Feedbag - Good things, small packages

Meze at Avra and tapas at Ola, plus ATL dining news

I'm not sure why, but Atlanta has never been big on Greek food. Until Kyma's arrival, the few restaurants specializing in Greek food have been kitschy places mainly known for the amount of drama they brought to setting cheese on fire amid screams of "Opa!" while the soundtrack from — what else? — Zorba the Greek played loudly in the background. There were a couple of good home-style places, like Evelyn's, but they've disappeared.

Now, the folks who own Mythos in Roswell have opened Avra (794 Juniper St., 404-892-8890) in the Victorian house across from Spice, most recently occupied by the eminently forgettable Salt. I stopped by the restaurant alone early one evening last week for a quick dinner, only a week after it had opened. So this is an early first impression.

The new owners have not changed the look of the restaurant significantly, as far as I remember. It retains its woody Victorian feel, although some spidery overhead lighting fixtures have been added. The wraparound front porch would be my preferred seating at any time but rush hour.

The menu features many small plates (meze), plus soups and salads. There are eight "traditional plates," three kabobs and five grilled fish dishes. Being alone, I only sampled three dishes, all of which were tasty. Htipiti, a puree of roasted red peppers with feta, was served with slices of warm pita bread. A minor suggestion: Let the stuff come to room temperature before serving. It was much better as a leftover the next day when I hit it with a few microwave rays.

Avra is serving one of my favorite meze from Kyma: grilled octopus. The $13 price may make you balk, but it's a big portion served with the oddity of an iridescently green cake made out of fava beans. Most interesting, the plate is blotted with a bit of octopus dye blended with cuttlefish ink.

For an entree, I chose lamb gouvetsi — chunks of mildly seasoned lamb braised in red wine, served over orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, with tomato confit and grated Kefalograviera cheese. (That's the cheese the Greeks anoint in ouzo and set on fire, available here too as a starter.)

The menu here deserves thorough inspection. It's a nice blend of relative oddities (like grilled quail) and old favorites (like moussaka). Desserts, which I did not sample, include usuals like baklava, rice pudding and revani.

Dining with Jesús

That's my friend Jesús Regalado, not the one who starred in Mel Gibson's movie. Jesús is a double expatriate, having left Cuba for the United States as a child. Three years ago he moved to Sweden, where he recently became a citizen. During his visit here last week, he was craving spicy food — not common in Sweden — so we checked out the new Ola (1197 Peachtree St., 404-892-9292) at Colony Square.

This new taqueria and tapas bar replaces the short-lived Peri Peri, which owner Tom Catherall says he plans to reopen elsewhere. I was excited about Ola because I'd heard that Nancy Delgado Mathews, my favorite tapas chef, was cooking there. Nancy turned Eclipse di Luna around a few years ago and developed many of the better dishes at Catherall's Shout and Noche.

But when I asked after her during our visit, I was told she was gone. Nonetheless, we had a good lunch. Among the dishes we tried: an empanada with spinach, raisins, pine nuts and goat cheese; a soft taco with braised brisket, Cabrales blue cheese and onion relish; another taco of twice-cooked pork with green salsa and fried hominy; and a quesadilla with chicken and portobella mushrooms. We concluded with a kinky version of rice pudding with sangria fruit.

Lunchtime prices are dirt cheap but increase, along with the breadth of the menu, at dinnertime. I'm anxious to try the grilled corn on the cob with lobster butter and paella made with duck, plantains and a fried egg.

We also had a great meal at Sotto Sotto, including a starter of sushi-grade tuna and a special of pasta made with sweet baby clams that you should not miss, if it's available. On the evening that Jesús wanted "fiery food," we went to Little Bangkok, where he demanded siren-level use of peppers in an excellent duck curry.

Food News

Suzy Wong's Lounge has opened upstairs at Sampan in Westside Market. Press material for the new cocktail lounge mentions four opium beds and a "35-foot-tall tensile structure modeled after the Shanghai Formula One racing circuit tower." I do not have a clue. Considering that Sampan is one of the city's most interestingly designed new restaurants, I have no doubt the space is luxe. ...

Robert Green writes: "Check out the newly opened Matty Cakes (next to the 'gorilla car wash' on Piedmont). He's got some good things going on, including a dulce de leche cheesecake and a chocolate/mandarin orange terrine cake that are over the top." ...

The Big Gay Supperclub is dining at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Toast, which was recently named one of America's 50 hottest restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine, thanks to the excellent work of chef Drew Van Leuvan, who just left the Midtown eatery. You don't have to be gay to join the group for the $35 four-course meal, but you probably should at least rate as a metrosexual. Call 404-668-5649 for reservations, which are required. The website is www.biggaysupperclub.com.

Table 1280, the much anticipated tapas restaurant at the Woodruff Arts Center where Shaun Doty is chef, is now open.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliffbostock@creativeloafing.com.

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