Contrary to the popular assumption that dining critics luxuriate in week after week of gourmet dining, most of us eat more bad and mediocre meals than good ones. After two weeks in the pits, I'm happy to report that I had a series of good meals last week.
My good luck began with 5 Seasons Brewing Company (5600 Roswell Road, 404-255-5911) in the Prado Shopping Center in Sandy Springs. This large restaurant opened a few years ago when Dennis Lange closed his one-of-a-kind Yakitori Den Chan. His partner in this venture is David Larkworthy, who is executive chef.
The restaurant has received many hosannas for its boutique beers and quirky menu, which features, insofar as is possible, organic ingredients. Entrees feature hand-cut, all natural meats from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics. Generally the menu is "New American," with occasional homage paid to Lange's fascination with Japanese cuisine.
The place has been a hit since the day it opened and it was overflowing when Wayne and I visited recently. Our meal was, with a few exceptions, killer. You can order small plates and pizza, as we did, or a full-sized entree. Our one complaint was a special of fried squash blossoms, filled with goat cheese. The four blossoms were artful on their own but they were lost amid a big salad of mixed greens with unpleasantly flavored pecans and diced tomatoes.
A lobster cake, fried until crunchy and topped with a dollop of guacamole, was served over corn salsa. After several recent meals of repulsively gooey crab cakes, this was a welcome relief. A judicious use of red pepper gave the dish zing without overpowering the plentiful lobster's sweetness. We also enjoyed a plate of crab and cream-cheese dumplings. Yeah, they are a bar cliché, but these feather-light beauties, served with ponzu sauce, reminded us that once upon a time, every culinary cliché was a novelty.
A favorite small plate here is the braised, buttery-textured bratwurst with homemade kraut. It'll make you slap your lederhosen happily. Finally, we ordered a special pizza made with goat cheese, yellow tomatoes and Japanese bacon. It reminded us of the little pizzas Lange served at his earlier restaurant. This pizza was full-sized and grilled until wonderfully chewy.
Dessert was chocolate cake -- yet another Valhrona-style pastry made famous here by Bacchanalia -- and liquored-up bread pudding.
A few days later, we landed in East Atlanta Village for a return visit to Le Cafe Hinds (543 Stokeswood Ave., 404-653-0325). This cafe, hidden from East Atlanta's main drag, was opened by Anderson Hinds, a native of Amsterdam whose parents were Caribbean.
Hinds, also an electrician, has turned the former cinder-block warehouse into a lovely space with soothing colors, white tablecloths, flowers and candles.
Although Hinds is too heavy-handed with garlic for my taste, his cooking is an otherwise wonderful take on the cuisine of France's southern region with occasional Creole and French West Indies flourishes. (It reminds us somewhat of Wally Fay, a restaurant serving a similar fusion in Paris.) My favorite starter is the lightly grilled oysters, served in the shell in a complex, drinkable vinaigrette touched with pesto. Wayne ordered cold boiled shrimp with Creole rémoulade.
My entree was a special -- rack of lamb served, like most entrees here, with crunchy haricot verts, and potatoes (my choice), pasta or rice. Frankly, the lamb was a bit on the fatty side, but nonetheless delicious in a curry sauce Hinds adapted from a restaurant in Paris. It features heavy cream, red wine, capers, onions and garlic. Lots of garlic. The kind of garlic that wakes you up in the middle of the night to brush your teeth for 10 minutes.
Wayne ordered grouper simply grilled in olive oil with herbs. It was served with two sauces -- a Dijon lemon one and a second resembling my lamb's sauce.
All entrees come with a salad, and we were too stuffed to attempt dessert. If you have not visited this restaurant, give it a try soon. It's really a delight in our city of big-design corporate restaurants.
Speaking of corporate looks, I stopped at the new Shane's Rib Shack (3247 Roswell Road, 404-231-1742) in Buckhead for lunch last week. The restaurant is part of a franchise chain started by the grandson of a former mayor and police chief of Avondale Estates. The marketing is a bit cloying with its faux-shack decor, family pictures and sloganeering ("Pull up a chair, 'cause this is gonna get messy").
But my annoyance at the contrivance was quickly dissipated by my half-rack of baby back ribs. I did indeed get messy digging into the tender ribs served in a spicy, tomato-based sauce. Even more surprising to me was the quality of my sides of collards and Brunswick stew. The latter was a thick, meaty version absolutely better than I've encountered in most roadside shacks. And the collards were better seasoned than any in memory. Chicken and chopped pork, which I've not tried, are also available.
It seems that "fast food" is undergoing a change for the better. Shane's is to barbecue as Chipotle is to Mexican food.
I've been forbidden to work out for six weeks because of some recent outpatient surgery and, not wanting to gain 30 pounds in the interim, I'm trying to eat at least a few healthy meals every week. Last week, I returned to Green Sprout (1529 Piedmont Ave., 404-874-7373), the Chinese vegetarian café in Clear Creek Shopping Center across from Ansley Mall.
I avoid most of the mock-meat dishes here -- the faux shrimp are particularly obnoxious -- but the straight-up vegetarian dishes are among the city's best. My favorite by far is the unpleasant-sounding "bean curd skin roll filled with bean sprouts." The blazingly hot, crunchy skin loosely wraps even crunchier sprouts, carrots and the occasional other veggie. You dip the rolls in a perfectly matched ginger-soy sauce. I also like the stir-fried Yukon Gold potatoes with minced garlic and greens and the roasted butternut squash heaped with veggies in plum sauce.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope everyone had a great weekend and has a even greater week.
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