Creature comforts

MidCity Cuisine's Monday night deal, plus a happy OTP discovery

"Comfort" is a word much in use these days. One of its antonyms is "terror" and, considering how that word haunts us now, it's no surprise we seek its opposite. You may remember that after the 9/11 bombings of the World Trade Center, NPR did a series on comfort food. New Yorkers, it seems, flocked to restaurants featuring homey food to settle their nerves. Cookbooks featuring comfort food are selling briskly, especially those that eliminate carbs and fat, thus rendering your nostalgia healthier, lighter.

My sharp-tongued friend Jim, an African-American, has a dicey definition of comfort food: He calls it "soul food for white people." I protested that mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, two classic comfort dishes, have interracial appeal. He assured me that he's never been to a soul food restaurant that puts white truffle oil in either dish. "But let me amend myself," he said. "Comfort food is social-climbing soul food."

Whatever. A Monday night three-course menu of comfort food is the latest feature at MidCity Cuisine (1545 Peachtree St., 404-888-8700), whose one-year anniversary is this week. Shaun Doty, the owner/chef, is one of our city's best cooks. If you haven't visited the restaurant, which is open for all three meals of the day, this is your chance to get a great taste of three courses for $19.55.

The comfort idiom actually suits Doty quite well. Even MidCity's regular dinner menu, which is quite affordable overall, features the equivalent of American brasserie fare. What could be more comforting than prosciutto sliced before your eyes? Or a hanger steak with fries? I love the fettuccine with chicken livers above all. Generally, the food seems less flashy than Doty's experiments at his earlier restaurant, Mumbo Jumbo.

The Monday night comfort menu started last week with field greens brought to the table in a big serve-yourself bowl with tongs. The buttermilk dressing with crumbled blue cheese will make you look around for June Cleaver. It's a nice take on a retro dressing.

You get your choice of four entrees. I wanted the lamb stew, but pot roast with mashed potatoes was being substituted last Monday. Fork-tender and juicy enough to require a bib, the pot roast was served in an iron casserole. The mashed potatoes were smooth as silk and perfectly unseasoned. A roasted tomato and some carrots rounded out the plate.

Wayne ordered shrimp and grits. This is not exactly retro, and although the creamy grits and plump grilled shrimp were scarf-downable, it's a dish I'm tired of. While my portion was inedibly huge, Wayne complained that his grits weren't "deep enough."

Of course, he made the same complaint about the macadamia brittle ice cream accompanying his huge bowl of browned crepes wrapped about warmed banana slices. I ordered the Kit Kat bar, a take on the famous candy with two layers of chocolate with a cookie foundation. It's addictive. I should warn you that it's not on the dessert menu that the waiter hands you at meal's end. You'll have to ask for it.

MidCity is also offering all-you-can-eat gourmet pizza and salad for $10 on Sunday nights. A guest chef is featured each week.

In the mountains

Talk about your comfort food, Wayne and I dined at The Dillard House in Dillard, on the way to our place outside Highlands last week. The legendary all-you-can-eat restaurant completely covers your table with three or four meats and an uncountable number of vegetables.

We ate for years at the nearby Green Shutters in Clayton, but the death of its owner last year has sent us to this better-known restaurant. I most like the country ham and country-fried steak. The fried chicken has never been up to par, but the fried fish is Wayne's favorite.

In Highlands itself — the mountain capital of ghastly cuisine and inflated prices — I found a restaurant I actually like besides my favorite, On the Verandah. I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that Nicholas Figel, owner/chef of Cyprus Restaurant (828-526-4429), is the son of the owners of On the Verandah.

Figel's concept is unique. Every night of the week is devoted to a different international cuisine. Starting with Sunday, Cyprus features Provencal, Iberian-Italian, Thai, Caribbean, Japanese, Mediterranean and South American dishes. There's also a regular menu of unchanging fusion dishes.

Wayne ordered from the latter, beginning with grilled vegetables and Gorgonzola layered between oversized, thin cumin crackers, seasoned with a drizzle of sun-dried tomatoes. His entree was grilled shrimp in a Laotian chile-lime sauce tossed with vegetables and served with garlic-lemon rice. The dish was a bit sweeter than the Laotian food I used to eat in San Francisco, but tangy with the fermented fish sauce that gives the cuisine its characteristic flavor. Do we even have any Laotian food in Atlanta?

I ordered from Saturday night's South American menu. A chile relleno made from a roasted poblano was deep-fried in a light batter until crunchy. Honestly, mozzarella wouldn't be my first choice for the filling; get ahold of some cheese from Chihuahua. The chile was served with an arugula and red-pepper salad with a toasted cumin vinaigrette.

My entree was even better: chunks of beef and pork stewed in an achiote sauce until tender, served with asparagus and a roasted potato. The only misstep was the accompanying six shrimp impaled lengthwise on two wooden skewers. They would not slide off the skewers, so I had to gnaw them off caveman-style.

The highlight of our meal was dessert: warm baklava with the best lavender ice cream we have ever tasted, even in France.

Waitrons of the week

Am I growing less demanding or is the quality of service improving around town? I've never liked nursemaids posing as servers and I ran into two strong, witty personalities this week: Gabe at MidCity Cuisine and Caleb at Prime. The latter, a culinary arts student who looks 10 years old, should be doing stand-up comedy near the hostess' stand.

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

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