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Third chef's the charm?

A visit to MidCity Cuisine with freshly arrived chef Nicolas Bour

Our waiter winced. I buried my face in my hands. "Not again," I wailed.

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I looked up at Wayne. "How often does this happen?" I asked.

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"A lot," he said. "Should we go someplace else?"

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Our waiter shifted his eyes back and forth, smiled and disappeared.

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"Go someplace else?" I repeated. "We've already been to another restaurant that turned out to be closed. At this rate, we'll end up at the all-night Krystal."

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We were at MidCity Cuisine (1545 Peachtree St., 404-888-8700). It is the third restaurant that I've recently visited where a new chef has been hired. I called ahead each time to ask if the chef had begun producing new dishes. Each time, I was told "yes" and, each time, that turned out not to be true.

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The inspiration for my visit to MidCity Cuisine was the hiring of executive chef Nicolas Bour to replace Lance Gummere. Bour is best known for turning the recently closed Iris in East Atlanta into a citywide designation. Before Iris, whose closing mystifies everyone, Bour worked for Guenter Seeger at the Dining Room of the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and at Elizabeth's on 37th in Savannah. He grew up on an organic farm in Canada and his cooking at Iris wowed people, including me, with its clean flavors and multi-cultural highlights.

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The only thing stranger than the closing of Iris, which seemed to be doing quite well, is the sudden disappearance of Lance Gummere, Bour's predecessor. Gummere was named executive chef at MidCity after — I hope you can follow all this — Shaun Doty, his boss, departed for Table 1280 in August. Reports of Gummere's management of the kitchen were almost uniformly positive and nobody has bothered to explain his rapid departure. Operating partner Sean Boyd made this rather cryptic statement in a press release: "Lance was a tremendous asset to the restaurant and I'm sorry to see him go. He will continue to be a friend of the restaurant."

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I have no idea what that means. I am a friend of several restaurants myself ... and an enemy to several others.

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So, as I said, Bour had not produced a new menu or any specials by the time of our visit, and we found the dining room generally to be running erratically. Our waiter could not manage to get a plain tonic water on the table, finally begging me after three tries to order something else. It is amazing, too, how quickly the decor at MidCity has turned into a cure for insomnia. That's the problem with these super-trendy decors. They turn boring 10 minutes after exposure to air.

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But dinner was good. Maybe it's my imagination or poverty, but prices seem to have risen at the restaurant. True, the fettuccine with chicken livers in a Marsala sauce is nearly filling enough to be an entree, but I don't want to pay $12 for an appetizer, even one as luscious as this. Wayne was even more outraged over paying $10 for an ordinary Caesar salad draped with two white anchovies.

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But he didn't blink at the $32 charge for the loup de mer laboriously disinterred tableside from the salt and egg crust in which it was baked. We watched our server nearly develop carpal tunnel syndrome from preparing two orders of this dish in a row. This cooking method, increasingly common around town, produces very succulent fish. Here, the fish, which changes daily, is served with tajarin pasta with olives and chanterelles.

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I ordered the roasted duck, half a bird turned glossy-brown by Marsala wine. (I guess I was in a Marsala mood.) It was served with some parsnips and a couple of fat dates stuffed with gorgonzola. All in all good, but nothing to wire $26 home about.

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Desserts? That damn Kit Kat Bar is still on the menu. Lose it. I'm way over it.

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Even though his execution of the present menu is fine, I look forward to Bour throwing it out the window and starting over. I've found it way too common for restaurant owners to not give new chefs as much freedom as they need. I hope that doesn't turn out to be the case here.

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In Grant Park

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What the hell is going on in my hood? The Automatic, Todd Semrau's retro coffee and sandwich shop, has closed. Showtime Cafe, which featured a bizarre hybrid of Cuban and Southern cooking, has gone bye-bye. Over in East Atlanta, the Heaping Bowl and Brew closed, along with Iris.

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Meanwhile, we are waiting for Zocalo and Babalu to open. And we're excited to hear that Agave owner Jack Sobel plans a seafood restaurant in the Showtime location. (Six Feet Under, nearby, continues to draw big crowds.)

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The only new restaurant in the area to open recently is Louisiana Fish, Gumbo & More (355 Moreland Ave., 404-389-0843). Despite the name, the cafe also serves Chicago-style barbecue. There are also locations in Stone Mountain and on Memorial Drive.

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My visit last week to the Moreland Avenue location was a disappointment. The funky little building and the friendly staff gave me a good feeling that was rapidly soured by my meal. I was forewarned. While I was paying for my takeout order of an oyster po' boy and a bowl of gumbo, someone approached the counter and asked, "How's the gumbo?"

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"Try our barbecue," the clerk replied.

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"But how's the gumbo?" he repeated.

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"Our barbecue is the best," the clerk insisted.

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Indeed, my $4.99 bowl of "seafood gumbo" held two shrimp, a couple pieces of sausage, a scattering of rice and a lot of broth. I did like the flavor — very spicy — but I've never been served such a thin gumbo.

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My oyster po' boy was no better. The bread was spongier than a hot dog bun and the oysters, though plentiful, were flavorless and tepid.

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What a disappointment. Why is Louisiana cooking in this city invariably mediocre?

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Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.



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