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Still waiting for the blossom

A revisit to Midtown's Cherry, plus Showtime Cafe on Memorial

Welcome to Atlanta. An ultra-cool spot like Caffe Midtown - good food, good looks - goes belly up while the arbiters of precious style continue to prosper. So, hello to the woman sitting at the bar at Cherry (1051 W. Peachtree St., 404-872-2020). I love your oversized bleached teeth. Can you wipe the streak of lipstick off them or, better yet, can you close your mouth altogether and stop yammering about your shoes?

In the three years since I last ate at Cherry, it seems that nothing significant - not even the conversation at the bar - has changed. I am, to say the least, chagrined by this, because I had received notification that the restaurant had changed hands and that one of the new owners, Timothy Dumansky, who is executive chef for the Atlanta Braves, had developed a new menu with chef Khoi Phan.

"I think they jumped the gun on announcing that," our server told us. "That menu won't be available for another week or so." But he assured me the current menu was fairly new itself.

Cherry's culinary history has been a continual slide toward more mainstream cuisine. When it first opened its erotic, cleverly decorated space - replete with psychedelic projected images - the menu featured dishes of such rococo fusion a friend called them "science experiments." The heavy Asian influence has been scaled back, although there's still a decent sushi bar with an all-you-can-eat deal ($25), 7-9 p.m., on Mondays and Wednesdays. Nigiri is available for $1, 5:30-8 p.m. daily. For the present, I'm tempted to say your best choice really is to hang out at the bar here and nosh on sushi.

I hope the new menu improves the food. My meal here last week, with the exception of one dish, was mediocre. The standout was Wayne's entree of black grouper over risotto with tomatoes and asparagus, sauced with carrot and ginger flavors. Yeah, I know. Your fingers have not flown to the phone to make a reservation. But it's the best I can recommend.

My own entree was absolutely the strangest thing I have seen since I dreamed I ate Cheetos off a stranger's body after seeing someone whose back was tattooed with a bag of the things. My churrasco was so oddly presented that I think our waiter felt embarrassed putting it on the table. "This has a lot to do with ... showiness," he said.

Picture a kind of soaring mountain face made out of cracker dough. Then rest two skewers - one of shrimp, the other of steak - against the mountain. In the mountain valley, scatter black beans and rice with an avocado-tomato salsa. Then, throw some fried plantains around the plate. Be sure they have the texture of boulders. Taken apart, some of this dish actually tasted good, but the image - culinary rappelling - was ludicrous. Oh well. At least it didn't erupt like a volcano spewing - what? - sour cream on the plate.

Starters were also flat. Bruschetta, piled with chopped tomatoes, red onions, cilantro and some nondescript dry cheese, featured chunks of grilled Maine lobster that had all the flavor of extra-springy tofu. A "must have" bowl of lump crab and artichoke dip was better, though the crab had no more flavor than the lobster.

Dessert? Gingerbread cake with the texture of three-day-old carrot cake and extra-thick icing complimented by watery whipped cream.

On Memorial Drive
Meanwhile, on Memorial Drive, where Grant Park meets Cabbagetown, Showtime Cafe (687 Memorial Drive., 404-475-1200) has opened in the middle of a parking lot big enough to service a Wal-Mart. The cafeteria's sign says it specializes in Spanish-American cuisine, an exciting prospect to those of us living in the gentrified shadow of the Fulton Cotton Mill.

The interior of the cafe is spotlessly clean and brand new. There are flat-screen televisions, now de rigueur wherever forks are inserted into the mouth. Weirdly, one of the screens is affixed next to a large aquarium built into the wall. What will it be? A shrieking liar on Fox or the lazy journey of a blue tropical fish? That's my way of saying: Change the channel to CNN, please.

The food? Well, it's a kind of strange but charming mix of Southern soul food and Cuban dishes. (Although the menu specifically mentions Spanish food, I haven't run into any yet.) Entrees change daily and usually one Cuban dish - arroz con pollo, masitas de puerco, ropa vieja - is offered. So far, though, I've not managed to show up when one has made it to the steam trays.

One of the employees did mention that the Cuban influence is more in the "way we cook" than the actual dishes. Thus, meatloaf does indeed seem lightly seasoned Cuban-style and is topped with green olives, just as I've had it prepared by Cubans in the past. Cuban side dishes, like moros (black beans and rice cooked together) and yucca, are bland. Perhaps the owners are scaling back seasonings in fear they will not appeal to their mainly American clientele. The yucca, served without mojo, is so dry it could strangle you.

On the other hand, the baked chicken is as good as you'll find in any soul food cafe in town. Ditto for the oxtails. Mac-and-cheese is state-of-the-art, too. You can also order sandwiches, soups and salads prepared off the cafeteria line. And breakfast is totally Southern. Get the cheese grits and the salmon patties with your eggs.

Showtime's hours are strange, to say the least. It opens daily at 6 a.m. but closes at 6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday - too early for dinner and too late for lunch. However, it's open until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Here and there
Sundown Cafe is eliminating its dinner menu and converting entirely to taqueria service as of March 1, like its two Taqueria del Sol cafes ... Olive Bistro, my fave for Middle Eastern fare, has closed its Buckhead location across from Piedmont Hospital. It's been replaced by a Jamaican spot, which is producing good reports.

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



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