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In their Element

More small plates in Midtown

Remember Cherry? It was so self-consciously hip in every way that it was bound to expire as quickly as one of those Versace Lycra shirts with the acid-trip graphics. You remember those, right? No? Good.

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Actually, Cherry languished on its death bed, changing owners in 2005 and toning down its baroque fusion menu before it took its last breath. Now the space has been taken over by new owners and rechristened Element (1051 W. Peachtree St., 404-745-3001). Patti Krohngold's original decor, which really was ultracool, is gone, and on a Sunday night, the interior of the restaurant was completely empty. The upstairs has been converted into a comfy lounge space with the upholstered furniture that seems to be de rigueur wherever people swill alcohol these days.

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We decided to dine on the patio with a few other tables of diners. The space has been redesigned and includes a koi fish pond. Wayne, ever the gardener, spotted poison ivy around the pond and insisted on showing it to our server and to the restaurant owner, a very nice guy whose earlier work has been in real estate restoration. He promised Wayne he would eliminate the weed in a way that would not put the koi fish at risk.

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The menu is – what else? – small plates for sharing. This is the third such one-word-named venue I've visited recently. Utopia and Rare likewise feature only small plates in a cocktail-lounge atmosphere.

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We gave a good portion of the menu's $5-to-$7 dishes a try and didn't run across anything we didn't like. The only dishes I found a bit problematic were those made with peri-peri sauce. I'm not crazy about the restaurant's version of the piquant South African sauce. With both shrimp and chicken, it had an oddly musky undertone. Wayne thought it was fine, though.

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Other dishes we sampled included a white-bean hummus in which so much lavosh had been stood that you could barely see the dip. It was one of the most garlicky substances I've tasted in a long time but completely addictive. I especially liked a plate of soft, grilled chorizo with caramelized onions. And three little grilled lamb chops with a mango salsa were a tasty bargain.

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A goat-cheese croquette was fat, creamy and lightly crunchy. It was served with roasted red peppers, but not enough of them. Pork tenderloin stuffed with bleu cheese and spinach was probably my favorite dish. I'd love an entree-sized portion. Ditto for the chunks of grilled flank steak served over greens with mandarin orange slices.

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This was my first encounter with peppadew, a processed pepper from South Africa with sweet and peppery flavor. It was here used to flavor a skewer of chicken. It was served with several other skewers featuring pesto and the peri-peri sauce I mentioned earlier.

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The restaurant offers a number of desserts, including a wasabi cheesecake, but we were way too full to sample them.

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Revisiting Cantina La Casita

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Two weeks ago I reported rumors that Cantina La Casita (560 Gresham Ave., 404-622-8081) had changed hands and that it seemed to have lost its liquor license.

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In fact, the restaurant in East Atlanta Village has not been sold, and it is pouring alcohol again. We visited on a Saturday night and found the dirt-cheap restaurant packed, as usual. We sat on the patio – directly under a speaker that prompted us to move ... closer to a table of three chain-smokers. I have to hand it to anyone who can eat an oversized taco while holding a cigarette between two fingers more bejeweled than a mummified Egyptian queen. I'm sure there's a place for her in Cirque du Soleil.

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God, I wish the city would outlaw all smoking in restaurants and bars.

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We started with the usual chips and queso, and the restaurant's roasted tomato and serrano salsa, which we combined. Both of us ordered pork tamales – mine with the red mole, Wayne's with the green sauce. Although the restaurant seems to consider these its specialty, I don't think they hold a candle to the tacos. They are made right but are cooked until way too dry much of the time. I suggest you order a salsa with them.

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The corn-tortilla tacos, however, are great. Our choices: chicken stewed in green sauce, shredded beef in a guajillo sauce with poblano crème, fried tilapia, and a trio of woodland mushrooms with squash and onions.

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Here and there

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Dan Handley writes this following my recent review of Olive Bistro: "Went to Olive on your recommendation – it was pretty good. I have to disagree with the statement 'best hummus in Atlanta.' Maybe in a restaurant, but it was not nearly as good as the DeKalb Farmers Market's. Their hummus is far superior.

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"Also, have you ever tried Wyatt's Barbecue? It's across the street from Ann's Snack Bar – actually at the intersection of Memorial with Maynard Terrace. I recommend the rib tips, mac and cheese and turnip greens. You have to go early and get a piece of sweet potato pie – best dessert in Atlanta. All food is served to go, no onsite dining."

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I am pleased to pass on Dan's recommendation as an alternative to Ann's if you find a long line at the tiny restaurant whose burgers the Wall Street Journal recently declared the country's best. ...

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SbyDee Thai Restaurant has marked its one-year anniversary at 132 10th St. (404-888-0868). "Sbydee" means "healthy" or "doing well" and the restaurant uses no MSG and offers organic brown rice as an alternative to the usual white rice. ...

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Einstein's has debuted a new low-fat menu by chef David Hartshorn, who has teamed up with the folks at Urban Body Studios for their input. The menu changes weekly. Recently featured were a Nicoise salad and artichoke-lemon chicken with steamed red potatoes. This arrives just in time for you to buff up for dining on Einstein's popular see-and-be-seen patio.



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