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Visits to Parish Market, Peter Chang's and Perla Taqueria

A sampling of prefreeze meals

Did you hear it snowed in Atlanta recently? I was housebound for four days and had the unusual job of cooking. So, this week I'm doing some quick takes of pre-snow visits.

First up is Parish Market (240 N. Highland Ave., 404-681-4434), which is in the lower level of the historic building that houses Parish Restaurant. Parish Market includes a café, as well as a bakery and, obviously, a market that vends wines, cheese and other gourmet staples. The idea is to duplicate a New Orleans market.

Parking can be bit difficult. There's valet service, but I usually score a space on the street after a bit of driving around. The market is closed Monday but opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast every other day of the week. It closes most days at 10 or 11 p.m.

The must-try here is the muffuletta, probably the city's best. But my friends and I took advantage of hot foods to warm us up. That meant a bowl of beef stew for one of us. The rest of us ordered the day's meat-and-three: beer-braised chicken thighs, roasted red potatoes, fried green tomatoes, salad and an oatmeal cookie. Not a thing on my brightly colored tray missed the mark. My lunch was about $15 with a soft drink.

I didn't allow myself to buy any of the market's flawless pastries, but I wasn't being that self-depriving: I made a beeline for the Sugar-Coated Radical after lunch.

My big pre-snow meal was at the new Peter Chang's (6450 Powers Ferry Road, Sandy Springs, 678-766-8766). I had planned to go back a second time at the least to write a "First Look." The snow prevented that, so I've delayed a full review until next week.

Chang is a chef with a following more fanatical than any TV "Top Chef" could ever hope to develop. His story is well known. He sets up shop some place (like Tasty China in Marietta) and then disappears. That launches a thousand foodie detectives to track him down to his latest job. This has happened quite a few times with no explanation, but he is promising to stay a while at this new restaurant. Don't hold your breath. Go now.

The restaurant is in a rather '70s-looking alpine-style building — the kind of place you expect to hear Heidi yodeling. The space is enormous compared to Tasty China and I might as well tell you that there's a rather stiff price to pay for the good food: really awful service.

This starts at the door with a very sweet but dazed host. Like other people in line to be seated, we did not have reservations. But we had all called and were told the restaurant didn't take them. The host said that was not true. So everyone had to plead to be seated. Meanwhile, the host would suddenly turn her back now and then and race into the dining room, reappearing a few minutes later with no explanation.

Wayne and I ended up taking seats at a bar — more of a service area than an actual bar — and we got decent service from the woman working there. But one only needed to look around the dining room to see people in various stages of comas — waiting, waiting, waiting. Another problem was that none of the servers seem to be educated in the menu. That had a bad result for us.

We overdosed on cumin because our "bamboo fish," deep-fried chunks of tilapia, was unexpectedly coated with the stuff, as were the cumin lamb chops we ordered. A good server might have warned us about the predominance of cumin. Still, both were delicious, although the tilapia itself had about as much flavor as a chunk of tofu.

Speaking of tofu, we also had a cold dish of tofu "noodles" tossed in chili oil, plus a plate of deep-fried pork belly that resembled chicharrones and was maybe even more delicious.

All of the dishes contained sizable amounts of hot chilies but none were blistering-hot. Wayne insists the dishes contained the numbing pepper used so often is Szechuan cooking. Maybe, but I didn't feel any of the usual tingling.

I didn't tingle but I groaned a little during my first visit to Perla Taqueria (1958 Piedmont Road). The groaning was over an immensely unpleasant chicken mole that featured two undercooked, stringy leg quarters under a sauce so bitter I couldn't eat it.

However, returning the next day, I ordered a tamale stuffed with shredded chicken stewed in hot chiles. It was served in a corn leaf and tasted like manna compared to the mole. I also ordered an al pastor taco. It was not made with pork shaved from a rotisserie but was the usual shortcut stuff of grilled pork folded into a tortilla with pineapple chunks. The barbacoa taco was made with brisket and tomatillo sauce. Both tacos were acceptable.

There are some oddities on the menu like a taco made with "buttermilk fried chicken" and another made with barbecued brisket and coleslaw.



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