Here Comes The Sun

Eclipse de Sol opens with the talented Patti Roth as chef

God bless James Erlich. The owner of Eclipse di Luna managed to stay sane through his earlier partnership with Paul Luna, the temperamental chef and amateur stripper who gave Atlanta its first legitimate taste of tapas before disappearing to Las Vegas and points beyond. Erlich has maintained Eclipse di Luna as one of the city's best tapas destinations and has never himself exhibited an inclination to disrobe and wear a leaf of Serrano ham.

Thank you!

Now Erlich has opened Eclipse di Sol (640 N. Highland Ave., 404-724-0711) in a location last occupied by Muse Art Cafe (a reincarnation of the still earlier Rue de Paris). Many Atlantans will remember this as the original location of Cafe Diem, that scruffy hangout of French students, slam poets and other pomo bohos. Diem's decrepit ambiance has long since disappeared and the restaurant is now quite gentrified with gold colors, red candles, a long bar and expensive rustic furniture. The patio still remains my favorite spot and it has been significantly improved. Planters built into stone walls hold spring flowers, and two huge beehive-shaped lamps remind me of Barcelona's Park Guell, designed by Gaudi.

Here's the best news: The chef of this informal and mainly inexpensive café is Patti Roth, whose resume includes some of the best restaurants in town. She did a stint as sous chef at Bacchanalia and most recently was chef of Luxe (where I had one of my best meals last year). In a phone conversation after dining at Sol, I asked her if she wasn't a bit of a heavy talent for a restaurant that mainly stresses small plates and sandwiches.

"I guess you could say that," she said. "But you know, people just aren't willing to spend heavily on the kind of food I was doing at Luxe right now, so restaurants are doing what they have to. I am making all the breads and pastas here from scratch, so I'm not reducing quality."

The restaurant had not been open a month when we visited and our experience was mainly good. I had my first taste of this spring's fava beans, served with lemon and reggiano parmigianno. Wayne ordered a sampler of three starters, minted English pea soup, smoked salmon with cucumber, and fried green tomatoes. The latter, richly sauced, was our fave. The pea soup was our least favorite, having a rather bitter aftertaste.

The minted peas redeemed themselves, however, when served straight-up with a hunk of wild salmon as Wayne's entree. I ordered a hanger steak, sliced thin and served with a roasted shallot sauce, French fries and a malt vinegar aioli. You won't go wrong with either entree.

The restaurant has hired Christian Barbierrer away from Alon's as pastry chef. A Key lime tart with fat blackberries is a better choice than the strange pineapple upside down tart with almond slices and coconut. You'll be yearning for the messy home-style creation.

The cafe, oddly enough, is serving breakfast throughout the day but doesn't open until 11 a.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. weekends (closed Monday). But poached eggs with prosciutto, roasted sweet potatoes, sage hollandaise and brandied strawberries does sound a bit heavy for 8 a.m. on your way to the office.

Here and there Sucky news of the week: Teaspace in Little Five Points, my favorite boutique restaurant, closed May 25. The quirky little space specialized in dishes made with locally grown, often organic ingredients. In an announcement, the restaurant blamed "lease negotiations, parking requirements and the challenges of the restaurant industry." There goes the only serious restaurant in L5P. Maybe they'll put in a McDonald's, which seems to be the general level of taste in the area. You punks take the five pounds of metal out of your mouths and develop some taste. ...

Sushi and heart failure: Jack Massey writes this: "Please tell me what is going on at Soto! $75 prix-fixe sushi! What happened to my favorite chef Soto? Too much sake (or press)?" Yep, it's true. To dine at Soto, arguably one of the best sushi bars in America, you'll now pay $75. While that sounds pricey, I don't think I've ever spent less there, anyway. ...

Um, what?: The phenomenally popular Big Gay Supper Club (404-467-8268), has scheduled its next four-course, $35 dinner on Tues., June 14, at the Imperial Fez. The Moroccan restaurant's food is always good and I'm sure the boys and girls won't mind lounging on pillows and eating with their hands. But please, someone take pictures when the belly dancers, all female in my experience, do their booty and breast vibrations for the gay boys. ...

The award for biting his tongue: Goes to chef Riccardo Ullio. I dined at Fritti with my friend Jeff recently. Jeff complained that there were too many pizzas on the menu, with specially designed combinations of ingredients, to make a decision. Then he asked Ullio to add cherry tomatoes to a pizza that normally does not come with them. The somewhat temperamental Ullio, a purist, obliged him and actually maintained a smile throughout our conversation.

The Popeye's ChroniclesI continue to receive a shocking amount of mail from readers of this column who share my Popeye's addiction and commiserate with my weekly abuse by the picturesque employees at the Ponce and Boulevard location.

Thank you, Trey Gibbs, for your mom's recipe that mixes leftover Popeye's chicken with coleslaw. I don't see how you have leftover coleslaw, however, since they never more than halfway fill the tiny containers.

Nothing really horrible to report about this week's visit. They were out of biscuits. The clerk announced twice that she needed to use the bathroom. A nurse in scrubs came in to return her shrimp, but admitted she'd eaten two and the biscuit. Negotiations followed. In the parking lot, a skinny man with one eye (Popeye?) kept screaming, "Hey, big man!" at me and asked for a dollar. I offered him a chicken wing and he declined.

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

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