Feedbag - Back from the edge

Elegant, down-to-earth Toulouse still thrives despite adversity

Without the eye-catching orange-and-yellow-striped sign peeking out from one end of a row of shops on Peachtree, you might drive past and never even know Toulouse was there. Indeed, the whole unobtrusive little row of shops was nearly swallowed up when a water main broke back in the spring and opened up a giant, gaping hole in the earth. Somehow, Toulouse has managed to wring itself out and return to business as usual.

A climb up a staircase behind the restaurant brings you to a narrow, wrought iron patio edged with flower boxes. Big windows look out over the patio and into the woods beyond. It's lovely to be reminded once in a while that there are still pockets of wildness in Buckhead.

Inside, row upon row of wine bottles compete for attention with vibrant Impressionist paintings. Crisp white table linens contrast with dark polished wood. At 7 p.m. on a drowsy Sunday, at least half the tables are already filled. It's obvious that Toulouse has a loyal coterie of regulars. Understandable, too: Unassuming though it may be, Toulouse has a terrific wine list and a likeable, down-to-earth menu of French-inspired dishes.

The server warned me when I ordered the crawfish and vegetable fritter that it was a big enough appetizer for two people, but I was unprepared for the deep-fried mountain that arrived at our table a few minutes later. It looked like an onion loaf, except it was green and orange. I'd never seen anything quite like it. But once I began picking off straws of crisp fried zucchini and sweet potato and dipping them in rice vinegar, I recognized a closer kinship to tempura. Every so often, I'd unearth a morsel of sweet crawfish among the vegetables.

Duck confit over salad greens was less of a jaw-dropper. Tender and succulent though the confit was, its grayish pallor gave me pause. Thankfully, a drizzle of bright blueberry vinaigrette livened up the plate considerably.

The menu doesn't seem to change much to reflect the seasons, and even an additional "summer menu" offered items that didn't feel especially summery. But one delightful dish from that menu was sautéed rainbow trout with lemon butter sauce and capers. Salty and sour notes mingled in the background but didn't steal the show from the mild, sweet fish.

Homey roast chicken didn't exactly scream summer, either, but I couldn't find fault with a marvelously juicy half-bird with crackling brown skin. Wilted spinach, spiked with tangy vinaigrette and sweet currants, added lively punch to a classic comfort dish.

At the end of the meal, our server plunked several to-go boxes on the table (she wasn't kidding about that fritter). "And here's a little something sweet for later," she said with a wink. Am I that transparent? If they keep luring me back with free sweets, I may join the ranks of loyal regulars.

florence.byrd@creativeloafing.comSetting the Bar
Getting a reservation at restaurant-of-the-moment Rathbun's can be a challenge, but now you don't need one. The entire menu is available at the bar, which is now officially smoke-free. 112 Krog St. 404-524-8280. www.rathbunsrestaurant.com.

An Affair to Remember
On Mon., July 18, Seeger's will host an "Ultimate Wine Dinner" for 10 guests. The $200 per person price tag covers a five-course dinner matched with wine selections picked by chef Guenter Seeger. 111 W. Paces Ferry Road. 404-846-9779. www.seegers.com.

Take it Slow
Chefs Rafih and Rita Benjelloun of Imperial Fez will host a dinner featuring local and seasonal ingredients in honor of Slow Food USA Mon., July 18. The Moroccan, four-course dinner is $45 per person for Slow Food members and $50 per person for nonmembers. 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870. www.imperialfez.com.

Seasonal Splendor
Heirloom tomatoes are the star of a special four-course tasting menu at Woodfire Grill on Mon., July 18. The prix-fixe menu is $75 per person, including wine pairings, plus tax and gratuity. Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.

Let the Games Begin
Joe's on Juniper is kicking off a new trend for summer: Monday Night Bingo. Every Monday the restaurant will host free bingo from 8-10 p.m. Midtown celebrity "Baton Bob" will be on hand to call out letter and number combinations. 1049 Juniper St. 404-875-6634. www.joesatlanta.com.??

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