Restaurant Review - Si, Sia's

Sia's offers an elegant outpost

Among the office parks, golf courses and chain eateries that line Medlock Bridge Road in Duluth, Sia's Restaurant stands like an oasis, a last chance for clever cosmopolitan dining as you leave the Atlanta area heading north.

Owner Sia Moshk has clearly picked up tricks of the trade from his stint as a general manager at the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, just as Executive Chef Scott Serpas brings a Louisiana accent to the restaurant's take on Asian and Southwestern-influenced American cooking. The cuisine may not be shockingly innovative, but it's imaginative and satisfying, and is served in impeccable surroundings.

Sia's appears to occupy a corporate restaurant space, suitable for, say, a Macaroni Grill, but it's been converted into something surprisingly elegant. From the elongated metal "S" that provides the front door with its handle to the curving soffits that snake along the dining room's ceiling, Sia's is both a classy and comfortable restaurant, with a second, more intimate dining room featuring a fireplace. Painted a warm color akin to golden mustard, the decor is visually intriguing while still being a cozy hang-out, whereas most restaurants of its caliber are one or the other, but not both. And most enforce valet parking, but at both of our visits to Sia's, my wife and I were able to park in the lot, mere feet from the front door.

Sia's starters prove especially impressive, and one of my new favorite appetizers is the lemon crab cream cheese fritters ($8 at dinner), four fried, crunchy spheres of transporting richness. The crabmeat itself can't quite compete with the cream cheese and lemon flavors, or the sweet chili sauce that accompanies, but it's an addictive combination.

The ginger-carrot soup ($6 at lunch) comes with two shrimp on a skewer laid atop the bowl, and frankly, someone as messy as I am would rather not struggle to pull shellfish off a pointy stick over some hot soup. But it's a delicious dish. The fresh, crisped shrimp meat is nearly upstaged by the soup itself. The sweet carrot and sharp ginger flavors play superbly off each other, mellowing each for a texture that nearly resembles a mild curry.

Sia's lunch prices are quite reasonable, given the restaurant's gourmet professionalism, with the menu leaning toward Asian/Southwestern interpretations of sandwiches and quesadillas. For $10 you get a huge portion of the chicken Caesar salad, which features an atypical chipotle-lime dressing. The light and kicky dressing nicely accents the moist, fire-roasted slices of chicken breast.

The portions may not be as big for the "business lunch," but at $15 the value certainly matches. It offers samples of the soup of the day and two entrees, so mine included a small cup of crawfish chowder (replete with corn, and more of a down-home dish than many of Sia's items). The meal also offered a pair of fried baby lobster tails atop some small, pleasing vegetarian enchilidas, with luscious, house-made tartar sauce proving its best aspect. And it included some red snapper atop a hash of such winter vegetables as mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes, which had less pizzazz than the rest, but was still fine.

One of the dinner specialties is pan-roasted Chilean seabass ($25) with tasty shrimp relish and a creamy asparagus risotto. Something seemed to have gone subtly awry in the cooking of the juicy seabass cut, sections of which were far too salty. But sodium wasn't uniformly present on the otherwise yummy fish, suggesting a momentary aberration rather than a conscious choice.

The pork tenderloin entree ($19) provides two huge pieces of roast pork, blunt and thick, which arrive standing on end. The charred tomato vinaigrette on the side gives the meat a fresh barbecue sauce flavor, without being too heavy. The meal comes with well-whipped mashed potatoes that have no fancy flourishes, and are the more welcome for it.

Breadbaskets are served with the house butter, an intriguingly complex mixture with red peppers, sundried tomatoes and herbs. We tried the bread pudding dessert special ($6.50), but though it had the right idea, with a soft texture and a good balance of ingredients, it wasn't anything outstanding.

The staff has great people skills, long memories and a personal touch. The only discordant note came at a lunch visit, which involved perplexingly long waits for food and the bill. But if you're forced to bide your time anywhere, Sia's is a good place: We looked out the windows at the neighboring shops, and wondered how to pronounce the name "Titi's Nails."

The closer in town you live, the more of a hike getting to Sia's can be, but its attention to detail and appearance of ease make it more appealing than many places that have more convenient locations. To return is tempting, and already the lemon crab cream cheese fritters are calling me.??