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Float your boat

Floataway Cafe still shines

"Do it and you can forget a tip," I barked at the server at Floataway Cafe (1123 Zonolite Road, 404-892-1414). She was holding her ear close to Wayne, who was whispering to her. I knew he was likely informing her that it was my 101st birthday.

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"Oh, don't worry," she said. "Only half the staff will come out to sing to you."

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I hate birthdays, I really do. "How old are you?" friends ask every year. My reply is always the same: "I haven't decided yet."

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My mother even has pictures of me as a platinum-haired child hiding under the cake table while people sang to me. Imagine it. I hated aging when I was 6.

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Happily, our meal at Floataway, which I love as much as I hate my birthday, ended with a slice of chocolate torte and a single candle, instead of the conflagration one candle per year would require. And there was no singing — just a faint "happy birthday" wish from Wayne followed by my "Whatever."

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Why don't I go to Floataway more often? For the money, it is among the best restaurants in town. Opened in 1998 by Clifford Harrison and Anne Quatrano, after their first venture, Bacchanlia, became a hit, Floataway is relatively inexpensive and features a daily menu of seasonal cuisine with Mediterranean influences.

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The relatively small space — get a reservation — is unchanged since its opening. Although its restful greens and blues, airy fabric room dividers, graphics of billowing clouds and mattress-like banquettes still please the eye, I have to say a design update may be slightly overdue. The initial design was a bit too trendy not to get spruced-up every few years.

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End of complaints. I love the food here. Chef de cuisine Chris Maynard, working with Harrison and Quatrano, cooks with complete integrity. There are no flashy gimmicks to the food, no weird plating, no signature silliness. Instead, you get flavor — intense contrasted to subtle, with herb garnishes here and there — along with great service.

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We ate way too much. I find it impossible not to order the chicken livers wood-grilled on rosemary skewers and served with slightly caramelized onions turned pink by a bacon vinaigrette. We also ordered a small plate of olives in Tuscan olive oil and a remarkable dish of diced wood-grilled octopus with gigante beans and fresh zucchini. The earthy flavor of the beans was a surprisingly perfect segue to the octopus.

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The most surprising appetizer we sampled was roasted heirloom yellow peppers, brushed with mild vinegar during their cooking, and combined with slivers of apricots and manchego cheese. That's three complementary textures and three stark flavors. Finally, we tasted veal and ricotta meatballs — fat, fluffy, subtle — served over San Marzano tomato sauce.

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After all that food, we could have skipped entrees. Wayne definitely made the more rational choice: grilled shrimp topped by a salsa verde reminiscent of a dry chimichurri sauce (with some local heirloom green beans on the side). I, on the other hand, chose an ultra-rich dish of risotto with parmesan, lobster and local squashes.

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Besides the single piece of chocolate torte that we divided, we finished with coffee — American for Wayne and Ily espresso for me.

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If you haven't visited Floataway lately, it's time for a return visit. Believe me, you will be very surprised by the prices.

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Here and there

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During dinner at Floataway, we enjoyed chatting with the couple at the next table, Pete Patel and his wife, Alpa, who are expecting their second child. The two are major foodies who live in the northern 'burbs. Pete is British, of Indian extraction, and swears by the food at Minerva (4305 State Bridge Road, 678-566-7444). He especially recommends the chicken tikka and biryani but insists that when you order either dish, you tell them to make it "the way Pete likes it." For British-Irish pub cuisine, he recommends the Harp (1425 Market Blvd., 770-645-0118). ...

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Following my recent review of Carpe Diem, I received this e-mail from "Doc Al," owner of Trackside Tavern: "As a resident of Decatur, I used to dine fairly regularly at Carpe Diem when it was one of the only upscale restaurants in the area, but have since taken my business down the street to Feast and Wahoo. I was amused by your experience of mentioning the excessively fatty lamb chops to your server and getting an indifferent comment. I experienced exactly the same attitude when I ordered a bison steak and could not eat even half of it because of a tough stringy streak down the middle. When I commented to the server, she said, 'That's too bad, it's usually very good," and took my plate and walked away. She did not offer to bring me something else."

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I confess my meal at Carpe Diem was one of the few times I have found a dish so far off the mark that I thought compensation was in order but received none. ...

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My friend Jeff Boyle and I had an endless lunch at Anis last week. Jeff's penne with tomato sauce was much better than my special of penne with shrimp in a watery cream sauce. I wish the restaurant, where I lunched every Friday for years, would resume doing some more interesting Provencal dishes. ...

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My addiction to the vegetarian cuisine at Green Sprout continues. The simple bean sprouts wrapped in crispy tofu skin, served with a ginger-soy sauce, is my favorite. If you order it, be sure to let the plate sit a few minutes, unless you enjoy burns in your mouth. ...

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When I lived in Houston, I became addicted to that state's Blue Bell ice cream. Somewhere along the way, I started eating Häagen Dazs again — until a few weeks ago when I couldn't bring myself to spend double the cost of Blue Bell for a pint of rum-raisin. Take some advice: Blue Bell is not only half the cost, it is actually tastier.



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