Nearly glamorous

Buddha goes beyond Chinese into east Asian fare

Among the casualties of construction on 14th Street was a hole-in-the-wall called Chinese Buddha. Windowless and open 24 hours, it was a favorite of Georgia Tech students. Google the restaurant's name and you'll find dozens of nostalgic ruminations of late-night dining and deep conversations fueled by hours of earlier drinking in a club.

The restaurant has reopened a block away as simply Buddha (100 10th St., 404-874-5158). It's an enormous change – going from almost seedy to nearly glamorous. The restaurant uses a lot of red – nothing new in a Chinese restaurant – but this is a red so intense that Wayne was prompted to deliver a 10-minute discourse on gender and color perception. The eeriest use of the color is in a window that offers a view of the kitchen. The effect is almost cinematic and dreamlike.

There's a free-form wall of bamboo, a huge golden Buddha and the usual black lacquer seating. Most of the restaurant's lines are curved. The clientele the evening of our visit was far more multiethnic than you see in the usual intown restaurant – and that's a good thing. I heard Hindi, Spanish and a language I didn't recognize at all. It's nice to feel like you live in a real city now and then.

There are several draws here. While the restaurant is not yet open 24 hours, it is open very late, so it is one of very few Midtown choices for sating an attack of the munchies. There's also a gigantic menu of vegetarian dishes, most of them featuring faux meat. And, best of all to my taste, there are also Thai and Malaysian dishes on the otherwise standard Chinese menu. I'm assuming "Chinese" was dropped from the restaurant's name since press materials now describe it as "east Asian."

Wayne and I both, in fact, ordered Malaysian entrees and were quite surprised by their quality. I picked soft-shell crab – a very generous serving of sweet, crispy, salty, juicy crabs pan-fried and halved. There wasn't much difference between their preparation and the usual you find around town – no unusual sauce or seasoning. The crabs were served over some sauteed onions and bell peppers – and some leaves of iceberg lettuce. I do have to complain about the ubiquitous lettuce. It seems to appear in everything and, even in cold dishes, the lettuce was limp and flavorless.

Wayne's entree was "Malay western baked squid." The server assured him that it referred to western Malaysia, not a Westernized version of a more exotic dish. The squid was tender with a slightly crispy coating. This dish also included lettuce but also a powdery, melt-in-the-mouth condiment that turned out to be egg.

For a starter, I chose the only vegetarian dish I sampled – a plate of six fried dumplings. Fiery hot and crispy, their filling mystified me. I was sure I was eating some kind of tofu, but the server assured me the mysterious ingredient was a type of pea.

Wayne started with a classic Malaysian dish – keropok, fried crackers flavored with pork and fish, also delicious.

Buddha's menu is enormous, but the Malaysian dishes don't number more than 10, so I'm not providing a full accounting of the restaurant here. If you want to sample some decent Malaysian cooking at 3 in the morning without driving to Buford Highway, this is the place.

Deli food

In the last few weeks I've reviewed barbecue and Cajun restaurants – and mentioned that no other cuisines seem to provoke so much difference of opinion. Well, I forgot delicatessen food. As long as I can remember, I've heard complaints from displaced New Yorkers that they can't get good deli food in our city.

Muss & Turner's in Smyrna seems to have brought an end to many of the complainers' suffering, but I've even heard a few complain that the place "goes too far" in its gourmet aspirations. Whatever!

I still love Bagel Palace (2869 N. Druid Hills Road, 404-315-9016) in Toco Hills Shopping Center. I visited last week with my friend Gregg, who had recently discovered it.

In all honesty, the place needs a face-lift. It's more than a bit dowdy these days, but my focus was quickly distracted by the food. A bowl of borscht could have used a bit more body, but a huge shot of sour cream solved that problem. My sandwich, a corned beef Reuben, hit the spot. Usually I order the chopped liver here, and Gregg pointed my attention to a sandwich featuring that atop corned beef. I couldn't face it. Somebody else try it and let me know.

Gregg also ordered corned beef, but with slaw and some macaroni salad.

My only complaint: a potato salad with an unconscionable amount of sugar in it. I bought six cinnamon-raisin bagels on my way out. They remain the best in the city.

Here and there

Relish, a new Southern restaurant, has opened in Roswell and celebrated its grand opening last Wednesday. Ignacio Barquera's menu includes some oddities such as pimento cheese fritters and "Krispy Kreme bread pudding." But most of the menu is classics such as shrimp and grits, roasted chicken and fried catfish. ...

Zocalo has added a few burritos to its menu and will debut a new taco menu ... sometime. I was first informed of the menu change months ago, but nobody seems to know when it will actually occur.

Please check out our food blog, OmnivoreATL.com, for lots of dining and food news, gossip and previews. We welcome readers' participation.

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