A first visit to Django, plus Khao debuts with Asian carryout
Anis, the Buckhead French cafe, was once my favorite off-duty restaurant. I lunched there every Friday for years with a friend, usually on the tree-canopied patio. The Provencal cuisine and the warm ambiance created by the young owners, Arnaud Michel and Jean-Frederic Perfettini, never grew old. I only stopped going when my friend moved to Rome and I felt less motivated to drive to Buckhead from Grant Park.
Michel and Perfettini later opened Pastis in Roswell and last summer opened Django Gypsy Kitchen and Saloon (495 Peachtree St., 404-347-8648) in Midtown. The exotically decorated restaurant is located across the street from Crawford Long Hospital, next to the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern and a stone's throw from the competitively exotic Inserection, where you may indulge your appetite for leather knickknacks, flavored lubricants and videos of naked people who likely did not vote for George Bush.
Django takes its name from Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), a Belgian jazz guitarist of gypsy heritage who grew up in a "Manouche" caravan outside Paris. He lost the use of some fingers after a fire when he was 18, but re-educated himself to play well enough to become one of Europe's best guitarists. One wall of the restaurant is decorated with a series of colorful assemblages made of glove sizers in homage to the musician.
The gypsy theme is not terribly overplayed here but suits the international ownership. Michel and Perfettini are in business with the Panama-born Brendan Brennan and the Persian-born Rodney Kazemi, an art dealer. There aren't many stereotyped images, although a red-lit upper dining room with lots of tapestry pillows may make you want to read your tablemate's palm and look around for a tall, dark stranger. There is also a lounge in the basement of the restaurant, "The Belly," where cabaret and live music is performed.
As far as the menu goes, the gypsy motif is basically another way of expressing the multicultural complexion of the ownership. We had a mediocre meal, with small plates performing much better than entrees. Mussels, steamed in wine with cream added to the garlicky broth, are authentic, though they were tiny enough to get caught between the teeth. A small pizza with two cheeses, tapenade and Italian sausage was entirely too doughy. My favorite dish of the evening was a starter of simple scrambled eggs with two spicy links of lamb sausage on the side. A tangle of frisee on the side with a bad dressing should be replaced.
For an entree, I chose the daily free-form ravioli. It featured asiago and mozzarella cheeses with some clumps of cooked orange tomato. Avoid it unless you like to imagine yourself in a vegetarian cafe, congratulating yourself for not eating meat. Wayne's dish was somewhat better. The kitchen places pan-roasted mahi-mahi over a kind of crunchy, kind of gooey yucca pancake and tops it with papaya salad that is overseasoned. Just letting the taste of the fruit stand on its own would improve the dish significantly.
Desserts were mainly pleasing. Créme brûlee featured an extra-thick, crunchy glaze. A goblet of strawberries with vanilla ice cream was a yawner, but black rice pudding, though in need of more of the ice cream that topped it, was the best choice.
Georgia Technology Square in Midtown is turning into a huge cluster of mainly uninteresting cafes. Tin Drum Cafe is one exception, and it's now joined by another Asian spot, Khao International Specialty Foods (68 Fifth St., 404-810-9052).
Khao — more grocery than cafe — is probably the most intriguing spot in the area. Vicky Martin of Inland Seafood recommended the place and filled me in on the details: It was opened by Keith Lewis, formerly a chef at Old Vinings Inn and now a sales rep at Inland. His wife, Mae, formerly a chef at Gloriosa, prepares the food.
The food is all pre-packaged and stored in a cooler for takeout or eating at the shop's few tables. (It can be warmed-up on the premises.) I liked everything I ate — even a snowy steamed bun stuffed with bland chopped mystery meat and half a hardboiled egg. Summer rolls, stuffed with shrimp and herbs (including some kicky ginger, Thai basil and cilantro), are as good as any you'll find on Buford Highway. And they are big and Texas-sized. None of this tiny Asian finger-food business, y'all! (See, I'm learning to think like a Bushie.)
My favorite dish was the coleslaw full of juicy roasted duck slices. It comes with a strong vinaigrette and way too much onion for eating in the middle of the day, but the flavors and textures will make your mouth very happy. I also liked the chicken salad, curried Indian-style — earthy and sweet, full of raisins, sunflower seeds, sour cream, honey and carrots. Sparse scallions keep the oniony flavor minimal. It's served with basmati rice.
The grocery shelves are a marvel. Khao ("rice" in Laotian and Thai) not only sells Asian specialties (like fish sauce), but also vends good olive oils, an assortment of capers, all kinds of noodles, cookies, cheeses and some weird soft drinks.
Here and there
Richard Blais, our city's pre-eminent master of molecular cuisine, has already fizzled out at Bazzaar, where he took refuge after losing the Buckhead restaurant bearing his name a few months ago. Rumors are that the chef who turns foie gras into milkshakes and edamame into foam is doing catering until his next project becomes clear. ...
Tom Catherall has announced that he will open a sixth restaurant at Midtown's Colony Square (joining Shout) late this winter. Peri-Peri will specialize in "marinated, roasted and grilled" chicken. The Johnson Studio will work its magic on this location, too. ...
Lynette Fernandez and Phil Black both write to rave about Soca, a Caribbean cafe on Medlock Bridge Road in Duluth. Lynette waxes especially rhapsodic about the restaurant's signature chicken curry. ... Bob Bowen wants to know where he can buy morcilla, Spanish blood sausage, in our town. If you know, write me. ... MidCity Cuisine is showing off a new custom-made cheese cart that is supposed to be as cool as its vintage 1950s prosciutto slicer.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.