In the lap of Luxe

Oscar Morales' new downtown spot, plus Horizon in VA-HI

Oscar Morales accomplished the unthinkable in 1999, when he left his job as general manager of Mumbo Jumbo to open his own restaurant, Oscar's, in College Park. I call his decision "unthinkable" not just because it was odd that he would open an upscale restaurant in barbecue-ville with talented chef Todd Immel. More remarkable is that it has become a destination restaurant for anyone living in the Atlanta area. Oscar's is an example of the way individual vision and attention to detail can produce something unique that can't be bought with all of Buckhead Life Group's money.

Now Morales has returned to the Mumbo Jumbo location to open Luxe (89 Park Place, 404-389-0800). He is in partnership with Mark Halik, Beau McGlamery and Bharat Aluri. You will recall that Mumbo Jumbo was operated by owner/chef Shaun Doty, who closed it a few months back when he opened Mid City Cuisine. The closing was a blow to downtown, which is sadly bereft of interesting restaurants, since the main customers there are convention and business folks who typically want a steak and a baked potato.

In the last year, there has been some significant residential development in downtown, so Morales may be able to attract urban pioneers. And if he can compel the rest of us to drive to College Park, what's a short trip to the middle of downtown Atlanta?

The decor of the restaurant has been significantly changed. The Byzantine neo-satanic reds and quirky mosaic columns are gone. The medieval-looking fireplace, actually from Georgia's first governor's mansion, remains. A lot of varnished wood has been installed. The bar, one of the city's longest, has been given a new granite top. It's all very adult and modern. The only thing I find a bit startling is the whitewashing of the brick exterior. I'll get used to it.

Executive chef here is Patti Roth, who was a sous-chef at Woodfire Grill and a pastry chef at Bacchanalia. The menu is American with Euro and Mediterranean notes. Wayne and I sampled the prix-fixe dinner menu recently — $34 per person for three courses, $42 with a cheese course added. It's not a huge cost difference over a la carte choices, so don't feel tempted by the minimal savings.

We ate well. Onion soup with white truffle oil and a brioche crouton was a heady golden puree that I would order again and again. The white truffle oil reappeared in another starter: Deviled eggs get a shot of the stuff and are served with fat stalks of green asparagus over shaved prosciutto. I have no real complaint although, weirdly, the asparagus didn't add a sufficiently sharp note against the creamy prosciutto and eggs. Suddenly I understood why my mother put capers in her deviled eggs.

Wayne's entree was seared Columbia River salmon with parmesan polenta and artichoke barigoule. The fish and polenta were flawless, but the overcooked artichoke bariguole was a far cry from the versions I've tasted in Provence.

My own entree was a braised lamb shank with — what? — "Tanzanian chocolate lavender glaze." I did not pick up a hint of lavender and, honestly, the lamb was a bit gamy for my taste. This, of course, is relatively beyond the control of the kitchen. In every other respect the lamb was good, served over a cloud of pureed potatoes.

Dessert for me was a latte cup of Valhrona chocolate cream with pecan brittle and a puff of coffee-flavored chantilly. For Wayne: Warm cream-cheese pound cake with a very spicy cinnamon ice cream and sauteed apples. We polished both plates — but, come on, compare these to Oscar's pumpkin créme brulee with cranberry compote or the lemon pound cake made with chevre.

The verdict? I give it a B-plus on its way to becoming an A. Pump up the details, Oscar. I'm holding you to a higher standard. New in Va-Hi

Horizon (1397 N. Highland Ave., 404-876-0676) is the latest reincarnation of Indigo, which has been a steakhouse and a French seafood restaurant in the years since Alix Kenagy closed the original Indigo Coastal Grill.

New owner Frata Elidrissi has changed the decor very little, if at all. Chef David Gross' menu is a quite pleasant New American menu with some tapas-like items such as grilled lemon-garlic shrimp over cannellini basil beans. The dish is delicious, but the two shrimp suggest a better description: "Cannellini basil beans garnished with shrimp." We deserve more for $5.50.

Don't miss the appetizer of coriander-crusted lamb carpaccio — tissue thin, with aged goat cheese and arugula. Our entrees even got better. I ordered a special of sliced duck breast, cooked medium rare, over sweet Bavarian-style red cabbage, which contained duck confit. Wayne had three lump crab cakes, without a drop of filler, over corn chowder with wilted spinach.

I'm returning for the seared foie gras with poached pear and vanilla oil, the shrimp and cucumber cocktail with two caviars, the tagine of Chilean sea bass, and Sunday brunch's smoked salmon on a dill pancake with arugula salad.

Here and there

Here are some buenas noticias: Lucero Obregon-Martinez has returned to the chef's position at Zocalo, which she originally opened with brothers Luis and Marco before leaving to open Orange and Scarlett's. The trio has refreshed the menu at Zocalo, which is one of our city's most authentic Mexican restaurants and is located in Midtown, far from the scary taquerias of Buford Highway...

George Loud writes to inform me of a discovery: Lopez Cafe in Riverdale (6600 Highway 85) is serving a favorite Cuban dish that I've never found on an Atlanta menu: patitas guisadas. Yeah, that's stewed pigs feet. I am there...

Virginia's is planning a killer Thanksgiving dinner with Slow Food Atlanta. Call 404-827-9005 to get your taste of "heritage turkey."

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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