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Who do Gouda?

Revisiting Dish and a few others

The culinary scene in Virginia-Highland got a boost recently when Tom Catherall closed Star Steaks and BBQ. The eerily corporate, gigantic sign has been removed and — to our pleasant surprise — the Indigo name has been resurrected.

We rushed over to try things out ... and found the restaurant closed for "renovations." We've since learned that while making the transition back to Indigo, Catherall sold the restaurant to the very French operators of the former Saint Amour, according to rumors.

We'll bide our time but, in the meantime, where to eat?

We landed at Dish (870 N. Highland Ave., 404-897-3463). I hadn't dined in this old redone gas station since its opening a few years ago. And while I appreciated the restaurant's effort, I found its New American menu a bit rococo, to the point of being ludicrous at moments and unevenly prepared.

But the dinner I had last week was among the best I've had in a month or so. The restaurant looks as spectacular as ever — managing to be decor-ed out but wonderfully convivial. The black-and-white photos of folks promoting menage a trois help. We sat on the roomy terrace, global warming having taken the frigidity out of the holiday season.

Our one complaint was the very long wait to have our order taken. I have no idea why. Our server was delightful in every other respect — cracking jokes and getting food to the table on time once it was ordered.

Wayne started with a special of "hand-cut" ravioli stuffed with smoked chicken and smoked Gouda, served with sauteed artichokes and olives. It was quite nice — so nice, in fact, that it evoked memories, which I find to be an effect of really good food. Thus, Wayne rhapsodized about the day he rode into Gouda on a bicycle and saw the vendors ceremoniously parading huge rounds of their famous cheese in an outdoor market.

My own starter was also a special. It was a mound of perfect baby arugula with sliced, roasted beets, diced apples and bits of brie. I had no memories of biking through an arugula patch in Italy, but enjoyed the salad thoroughly.

Wayne's entree worried me with its busy description: "bacon-crusted Scottish salmon with chanterelle mushrooms, Swiss chard and yellow corn coulis" ($16). But the dish was killer. "Aren't you going to eat the last Bacon Bit?" the dishy waiter asked as he took away Wayne's plate, polished except for a single miniscule morsel. The fish's coating reminded me a bit of Chinese treatments.

My own choice was slices of grilled lamb tenderloin arranged about a mound of risotto containing sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese ($19). It was served in a bowl swimming with pan juices. The dish rocked except for a mite too much rosemary for my taste.

Dessert was postmodern Apple Brown Betty — apples diced minutely and bound with mascarpone and toffee ($6). We swallowed it whole.

Here and there

A visit to Agave last week featured the best meal I've ever had there — sushi-grade tuna served over mashed potatoes in a tomatillo sauce filled with shrimp. The dish, a special, ought to be on the regular menu. Agave continues to improve its appearance, really dressing up its corner of Cabbagetown, and I'm hopeful the rest of the food will improve to the level of this tuna special.

Will Bonner, Michael Saunders and I dined at Bang in Little Five Points recently. Pastrami-cured tuna and arugula and pear salad were good starters. My entree, grilled lamb rubbed in Moroccan spices served with lentils and eggplant, was the best. Though Michael's salmon and Will's pasta special pleased them thoroughly. This restaurant is by far the best in Little Five Points (though, of course, I also love quirky teaspace). Its owner and chef are alumni of Indigo's glory years and continue the tradition of that restaurant.

Shoot me. I recently gave Wildwood a less than enthusiastic review. I was particularly surprised by the irregular quality of the cuisine, since the listed chef, Hector Gomez, has trained under Guenter Seeger and Tom Catherall and worked for the Peasant Group for years. As it turns out, Gomez had left the restaurant prior to my review — exhausted by what sounds like sweatshop hours and compensation. Thus he cannot be held responsible for the tepid meatloaf and the lackluster chicken. Gomez resurfaced briefly to fill in at Bacchanalia but is on the job market.

Pastries A Go Go in Decatur is still the area's best choice for breakfast. My favorite is the buttermilk biscuit with apple-smoked bacon, but I wish they'd offer country ham. Also, try the cinnamon brioche French toast and any of the fresh pastries, including croissants and sticky buns.

I often write at Starbucks in Ansley Mall. Yeah, I know, it's corporate. But it's cozy, and there's a table there I treat like my own desk. I have one really big complaint: the pastries. Ugh. I'm betting they are frozen and come from Sara Lee's cousin. Starbucks should head to The Bread Garden, and pick up some croissants and sticky buns and ginger cookies and lemon meringue tarts and ... .

Taqueria del Sol is hard at work with plans for a February opening of its new location in Decatur, across from Watershed. Eddie Hernandez says he'll be dividing his time between Sundown Cafe and the two taquerias. Looks like somebody better clone a chef.

Much-awaited Commune has opened and I'll be checking in soon. The New York clone is in the same complex that houses Bacchanalia.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504.??



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