Cheap Eats - Twilight on the terrace

Apres Diem delights diners with cafe feel and fare

Although the summer season is fading, people are still drawn to Aprés Diem's outside terrace where soft candlelight illuminates expectant faces hovering above intimate tables perfect for a lovers rendezvous. The bistro has managed to retain this romantic, leisurely atmosphere despite its relatively recent change of address and transformation from the popular North Highland eatery, Café Diem, to its current strip-mall location on Monroe. If the buzzing terrace, packed nightly with an ultra-hip crowd, is any indication, Art Buchwald is right on with his quote: "Americans are just beginning to regard food the way the French always have. Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening." And so it is at Aprés Diem, which you might visit even if you aren't hungry, for an espresso or grappa, or perhaps even dessert, which is delivered regularly from Alon's Bakery. It is a place to see and be seen, yet unaffected by the crass commercialism or vacuous sexual landscape synonymous with Buckhead. More than a pick-up joint, Aprés Diem offers a sense of easygoing ritual. Besides a full coffee bar, an armed dessert case and respectable wine selection, Aprés Diem offers appetizers, salads, pasta dishes and sandwiches. Dinner specials are available every night after 6 p.m. Perhaps what's best about the menu is that, with its eclectic configuration of Mediterranean, French, Italian, Greek and New York deli-style fusion menu offerings, it requires revisitation.

Having sampled the atmosphere, along with dessert and café menu, I can recommend with authority the Mochaccino Blanc ($2.75), a shot of espresso with imported white chocolate and steamed milk topped with milk froth, as well as Aprés Diem's selection of Tazo teas. And, in tacit support of my own remedy for insomnia, Aprés Diem offers White Gold ($2.50), a large cup of fresh, steamed milk served with honey. My favorite among the desserts is the apple upside-down cake ($3.50), which stands out among the cheesecakes (both of the fruited and sweet liqueur variety) and chocolate tortes as the most subtly sweet.

In more of a rush during my most recent visit, I ordered the Turkey Muenster sandwich ($6.95): thinly sliced turkey breast topped with melted Muenster cheese and served on a fresh baguette with honey Dijon, tomatoes and sprouts. Already a savory and sweet mélange with the turkey, Muenster and baguette, the only detraction from this simple meal was the excess of simple sugars in the Dijon, which was served on the side. No great harm done there. All sandwiches are served with fresh fruit — grapes, blueberries and honey dew melon, which adds to the au naturel presentation of the dishes.

Situated as it is, next door to Midtown 8 movie theaters, I have no doubt but that Aprés Diem will cater to the dinner-and-a-movie dating ritual. And for my next nocturnal visit to the outside terrace populated by night owls, katydids and lightning bugs, I already have earmarked a few menu items. There's the Fattouch salad with grilled eggplant, tomato, feta cheese, cucumbers, onions, kalamata olives, mint leaves, parsley and diced pita served with lemon-garlic vinaigrette ($6.95); and the classic, New York style bagel and lox ($5.95). Among the pasta dishes, I'll try the Penne Albufera with sautéed Roma tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms tossed with penne pasta in a zesty roasted garlic sauce ($7.95). Until I've tried and tired of all its offerings, Aprés Diem will keep drawing me back, like a moth to the flame.

Aprés Diem International Coffee House and Bistro, 931 Monroe Drive. 404-872-3333. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-midnight, Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Entrées range from $7-$16.