Review: The Sound Table

Dinner and a party in the Old Fourth Ward

When Top Flr opened in the summer of 2007, it signaled a change in the tempo, style and speed of Atlanta's grand dining dance. The restaurant had more energy and attitude than what had come before it, and it ushered in an era where young restaurant professionals, not hotel groups or magnates, opened the city's most interesting eateries. Owners Darren Carr and Jeff Myers were blatantly out to cater to their friends and colleagues rather than the traditional moneyed Atlanta dining crowd. Music, affordable food, and good booze were top priority, as well as hours that suited waiters, chefs and sleep-till-noon musicians and DJs.

And now, from the same duo, along with partner Karl Injex, comes Sound Table. A little less slick than Top Flr, Sound Table nonetheless changes the tempo once again. Sound Table is the downtown man to Top Flr's uptown girl, the scruffy, lovable younger sibling. Where Top Flr's design is eclectic but polished, Sound Table is more bare bones. But it's exactly right for its neighborhood and its mission: to bring a new facet of food and nightlife to Edgewood Avenue.

Perched on the corner of Boulevard and Edgewood, the restaurant has no sign on the door. When you enter, a laminated piece of printer paper points you up the stairs for "dine" and down the hall to "bar." Either way you go, you'll find wooden tables and banquettes against plain walls; Sound Table has an almost unfinished feel, as if it was set up so the furniture could easily be swept aside to make room for dancing.

Which is exactly the point. Because after dinner hours, the DJs come out and the place turns into a party. It's like that fantasy I had in 10th grade, when I said, "I'm gonna open a bar that serves really good food and has pool tables and is a thrift store and a club and bands will play there." Except for the pool tables and thrift store part. Sound Table is proof of my longtime theory, which is that the best restaurants are the ones in which the owners set out to create a place where they want to hang out. Trying to decipher the public is folly. Make your own fun, and the public will (or ought to) follow.

The menus, particularly the food and cocktail lists, are long collections of everything you might want to eat or drink, preferably together. There is no unifying theme, except that the victuals could possibly be collected under the title "drunk food." (The restaurant's owners claim it's street food, but who's ever had rillettes on the street?) Vietnamese pho, sticky Chinese pork ribs, Mexican elote, Peruvian ceviche ... this is a collection of international inebriation cuisine.

Chef Shane Devereux (who is also the chef at Top Flr) tends to ramp up taste in each small dish, creating a kind of cartoonish POW of flavor. "Salty pork," which comes in a small cast iron pot with a boiled egg and a side of rice, reminded me of Filipino adobo, the meat zingy and tender. Pho arrives somewhat deconstructed — a bowl of rice noodles topped with shredded tongue and slivers of mushroom is accompanied by a bowl of deeply rich broth, some chili and hoisin sauce, and basil and sliced jalapeños. Confronted with a table absolutely full of other dishes, I was unable to tear myself away from the pho, its meaty funk and seductive depth a perfect and complete meal.

Spatchcock chicken (which I confirmed with the waiter is described this way — literally a means to de-backbone and grill a chicken — mainly so customers and workers alike can have the pleasure of saying "spatchcock") had impeccably charred skin, imbued with lemon and herbs and salt.

Much of the menu is ideal for bar-sitting mouth-popping, such as the crispy fried chickpeas with capers, or the creamy-centered arancine (balls of cheesy risotto, fried golden on the outside).

Occasionally, it seems as though the kitchen has become so carried away with maximizing taste, it forgets about technique. Sugar snap peas drenched in lemony, garlicky, sesame oil goodness hadn't been topped and tailed, meaning the stringy periphery rendered them somewhat inedible. And for those of us who tend toward gluttony, it's a good idea to make sure you're explicit about what should come out and when, otherwise you'll end up with a tiny table jam packed with dishes you can't get to before they go cold.

Apart from the pacing issue, the plaid-shirt clad, mustachioed waitstaff are gracious and professional, while simultaneously being good company. It's funny how such a casual place can end up with one of the most thoughtful and interesting wine selections around — again, I suspect, going by the philosophy that the list should simply be a collection of whatever the owners want to drink. Apparently they want to drink wine from Uruguay, and they also want to drink Chablis, and also vernaccia and Valpolicella and carmenere. How convenient. Me, too.

Not too long ago, wines like this were considered risky. Not too long ago, restaurants like this were considered out of the question: this neighborhood, this food, this vibe. But the dance is changing, and Sound Table is proving that an all-out party is not only the most fun, it might also be the most viable.