Eating in all directions

Vinocity, Eclipse di Luna, Pangea, Taka and Watershed

First, a bit of a rant: I'm tired of looking for parking spaces — or being ripped off for one — when I go out to eat. When I decided to go to the new Vinocity (36 13th St., 404-870-8886) last Saturday night, I drove by three or four mainly empty lots manned by frantic, flag- waving attendants. Incredibly, one of them had a sign that allowed him to raise and lower the price, like he was working the stock market.

Meanwhile, parking in other private areas was forbidden — in obvious exchange for a kickback from those former dogcatchers who now make their livings by booting cars. Out-of-towners from real cities are always stunned by our idiot parking situation, which the city of Atlanta seems completely unwilling to regulate in any reasonable way.

Happily, I found a spot on the street three blocks away, and the only cost was considerable hassle by a drunk for 50 cents to buy milk for his baby.

Oh well, so it goes when you're hell-bent on a trendy destination. And that word, "trendy," best describes Vinocity. Located in the former home of the Atlanta Theosophical Society, the remodeled cottage has exchanged its spiritual function for the purveying of spirits. You get cool colors, mosaic columns, a cozy downstairs wine bar with contemporary furniture and people lounging about in lots of hair gel and good clothes.

The dining room is upstairs, an almost lapis-colored room hung with exuberant paintings, many by an artist in love with the color red. A small patio is agreeable when the evenings cool off.

Chef Brian Barfield's menu is pleasant fusion cuisine, befitting a restaurant with such a heavy emphasis on wine. Eno, inevitably, comes to mind by comparison ... and wins by a mile, but you can dine reasonably well here. Details are a problem.

For example, my starter of (chopped) spicy duck confit layered with grilled flat bread with a port-wine reduction ($9) had good flavor as long as I avoided the amazingly tough, tasteless, chewy flat bread. My companion, Young Van, had his usual huge bowl of mussels, here in a standard garlic and white wine sauce ($9). The mussels were the largest I've encountered in a long time, reminding me a lot of the huge rope-raised ones I used to eat in California. Give them a try and skip the cardboard confit.

Other starters include a goat cheese tart, sauteed seafood Provencal, a trio of hummus and two impressive cheese tastings. The tasting for white wine also comes with fresh fruit while the red features some cured meats ($13 each). There are also soups, like roasted corn chowder with chorizo and gazpacho, along with salads, like goat cheese encrusted with cous cous and served over mesclun with a fig dressing.

My entree, a roasted rack of lamb, was a generous and well-cooked serving ($22). It was served with lentils, which I loved. And then the plate was ruined by a despicable carrot puree seasoned to taste like your great-aunt's sweet potato souffle. Why, oh why?

Young Van, at my urging, tried the pan-seared halibut, with couscous dotted with roasted red peppers, sauced with a shrimp and corn beurre blanc ($19). The fish was cooked fine but the dish couldn't have tasted flatter. As always, Young Van — who grew up eating Vietnamese cuisine — demanded hot sauce to enliven it. And then he didn't use it because he thought it was the "wrong kind." I suggested, as I always do to Wayne, that if I were the chef I'd come out and dump the stuff in his eyes.

Other entrees include a roasted pork roulade which has received negative comments from a colleague, broiled baby lobster tails over wilted greens with lobster risotto, cumin-dusted scallops and jalapeno polenta, and a few steaks.

Dessert was a decent chocolate bread pudding with dried apricots and figs ($6). But why dried figs in the middle of the season?

Our server, Berrak, is herewith declared Waitron of the Week. She's from Turkey, gorgeous and as professional as you can get. Ask for her.

br>?Spectacular sandwiches
The coolest sandwich shop I've encountered in years is Pangaea (1082 Huff Road, 404-350-8787). It's not far from Bacchanalia and Taqueria del Sol and definitely worth the drive wherever you are in the city.

The restaurant's name is Greek for "all lands" and the menu is thus sandwiches from Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, the Middle East, Italy and America. The panino grosso — a flat-grilled Italian classic with salami, cappicola, sopressata and ham with provolone and pickled red onions — is delicious ($6.50) but pales beside the Vietnamese banh mi. Both the lemongrass barbecued pork ($5.75) and firecracker shrimp ($6.25) are authentic — made with extremely crusty baguettes. The meat is accompanied by sliced fresh jalapenos, cilantro and pickled daikon and carrots. My one complaint: The mayo used here seems less savory than I've eaten at most Vietnamese restaurants around town.

The restaurant, which is open Monday-Saturday until 3 p.m., also serves breakfast — mainly egg sandwiches, fruit and a mango French toast.

br>?Here and there
My old friend Brad Lapin, who now lives in Rome most of the year, is back in Atlanta for a few months and we lunched last week at Eclipse di Luna (764 Miami Circle, 404-846-0449), which has added some new menu items. Executive Chef Nancy Delgado Mathews has turned this tapas restaurant into an extraordinary venue, the best of its sort in the city now.

I couldn't stop eating, thanks in part to the urging of our server Henry Moran: a roasted lamb sandwich with mint aioli, an empanada stuffed with chorizo, a plate of excellent serrano ham, coriander-encrusted scallops with roasted garlic and white-bean puree. I could go on.

By the way, Eclipse's founding chef, Paul Luna, has left the city again, headed to Canada. Cafe Mystique, his latest attempt, fell flat. So much for dining off a "credenza" and brunching half-naked.

I recently dined at Taka, the relatively new sushi restaurant in Buckhead (385 Pharr Road, 404-869-2802). Although I am fond of Chef Taka's cuisine, I was somewhat flabbergasted when I received my bill — over $120 for two, including only one sake. True, we ate quite a lot. But even when I have stuffed myself at Soto, I've never received that kind of bill. And get rid of those horrible water bottles that look like shampoo containers!

I finally made it to the popular brunch at Watershed (406 W. Ponce de Leon, 404-378-4900) in Decatur last Sunday. It was Food Critic Central. Christiane Lauterbach, critic for Atlanta magazine and publisher of Knife and Fork, was there, along with my CL colleague Bill Addison.

Christiane, had just returned from a month in Spain, which she has come to love as much as I do. She likes the north, Barcelona, whereas I prefer the south, Madrid and Sevilla.

Bill and I both ordered the menu's country ham steak with redeye gravy, grits, eggs and buttermilk biscuits ($12). We were both kind enough not to point out to Chef Scott Peacock that the dish didn't actually feature country ham. Peacock instead pointed it out himself after we'd eaten, saying that the menu was being changed to more accurately describe it as "country cured ham." (We forgave the chef's spacyness. Peacock was beginning photography that day for his cookbook, co-authored with Edna Lewis, and his editor was seated a table away.)

Everything else was up to expectations, including Peacock's famous biscuits, served with a remarkable orange marmalade and some off-the-menu fresh figs in syrup. Homemade English muffins are drenched in butter and you want dozens of them. Breakfast shrimp on rice ($9) reminds me of a dish my South Carolina aunt used to cook summers at the beach.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.??

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