Black Cherry

Being hip, tousling Peacock's feathers and Thai-ing one on

What are we going to do about style? You know — the hip thing. How much style can we take before we tear off our basic black clothes and run, screaming, into the night for a dinner of potted meat spread on white bread?

Cherry (1051 W. Peachtree St., 404-872-2020), a shrine to style that was named "best new restaurant of 2001" by the relentlessly trendy Jezebel magazine, recently passed its one-year anniversary and I decided to pay a follow-up visit since the menu has changed.

There's no questioning the restaurant's stylish parentage and look. It's designed by Patti Krohngold, whose environments are among our city's most purely aesthetic. Cherry is a looker, with its use of reds, its new patio, its retro splashes, its goofy thematizing around the fruit that represents virginity begging to be stolen. The owners themselves are Ray Sieradzki and Paul Gibbs, co-owners of Leopard Lounge; Tom Nahas, former GM of Savu; and Dee Grimes, former owner of Lulu's Bait Shack and Mumbo Jumbo. The hip party people.

On a Monday night, with no more than 10 other diners in the restaurant, one is too privy to the preoccupations of the hungry-for-hip. As we sat at a table downstairs opposite the bar, someone famous — a cast member of "Home Improvement" — was getting up to leave. As soon as he was out the door, a little explosion of gasps erupted, led by a woman with the demeanor of a 40-year-old still living life like it's a pep rally. She nattered nonstop for the next hour. Her competition was a man at the bar with an acute case of talking disease who filled the entire downstairs with accounts of his love life and ailments. I went to the bathroom twice, just to clear my head. I walked upstairs, caught a glimpse of an ex-lover and ran back to my table.

Meanwhile, our server abandoned us immediately after putting a bottle of San Pellegrino on the table (an absurd $5.50). Ten minutes passed, while we watched her pass our table, smiling, apparently working the upstairs as well as downstairs. I erupted, asking the host to find us a server. He demanded our order on the spot. He barked, "Excellent choices," then called another server over and, in something like a stage whisper, repeated it to him. "... And he has great upper body development but his legs really suck," the woman behind us was saying. "I told her, there are plenty other women who want what I got!" the man at the bar was saying, high-fiveing the air.

Ultimately, we were given an excellent server, Sebastian (according to our check), and things improved enough for me to name him Waitron of the Week. Chef Dave Roberts has improved the menu, eliminating some of the weirder and unsuccessful fusion dishes. The Asian notes remain here and there, and complement the extensive sushi menu, but the menu is mainly straightforward New American with Euro accents.

The food is mainly good. Wayne's special of onion soup ($6) was a strong broth into which a very powerful Swiss cheese had been melted with plenty of croutons. It was a far, far better choice than the grilled flatbread ($8) topped that evening with a nearly flavorless ricotta, ice-cold roasted red peppers and micro greens. Wayne noted the bread had the proper "reefer taste" — blackened by the grill — but the bread was still mainly limp. Go directly to Mumbo Jumbo or Oscar's for instruction on making a really good flat bread.

I ordered the tamarind-glazed short ribs with a cassoulet for my entree ($22) but Sebastian returned to the table to announce that "the kitchen hasn't made any cassoulet today but we can give you some mashed potatoes instead." No thanks. I'll have the roasted chicken. It was quite good — half a chicken, boned, under a tamari cream sauce, served with creamed spinach, fluffy potatoes and a grilled portabella. It annoys me to pay $16 for roasted chicken but this ain't Roasters.

Wayne ordered seared Scottish salmon on asparagus risotto, with black truffle butter ($18) and cleaned his plate. I found the dish a bit salty but it was a winner in every other respect.

For dessert we split a lemongrass creme brûlee ($7). In truth, we couldn't detect the lemongrass, but it was a flawless preparation, with dots of chocolate and caramel on the plate, biscotti and a strawberry.

Honestly, I like Cherry enough to poke some fun at its pretensions. I just wish the self-consciously hip could see themselves as the rest of us see them: as black holes with audio turned up way too loud.

Here and there
I lunched with my friend Clay at Watershed in Decatur recently. It's been months since I've visited. Chef Scott Peacock has turned the restaurant into one of the area's best. We sampled heavily herbed tomato soup, a hamburger, a shrimp salad sandwich (with enough lettuce to garnish a Shoney's salad bar), incredible chocolate cookies, pralines and a red velvet cake that had been put on the menu for Valentine's Day.

Peacock's pansexual Valentine's Day menu was one of the funniest I've ever seen, featuring dishes like "He She, It Loves Me ... He, She, It Loves Me Not," "Golden Roasted Viagra of the Sea" and "Jumbo Love x 6." When I noted that "jumbo" and "6" might be oxymoronic, Peacock complained bitterly that he'd wanted to use at least eight shrimp in the dish, but had been inhibited by the cost.

Peacock's long-awaited cookbook, co-authored with Edna Lewis, is at his publisher's.

Thai Report: I lunched recently with my friend Bill at Thai Chili and enjoyed a (tiny) plate of spicy squid. This remains one of Atlanta's best Thai restaurants and has opened a sister operation in Colony Square. ... I also enjoyed a takeout dish of nua nam tok and spicy catfish from Jitlada recently. I confess, though, I remain addicted to the simple, cheap, fast food at The King and I, where I usually order the pad thai or the spicy tofu. The city's best green curry with chicken is at Little Bangkok on Cheshire Bridge these days. This hole-in-the-wall has grown into a very popular restaurant and waits for a table are now routine. Of course, the best of all the Thai spots remains Tamarind, though its pace is too leisurely for quick dining.

Harry's in a Hurry on Ponce has been sold but the operation seems little changed. You can still buy organic arugula there and you can still pay $6 for a roasted chicken that would cost half as much at Kroger. The aisles have been opened up, inventory increased, and checkout slowed to a snail's pace (possibly by new employees?).

I was deluged with calls and mail about my rant about servers a few weeks ago. One repeated complaint was about servers who refer to you as "hun" or "sweetie."

"Tell them to stop that! I'm not dating them!" said one caller.

Several irate servers called, assuming that my critique of particular forms of service was meant to condemn the entire occupation. Excellent choice of logic, dudes! A few others were horrified that I made reference to a barmaid at the Clermont Lounge. A sense of humor and a taste for the outre go a lot further than a Disney smile in this world.

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

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