The good, the con­fus­ing and the ab­surd of At­lanta din­ing

GA Voice - - Arts & Entertainment -

Through­out my 30-year ten­ure as a nearly full­time din­ing critic, I typ­i­cally eat in restau­rants four or five times a week. Peo­ple al­ways thought it sounded like a fan­tas­tic job. I al­ways ex­plained that crit­ics eat more bad-to-medi­ocre food than good stuff. So it went dur­ing the last week or so.

That would be the

Dish of the Week:

The One Eared Stag.

brunch-time cas­soulet at I hadn’t vis­ited this restau­rant across from the In­man Park MARTA sta­tion in a cou­ple of years when I brunched there on a re­cent Sun­day with fam­ily mem­bers I hadn’t seen since I was a child. It’s not the qui­etest place to catch up, but Chef Robert Phalen’s bril­liantly con­ceived cook­ing couldn’t be more ab­sorb­ing.

Cas­soulet is a clas­sic French dish – among my fa­vorites – fea­tur­ing white beans and duck con­fit un­der a toasty top­ping of bread­crumbs. Phalen riffs. He scat­ters the crumbs, shreds the duck and then tops it with a fat poached egg whose yolk adds vel­vety tex­ture. He also adds spinach leaves. Ad­dic­tive.

(1029 Edge­wood Ave., 404-525-4479, oneeared­sta­gatl.com) Con­fus­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence of the Week:

The Pinewood

De- spite raves, I’ve never vis­ited in De­catur. It’s best known for its craft cock­tail pro­gram. I don’t drink and only two of my five friends who vis­ited with me sam­pled and ap­proved the booze. It was fun none­the­less to watch the bar­tender shake up his con­coc­tions with more dou­ble-jointed force and drama than a Cirque du Soleil per­former.

The food ranges from the medi­ocre to the very good. The dou­ble-patty cheese­burger with shame­fully rich re­moulade and ba­con de­serves its renown. Two of us di­vided it as an ap­pe­tizer. An oys­ter roll is nearly as deca­dent. But my trout was dis­ap­point­ing. It was topped with shaved pro­sciutto coun­try ham and thin-sliced olives and chiles. The fish, sit­ting in a pool of browned but­ter and shaved fen­nel, was se­ri­ously over­cooked. A pa­pardelle Bolog­nese earned an “it’s okay” from a table­mate. Choose care­fully and you’ll eat well.

Warn­ing. Get a reser­va­tion. The place is wall-to-wall ta­bles and you will not get seated with­out one.

(254 W. Ponce de Leon Ave.,

‘The One Eared Stag’s’ riff on the clas­sic cas­soulet served with white beans, duck con­fit and bread crumbs. (Photo by Cliff Bo­s­tock)

De­catur, 404-373-5507, pinewoodtr.com)

Ab­sur­dity of the Week:

One of my friends works for a com­pany that doles out em­ployee awards in the form of dis­count coupons for and Longhorn. Af­ter two vis­its to the lat­ter, I re­fused to go again. But I was mor­bidly cu­ri­ous about Chili’s, which I had not vis­ited since I lived in Hous­ton in the ’80s. Oy. Noth­ing suc­ceeds like very medi­ocre food pan­der­ing to the timid of palate.

Five of us vis­ited the Toco Hills lo­ca­tion. I’d been told by a friend that I would love the baby back ribs – “ten­der, slow smoked over pecan wood,” ac­cord­ing to the menu. Sev­eral sauces are avail­able – Pepsi, craft beer, and orig­i­nal. When I told our (very en­ter­tain­ing) server that I couldn’t abide su­per-sweet bbq sauces, he sug­gested the orig­i­nal. It was of course cloy­ingly sweet. Thank God, I asked for it on the side.

Yes, the meat was fall­ing off the bone, as it should be, but the dry rub was grimly fla­vor­less. There’s no fla­vor of chiles at Chili’s. That’s not to say I didn’t clean the bones, but the al­ter­na­tive was eat­ing the two sides that came with it – dread­ful fries and a big pile of steam­ing broc­coli. Who the hell serves broc­coli with bar­be­cue?

Chili’s

(2133 Lavista Rd., 404-325-8680, chilis.com)

Cliff Bo­s­tock, PhD, is a long­time At­lanta food critic and for­mer psy­chother­a­pist who now prac­tices life coach­ing for cre­ative types; 404-518-4415.

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