That Whirly Q flair

Thaicoon, Delhi belly and remembering Bob Russo

OK, I give up. Every restaurant will soon resemble an international food court. Nobody will speak a language anyone else understands, so there will be no way to complain or make a compliment, except by grabbing the belly and making barf faces or smiling happily.

I saw an example of this at lunch last week at Thaicoon (1799 Briarcliff Road, 404-817-9805) at Sage Hill Shopping Center. A construction worker with a very heavy Southern accent sat at the sushi bar where my friend Chris and I were eating.

"What have?" the waitress asked.

"I want me some that sushi!" the man said at top volume. "But I wont me a good meal, too."

My head jerked up. I mean, I know it's classist to say so, but I think it's cool sushi has become a blue-collar treat.

"What'd he say?" Chris asked. "I didn't understand him."

"Say whut?" the construction worker barked almost simultaneously at the server.

"What say?" the server replied.

Helen Keller never had it so bad.

Thaicoon, which has a newly opened sister location in Marietta, is both a Thai restaurant and a sushi bar. A dinner and a lunch there convince me thoroughly that the Thai side is far better than the Japanese. Samplings of nigiri and rolled sushi ($1.25-$8.95) were disappointing. While a salmon skin roll was actually quite good — the skin grilled crispy, a rarity to find these days — a spider roll was made with a softshell crab that appeared to have been cooked hours earlier. A California roll had practically no crab in it, tasting of little more than cucumber.

"What's this fetish for cream cheese in sushi rolls?" Chris wondered aloud.

I agreed that I find the texture of raw fish and cream cheese together repugnant — except maybe on a bagel — and it seems to be quite popular with the sushi chefs here. I could forgive the sushi's general mediocrity were it not for a consistent problem: the rice. I have no idea what rice the restaurant is using or what they are doing to it, but it has a very unpleasant texture about half the time. It was less gooey at lunch, but Wayne's rolls at dinner tasted to me like fish wrapped in rice pudding.

There are a limited number of Japanese dishes besides sushi at Thaicoon. Wayne, who made sushi his entree, tried one — an appetizer of octopus in a very spicy sauce over seaweed and curly lettuces ($4.95). We liked it although the presentation was bothersome. The chefs here seem to have an undue fondness for Whirly Q-style garnishes of lettuce and orange slices.

The same look invades nearly every plate, including my dinner appetizer of shrimp cakes ($5.95) — a competent and very generous portion served with way too little of the vinegary-sweet cucumber salad meant to anoint them. Oh. Speaking of Whirly Q, please don't serve food on little paper doilies, even when it's greasy like the shrimp cakes. I hate swallowing paper.

The Whirly Q look was mercifully abandoned with my entree — a broiled lobster tail, dislodged from the shell, and placed in a bowl with a panang sauce and some sliced vegetables, spread out like cards ($17.95). I'm not sure I'd spring for the dish again, considering the cost, but I liked it. The lobster was fresh and flavorful enough to meet the panang without surrendering its taste. A special of a lobster tail with a masaman sauce with cashews was also offered that evening.

My lunch dish was especially good — a duck curry ($13.95 at dinner). Even the perpetually curmudgeonly Christopher liked it. There was a bit more fat in it than I'd like, but most of the duck was tender, often with a crisp edge. The chilies in the sauce were offset by a judicious use of pineapple. Christopher's lunch dish of sauteed chicken with baby corn, mushrooms, snowpeas and carrots ($8.95) bored me silly. It included one of those sauces that tastes like cornstarch spiked with soy sauce. And baby corn, which tastes like nothing but tin cans, is one of my least favorite things on the planet.

Wayne and I tried one dessert, described by our server as "fried banana ice cream." We assume it would be just that. Instead it was very few pieces of fried bananas served with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream.

Mea culpa maxima

One of the hazards of this column, which tries to catch restaurants as soon as they open, is making premature judgments. I have always been guided by the philosophy that any review is the record of an impression gleaned in a limited time.

That said, sometimes, a restaurant changes so radically from my experience that I'm compelled to issue a warning. Such is the case with Delhi Darbar. I went to the restaurant on its second day and had very good food, if not some of the worst service I've ever encountered. I also know that my review prompted quite a rush at the restaurant.

I've received half a dozen calls, including one from my favorite dining critic, to ask me if I'd lost my mind. I've had reports of grossly over-salted food, of meat that tastes past its prime, of food with no character. Everyone complains about the service, so its poor quality can't be blamed just on the restaurant's newness. The restaurant's counter people continue to make the absurd claim that there is no real distinction between Indian and Pakistani food — even though the restaurant's sign says both are offered there.

Readers are always invited to call or write me to report such travesties of reviewing.

Remembering Bob Russo

The suicide of Bob Russo, owner of Rocky's, prompted several calls and e-mails in the last two weeks. Bob was certainly one of the most colorful characters in Atlanta's restaurant scene. For years his restaurant made the best pizzas in town, and some of the most novel — like a chimi churri one that still makes me salivate to remember. He often plopped himself at my table when I used to eat there frequently. If we showed up with Wayne's parents, he always turned into a complete sentimentalist, treating them like royalty.

Wayne and I remember him most because of an evening we ate there on the gravel patio and, to our horror, two rats came out to graze. Completely unperturbed by the shrieking they inspired at a nearby table, the rats nibbled some pizza crust and then waddled off to the bushes next door.

A few days later I received a call from Bob. "I understand," he said, "that you had a visit from some of our little friends."

By this time I'd forgotten the incident and drew a blank.

"We have a problem with raccoons in the Dumpster," he said, explaining.

"Raccoons?" I said.

"Yes, the little bandits come out to eat right in front of everyone," he said. "You just can't get rid of them." There was not a note of irony in his voice.

To this day I often call rats "raccoons" or "little friends."

It's no surprise that Bob, given to all sorts of emotional displays, including political ones he displayed on his restaurant signs, took his life in such a dramatic fashion — following a stand-off with police and S.W.A.T. team members. We die as we live, don't we?

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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