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Visits to Serpas and Goin' Coastal

Eating during Midtown Restaurant Week, whether servers like it or not

My friend Chicken (not his real name) is an unemployed server, recently fired from one of the city's better restaurants, one that has a lengthy training program and a turnover rate roughly equivalent to the speed of light.

Chicken and I often hang out at Starbucks together where he speed-writes vengeful tales of restaurant work, directed at employers and diners alike.

When another friend, Bobby, stopped by our table last week, I mentioned that I'd decided on Serpas for our regular Friday night dinner with friends. It was Midtown Restaurant Week and Serpas, like many others, was offering a three-course meal for $25.

"Don't do that!" Chicken clucked as he ripped out his ear buds. "Everyone hates Midtown Restaurant Week. It's horrible!"

The reason it's "horrible" is that servers work just as hard as they do when diners are ordering a la carte and spending twice as much. But diners typically tip on the $25 cost of their meals without stopping to think that a higher tip would be appropriate. (This same situation makes many servers resentful of discount programs like Scoutmob.)

It's also horrible, Chicken said, "because the people are horrible. They're people who don't go to restaurants often and they're difficult. They ask for extra shit and complain a lot."

I thought you'd like to know what your servers are thinking.

Chicken's tantrum aside, our Friday night group decided to join the rest of the cheap-ass horrible people at Serpas (659 Auburn Ave., 404-688-0040). As soon as I sat down and looked at the menu, my memory was jolted. I'd come to the same restaurant a year ago and the menu seemed quite similar. It says something that Serpas drew my attention again.

The restaurant, whose chef-owner is Louisiana native Scott Serpas, has received lots of national attention — for the "true food" as well as for the deafening ambiance in at least one case. Serpas is located in a cavernous former cotton warehouse in the Old Fourth Ward's Studioplex. One end of our table of seven literally could not hear the conversation at the other end. Prepare to scream, text or eat meditatively.

If our server hated us, she didn't show it, but there was a lot of delivering the wrong plates to people all around us. It's a small complaint.

Most of us stuck to the special menu. I started with a scoop of unceremoniously plated but savory chicken liver mousse that I spread over toasted bread and heaped with pickled onions. Others at the table selected spicy shrimp-okra gumbo or an arugula salad with cranberries and goat cheese. I was surprised nobody picked the pork-belly taquitos, but strangeness isn't this crew's style.

Like last year, I picked slow-braised pork belly that was crisp and meaty without being overwhelmingly fatty. Serpas served it over plump ravioli with a spinach-artichoke filling. A generous clump of collards nestled against the meat, which was topped with some pickled whole mustard seeds. BPBE (Best Pork Belly Ever).

Other dishes on the table: A big chunk of braised short rib, a bit dry for my taste, was plated with more greens and caramelized onion-potato gratin. Roasted Atlantic salmon, spiked with citrus and soy, was served with edamame purée. All of these entrées, with a few deviations here and there, are on the regular menu.

Three at the table did order from the regular menu — a chicken breast stuffed with spinach and goat cheese for one and double-cheese burgers for two others. They liked. I yawned.

Dessert was toffee pudding with cane syrup. It would make a great facial mask during copulation.

Serpas, whose prices are fairly moderate, tends to be off my radar, perhaps because of its comparatively hidden-away location. Every time I do get to the restaurant, I vow to return. You should certainly do the same.

On Sunday, the last day of the week that Chicken hates, Wayne and I went to Goin' Coastal (1021 Virginia Ave., 404-941-9117). I love this "sustainable seafood joint." It serves sparkling-fresh seafood, simply prepared. Look to the chalkboards and approach the printed menu with caution. I'm not much into the composed dishes here.

I have to admit this dinner was a bit wacky: A) I've eaten three-course Sunday suppers here for less than $25, and B-) the portions were manic-depressive. The most conspicuous of the latter was Wayne's depressingly tiny slice of pecan pie, compared to my mania-inducing portion of bread pudding made with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. (Both were maddeningly good.)

Something similar happened if you added $5 to your bill and selected a fish from the chalkboard, as Wayne did. He got a gigantic portion of perfectly seared yellowfin tuna with two big chunks of corn on the cob and a feta-tomato salad. That was in addition to his starter of she-crab soup and dessert.

Meanwhile, I munched a few crab fritters (like sweet hushpuppies with a very faint taste of crab) and lingered bitterly over my small entrée portion of risotto topped with steamed lobster. The risotto, also $5 extra and way too fishy in flavor, was a substitute for the advertised whole lobster. How come I didn't get any sides?

For real, stick to the straightforward seafood on the chalkboards and you'll be happy, even as a cheap, horrible person.



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