Shaun's hip shack

Doty's eponymous opening in Inman Park

LODGE CHIC: Dining under antlers at Shaun's in Inman Park

"Holy crap!" the man at the table next to me yelled (and I do mean "yelled"). He was holding one of the bottles of wine he and his two companions had brought to the table with them. It was a Barolo. "It's $125 a bottle!"

After a moment of whining, he got up from the table and returned from the bar with another bottle of the stuff, at least that's the way it appeared to us.

It was opening night at Shaun's (1029 Edgewood Ave., 404-577-4358) and the beautiful people had turned out en masse. Not being among the beautiful people and knowing that a restaurant needs a few weeks to hit its stride, I usually don't go to opening nights. But Shaun Doty is one of the city's most celebrated chefs and his restaurant, located in the building most famous for being the home of Deacon Burton's, is not far from where I live. So I decided to attend my first opening night in many years.

The interior of the restaurant, which was most recently occupied by the Patio, has been handsomely redone by the Johnson Studio. The official promo says the look is "lodge chic." I'm not sure what that means, but the restaurant's brick walls have been painted white and very cozy lighting has been installed. The kitchen is open and a communal table sits before it.

You enter the restaurant through the bar area, which also includes dining space. The Johnson Studio did not alter the interior architecture much at all, as far as I could see. There is still the cavernous room in the rear that feels very detached from the energetic ambiance of the main dining room, which is actually rather small. There is a patio behind the rear room.

Doty has changed restaurants frequently in the last few years. Once a protégé of Guenter Seeger, he was chef and owner of Mumbo Jumbo for a while. Then he opened Midcity Cuisine, which he sold. Then he became chef at Table 1280 and now he has opened Shaun's. All of these restaurants have initially attracted socialites and Atlanta gentry. Think Restaurant Eugene's crowd, dressed more hip. I don't mean that you have to be an Armani-clad designer to dine at Shaun's, which is the most informal of his restaurants so far. And, honestly, the prices, despite the Barolo, are midrange.

The place was almost unbearably noisy, especially when someone using a cell phone stood over our table and yelled that she couldn't hear because of all the noise. On opening night, there were the usual service glitches, with only one person working the front desk, when two were needed. It took three tries before our otherwise excellent server got us an accurate check. This is small, predictable stuff for an opening.

The food follows Doty's usual formula of straightforward cuisine that highlights ingredients rather than strange forms or rococo recipes. Well, I should attach a stipulation about strange forms. In our only serious complaint of the evening, Wayne's appetizer, butternut squash ravioli, was topped with a pine-nut foam.

In 14 years of dining with Wayne, I have never seen him vociferously complain about anything in a restaurant. But he was horrified by the foam topping the pasta. "It looks like spit," he said. I had to agree.

Then he surprised me further by complaining to the waiter and, later, the apparent manager. I laughed very hard when both responded to his complaint with, "OK, it looks like spit to you, but how did it taste?"

"Oh, the spit tasted real good," he said.

The taste, in fact, was good, as was most everything else we sampled. My starter was focaccia pizza featuring pancetta, sea salt, oregano and fresh asiago cheese. It was chewy comfort, but next time I'm going for the crispy Sardinian flatbread with arugula and jack cheese that I remember from Mumbo Jumbo.

Wayne's entree was white shrimp and grits with poached eggs and Berkshire pork — an interesting play on a local cliché but oddly served in the bottom third or so of an enormous glass bowl. My own entree was the menu's least expensive ($14) — chicken livers over fettucine with a marsala sauce. I'm a sucker for anything with chicken livers and there were so many in the dish, I couldn't eat more than half the pasta. One problem: too much salt. But a heavy hand with salt seems to be typical everywhere these days.

For dessert, we split a tart whose gingerbread crust was topped by mascarpone, into which were nestled four dates stuffed with an almond puree. That's three creamy textures and one fairly crisp one. It's very rich and I can't imagine eating an entire serving alone.

The restaurant, I'm sure, will quickly iron out its service problems and the occasional glitches in preparation. We are very happy to have a chef of Doty's quality moving to this side of town.

Popeyes Speaks

Recently, I mentioned that I had never heard from anyone at the corporate level about my many critical Popeyes stories. But I received this recently from Alicia Thompson, vice president of public relations with the company:

"I wanted to reach out to you regarding your column entries about the Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits location on Boulevard and your recent 'Popeyes Award of the Week' designation [given to Fat Matt's for indifferent service]."

"It is extremely disheartening to read negative comments about our restaurant in your column. And to have Popeyes become your measure of a poor customer experience is terribly disappointing. We take our customers' concerns very seriously and we encourage our guests to let us know when we have failed to deliver the consumer experience they expect. Please know that we are working diligently to address the service issues that you have outlined ....

"I simply ask that you give us a fair shake in future columns. We are the first to admit when we have missed the mark, but we have also committed to improving operations and delivering on a quality guest experience. I hope that future improvements of the service levels at the Boulevard location will also be noted in your column."

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