Happy return to Antica Posta, and Surin's Thai Bowl
Antica Posta (519 E. Paces Ferry Road, 404-262-7112) made a major splash when it opened here about four years ago in the cottage abandoned by Jean Banchet, who operated Riviera there briefly. Owner Marco Betti, a real-live Tuscan, also owns a restaurant of the same name outside Florence and the restaurant deservedly gained an immediate following because of its authentic, rustic cuisine.
Leave it to me, of course, to write a few complaints that caused an avalanche of angry e-mails from the restaurant's most avid fans. My gripes were minimal and pertained mostly to the irregular service. I was surprised by the enraged response but, then again, I'm accustomed to crucifixion for a mild complaint. Abuse is a good palate cleanser, you know?
Wayne and I returned to Antica Posta on a recent Sunday night and, I'm happy to say, had a nearly flawless meal. Any complaints I once had about the service mean nothing now. From the quirky, personable parking valet to host Betti and our server Jose Luis, herewith declared Waitron of the Week, we were treated far better than our clothes merited us to be. I swear to God, the couple sitting next to us were so flawlessly beautiful in black that it was all I could do to keep from slinging olive oil at them while making monkey noises.
The menu has changed little, if at all, since the opening and I didn't sample a dish I wouldn't recommend. I'm in love with the crostini slathered with a warm puree of chicken livers whose earthy taste is highlighted by the faintest sweetness. Two of the crostini come on the antipasto plate ($8) with some medium-sliced prosciutto and a little heap of greens. Wayne ordered the arugula salad with Parmesan and olive oil ($8). The salad seemed to have as much cheese as arugula, maybe a bit more than I'd like since the arugula was not very strong, but it's a wholly subjective preference. It's also available with rabbit.
I picked the osso bucco ($25) as my entree. Unforgiving readers with good memories will recall that I was upset during my first visit when the dish was presented with a huge sprig of rosemary thrust like a bottle brush into the bone, where the delectable marrow is. I was happy to see the rosemary inserted between the bone and the meat this time, so that I could use my knife and the tiny fork provided to extract every drop of the marrow to spread on the restaurant's very good bread. The veal shank was surrounded by an enormous portion of meat, more than I could eat. Braised until fork-tender, it was served in an intense, dark sauce with roasted potatoes on the side. I want it every week.
Wayne ordered ravioli topped with a Tuscan meat sauce ($18) from the pasta menu. There was not an undue acidic note in the thick sauce that was spooned over large ravioli stuffed with green chard and ricotta cheese. Fantastic contrast. (My own favorite pasta here is the sturdy tacconi pasta with rabbit ragu.)
Dessert was the only course that offered some disappointment. Wayne's nougat ice-cream cake ($7), which tasted like a very good candy bar, was fun but needed a bit more chocolate sauce. My own dessert, torta della nonna ("grandmother's cake"), was the loser. Although its custardy filling and side of ice cream were fine, the pastry itself was so tough that it couldn't be easily cut with a spoon without sending a shard flying toward the glamorous duo next to us.
You should ask for our server, Jose Luis, a charmer from Cancun who allowed me to practice my Spanish with him. I l ike that: chattering in Spanish in a Firenze-style restaurant in Atlanta's nouveau-riche hood.
The hotter Surin
I'm not as fond of Surin as every other person in Atlanta, but I do like the restaurant's spin-off, Surin's Thai Bowl (1044 Greenwood Ave., 404-892-0552). The restaurant was originally occupied by the short-lived but remarkable Terra Cotta, which was a study in understatement. The spare decor remains but it's been tarted up with some red and blue exterior paint that makes it more noticeable than an adult bookstore.
We ate on the pleasant porch next to a table of three adolescent girls who spent their entire dinner dissecting the appearance of a boy they know. I know more about that boy's butt, his lips and his ears than I know about my own. Whoever you are, three girls crave your body badly but, in the obvious absence of your interest in them, they have devoted their lives to discovering your imperfections.
There are imperfections at Thai Bowl as well, but the food mainly rocks for the price. In any case, it's head and shoulders above Doc Chey and Noodle, both of which operate on the same concept (although sushi is also part of the menu here). Small plates, all $5 each, are great for sharing. The spicy papaya salad is state-of-the-art and it is more fiery than the menu's two chili peppers indicate. It's served with beef jerky. I have become very fond of this dish, offered Tuesday nights at Little Bangkok, where it is also served with sticky rice. Thai Bowl serves a more tender beef jerky and I prefer Little Bangok's chewier variety, but overall, they are equals.
Wayne's starter, pork and shrimp lemongrass, was quite a bargain. It's grilled pork and shrimp, heavily seasoned with lemongrass, lime juice and chilies with a scattering of cashews, tossed with red onions.
You can build your own noodle bowls here. The starting price is $6, which includes broth, your choice of noodles and three veggies. Seafood and meat cost $1-$2 more. But you can order the restaurant's own designs too. I ordered the three-chili spicy basil rice bowl ($8.50) and, believe me, it was hot as hell — and delicious if a bit relentless because of the enormous portion. It's ground chicken and green beans, stir-fried in hot chili sauce and served over romaine lettuce and rice. Two sad little Thai meat patties were perfunctorily plunked in the bowl too. A fried egg that topped the dish reminded me of the Korean bi bim bap.
Wayne ordered Chaeng Mai noodle ($8.50) at the server's suggestion. The bowl was filled with rice noodles and a red curry made with coconut milk and lime juice. Crispy noodles and lean beef rounded out the dish. I liked it more than my own choice.
Here and there
The Vietnamese at long last continue bringing their elegant cuisine closer to the center of town. Now, Nam will open at the old Zoe's location at Midtown Promenade. ... Chef Emeril Lagasse has selected his senior management staff for Emeril's Atlanta, which is scheduled to open mid-summer at One Alliance Center in Buckhead. Chef de cuisine is Christian Czerwonka, formerly sous chef at the fabulous NOLA and then head chef at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas, both Lagasse properties. ...
The breast-beating over Tortilla's closing continues. This week, in addition to the amazing number of nostalgic memories people have sent me, I received a rhyming ode. May 24 is your last day to eat there.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or e-mail him at email@example.com.