calamari is tender and covered in a variety of sweet and spicy goo, which, when all mixed together, is reminiscent of slutty Chinese food. The signature onion soup is served in an actual onion that has been hollowed out, and is creamy but lacks any real onion flavor.

The crab-and-artichoke fondue is cheesy, good for sharing and totally pedestrian. Dishes here are packed with flavor – blandness is almost never an issue – but at the same time none of the flavors are particularly inspiring. Halibut over cilantro rice with red pepper chimichurri is perhaps the most interesting dish on the menu flavor-wise, with tart citrus playing nicely off the fish. The grouper served over a glutinous sushi rice cake is pooled by a delicate Thai curry, but the fish was oversalted when I had it, and I do wonder why they insist on the cross-cultural rice. Jasmine rice would make more sense and taste better.

A tender pork chop is bathed in a "spicy" glaze, too sweet and sticky to hold up next to no acid or freshness on the plate save some jicama and orange, which act more as a garnish. Crab cakes are small, filler-heavy, and if that's truly lump crabmeat, it has been broken and mushed beyond recognition. If meat is on your agenda, the huge lamb chops served with a mild but pleasing Israeli couscous with fennel and mint are totally meaty and satisfying.

Desserts are of the bad refrigerated hotel variety. Opera cake tastes like fridge and kirsch. Cheesecake tastes like fridge. Chocolate mousse cake tastes like ... well you get the idea.

On a Thursday night with the undulating ladies and fashion shows flashing on the plasma screens, the important thing is the cocktails and not the food. Peach-flavored concoctions mixed with champagne and liquor are appropriately sweet and will get you drunk. That's what matters, right? The wine list is surprisingly smart, but like the menu is geared toward pleasing the masses above all else.

Service is enthusiastic – sometimes annoyingly so – and there's a disturbing division of labor. The women who work here are mostly cocktail waitresses, wearing a uniform of stilettos and those teeny-tiny skirts, whereas the more seriously dressed black-clad waiters are mainly men. The women are stick-thin, and the men are burly. Allushi is a class-A schmoozer, but his attention is mainly directed at those with a pedigree of some sort.

There's no denying the energy of this place. On a busy night, it channels that L.A. vibe quite well, and it certainly attracts a crowd of lovely ladies in revealing designer silken finery. I also don't want to give the impression the food here is bad, just that it is specifically geared toward middle-of-the-road, unadventurous palates. A few dishes do wander off into unacceptable territory – those crab cakes come to mind – but most of this menu is well-prepared, safe and a little boring. The conventioneers who stay downtown will be happy, as will anyone looking to ogle women in short skirts. But if you want more from your meal than a trendy scene and a meal that's been gussied up and then dumbed down, your money is probably best spent elsewhere.

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