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Lola Bellini Bar: 3 Million dollar baby

Ups and downs at Tom Catherall's latest venture

Here's a report from the March 24, 2006, edition of the Atlanta Business Chronicle about Tom Catherall's planned restaurant, Lola:

"Catherall said Lola will be very feminine, like the name. 'We want to attract the ladies,' because where women go, men follow, he said."

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets – even if it's $3 million. That's the amount Catherall told the Chronicle he was spending to develop Lola Bellini Bar and Restaurant (3280 Peachtree Road, 404-892-9292).

Sure enough, when we entered the restaurant at the Terminus tower at the corner of Piedmont and Peachtree roads on a Sunday, the bar was crowded with Buckhead thirtysomethings swilling bellinis – the Italian cocktail of sparkling wine and peach puree. I believe this was a group from Christ the King Cathedral. Hey, I've got no problem with young Christians knocking back fancy cocktails on the Lord's day of rest.

A good portion of Catherall's $3 million went to the Johnson Studio, as it has for the design of other restaurants he owns, such as Twist, Shout, Prime and Noche. I'm not exactly catching the female vibe here. In fact, the use of a lot of slats of dark wood feels kind of male-clubby to me. Maybe all the curvy forms, like that of the antipasto bar, are supposed to suggest bosomy refuge. There are zillions of candles, too. Chicks like candles, right? Do they also like the overwhelming smell of dead fish that greeted us when we first sat down? It pretty quickly wafted away, but phe­–ew.

The menu here is confusing, to say the least. The restaurant is supposed to be Italian, but there's no effort to present creative food of the type you'd find at, say, Sotto Sotto or Antica Posta. I'll resist calling it Chef Boyarbellini, but, honestly, the menu by chef Martin Burge is largely a litany of clichés.

We mainly grazed on antipasti, principally vegetables, a couple of seafood choices and one meat choice. We skipped the usual cured meats and cheeses.

Our favorite was the day's rotisserie item, succulent duck. Next best was the caponata, the traditional blend of eggplant, tomatoes and olives. Caramelized fennel, though barely caramelized, was OK. From there it was a slide downhill. The day's frittata was just flat-out repulsive – served cold with no taste of its mozzarella and sopressata evident. Cauliflower Milanese tasted like unseasoned steamed cauliflower.

Grilled octopus made me want to leap from the table and run down the road to Kyma for the real thing. Here, overpriced at $9, it is chewy, tough pieces served with an overwhelming portion of chickpeas.

I was excited to see marinated sardines on the menu. (They're also available fried with pecorino and mint.) These are my staple dish when we visit the Cinque Terre in Italy. Oy. Oy. Oy. These had been fried, were ice cold and just plain gruesome. That will be another $9, please. Ka-ching.

We skipped pizzas, which friends tell me they've enjoyed, and sampled two dishes from the dinner menu. First was a half order of ravioli with ricotta and cremini mushrooms. It was, after the rotisserie duck and caponata, the best thing we sampled. However, it was also confusing. The menu said the ravioli were served in brodetto, which, in my experience, is a fish soup. Maybe my palate was on vacation that night, but I sure didn't pick up the flavor of fish.

Wayne ordered an entree dish, the chicken Milanese – an organic breaded and fried chicken breast topped with a salad of arugula, fennel and tomatoes. There's nothing really bad to say about the dish. Sometimes yawning is welcome.

We moved next to the dessert course. I was in kind of a food coma, spaced out, watching the perfectly formed couple next to us make an entire meal out of salad when I was startled by a shadow crossing the table and rumbling. It was a dessert cart, something I have rarely seen since I was a kid who always ordered tableside productions like baked Alaska and cherries jubilee.

We chose tiramisu and a sweet almond cake with dried fruit. The latter was quite tasty. The tiramisu, however, was just bizarre. It tasted like your mama's chocolate pudding with whipped cream, served in a bowl full of crumbled almond cookies. I ate every bit, but calling the stuff tiramisu is a stretch.

What else positive do I have to say? We loved our server, Leo. True, he seemed stressed out, but he was articulate and knew the menu. Although he looked like a teenager, I noticed he was wearing a wedding band. "You look really young to be married," I said.

He explained that it was a friendship ring, which represented his faithfulness to his girlfriend. We cooed, "awwww," and he asked us if we'd like to meet her. Sure, why not? So he brought Naomi, who also works at the restaurant, over to meet us and they debated whose idea it was to get the friendship rings. They are both students at Georgia State. (You can see their picture on our blog, OmnivoreATL.com.) Ask for them when you go to eat at Lola.

You are going to dine there, aren't you?

Good news for Midtowners

State-of-the-art fried chicken, overcooked vegetables and oversweetened cobblers are back! And so are the classiest eyebrows in town.

Yes, the Silver Grill, which closed after nearly 60 years of business, has reopened as the Silver Midtown Grill on Monroe Avenue. And Peggy Hubbard, who worked at the original restaurant 50 years, is back on the job, waiting tables with her distinctive eyebrows and motherly good nature. "I'm 74!" she told me. "I said I'm 74!"

The former chef, a cook and the manager are also back.

The place, which has been remodeled without sacrificing the original look, was slammed when I visited, but my lunch was good despite a fairly long wait. My only complaint: There were no greens. I don't want to eat fried chicken without turnip greens or collards.



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