Birth­day fa­vorites in and out of town

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The birth­day mon­ster ar­rived at my door June 16 to scrape more hair from my scalp and drain more col­la­gen from my flesh. In­stead of hid­ing, I de­cided to treat my­self to a few things. Pri­mar­ily, I wran­gled friends into meals at restau­rants headed by two of my fa­vorite chefs.

First was

Boc­caLupo (753 Edgewood Ave., 404-577-2332, boc­calupoatl.com).

Owner-chef Bruce Logue’s chang­ing menu of Ital­ian-Amer­i­can food has been among my fa­vorites ever since he moved to At­lanta al­most 10 years ago and be­came the open­ing chef at the now de­funct La Pi­etra Cucina. Be­fore that, Logue worked at the renowned Babbo in New York, among other no­table restau­rants in the USA and Italy.

Logue con­tin­ues Babbo’s blend of clas­sic Ital­ian tech­niques fea­tur­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. Above all, his cook­ing is highly in­ven­tive. He culls the globe. For ex­am­ple, a fa­vorite starter is dubbed br­uschetta banh mi, mash­ing up the clas­sic Ital­ian toasted bread with the iconic Viet­namese sand­wich. The top­pings in­clude long-cooked pork, a layer of chicken liver and a bit of gi­a­r­dine­ria, the Ital­ian rel­ish. My one com­plaint was what seemed to me like an ex­cess of onion. No­body agreed with me.

I love chicken liver, so I couldn’t re­sist an en­trée of open-face ravi­oli with lus­ciously ten­der, broad noo­dles folded over the chicken liv­ers with green marl­malade and pink-eyed peas on the side. The dish was heav­ily scat­tered with herbs, and I have to say the plat­ing was not too ap­peal­ing, but, hey, they hid some­thing so rich, I had to take home a third of it.

Other dishes we or­dered – most of which I’ve had be­fore – in­cluded cala­mari in a Si­cil­ian tomato broth with pine nuts and ca­pers; fried cau­li­flower with mint and ca­pers; su­per-rich 20-egg tagli­atelle with wild mush­rooms and “kale kim­chi;” and a hi­lar­i­ously won­der­ful South­ern fried chicken parme­san you need to or­der. We had two desserts. The best was cream cheese panna cotta with blue­berry jelly and squid-ink crumbs. The lesser was choco­late mez­za­cotta – a gooey, molten-pud­ding-cake-like sub­stance that would make a good fa­cial mask dur­ing kinky sex. My other meal was brunch at the

two hours away in Rabun County

Red Barn Cafe, (2592 Old High­way 441 South, Tiger, GA,

The Red Barn Cafe in Rabun County is known for its de­li­cious, cre­ative small plates. (Photo by Cliff Bo­s­tock)

30576, 404-563-3706, tiger­wine.com).

I went here last year too, drawn by Chef David Sweeney, the best veg­e­tar­ian chef in the coun­try. He works here only dur­ing the sum­mer and fall. The cafe is open week­ends – Fri­days for din­ner, Satur­days for lunch and din­ner and Sun­days for brunch.

The lo­cal clien­tele de­mands meat, of course, so there’s way more than you’d ex­pect from Sweeney. Small-plate ex­am­ples are “memaw’s fa­vorite liv­er­wurst toast.” It’s a study in earthy fla­vors you spike with whole grain mus­tard, radishes and half-sour pickles. There’s also chunks of hol­lowed cu­cum­ber filled with dev­iled ham. But my fa­vorites by far were the per­fect orbs of falafel with a turmeric yo­gurt, pick­led pep­per, cu­cum­ber, sesame and cilantro. Sec­ond was pur­ple daikon topped with cashew cream, a con­coc­tion that in­cluded shi­itake mush­rooms, turmeric and chives.

We only or­dered one en­trée – a sand­wich of turkey sch­nitzel on a brioche bun with mar­i­nated cukes and fried pota­toes. It was just as novel as every other dish. We were way too full to try the choco­late pie with a maca-al­mond crust, golden berries and toasted co­conut. But the view of the Tiger Moun­tain Vine­yards, and a bot­tle of their wine for my friends, was enough sweet­ness. I hope the grave is as nice.

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­stock@gmail.com.

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