'Hood hopping

Nava-lty wears off, Eating House opens up

I'm writing from Sevilla, where I have an apartment near the Alameda de Hercules, a seedy dirt promenade between two streets. The Alameda borders La Macarena and is famous as one of the city's birthplaces of flamenco. But the flamencos long ago abandoned it to prostitutes and the thousand flea market vendors who set up there every Sunday. In recent years, the Alameda's surrounding neighborhoods have become popular with gentrifiers and, in fact, there's a major "improvement" of the Alameda itself under way right now. And, not surprisingly, the work is quite controversial with those who see gentrification as an insult to the area's character.

In other words, I feel like I'm right at home in Grant Park.

Before I left for Spain, I ate a few meals at the latest improvement in Grant Park's woeful culinary life. The Eating House (456 Cherokee Ave., 404-581-1999) has opened in the space most recently occupied by a delicatessen, directly across from Grant Central Pizza. I might mention at the outset that, unlike the latter, The Eating House is open Sundays. It's always been a big irritation to me that Grant Central isn't permitted to open Sundays because it is technically in a residential zone. But The Eating House, merely a calzone's throw from Grant Central, is in a commercial zone.

The only thing I really dislike about The Eating House is its Quakerish name. The owners have transformed the space into a comfortable, beautiful dining room. There are subdued gold walls, green walls, red walls, colorful art, big windows with dramatic drapes, low lighting and flashes of humor, like phony painted bricks exposed behind phony painted plaster. (Are we not all growing just a bit tired of dramatic patina?) There are a few cliches like a ficus tree and the inevitable faux pillars, mercifully not dramatized with track lighting or accessorized with little plaster statues of Michelangelo's David.

The cuisine is straightforward and mainly tasty, though here and there it comes off too much like catering fare. Starters, judging by the prices and portions, are meant to be shared. Chicken satay ($5.99), though competent enough, features an inferior peanut sauce. I prefer the eggroll made with blue crab meat and served with an herbed sauce of capers and lemons ($8.99). Honestly, though, I find the starters inferior to most entrees. They really do remind me of catering food. You might want to settle for a Caesar or mesclun salad instead.

I've sampled three entrees. The pair of 4-ounce beef medallions ($15.99) is tasty though the sauteed mushrooms accompanying them are overcooked until they resemble the canned type. Mashed potatoes and broccoli work fine.

Salmon is wrapped in phyllo pastry and stuffed with shrimp mousse, sauteed spinach and roasted red peppers, and seasoned with rosemary beurre blanc ($12.99). It too comes close to a caterer's dish, but actually works quite well, though I couldn't find any of the roasted red peppers in my portion. (They are needed to offset the lugubrious mousse and spinach.)

A bowl of bowtie pasta is dubbed Cajun and includes shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, mushrooms, broccoli and diced peppers in a cream sauce that is a bit bland for my taste but will satisfy most people ($12.99).

My server told me the restaurant's owners also make wedding cakes. While those mile-high culinary monuments surmounted by lovestruck plastic dolls don't usually do much for the palate, The Eating House serves a killer yellow cake.

This is of course a first impression of the restaurant, which also was planning to open for lunch with a soul-food menu when I left for Spain. Although the restaurant is not very adventurous, it functions quite well as a classic neighborhood spot with reasonably priced food of the type that doesn't grow boring overnight. Still, I look forward to seeing some specials when I return.

By the way, Grant Park's Foodz 2 Go (753 Cherokee Ave., 404-627-4790) continues to prepare the best sandwiches in town. And now, Clarence Cohen (formerly of Edible Arts and Sotto Sotto) is cooking up deliciously smoky barbecue there evenings.

A visit to Nava
Regular readers know I lunch regularly at the bar at Sundown Cafe, where I dote on simple but delicious tacos, soups and specials by Eddie Hernandez and Rhoads Fern, to say nothing of the amusing banter of George the Taco God. Recently, though, my friend Brad Lapin, the part-time resident of post-gentrified Buckhead from Rome, and I decided to try the fancier Nava.

Nava, I'm afraid, is proof of the danger of being clever but not quite risky enough. Although I found its kiva-inspired decor enchanting when it first opened, dining there now, especially in the light of day, feels a bit Disney-esque. Jes, it is muy outre for the Buckhead boys. I could forgive the glitzy formula if it didn't seem to extend itself to the lunch cuisine itself, which is all well designed but lacks much zing or sting. I guess nobody wants to break a sweat while closing a deal.

We sampled a couple of starters. If you've been craving a Southwestern take on sushi, you'll love the little mounds of tuna tartare topped with tequila-spiked sour cream and enlivened with a bit of Pasilla Negro vinegar ($7.25). I found it way ahead of the bland smoked chicken in crispy tacos with green chile grits and red-pepper pico ($6.75).

Brad's entree, a soft tortilla wrapped about lobster with a cascabel chile cream sauce ($14.95), was likewise tasty but made me snooze. I did like my corn-crusted snapper with jalapeno-spiked whipped potatoes ($14.95). But, I'm telling you, a similarly well-prepared piece of fish would receive a much zippier treatment from Hernandez.??

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