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Orange is the new black

A colorful first visit to P'cheen, plus ATL dining news

Let's hear it for orange, my father's company color. As a teenager, I wore oversized orange sweatshirts with his logo. In my 20s, I drove an orange station wagon he gave me. (Friends called it "the ambulance.") Now, it's déjà orange all over again. Everything is pumpkined out.

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That was my first response on entering P'cheen (701 Highland Ave., 404-529-8800). Its mottled orange walls startled me, even in the low light. But the new pub, whose name is Gaelic for "moonshine," deserves your patronage even if you share my discomfort with its color.

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The owners are Keiran Neely and Alex Friedman. The two young guys have created a cozy space across from the Roman Lily Cafe, in the apartment development that also includes Zuma Sushi. If you look close enough at those orange walls, you'll see drawings of Celtic mythological figures. The kitchen is a tiny extension of the bar, completely open to view. Lamps — orange, of course — glow overhead.

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Friedman was chef at Anis and Pastis. That's a better-than-average resume for a menu that is principally bar food. The cooking is mainly good, certainly for the low price, but I hope Friedman will continue developing more challenging specials. I did order one as my entree last week — a braised short rib in a beer demi-glace over English chips. Honestly, I found it way too fatty, but when I made that remark to a friend who happened to be at P'cheen, he chastised me. "They're always fatty," he said. Fine, whatever. If that's the case, the plate needs something like a horseradish sauce to cut the greasy effect.

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My complaints end there. An appetizer of cornmeal-crusted calamari with chipotle marinara was killer. I also liked the crimini mushroom caps, fried in a coating of Parmesan and herbs, served with a complex three-pepper sauce. The mushrooms are juicy and go well with the al-dente calamari.

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P'cheen offers a daily special of two curries with rice that is worth noticing. Wayne's featured a lamb curry, plus one made with shrimp, along with crimini mushroom rice. It was served thali-style in small metal bowls on a tray. Drawing special raves at the new pub is a grilled Angus hamburger with roasted portobellos, harissa aioli and Wisconsin cheddar. It may be the best "fancy burger" in town now.

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Desserts include a flourless chocolate cake (we passed) and a delicious apple turnover served with a bit too little ice cream.

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Give it a try soon.

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Here, there and feedback

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Speaking of the Roman Lily Cafe, I ran into owner Calavino Donati recently and she told me that a huge increase in rent may cause her to close or relocate her popular restaurant. ...

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Cindy Garrett wrote to complain about some of my language in a recent review of Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro. Although she said she had no problem with my negative review of the restaurant, "referring to New Orleans as 'that wasted city' more than angered and offended me. New Orleans may be down but it's not out. The spirit, soul, food and music will live on in the hearts and minds of the incredible people who will always call it home."

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She continued, "I would also like to say that referring to the portions as 'large enough to please New Orleans refugees who haven't eaten for three days' was insensitive and frankly pissed me off. I am a refugee and have eaten quite well during and after the storm, even preparing gumbo and jambalaya for friends and new neighbors in Alpharetta. As Wayne from your article said, 'A little warmth, just a little, would have been nice,' when referring to New Orleans and it's refugees."

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OK, I don't really understand Cindy's complaints but maybe that's just proof of my insensitivity. I certainly don't think NOLA is permanently wasted. ...

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Meanwhile, Cory Sontag wrote this: "First let me say what a huge relief it was today while reading through Creative Loafing to come across your article. I, personally, along with my family know exactly what type of experience you had at Copeland's." He also copied me on an e-mail to the restaurant's management that describes almost comically nightmarish service. To the restaurant's credit, they comped his family's meal — but the server appeared at the table to announce that Cory had caused her to lose her job. Oy. They don't even know how to fire someone right. ...

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Dining blogs are popping up everywhere. I heard from Steakhead, author of the Atanta Eats blog, last week to commiserate over recent dining experiences. Check out his entertaining posts at atlantaeats.blogspot.com. He recently posted his best of 2005 picks, several of which are just wrong, but what do you expect from someone who won't eat tofu and thinks Bon Jovi is cool? ...

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CLOSINGS: Rice Sticks in Sandy Springs, and Pop, next to Watershed in Decatur. Fishmonger has become the latest casualty on Piedmont near 10th Street. It's a mystery why nobody can seem to do well in that location. ...

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Spoon, a new Thai spot on Marietta Street, is producing good reports. In fact, Tom Maicon of AtlantaCuisine.com made it one of his recent picks of the week. Tom also recently posted his 2005 wrap-up of dining, in which he expresses consolation to me since the tapas trend refuses to die in our city. ...

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I received this e-mail from Kim Parker: "If you have dinner in a restaurant in Atlanta, order a bottle of wine with your dinner and have some left at the end of the meal, can you take the remainder home with you? ... My neighbor was at a local restaurant a few nights ago and asked for the remainder of her wine. The restaurant refused, saying that it was illegal. Eventually she was able to beat them down and take the wine with her but not before promising that she would never tell anyone."

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I called Grant Becker at Eno and he assures me that Georgia law does not permit a restaurant to let customers take their wine leftovers home. Some states, like California, do permit it, but it's illegal in Georgia as far as Becker knows.



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