Feedbag - Cuban connection

Las Palmeras keeps Midtown in authentic Cuban eatsLas Palmeras

"Are you sure we're going the right way?" My husband, who happened to be behind the wheel, was getting annoyed. We'd been driving up and down Midtown's maze of residential streets for 15 minutes and had yet to find Las Palmeras.

And suddenly there it was, a tiny storefront nestled among the rambling Victorians and drooping crepe myrtles. The restaurant's front patio was busy on a humid Friday night, and a convivial vibe hung over the crowded tables.

Owner Felipe Alvarez waits on tables himself, and he seems to know most of his clientele by face, if not by name. "Is this your first time here?" he asked us in a Southern drawl, handing over menus and pointing out a few must-try dishes.

Home-style, no-frills Cuban food is what it's all about here. An appetizer of mashed potato dumplings was irresistible: Mashed potatoes surrounded a spicy filling of ground beef, the whole thing breaded and fried golden-brown. It's one of those fatty, deep-fried dishes you just have to savor without thinking too much about it. Chicken croquetas were also deep-fried, although their mealy texture and bland flavor were a letdown.

Rotisserie chicken seems to be a menu favorite. Alvarez assured us it was available on the night we visited — I imagine riots have begun over the kitchen being out of this dish. With its fragrant mahogany skin and juicy meat, it really is that good. A side dish of steamed yucca in lemon-garlic sauce had a lovely creamy texture but not much flavor. Pickled onions gave it some crunch and much-needed kick. Ropa vieja, the classic Cuban dish of steak simmered with garlic, green peppers, tomatoes and spices, was tangy and fall-apart tender.

Anyone who has tried moros (a mix of black beans and rice) and maduros (sauteed ripe plantains) cannot deny their comfort food appeal. If I had tried them as a kid, I think these Cuban staples would've replaced pizza and mac-n-cheese as my favorite foods.

For dessert, we ordered flan. It had a rich vanilla flavor, and a drizzle of guava puree gave it zing. But the custard had the slightly tacky consistency of pudding that's spent too long in the fridge.

The dining room is bare bones but has hole-in-the-wall appeal. I imagine it's a cozy refuge during the chilly winter months. Tattered photos of old Havana and a giant mural of a setting sun are pretty much the extent of the decor. Attached to the restaurant is a small store selling Cuban pantry staples, guayaberas and knickknacks. It's a bit dusty and dilapidated — I have to wonder if anyone's ever actually bought something — but it definitely adds to Las Palmeras' funky, friendly vibe.

Covering Brookhaven to Inman Park.


CHE WHAT? — Che has opened in Buckhead, replacing the fabulous but short-lived Blais on East Paces Ferry. Che (the owners say it's Argentinean slang for "friend") is the latest venture from Gerry Klaskala, chef/owner of Aria. The menu will feature small plates influenced by the cuisines of Cuba, Latin America and Spain. The atmosphere is decidedly glam, with lots of sleek surfaces and sultry red decor. The cocktail list offers tropical concoctions with names like Dark and Stormy and Playa del Sol. Prediction: This is Atlanta's next see-and-be-seen destination. 268 E. Paces Ferry Road. 404-231-2224. www.che-atl.com.

Dining events

EASE THOSE MONDAY BLUES — Every Monday night, MidCity Cuisine offers a three-course comfort food menu (in addition to the regular menu). Expect such home-style favorites as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, chicken cordon bleu, shrimp and grits and beef Stroganoff. The menu has a retro price tag to match: A three-course meal costs $19.55 per person and includes family-style salad plus your choice of entree and dessert. 1545 Peachtree St. 404-888-8700. www.midcitycuisine.com.

CLASSY COOKOUT — Steaks and Syrah? Chicken with Chenin Blanc? If you're ready to graduate from beer to wine at your next cookout, come by Murphy's on Tues., Aug. 3 for their "Wines for Grilling" wine tasting. The event will run from 6:30-8 p.m., and each guest gets to sample 8-10 wines. The price is $10 per person, and if you stay for dinner, you'll get a $5 credit toward your entree. Seating is limited, so be sure to arrive on time. 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904. www.murphysvh.com.

A TOAST TO TAPAS — Stop in at Eclipse di Luna on Tues., Aug. 3 from 6-7 p.m. for its monthly wine tasting. The event, which costs $10 per person, features tapas and a bottomless glass of wine. The house usually pours between eight and 10 varieties for guests to sample. 764 Miami Circle. 404-846-0449. www.eclipsediluna.com.

MOROCCAN DELIGHT — Imperial Fez hosts "A Small Taste of Morocco" on Wed., Aug. 4 from 5:30-7 p.m. as part of its wine tasting series. The event will include light appetizers and refreshing, Moroccan-inspired cocktails. $15 per person. 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870. www.imperialfez.com.

RENDEZVOUS IN PARIS — South of France, the cozy little French bistro on Cheshire Bridge Road, is offering meal deals through the end of summer. Stop in for lunch and get soup and an entree for $6.95. At dinner, a three-course menu with wine is $55 for two. 2345 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-325-6963.''

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