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Mix and match

Mix puts an original spin on the ubiquitous small plate

Raving about a new restaurant is dangerous. When Piebar opened, for example, I had a pretty good meal during its second week. And then, perhaps because of the unending stampede of customers, the quality seemed to tank.

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So, I'm reluctant to say this, but Mix (1441 Dresden Drive, 404-969-3250), open only about a month, may be serving the best small plates in our city. Generally, I'm so tired of the tapas/small-plate trend that I'd rather dine over my sink on scrap food from my refrigerator. But Mix, whose executive chef is Carmen Cappello (most recently from Two Urban Licks), really is unique.

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The new restaurant is owned by Michel and Tonya Arnette, who operate Haven in the same building. I'll be honest. I didn't have high expectations of Mix because I find Haven pretty snooze-worthy. But Mix is edgier in every way, including a decor that blends Austin Powers camp with real glamour. A lounge area features a huge modular sofa that's bright red and scattered with shaggy pillows. The area is illuminated with a hanging lamp that cycles through different colors. (I prefer the purple.)

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The bar is a long, black curving one that snakes through the dining room and, in the rear, fronts one of the most open kitchens I've ever seen. A series of water-filled pillars that look like 6-foot lava lamps backs the bar, whose 20 stools are upholstered in suede. Most of the seating in the low-lit, black dining room is in booths. In the rear, there's a bizarre Venetian-glass chandelier that looks a bit like a blood-red insect hive. Red, squiggly light fixtures also illuminate the bar.

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You are welcome to just drink here but you don't want to miss the food. Cappello and chef de cuisine Alex Rosado are preparing creative small plates that push the envelope without joining the unofficial but obvious competition among tapas chefs to out-weird one another.

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My favorite dish was baby octopus, grilled and tender, served with a radish and avocado salad and wasabi aioli. As I mentioned recently, grilled octopus is showing up on menus all over town, but few chefs seem to have any skill with it. After Kyma, Mix's is the best I've ordered in Atlanta.

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A crunchy-chewy little Basque pizza featured chorizo, cilantro, Manchego cheese, harissa aioli and serrano ham. A plate of the buttery ham can also be ordered with fresh figs, shaved Parmesan and dots of vintage balsamic vinegar.

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The figs were the only thing that didn't please me. They were nearly tasteless and a bit mealy on the ham plate and accompanying a dessert "Napoleon" made with vanilla ice cream and strawberry jam. I'm glad they were not served with the sautéed foie gras as they were at another restaurant I visited recently. Instead, Mix's kitchen serves its foie gras with a tart orange marmalade.

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Two don't-miss dishes, besides the octopus, are the braised pork and the veal sweetbreads. The pork is simply three big chunks of juicy, flavorful meat with a bit of fontina cheese sauce, some cooked spinach and toasted garlic. The sweetbreads are served with gnocchi and cremini mushrooms — a totally cool interplay of creamy textures bathed in a rich sauce. OK, maybe I liked the sweetbreads better than the octopus.

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Besides the Napoleon, for dessert we tried the pizza topped with Nutella, sheep's ricotta, hazelnuts and mint. Order it.

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What else? The service is wonderful. Natalie, Waitron of the Week, turned out to be born near Rothenburg in Gemany, site of a huge museum of medieval crime and punishment, one of the weirdest places we've ever visited. We reminisced with Natalie about instruments of torture and shame.

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And speaking of shame, the restrooms here — well, two of them — are among the most discomforting I've ever seen. When not in use, you can see through the glass doors. But when you go inside, a laser lights up the glass and makes it opaque — but only if you remember to lock the door. Natalie admitted that she's seen a few people, after drinking too much, use the restrooms without locking them, so that they put on a public tinkle show. Wayne suggested that they be moved to the dining room for entertainment.

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Here and there

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Lulu and I lunched at Feast (314 E. Howard Ave., 404-377-2000) recently. The new cafe is a hit with Decatur folks. The menu features inexpensive comfort food with interesting twists here and there.

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We ordered starters of oven-roasted clams in citrus-herb butter and fried mushroom "chips" served with a red pepper coulis for dipping. The latter reminded me of the fried 'shrooms at Fritti, but Lulu quickly corrected me. Feast's version is sliced mushrooms while Fritti's features them whole. I didn't care for the dip — a bit strong-flavored for the wild mushrooms' subtle taste. Better to eat them straight up.

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Lulu next ordered a calzone made with prosciutto, ricotta and sage, served with marinara. We agree that the pastry was excellent but the filling had a funky flavor we never managed to diagnose. My own order, wood-roasted shrimp with a spicy lemon marinade, was close to perfect. ...

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I lunched with a group of friends at Brasserie Le Coze recently. I swear to God, the prices here are outlandishly high for lunch. We returned to our regular location, Anis, the next week to eat just as well for half the price. A favorite at Anis lately has been the simple tenderloin with frites and the steak sandwich. ...

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I haven't made it there yet, but foodies are flocking to Chef Liu's in the tiny freestanding building in the middle of Pine Tree Plaza's parking lot at 5221 Buford Highway. It's mainly dumplings and noodles. The rumor is that Chef Liu developed the original dumpling recipes for Frank Ma's. One writer recommends a scallion pancake enfolding a fried egg. ...

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Outwrite Bookstore will present an evening with food and wine connoisseur Ted Allen of the Bravo TV series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" at 8 p.m. on Thurs., Nov. 10. Allen will speak and sign copies of his new cookbook, The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes.

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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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