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Peruvian pleasures

Sweet Devil Moon makes a go of it in Midtown

Few buildings seem as jinxed as the one at 980 Piedmont Ave. Located half a block from 10th Street, just south of the prospering Nickiemoto's and Zocalo, this space seems ideally situated at the epicenter of Midtown.

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But ever since the space was vacated by the Big Red Tomato years ago, one restaurant after another has failed here. At times, I've wondered if the occupant du jour would still be open by the time my review appeared.

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The latest to try to disprove the location's rep as a culinary hospice is Sweet Devil Moon (404-347-3600). It's not new. The restaurant has moved to Midtown after five years in a tiny space in the Oakhurst section of town. I liked the heavily draped, drama-laden space there, despite the frequent appearances of musicians who made conversation impossible.

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The food is largely Peruvian and served tapas-style. OK, it's not really tapas. These are large portions, $6 or $7 each, and in Spain would be called media-raciones, about half the size of an entree rather than the few nibbles of true tapas. But I'm not going to repeat my usual rant about my exhaustion with the small-plate trend that won't die because it's so damn profitable. And I'm not going to complain that Sweet Devil Moon is serving large portions when many others are charging as much for portions half this size.

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The interior of the restaurant has been improved with scarlet walls and paintings in gilt frames. Think a tapas-cum-séance parlor. The restroom is down a flight of stairs and I don't know how the handicapped access it. Still using crutches, I gave it a try and decided the easiest way down would be to fall.

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The enclosed patio is the preferred dining space. This is Midtown, after all, where dining is an exhibitionistic art. Chew your food seven times, wave at an acquaintance walking by, swallow, stand up and air-kiss someone whose name you don't remember, check your 2xist T-shirt for flecks of food, repeat. ...

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The food? Most of what Wayne and I ordered was pretty good. The only dish I considered a complete bore was the jalea, a platter of fried squid, scallops and fish chunks. The seafood, nicely cooked, was served with a miniscule quantity of bland jalapeño-cilantro pesto and was topped with an even more miniscule salsa of vinegar, red onions and cilantro. More of the latter would have definitely turned up the dish's flavors.

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Aji de gallina, a white-wine stew of shredded chicken with pecans and parmesan cheese, was delicious over the boiled white potatoes that are featured so much in Peruvian cooking. But why insert lettuce under the potatoes? It adds nothing but confusion.

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Churrasco, the classic Argentine steak, was heavily — not lightly, as the menu said — drizzled with chimichurri sauce. I'm not complaining. It's a great version of the garlicky sauce turned green by herbs. The meat was cooked medium-rare as we requested. Frankly, I'd prefer flank steak over the New York strip that the restaurant is using.

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Yuca rellena, a fried ball of mashed yucca filled with chicken, raisins and onions, was surprisingly moist. A drizzle of a mojo-like sauce might improve it, but I loved it. The evening's most interesting dish was the chupe de camarones, shrimp soup. A bit like shrimp bisque, the bowl was filled with seasoned milk, shrimp, veggies and rice. Best of all, you enrich the brew by breaking a large egg that's been poached in the broth.

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The only dessert available the evening of our visit was a coconut flan. Much denser than the Cuban version, it was served on a bed of coconut immersed in caramel sauce. Its $6 cost seemed high until it came to the table and was plenty for us both.

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I hope Sweet Devil Moon takes off. It occurs to me that part of the problem with this location is its gloomy patio. It needs to be better lit and perhaps gardened, so that its excitement reaches the street. Maybe a scaled replica of a temple of Machu Picchu? Servers in Inca costume? Give it a try and let me hear your comments.

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Here and there

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Check out AtlantaCuisine.com to read site owner Tom Maicon's cool article, "Show me what you got!" under the "AC Articles" section. Complete with stunning pictures, the article features the kinkiest food five local chefs could produce.

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Inman Perk Coffee has opened in Inman Park at 280 Elizabeth St., next to Johnny's Pizza. ... Mick's at Lenox Square has expired. ...

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Paul Kvam writes to complain that all of the televisions at City Cafe Diner on 10th Street are tuned to Fox News. "For your readers who are minority, especially Hispanics, whom Fox's Bill O'Reilly has referred to as 'wetbacks' on air, and especially gays and lesbians, who are under constant attack by the channel's news hosts, this passive support of Fox News Networks might be disturbing." ...

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Patti Roth, former chef of Luxe and Eclipse di Sol, writes to explain that she has gone into the catering business so she can spend more time with her daughter. Reach her at rpatti@bellsouth.net. It just doesn't seem right that child-rearing should affect our access to the work of one of the city's best chefs. ...

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A caller informs me that Lush, reported closed here last week, has been replaced by Pacific Kitchen, featuring Asian and Mexican flavors — shades of Alena Pyles, who years ago made the original Nickiemoto's in Buckhead a destination with a similar blend.

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cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com



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