Zen with bombs 

Teaspace is one-of-a-kind

You remember Blast Off Video,

don't you? Located in a tiny space behind A Capella Books in Little Five Points, it was the best place in town to rent movies guaranteed to offend all ordinary standards of decency.

Now, where once there were video boxes illustrated with scenes from slashers, '50s porn and paranoid fantasies, there is, by comparison, an island of serenity. Teaspace (1133 Euclid Ave., 404-577-9793) is Zen with the edge it's meant to have, a Japanese-inspired cafe that seems exported from a Parisian university neighborhood in its blend of topical art and Asian simplicity.

Young co-owner Scott Brown is, appropriately, an artist who supported himself occasionally by working in restaurants and as a set designer. He told me his inspiration for teaspace came in a "flash" that consumed him. Like most works of authentic personal inspiration, his cafe is eccentric, beautiful, imperfect and altogether wonderful.

Have a seat at the bar or in a loony chair of glossily polished birch plywood that converts itself into a bench, if you like. (The furniture was all designed and made locally.) Above you is a ceiling on which fighter planes are painted, all headed toward a speaker in the rear. It's a bit eerie, since Japan is forever linked in our minds with bombing -- of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. The motif continues. Around the corner from the dining room, on the way to the bathroom and the soon-to-be-installed patio, is an informal exhibition titled "The Art of War." Brown says it's a "call to awareness."

There's also good music. Wayne's fave album of all time, Steely Dan's Aja, played while we were there. There are projected images, soft lighting and a crowd that's pretty mellow by the standards of that neighborhood.

Of course, the main attraction is the menu of 35 teas, which are served by the cup rather than by the pot ($2.15 or $3.25). They are divided into greens, blacks, herbals, oolongs and whites. Their names are poetic -- Precious Dew Pearl Gyokuro, Three Cups Fragrance, White Peony, Tippy South Cloud.

You also can order trendy bubble teas made with milk or fruit juices ($3) in flavors that range from sesame and ginger to jasmine and honeydew. The "bubbles" are fat, slightly sweet tapioca pearls that you suck up through a pea shooter-sized straw. They are a novelty and remind me of some Vietnamese drinks, but given high style by the Japanese. Grown-ups might prefer sake.

There is a very brief menu, executed by Ward Bradshaw, partner in the venture. Starters include delicious eda mame, warm soy beans steamed in their salt-garnished shells ($2.75). There are also rice paper rolls stuffed with basil, tofu, carrots and bean sprouts ($4.50). They are tasty enough but so loosely made that you cannot effectively dip them in the accompanying peanut and chili sauces. (You'll also find seaweed salad and miso soup.)

The main course is a meal in a bowl -- noodles or rice garnished with a sauce and stir-fried vegetables to which you can add tofu, eggplant or shrimp for $1.50 extra. It's a bit reminiscent of Doc Chey's and not always successful. For example, the Szechwan stir-fry ($7.50) features a tasty peanut sauce (though it needs a lot more hot pepper to earn its Szechwan label). I ordered it with shrimp. The problem was that the rice noodles, a huge mass of them, had been overcooked to gooeyness, so that they were virtually a solid mass with the sticky peanut sauce. It tastes good, it really does, but the noodles need big work.

Better, in the meantime, to order dishes made with rice -- jasmine or black. Wayne ordered a bowl of lemongrass broth and vegetables ($7) to which he added tofu. He opted for the rice and had a much better meal. You'll also find bowls featuring tempura tofu; soy-ginger satay of the regular additions or salmon, miso and coconut curry.

Dessert is excellent green tea ice cream.

Undoubtedly, teaspace will grow even more interesting with time. Brown told us he was considering a menu of Japanese-Mexican fusion, which has not graced our city since the departure of Alena Pyles years ago from Nickiemoto's in Buckhead. This is, no kidding, a one-of-a-kind venue in Atlanta.

Here and there

I had an excellent meal at Tierra on Piedmont recently. I was finally convinced to try the restaurant's novel lasagna of chicken with mole. It's excellent. ... Lulu invited me to lunch recently at The Eating House in Grant Park. I've enjoyed dinner here but lunch doesn't measure up. The kid's offering of a "pig in a blanket," which the youthful Lulu ordered as an appetizer, has to be one of the strangest things I've encountered on a plate in a long time. It's an ordinary hot dog wrapped in phyllo that is not sufficiently baked. Imagine eating a weenie wrapped in notebook paper. A shrimp po'boy was bad news. Better by far were my pork chops, smothered in gravy, served with good collards. Unfortunately, black-eyed peas were salty enough to support marine life. Meatloaf is competent.

Raymond Hook, the god of cheeses at Bacchanalia, has left the restaurant to go into business for himself. ... Although I adore lunch at Sundown Cafe, I am taking up a collection to buy the restaurant some music sung by anyone not wearing cowboy boots. Just leave your contribution with George at the bar. Generally, I continue to lament the very low attention Atlanta restaurants give to their aural ambiance. Recently, I was dining somewhere and was assaulted by Liberace's infamously endless concert-rendition of "La Cucaracha." Someone in this town should become a DJ/sound consultant to restaurants.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504.


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