Midtown meandering

And a yabba-dabba-doo time at Coldstone Creamery in Decatur

When you are lonely and life is treating you badly, you certainly don't want to go downtown. That cavern of conventioneers and lunar architecture is bereft of street life and very few restaurants of interest.

Better to go to Midtown. On a recent Thursday night, I parked near what has become the district's major crossroads, 10th and Piedmont, and went looking for food. It's hard for those of us who have been in Atlanta for decades to comprehend how what was once the city's gay and boho district has turned into a neighborhood for the middle class and students crammed four to an apartment.

Whereas a residence on Piedmont Park was once considered courageous and edgy, now it's considered prestigious and, in fact, the park itself has turned into a gorgeous vista, thanks to the work of the conservancy there.

There's very little great food in the area, but plenty of decent food with lots of people watching to do. Being in no hurry, I decided to walk up 10th and over to Einstein's (1077 Juniper St.), which opened in 1991 and is getting a major facelift but remains open, with multi-course specials priced to recall the opening date ($9.91 and $19.91) throughout.

The new look will include a big stone fireplace surrounded by leather couches. The idea, apparently, is to make the interior, never very hospitable, cozier. Most people go to Einstein's to eat on the patio and I suspect their business falls off significantly in the winter months. The renovation is a smart move.

I decided I wasn't in the mood to eat amid the construction, though, and walked down the street to Joe's on Juniper (1049 Juniper St.) which is owned by the same folks, Metrotainment, who operate Einstein's and Cowtippers.

The same deal prevails here as at every other Metrotainment venue: The patio is the popular spot. But the interior here is a lot more convivial and the very cheap food — burgers, hot dogs, etc. — isn't bad. Last Thursday, I ran into my friend Rick chomping on a special, a chipotle chicken wrap.

The real attraction Thursday (and Monday and Tuesday) night is an '80s trivia game that begins at 8 p.m. I declined to eat, but sipped a Coke and grew mildly depressed realizing how well I remember a period, the Reagan Years, that I'd be just as happy to forget. I decided to move on, leaving Rick to Barry Manilow and Oliver North.

My appetite was growing. My longtime favorite in the area, Zocalo (187 10th St.), was buzzing but I'd had Mexican food for lunch. This restaurant really revolutionized intowners' understanding of authentic Mexican food when it opened, but the menu needs some new dishes. The opening chef and former co-owner, Lucero Martinez, has moved on, now operating the nearby non-Mex breakfast and lunch spot, Orange and Scarlett's (814 Juniper St.). She is soon opening a new tapas venture, Bombazo, with a lounge, Corazon Ardiente at 818 Juniper St.

Zocalo's immediate neighbor, Nickiemoto's (990 Piedmont), is the big-ticket restaurant in the area, selling sushi and pan-Asian dishes. I'd had two decent lunches there in the last few weeks and, finally decided to revisit its other neighbor, Big Red Tomato (980 Piedmont, 404-870-9881) for dinner.

I've had very mixed experiences at this restaurant, which is another local spot favored greatly for its seen-and-be-seen patio, now enclosed for the cool weather.

But I love the intimate interior of the restaurant. It's cozy and rosy, reminding me of places I went in Little Italy years ago. The accent is definitely on New York-style Italian cooking and, generally, I have to say that the restaurant could greatly pare back its use of fats — from olive oil to butter and cream — and I'd like the food better.

Last Thursday, I was surprised to see the restaurant serving a special of skate wing ($18.95), one of my favorite fish dishes but not very common in Atlanta.

Skate is related to the giant manta ray and the so-called stingray. Only the wings are eaten. Paul Luna used to cook an excellent skate at his original restaurant, Luna Si, and I've encountered few versions as good as his.

This one came close. The wings, which must be soaked in an acidic solution to remove inevitable ammonia that builds up in captured fish, have a sweet, creamy taste similar to scallops when cooked.

The chef at Big Red Tomato sauteed the wings until a few crisp edges appeared and served it over mashed potatoes with haricots verts.

The fish was, classically, sauced with browned butter and capers. Again, the butter on the plate, which basically filled its well, could have been significantly reduced.

There are plenty of relatively inexpensive pastas on the menu here too. Whatever you do, walk next door to Jake's for the city's best ice cream.

Other restaurants in the immediate area include The Flying Biscuit, Subway and Gilbert's. Good coffee and pastries may be found at Outwrite Bookstore and mediocre coffee can be purchased at Caribou.


Here and there
The best thing about a dreadful meal in Decatur recently was a walk afterward to the new Coldstone Creamery (123 E. Court Square, 404-378-3101). This franchise is a dieter's nightmare. There are about 15 ice creams, yogurts and sorbets. There are 40-odd toppings, including all of your favorite junk candies, cookies, fruits and nuts.

You pick your flavor and your toppings. An employee dumps the ice cream on a cold marble slab and folds the ingredients into it with two spoons. It's then put in a big waffle cone or bowl.

I had the sweet cream with just some pecan pralines and a shot of caramel — quite delicious. Wayne, still reeling from our bad meal and too repressed to vent his anger about it, passed on the ice cream.

However, when I dropped a tip in the jar at the register, the staff suddenly burst into a silly song — a version of "The Flintstones" song that substituted "Coldstone." I ran from the shop, hating such spectacles.

But I looked behind and Wayne was still inside dancing, with his arms over his head as they sang. Better, I suppose to dance away your irritation than to write the curmudgeonly review I'll deliver soon enough.

A recent meal at Anis in Buckhead was A-plus. A starter pizza with beef tenderloin and gorgonzola was delish, as was my simple roasted chicken with mushrooms. The good news is that server Bruce, who spilled a glass of water on a diner when I was there last time, didn't make a single mistake this trip.

I lunched at Prime last week with my friends Brad Lapin and Paul Ambrose. Very good hamburgers. By the way, Nancy Mathews, the chef who turned Eclipse di Luna around and then left, is now at Prime herself. The restaurant's corporate entity, Here to Serve Restaurants, plans to open yet another tapas venue in the city. It will be called Twist.

I visited Burrito Art in East Atlanta recently and found the restaurant is producing some new vegetarian dishes. I stuck to my usual Thai chicken burrito, though.

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

Where to Eat
Food Events