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Crescent city jam

Redfish captures the soul of New Orleans cuisine

One of the most common complaints I hear is about the absence of good New Orleans-style food in Atlanta. We do have the fabulously expensive but quite underwhelming Emeril's. But I actually prefer the food at Pappadeaux, a moderately priced chain. Every now and then, a tiny café opens that produces even better Creole and Cajun food. But it never seems to last long.

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Of course, the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina produced a huge amount of speculation about what will become of that city's culinary tradition. Many New Orleans chefs are now fanned out across the country. On one hand, you read that New Orleans cuisine will stagnate in New Orleans itself. On the other hand, some say, it may be subjected to too many outside influences as the city's former chefs hybridize it with other regional cuisines. It's a legitimate worry. Our own Southern cuisine has all but disappeared into schlock. Were it not for the soul food revival of 20 years ago, Southern cuisine might be even harder to find.

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The latest to attempt a New Orleans-style menu is Redfish (687 Memorial Drive, 404-475-1200). Redfish was opened by Jack Sobel, who operates the nearby Agave, our city's best venue for Southwestern cuisine. Sobel is joined by Gregg Herndon, who used to run Tiburon Grille in Morningside. Fans of Tiburon, which closed a few years ago, will be glad to hear that the Redfish menu includes Herndon's skillet-fried chicken, one of the city's best.

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I visited Redfish on its opening day and was surprised to have an extremely good meal. Redfish is in the space previously occupied by the strange Showtime, a cafeteria serving soul food with a Cuban accent. The building hasn't changed a lot; even Showtime's aquarium was left intact. The deck has been enclosed and a bar added.

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Decorative flourishes were incomplete when I visited. A stone wall that's supposed to feature cascading water wasn't working that day. Sobel said some painting remained, along with the installation of some art. I must say my lone complaint about the new restaurant is the interior color: a muddy yellow.

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There was nothing muddy about the food's flavors, however. We mainly stuck with classic New Orleans dishes and couldn't have been happier. One warning: Portions are big. For example, an appetizer platter of fried oysters contained 10 oysters — plenty for an entrée. The oysters were fat and sizzling hot, with a thin coating of flour. A rich remoulade was on the side.

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The gumbo is a work of art. Herndon combines shrimp, crab, andouille sausage and okra in his version. It's served in a big bowl with a mound of fluffy rice, and the broth is amazingly flavorful.

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I ordered the entree etouffee, which is similarly complex. Since the etouffee also includes shrimp and crab, I suspect it's built with the same base as the gumbo, but it features an unusually spicy roux.

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Wayne ordered another classic: Creole grilled shrimp and grits. I was worried because the grits were infused with cheddar cheese, but the dish works. A heavy dose of balsamic-sauteed onions and andouille sausage renders the cheese almost subtle.

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For dessert, I ordered rum and currant bread pudding, which was flawless. Wayne ordered pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. Call us tacky, but we thought the pie needed more Karo syrup.

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The menu includes many other tempting dishes: jambalaya, shrimp po'boy, redfish with a saute of crawfish, pepper-marinated catfish, barbecued shrimp and more. Few cuisines besides barbecue provoke more arguments than New Orleans cuisine, so I'm sure people will have a wide variety of opinions on Redfish's food. Personally, I've eaten so much awful New Orleans food over the years that I generally don't like it much, but Sobel and Herndon may change my mind. Oh, and thank you for not putting a single blackened dish on the menu!

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Handicapped access at the restaurant is mainly good. You won't have any trouble getting in or negotiating the dining room. A table in the men's handicapped stall, however, would make negotiating the space with a wheelchair or walker almost impossible.

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Like, feedback, OK?

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I enjoyed this rumination on burgers from P.G. Waugh: "I think the Earl has better burgers and better service, and Ann's Snack Bar has bigger burgers and you know, lots of people like that type of service. I've only been able to get one of her burgers once. ... I tried on the day of Coretta Scott King's funeral, and I waited forever and she didn't even acknowledge me. And it wasn't even full. So I was like, 'Fuck this, I'm going to the Earl.'"

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Waugh continues: "I remember I had an argument with former co-workers about who had better Angus burgers around the time that all of the fast-food restaurants started advertising them as like, something new, and I was like, 'The Earl in East Atlanta has the best.' ... I think the Fatburger in Atlanta is rad. Our family went to Los Angeles a few times in the '80s. As a child, I remember being real pissed that my hamburger had a shitload of mayonnaise on it because then I hated mayonnaise. And I still don't like cheese."



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