New shades of blue

Agave updates its menu, plus the Original Jamaican Pattie Stop II

Who would have thought Grant Park would end up with Atlanta's best Southwestern restaurant? Sundown recently ended its full service to become a taqueria. Nava long ago became stale and too much of an ordeal. I like Noche, but it's all munchy tapas-style. And I've always found Georgia Grille unpredictable.

But, as I've written before, Agave (242 Boulevard, 404-588-0006) has gotten better and better with each of my visits during the last few years. Owner Jack Sobel, who lived in New Mexico where cutting-edge Southwestern cuisine was developed, has not only worked hard to present an interesting menu. He has also created one of the most pleasant dining rooms in the city. It's Southwestern-themed - echoes of the kiva wall, a few artifacts - but there's no heavy-handed thematicizing.

The 5-year-old restaurant has become a city-wide destination. Doubling the interior dining space and adding a new patio have helped handle the crowds, but I suggest you get a reservation, especially if you visit on a weekend.

The latest good news out of Agave is that Sobel has reunited with Gregg Herndon, chef-owner of the defunct Tiburon Grille. Early in that restaurant's life, Herndon and Sobel were partners there. I liked Herndon's cooking at Tiburon and was sorry to see the restaurant close. Now he and Sobel have revamped the Agave menu. While many of the old menu's favorites remain, they have created some new dishes worth your immediate attention.

I feel I should note that Sobel, who sent us several dishes in addition to those we ordered, recognized me. After 20 years of writing this column, it's not possible for me to always dine without notice. If anything is predictable, however, it is that in this circumstance, someone will observe me and write a diatribe on an Internet cuisine board or call my voicemail for two years, as one server did, to accuse me of demanding free food for good reviews. Look. If I want to sell my critical opinion, it's going to be for sex or cold cash. I get tired of eating!

So, we ended up sampling most of the new dishes, all of which I liked. The starters in particular add a good bit of complexity to Agave's cuisine. The most tempting (and expensive at $13.50), though, bore the least flavor. It was a lobster and crab timbale served over a tomatillo gazpacho. Wayne accused me of expecting too much flavor of the lobster - maybe he's right - but I found it overwhelmed by the gazpacho (which was delicious all on its own).

Tuna tartare, on the other hand, was just about amazing. Herndon chops sashimi-grade tuna with basil and spikes it with serrano-spiked soy, then serves it over seaweed and cucumber salad. A creamy dressing flavored with wasabi, poblanos and honey is drizzled over the dish. But my favorite starter was the shellfish and chile cakes. The fried cakes are made with Hatch green chiles, Maryland crab, shrimp and crawfish, served over a sauce of red chiles and fire-roasted tomatillos. Mixed field greens, corn relish and a poblano tartar sauce were also on the plate. I know. It sounds rococo but it works well.

If you're not up for one of these rather pricey starters, there's also a new salad of organic field greens, marinated zucchini, squash, artichokes and tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette. It's unusual for me to say so, but I thought the salad needed a bit of citrus.

There are only three new entrees - all of them great. Agave serves my new favorite meatloaf in town. It's made with ground veal, chorizo and green Hatch chiles, with a light mushroom demi glace. You also get Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and juicy collards. There's also pan-seared halibut - a huge filet - served over yellow corn broth and sauteed baby spinach. Killer contrasts. Finally, a Niman Ranch pork chop is grilled and glazed in a lip-licking ancho chile barbecue sauce. It's served with mashed potatoes and collards, too.

There's also at least one new dessert, but sampling it would have required enactment of Mr. Creosote's explosion following the consumption of a "wafer-thin mint" in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

Jamaican on Edgewood
My frequent trips to Rolling Bones on Edgewood Avenue always cause me to wonder about the Jamaican restaurant directly across the street. The name is actually hard to discern but the young woman working the counter promised me it's the Original Jamaican Pattie Stop II (378 Edgewood Ave., 404-523-1331). There's a sister restaurant on Trinity Avenue, apparently.

The restaurant, which is part grocery, only has a couple of tables and a short bar, so you're better off carrying your food home. Despite the name, I have to caution you not to order the patties. They were cardboardy and tepid, obviously cooked long ago.

But entrees prepared to order were great. Unless you have a high tolerance for spicy food, you probably want to order the jerk chicken mild, rather than hot. Either way, it's tasty, served with rice and peas, along with a cabbage dish.

Fried whitefish, though not particularly Jamaican, was hot and crispy, served with decent fries.

There's a full Jamaican menu here. The counter people are super-nice. My only severe warning: Avoid the bottled Roots beverage. A brew of everything from dandelions to cherry bark, its nastiness quotient comes close to surpassing the Vietnamese herb Wayne and I call "death in my mouth."

Here and there
Zocalo is opening a third restaurant on Boulevard in Grant Park. Reader "Michael of Reynoldstown" worries that we are getting saturated with Latino spots. (Babulu is opening down the road.) As far as I'm concerned, we can't have enough. ...

In what Buckhead restaurant did a rat fall from the ceiling into the hair of an elderly woman, who concluded it was a bat, although everyone else saw the rodent scamper across the floor? I'll never tell. ...

Bernadette Johnson wants to find an "authentic New York bakery with butter cookies, babas, eclairs, real buttercream cakes, cheesecake, canolis - very Italian and very carb-laden!" Any suggestions?

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

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