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First Look: Amuse

Chef Lenny Robinson's modern French in the former Allegro location

Certain restaurants evoke sweet memories. One is Anis in Buckhead. I lunched there every Friday for years with friends and still often do. Another evocative one no longer exists — at least not in its original form. I’m referring to Café Diem, which was replaced by Après Diem.??Café Diem was a favorite for light French food and an evening of listening to poetry back in the early '90s. Created by Andy Alibaksh, it was the city’s most boho setting, and it seems that people enjoyed working there as much as hanging out there. There’s even a Facebook page titled “I worked at Café Diem Atlanta, GA, and still remember some of it.”??Among those who worked there was Arnaud Michel, who went on to open the aforementioned Anis (and several other restaurants) with business partners. Now, he has teamed up with Alibaksh, to open Amuse (560 Dutch Valley Road, 404-888-1890), an Anis-style bistro in the space vacated by Allegro.??The décor has been much improved, at least to my eyes. Alibaksh in particular has a knack for creating cozy bistro-style spaces. (He also owns Carpe Diem and Carroll Street Café.) Warm colors and draped cloth have replaced the gray walls and icy figure of a pulcinella. When I visited for dinner, I dined outside on the patio – an idyllic evening replete with the sounds of a jazz duo, the feel of fall air and the taste of good food. ??The chef is Lenny Robinson, who headed the kitchen at Anis for quite a few years. He did a brief stint at the Peasant Bistro and was chef/owner of the popular but defunct Les Fleur de Lis in the Healy Building downtown. I am really happy to see him back at this convenient location, which is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.??Robinson’s food tends toward bistro classics but with wonderful surprises. So you get, for example, steak with frites — but the steak has been marinated in cola. Some surprises arrive without mention on the menu. Thus, when I ordered a starter of charred octopus with mint, chili oil and pickled cucumbers, I wasn’t expecting it all to be held together with pickled seaweed. Honestly, I loved the dish but would like thicker slices of octopus or a little less of the dominating flavor of pickles.??Another compelling starter is roasted cauliflower with pecorino, candied pistachios and oregano. What took me by surprise this time was the reddish color of the cruciferous vegetable, imparted by some chili oil and, moreso, a mound of pureed cauliflower with a hummus-like texture but distinctive flavor. At lunch a few days later, a friend ordered the starter of crispy pork belly over napa cabbage with mint, lime, avocado, chili oil and plum. It’s seriously enough, with a cup of the day’s soup (like lentil-chorizo), to serve as an entrée. ??Pickles, this time in the form of shredded Brussels sprouts, showed up again in an entrée of orange-glazed piglet with paprika brodo. Happily, Robinson keeps the orange glaze quite subdued on the succulent pig. A chunk of crispy Spanish mackerel was nearly as thick as the piglet and served atop a heady stew of roasted chickpeas, mint and sultanas. ??At lunch, the accent is on small plates and sandwiches, although three pastas and four entrees, such as the wood-roasted trout a friend ordered, are also available. The trout featured an interesting lemon-roe aioli and was served with crispy potatoes. ??My own lunch dish was the restaurant’s sizeable burger with tomato marmalade, mustard and (too many) crispy-fried onions. (At $11, it’s the most expensive sandwich.) A friend ordered a ciabatta sandwich of orange-glazed pork with apple slaw and cherry mostarda. He declared it “good but not great.” I personally don’t like pork with a lot of fruity flavors, but I know many people do.??I’ve sampled two desserts — a butterscotch crème brûlée topped with a “wood-roasted marshmallow,” and the lavender and violet ice creams that the kitchen makes, along with several others. The violet was particularly intense and also shows up on a dish of lemon pound cake with berries. Still, the crème brûlée was my favorite, although the marshmallow was too stiff to swirl with the crème. Next time, I’ll get the saffron crème caramel with roasted pears and licorice.??Here and there??We seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of taqueria openings. Besides Lupe in Midtown, whose opening I reported last week, newbies include El Toro in Grant Park and Pure Taqueria in Inman Park on North Highland Avenue at Elizabeth Street.??I hit Pure for dinner last Tuesday night and found the place absolutely packed. Cost is about the same as Lupe — inexpensive but not dirt-cheap. Then again, the tacos at both restaurants are over-stuffed, compared to the usual at, say, a Buford Highway taqueria.??So far my favorite taco has been Lupe’s tongue. ...
??Stella is closing in Grant Park and will be replaced by a Doc Chey’s Noodle House. There go next summer’s fig and prosciutto pizzas. ... Actually, I had a terrific white prosciutto pizza, also topped with chopped tomatoes and arugula, at Grant Central Pizza last week. If you see it offered, order it. ...
??Although I was sympathetic with the boycott of Whole Foods, following its CEO’s publication of a column opposing nationalized health care, I wasn’t convinced it would be any more effective than most retail boycotts. Nevertheless, peer pressure kept me from the store … until last week, when I was craving a particular cheese and my car suddenly lurched into the store’s parking lot on Ponce de Leon. I almost immediately ran into a longtime friend who works at the store. I confessed my guilt about being there and she said she wouldn’t tell anyone I was there. Then, locating the cheese I wanted, and seeing that its cost had skyrocketed — as it has with a lot of cheese recently — I put it back in the case, exchanging it for a four-month-old, dirt-cheap gouda. ??I kept telling my friends there was a reason besides politics that I had stopped shopping at Whole Foods well before the boycott. It makes me feel really poor.



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