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Strike two

Disappointing dinners at Goodstone Cafe and Oakhurst Grill

"Darn, I wish the chef was here," the server at Goodstone Cafe (1270 W. Peachtree St., 404-477-2233) in Arts Center Tower told us soon after we sat down.

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"So do we. So do we," I mumbled back. She had recognized us from our visits to Grant Central, a restaurant in our neighborhood where she used to work.

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Of course, it's not unusual to eat in a restaurant on an evening the chef has taken off. But if a staff member makes such a comment, you can probably worry with good reason.

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The cafe, which Mark Betts opened about a month ago, is named after the Goodstone Inn that he operates in Middleburg, Va. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week but, according to our server, does most of its business weekdays. Indeed, it was nearly deserted the Saturday night we visited. So, really, it's not surprising that chef Randolph Shirk had taken the evening off.

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"Oh, the kitchen does fine," our server elaborated. "It's just that there are no specials or appetizers when he's not here."

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"Well," I asked, "what about the other chef? I read somewhere that you have another chef who used to work at Antica Posta."

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"Oh," she replied. "Well, he was here a week and left."

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I looked at Wayne and wondered if we should leave. "We're staying," he growled.

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There were indeed no appetizers on the menu, so we decided to split a bowl of linguine with marinara and Italian sausage as our starter. It turned out to be by far the best thing we sampled. But the kitchen had obviously prepared our two portions separately. Mine was served tepid and the noodles were undercooked and under-sauced. But Wayne's was just right.

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Our entree choices, however, were dismal. The server boasted about the inexpensive price ($10.95) and good taste of the 10-ounce rib eye steak, so I bit. Oy. The fatty, gray piece of low-grade meat had been coated with a "secret house seasoning" whose formula should be immediately destroyed. Some steamed squash was on the side, but the plate's best item was a barely heated baked potato.

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Wayne ordered grilled salmon in the most obnoxious sauce I have tasted in many a moon. The menu described the sweet, fluorescent stuff as "rosemary teriyaki orange glaze." Wayne, being terminally nice, could not bring himself to openly reject the dish, instead claiming he was full and wanted to take the fish home.

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A sampler of three desserts? Sigh. Pecan pie arrived in a virtual puddle and slices of two different cakes were dry and tasteless. One's icing hid a mysterious dollop of livid green goop while the other yielded a stale chocolate-peanut cluster.

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Maybe breakfast and lunch are better. The place has a pub-like, woody decor and would be cozy were it not for the disappointing plates emerging from the open kitchen.

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Too darn hot

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You'd think it would be hard to come close to duplicating such an experience within a few days, but that's just what happened when we dined a few days later at Oakhurst Grill (350 Mead Road, 404-270-9575). The restaurant is the latest occupant of a space that has changed tenants numerous times during recent years.

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The dining room is a pleasantly funky, sprawling space with red and gold walls and an inviting wooden bar. The staff is friendly but evokes almost as much confusion as Goodstone's. The owner introduced himself to us and explained that he also owned the last restaurant here and that this was a Creole-inspired reinvention. However, he said, the Creole chef had left the restaurant.

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"But we liked his menu," he said. "So we've kept it." Uh oh.

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I started with two spring rolls filled with chicken and tasso (the smoked ham popular in New Orleans). They were served over watermelon and jicama slaw drenched with hoisin barbecue sauce: sloppy bar food. Wayne chose a "Napoleon" of green tomatoes layered with goat cheese and red-pepper jam. The dish had all the right flavors but was poorly put together.

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At about this time in our meal, I heard the guy who was sitting behind us explain to the server that he could not eat what he'd ordered. He declined ordering something else and left. Meanwhile, Wayne and I argued over who was going to get to order the jambalaya. I won and he ordered the crab cakes.

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It's been many years since I returned a dish to the kitchen, but the jambalaya was inedible. The "spicy" red sauce was so fiery that my mouth burned for an hour after only a few bites. Even had the sauce been milder, the dish was far too wet, more resembling soup than jambalaya.

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Wayne's crab cakes, topped with a Chardonnay-shrimp sauce, were fritter-crispy but gooey on the inside — barely acceptable. While he was eating them and I waited for the hamburger I'd ordered as a replacement, the owner came by the table and said he'd sampled the jambalaya in the kitchen and found it far too hot himself.

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Moments later, I heard the couple now seated behind us arguing. I craned my head and noticed that the woman had ordered the jambalaya. I was surprised that, after sampling the stuff himself, the owner was still selling it. I asked the couple if they didn't find it too hot. The woman agreed and said she'd ordered a glass of milk to neutralize it instead of sending it back.

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My hamburger, on a brioche bun, turned out to be excellent, although the french fries were greasy and limp. Desserts turned out to be the best part of our meal. A bowl of beignets — hot, crispy and sweet — were as good as any I've ever had in New Orleans. Bread pudding in a praline-bourbon sauce was equally authentic.

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New in Midtown

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Table 1280 Restaurant and Tapas Lounge will open at the Woodruff Arts Center on Sept. 13. It will begin accepting reservations at 404-897-1280 on Sept. 1. The new restaurant, whose chef is Shaun Doty of MidCity Cuisine and Mumbo Jumbo fame, will be open daily except Monday for lunch and dinner.

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



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