Restaurant Review - Living the Hi-Life

Old favorites updated with a New American twist

The clashing colors, neon and oh-so-tacky facade of the former Bennigan's location at Holcomb Bridge Road and Jimmy Carter Boulevard doesn't imply fine dining. Instead, my first thought as I pulled up to the Norcross locale was whether I had enough bills to tip the dancers.

But once inside Hi-Life Kitchen and Cocktails, you're greeted with a warm vibe. The (now-stale) cobalt-blue hanging lamps and orange-and-yellow-accented walls are an immediate giveaway that you've walked into the hippest place on the block. But where intown you'd find the black mini-skirt crowd, here you'll find accountants and soccer moms all swanked up for a big night out.

Hi-Life's menu screams New American with (self-proclaimed) "re-invented" selections like yellow-fin tuna poke with wasabi-miso broth and grilled black pepper encrusted tuna loin with "forgotten vegetables" and shallot confit. Regular selections are supplemented with a prix fixe menu that changes nightly. For $39, diners get an appetizer of iced seafood cocktail ceviche with stone crab, lobster, shrimp and assorted fish; an entree of seared jumbo sea scallops and shrimp over linguini; a risotto; and soup. All items also can be purchased a la carte.

The featured risotto ($10) benefits from the efforts of an adventurous chef and staff. Loaded with grilled chicken, roasted chiles and ancho butter, it's a scorcher — especially if you chew on one of the peppers. The server said the dish was inspired by the chef's time in the Caribbean and the cook staff's multi- ethnic Latin American heritage. Whatever the reason, it got my attention. For a more standard appetizer, the spinach salad with mandarin oranges, caramelized pecans gorgonzola, purple pear and balsamic vinaigrette ($9) was a refreshing mix.

The menu has an entire section of lobster dishes that can be ordered a la carte or prix fixe. For $40, you get Maine lobster and shrimp salad ($12), steamed Maine lobster ravioli ($13), and a slice of lobster-and-brie cheesecake ($25) along with the nightly featured dessert.

There are also plenty of beef, pork and other seafood dishes to choose from. Try the New York strip steak ($23) marinated in blackstrap molasses and gussied up with asiago potatoes, dried cherry jus and a horseradish-crusted enoki. The enoki, with its long, thin mushroom stems fried into a golden lion's mane of a garnish, transforms the plate. A bit rubbery, it's not as much fun to eat as it is to look at. But it does create a bit of drama on the plate.

The sweet-corn-and-scallion grits — atop which sits a pork chop — also add a bit of variety to a standard dish ($19). Although the currants and pineapple get in the way of the thick chop, the grits' texture nicely balances the sweet, tart fruit and the Santa Fe marinade.

True to the "Cocktails" in its name, Hi-Life offers a large selection of wines, liquor and liqueurs to help get the night swinging. For dessert, an interesting take is the fried banana split. But more standard selections — like the Milky Way cheesecake — are available.

Hi-Life has been around for a few years, and the corporate lunch crowd from nearby office parks shows up regularly for the solid selection of sandwiches, and "supper menu" items like lump crab cake and other less-pricey selections. The Hi-Life experience can be summed up simply: You'll enjoy what you find on the inside if you can get past what you see on the outside.??