Feedbag - Lebanese delight

Cedars' buffet satisfies even a finicky father

In my family, my father is known as The Man Who Won't Eat Anything. He's notoriously picky: He hates cheese, and he turns his nose up at all vegetables except corn and, for some ungodly reason, green peppers. So when he called up and wanted to meet for dinner on the night we were planning to go to Cedars, I felt a pang of apprehension. Dad and Lebanese food? Hmm. I just didn't see it happening. But what the heck - I figured he could at least eat a shish kebab or two.

It was a Sunday night, which, as it turns out, is buffet night. From the looks of it, the Cedars Sunday buffet is no secret among Atlanta's Lebanese community. Boisterous families crowded around tables, and a line snaked away from the buffet. I took all of that as a good sign.

The decor at Cedars is a little goofy (giant wall murals, trellises drooping with fake grapevines, photos of Beirut circa 1960), but packed to the rafters with happy people, the atmosphere becomes convivial. As we hopped into the line, beguiling aromas wafted toward us from the chafing dishes. But would The Man Who Won't Eat Anything find anything he'd be willing to try?

I made a beeline for the salads and appetizers: Creamy, garlicky hummus gave way to a kicky chopped salad of olives, onions and herbs. Bland potato salad wasn't worth more than a bite or two, but fried cauliflower florets drizzled in tahini bowled me over. Frying had intensified the flavor of the cauliflower and turned the smaller florets into crunchy little bits. It was the best thing on the whole buffet.

I've always been on the fence about grape leaves. The briny leaves can be pungent enough to make your mouth pucker. But these, slicked with olive oil and filled with an aromatic rice mixture, had just enough tang to make things interesting.

Back on line, I scooped up baked chicken, kafta, rice pilaf, and green beans stewed in tomato sauce. Kafta is a Lebanese specialty of spiced ground beef that's been molded onto skewers and grilled. The beef had a subtle, smoky heat and elusive seasoning. Golden-skinned lemon chicken looked good, but it had gone the way of many a chicken in a chafing dish: dry as a desert.

As I tucked into my second helping of grape leaves, I realized something. The Man Who Won't Eat Anything had tried almost everything. There he sat, happily munching a kafta skewer, his plate piled high with vegetables, salad and rice pilaf. Could it be that I'd converted him? I'll tell myself that, anyway.


Bite Into the Big Game
?Catch the Super Bowl at Meehan's Public House ?on Sun., Feb. 6. The restaurant will host a "Guinness Brawl" beginning ?at 6 p.m. $40 per person includes a brawny buffet of barbecue sandwiches, nachos, ?wings, Coney Island cheese dogs, and chips with onion dip. Beer, wine and well ?drinks are also included. Space is limited to the first 150 people. 4058 Peachtree ?Road. 404-467-9531. www.meehansalehouse.com.

Increase Your Good Karma
?On Tues., Feb. 8, from 5 p.m. to close, ?more than 100 Atlanta restaurants will participate in Dine-Out for Tsunami Relief. ?Each restaurant will donate 20 percent of the night's total sales to CARE, an ?Atlanta-based organization dedicated to disaster recovery and poverty relief. ?For a complete list of participating restaurants, visit www.dineoutfortsunamirelief.com.

VD comes around again
?The following restaurants are hosting special dinners for Valentine's Day:

MidCity Cuisine celebrates Valentine's Day all weekend long (Fri.-Mon., Feb. 11-14) with a Valentine-inspired, four-course menu. Highlights include truffled potato gnocchi, braised Kobe beef and Valhrona chocolate cake. The dinner is $65 per person, with wine pairings an additional $35. 1545 Peachtree St. 404-888-8700. www.midcitycuisine.com.

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead will host "A Taste of Love" on Sat., Feb. 12. The event, sponsored by the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia, features a gourmet dinner prepared by Chef Bruno Menard, wine tastings, a live auction, and entertainment by the Voltage Brothers. Cocktails begin at 6:30 p.m. $200 per person. Proceeds benefit the Epilepsy Foundation. 3434 Peachtree Road. 404-237-2700. www.ritzcarlton.com.

Imperial Fez will host a special Valentine's Day dinner with two seatings. ?The first seating, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., is $55 per person. The second seating, ?starting at 9 p.m., is $65 per person. Both seatings include a glass of champagne ?(drinks, tax and gratuity not included). 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870. ?www.imperialfez.com.

Anthony's in Buckhead celebrates Valentine's Day from Fri.-Mon., ?Feb. 11-14. The special menu includes shrimp cocktail, lobster bisque, chateaubriand, ?rack of lamb and heart-shaped red velvet cake. Menu items priced individually. ?3109 Piedmont Road. 404-262-7379. www.anthonysfinedining.com.??

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