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Restaurant Review - Vinocity (2002)

VinocityBY CLIFF BOSTOCK First, a bit of a rant: I'm tired of looking for parking spaces — or being ripped off for one — when I go out to eat. When I decided to go to the new Vinocity (36 13th St., 404-870-8886) last Saturday night, I drove by three or four mainly empty lots manned by frantic, flag- waving attendants. Incredibly, one of them had a sign that allowed him to raise and lower the price, like he was working the stock market.Meanwhile, parking in other private areas was forbidden — in obvious exchange for a kickback from those former dogcatchers who now make their livings by booting cars. Out-of-towners from real cities are always stunned by our idiot parking situation, which the city of Atlanta seems completely unwilling to regulate in any reasonable way. Happily, I found a spot on the street three blocks away, and the only cost was considerable hassle by a drunk for 50 cents to buy milk for his baby. Oh well, so it goes when you're hell-bent on a trendy destination. And that word, "trendy," best describes Vinocity. Located in the former home of the Atlanta Theosophical Society, the remodeled cottage has exchanged its spiritual function for the purveying of spirits. You get cool colors, mosaic columns, a cozy downstairs wine bar with contemporary furniture and people lounging about in lots of hair gel and good clothes. The dining room is upstairs, an almost lapis-colored room hung with exuberant paintings, many by an artist in love with the color red. A small patio is agreeable when the evenings cool off. Chef Brian Barfield's menu is pleasant fusion cuisine, befitting a restaurant with such a heavy emphasis on wine. Eno, inevitably, comes to mind by comparison ... and wins by a mile, but you can dine reasonably well here. Details are a problem. For example, my starter of (chopped) spicy duck confit layered with grilled flat bread with a port-wine reduction ($9) had good flavor as long as I avoided the amazingly tough, tasteless, chewy flat bread. My companion, Young Van, had his usual huge bowl of mussels, here in a standard garlic and white wine sauce ($9). The mussels were the largest I've encountered in a long time, reminding me a lot of the huge rope-raised ones I used to eat in California. Give them a try and skip the cardboard confit. Other starters include a goat cheese tart, sauteed seafood Provencal, a trio of hummus and two impressive cheese tastings. The tasting for white wine also comes with fresh fruit while the red features some cured meats ($13 each). There are also soups, like roasted corn chowder with chorizo and gazpacho, along with salads, like goat cheese encrusted with cous cous and served over mesclun with a fig dressing. My entree, a roasted rack of lamb, was a generous and well-cooked serving ($22). It was served with lentils, which I loved. And then the plate was ruined by a despicable carrot puree seasoned to taste like your great-aunt's sweet potato souffle. Why, oh why? Young Van, at my urging, tried the pan-seared halibut, with couscous dotted with roasted red peppers, sauced with a shrimp and corn beurre blanc ($19). The fish was cooked fine but the dish couldn't have tasted flatter. As always, Young Van — who grew up eating Vietnamese cuisine — demanded hot sauce to enliven it. And then he didn't use it because he thought it was the "wrong kind." I suggested, as I always do to Wayne, that if I were the chef I'd come out and dump the stuff in his eyes. Other entrees include a roasted pork roulade which has received negative comments from a colleague, broiled baby lobster tails over wilted greens with lobster risotto, cumin-dusted scallops and jalapeno polenta, and a few steaks. Dessert was a decent chocolate bread pudding with dried apricots and figs ($6). But why dried figs in the middle of the season? Our server, Berrak, is herewith declared Waitron of the Week. She's from Turkey, gorgeous and as professional as you can get. Ask for her.