An acquaintance who reviews restaurants in another city told me she's lately come to feel more like a bird of prey than a critic. We circle every empty restaurant location, hoping for a new tenant that will allow us to zoom in and pick over the menu. We dread bad food, because it's no fun to write a negative review in an economy that makes restaurants highly risky investments.
This week, true to my friend's metaphor, I zoomed in to test two restaurants that had been open barely a week. The first is the reincarnation of the Standard. It has reopened with 20-plus beer taps and the strange name of Young Augustine's (327 Memorial Drive, 404-681-3344). I'm not sure exactly why the Standard closed, although owner Chris Johnson says business was down dramatically and "we needed to start over." He said the terrible murder of bartender John Henderson last January "didn't help" maintain the client base but was secondary to the economy's collapse in negative effect.
Johnson has hired a competent chef, Andy Gonzalez, and manager, Kyle Faucher. Both have extensive backgrounds in the restaurant industry. Johnson was not wholly clear about why the restaurant had been named after Augustine of Hippo, although it's a great excuse to plaster the menu with the quote long attributed to the saint in his pagan youth: "God grant me chastity and temperance, but not just yet." I know him better for his development of the concept of original sin. The spontaneous erection of the penis, the saint decided, was proof of the inherency of evil.
Whatever, the new place – like the old place – is fun, and maybe the best news for many is that it now forbids smoking. No more noisy, gigantic smoke eaters that barely work. You can breathe.
Gonzalez is still playing with the menu – there are no desserts, for example – and I've enjoyed most everything I've sampled. I did encounter the same problem in both my visits, however. Most of the menu here is snacks. The portions are so gigantic that I could not finish my entrées. I assume the noshes are all designed for two to share. Pork rillette, for example, is served in a jar with two huge wedges of crusty bread. The stuff is tasty – especially after sitting on the table awhile – and pickled onions, tomatoes and cukes, along with kim chee, make great garnishes. But this is seriously a meal by itself.
Ditto for the trendy Benton prosciutto, also served with the giant bread slices. The only thing I disliked intensely in my two meals was the "fried ginger mayo" served with the tissue-thin prosciutto, which totally overwhelmed the flavor of the meat.
A section of even "larger snacks" includes pork belly sliders with kim chee. We opted out and instead tested the beet salad with blue cheese, bacon, scallions and sherry vinaigrette. Good flavors, nothing terribly special. I couldn't resist ordering a $3 Wrigley Dog, worthy of any Cubs fan's palate, right down to the peppers and celery salt.
You can see why we ended up taking most of our entrées home. I've tried two – the fried chicken and the pork vindaloo. The chicken, a whole breast, was deliciously crispy, steaming hot and moist. The stone-ground grits over which it was served needed a bit more cream, and the sliced tomato should have never been put on the plate – a typical mealy winter tomato.
The pork vindaloo recalled the longtime practice the Standard had of serving an Indian special on Monday night. This one, featuring jasmine rice (but no raita), provided a slow, mounting burn, with an occasional burst of star anise.
Wayne ordered the grilled hanger steak with frites and arugula salad – probably the most reliable choice and a large portion for just $14.
We're glad to see the Standard reincarnate itself. There are other tempting dishes on the menu such as a brisket hash with poached eggs, yakitori, an oyster po'boy, the inevitable burger (with Benton's bacon) and a grilled cheese sandwich with short ribs.
The building at the corner of Lenox and Cheshire Bridge roads – long a spot for Asian dining – has become home to a French bistro, Moto Bistro (2257 Lenox Road, 404-634-2828). Well, sort of. There are also some Asian dishes on the menu (and not Vietnamese).
I have no idea who has opened this restaurant. When I called to ask, the manager told me, "I do not have the authority to reveal the owners' names." Oh, OK. "What about the chef's name?" Silence. A language gap might have contributed to the problem.
The interior of the building, which many years ago was my favorite Vietnamese spot, has not changed much. The fountain still gurgles noisily while Portishead plays in the background. The bright yellow exterior does seem to have been given a face-lift.
The menu is strange. In all honesty, this is the first restaurant in years where I've returned something to the kitchen – a bowl of mussels so over-steamed they'd lost their form. As a substitute I ordered an acceptable French onion soup.
Wayne started with calamari a la Provencal – classic, well-prepared and lots of it. It was the best dish of the evening. His entrée was bass with fried fennel and leeks. I found the dish strongly fishy but far better than my order of pork belly with five-spice sauce. Several slices of the pork belly were pure fat. I could live with that because it was a very generous portion. But the five-spice sauce was so cloyingly sweet that I could not eat it. I mean that it was far sweeter than the delicious pear tart full of almond paste that I ordered for dessert.
Service at the restaurant was great. Servers knew the menu and were pleasant, even when I returned the mussels. I hope the mystery owners iron out the kinks.
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