Wave of recognition

A revisit to Kyma, with aid resources for tsunami victims

“I can’t help it. I feel guilty,” I said to Wayne as dessert arrived during our meal at Kyma (3085 Piedmont Road, 404-262-0702). The dish was disarmingly beautiful: a white oval containing a barely marked mound of thick white yogurt submerged beneath golden honey, topped with candied walnuts. It was, in its simplicity, one of the most sensual dishes I have encountered in memory.

“Well,” Wayne said, “you could donate half the cost of the meal to the Red Cross or something.”

My angst derived partly from irony. How in hell did I manage to dine in a restaurant whose name, Kyma, which means “wave,” the same week that an enormous wave swept 150,000 people in southeast Asia, most of them poor, to their deaths, leaving millions more in danger of starvation? The dual value system with which I was raised on the one hand makes me crave the luxury of the nearly $200 meal we were consuming. On the other hand, I feel ridiculous being so self-indulgent in a world of suffering.

It’s easy enough to suspend such thoughts when suffering does not intrude upon the horizon of the privileged. But when the world’s dramatic inequities become apparent, it’s hard to feel comfortably self-indulgent. Yet, awareness doesn’t really allay the discomfort. Instead, one is left licking honey off a spoon, weeping like Gloria Vanderbilt because life is so ... so ... icky.

“Jesus, just shoot me,” I told Wayne. “No wonder I prefer ethnic restaurants.”

“Shut up and eat,” he replied.

Truly, it’s not the fault of Kyma, the Greek restaurant operated by the Buckhead Life Group, that I had a culinary moral crisis amid its gorgeous columns. Indeed, I’m inclined to say that the earthiness of the food, its simplicity and native beauty — like my dessert — really did sensitize me in the way MFK Fisher often wrote that hunger is more than a physical yearning. When our hunger meets extraordinary food, our hearts are opened, she argued.

And Kyma is extraordinary. This was only my second visit since the restaurant’s opening about three years ago. During that first visit, I found the food uneven and the Johnson Studio’s decor a bit Disney-esque. But three years later, I found everything I tasted flawless. And the decor, including the al-fresco-seeming indoor bar and cozily winterized and upholstered patio, now feels almost understated compared to later Johnson Studio projects.

The staff, too, is remarkable. I’m not talking about attentiveness alone. We dined on a Monday night and the restaurant was nearly empty, so we expected that. More notable was the staff’s informal, pleasant demeanor. We were happy to find the server at our first visit, a gorgeous Bulgarian girl, still working there — now rooming with a Bulgarian co-worker, a man with the driest sense of humor in Buckhead. Our server, Lawrence, a New Jersey refugee, was also a comedian who bones fish tableside with the aplomb of a Marx Brother performing surgery. I coronate him Waitron of the Week.

I have complained here recently about my exhaustion with tapas and small plates. I ignored my own complaint at Kyma and so should you. The restaurant has an extensive menu of meze, basically Greek tapas, too wonderful not to be indulged. We ordered the dinner of five meze with a single grilled fish. The cost is only $35 per person but it rises rapidly as you choose dishes that require paying a supplement. And then there are side dishes you can’t resist. And of course you have to have dessert. And if you drink, you have to have ouzo. Before long, you’ve consumed at one sitting the monthly nutritional needs of five Indonesian families. (Sorry!)

My favorite dish this time, like last, was the wood-grilled octopus — undoubtedly the best I have ever eaten in America. It is smoky, slightly black, anointed in extra-virgin olive oil, spiked with red-wine vinegar and topped with some red onions. Although it’s the menu’s most expensive meze (and requires a supplement on the special menu), it’s a generous serving. I could order two plates and make a meal of it.

Classic saganaki, kefalgraviera cheese pan-friend in ouzo (and mercifully delivered to the table without shrieks of “Opa!”), is irresistibly chewy, lemony, salty. Wood-grilled prawns, blackened and succulent, are served in their shells over a piquant slaw of white cabbage studded with kalamata olives. Sweet Nantucket Bay scallops are sauteed and served over a fava bean puree with a garnish of red onions and capers. Dolmades are stuffed with lemon rice and pine nuts and served with a cucumber-yogurt dip.

Do not fail to order fish here. That was my mistake my first visit. Although lamb dishes are perfectly competent, it’s the simple wood-grilled fish that require your attention. We ordered, as part of the special meze meal, a single Dover sole, boned tableside and lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon and capers. I am close to drooling recalling it. Get a side of the wild greens sauteed with olive oil and lemon, and the giant white Kastorian beans stewed with tomatoes, onions and dill.

Under no circumstances should you miss the yogurt dessert. Wayne’s choice, créme caramel with preserved figs and ice cream, was good but, honestly, the yogurt is straight from the banquet table of Olympus.

Can you leave such a meal guilt-free in times like these? As it happens, the Buckhead Life Group does contribute heavily to organizations like Atlanta’s Table, the Atlanta Food Bank and Project Open Hand. Is it asking too much that Atlanta’s prosperous restaurants and patrons do more to help relieve the hunger in the world? It’s not just an ethical or moral benefit that is derived from such charity. “When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it,” Fisher wrote. So, to relieve the suffering of the hungry really is an act of love.

Here are some resources:

Action Against Hunger, www.actionagainsthunger.org

United Nations World Food Program, www.wfp.org

CARE, www.careusa.org

Direct Relief International, www.directrelief.org

American Red Cross, www.redcross.org

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

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