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After Frances, Fra Diavolo

A visit to old fave Pasta Vino

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It just ain't right. There Wayne and I, residents of Grant Park, were, sitting on the patio of Pasta Vino (2391 Peachtree Road, 404-231-4946) amid so many suffering Buckhead residents. It was the day after Hurricane Frances swept through town, apparently knocking out electricity in much of Buckhead, while leaving us grubby downtown gentrifiers comparatively unscathed. All about us, children ran between tables while their parents thanked God that the beloved trattoria at Peachtree Battle Shopping Center was open.

"It's an emergency! I'm going to eat carbs," a woman whose waist was roughly the size of my wrist said to friends at another table.

I've been a fan of the restaurant since its opening -- what? -- about 15 years ago by the operators of the defunct and pricey Abruzzi, which was also located at Peachtree Battle. Their goal was to give people a more informal and inexpensive taste of good Italian cooking. The original chef there was Danny Arturo, whose pizzas rapidly became known as the best in the city. He soon opened his own restaurant in Dunwoody, but where he is now, I do not know.

I long ago stopped eating the pizzas here and began focusing on the appetizers and specials. Antipasti are displayed in a front window of the restaurant, and most everyone's favorite are the fat, roasted red peppers marinated in garlic and olive oil. The squid salad, when available, is also a favorite. But give me the mussels marinara. It's not that the mussels are particularly better than others -- in fact, the last bowl I had were too tiny to deserve serving -- but the sauce is one of the best marinaras in town, full of slow-cooked garlic turned mellow and sweet, contrasting with feverish notes of hot chilies -- almost a hybrid of marinara and Fra Diavolo. Most people order the chewy "knots" of garlicky bread with their starters.

At times, specials seem to outnumber regular entrees and pastas. During our hurricane visit, I ordered two sauteed soft shell crabs -- juicy, salty, sweet, slightly crisp -- in a sauce made with chicken stock, butter and wine, reduced until creamy and scattered with almond slices. A heap of spinach sauteed with garlic was also on the plate. Wayne ordered a special of grouper in a white wine and caper sauce -- straightforward and classic. All entrees here are served with a small plate of spaghetti and marinara.

Among regular dishes, I favor the veal piccata, the grouper marechiaro (which is cooked with mussels) and the linguine with white clam sauce.

Complaints? The restaurant does not take credit cards. True, prices are inexpensive and it is Buckhead, where everyone walks around with a massively stuffed wallet, right? But come on! Service, I have to say, is not the greatest, either. Indeed, we were treated to one of those high school cafeteria moments when a server dropped a plate and the rest of the service staff began applauding wildly. Meanwhile, the floor of the restaurant, near the restrooms in the rear, looked like someone had danced flamenco on a pizza. But, OK, it was hurricane weather.Here and there

We paid a visit to The Inman Park Patio (1029 Edgewood Ave. 404-659-5757). I'd heard the restaurant had hired a new chef, Michael Schorn -- formerly with Cavu -- which turned out to be true, but his new menu had not yet debuted. We nonetheless ate well, starting with pancetta-wrapped grilled shrimp and a salad with pear slices and gorgonzola cheese. Wayne's entree was sesame-crusted ahi tuna with caponata. Annoyed that the new menu hadn't debuted, I contented myself with a burger.

Our server obviously forgot to put our entree order in -- she returned to ask what we'd ordered 15 minutes after we'd first told her -- and I got further annoyed. Then at meal's end, we were presented an apology in the form of a complimentary gigantic platter of assorted deserts. I was not in the mood to gain 17 pounds and insisted the desserts go to two thin people I knew sitting nearby. "But ... but ... we'll eat it!" one of them exclaimed. I received a report later that everything, especially the créme brûlee, was worth the cost of an extra hour of cardio. ...

Craving Chicago-style hot dogs, sandwiches and attitude? Hurry to Uncle Harry's on Auburn (590-A Auburn Ave., 404-221-0444). OK, I'm kidding about da 'tude, but the new deli is a jewel. Besides classic Chicago-style Italian sausages and hot dogs, you can sample that city's famous juicy, sliced roast beef combined with sausage, topped with red peppers, stuffed into crusty Italian bread.

The new sandwich shop also serves three vegetarian and many classic deli sandwiches, prepared panini-style if you want. There are also big salads, including "side cars," a quarter-wedge of iceberg lettuce with your choice of meat.

Especially good news is the owner's plan to begin delivery service to those of us living in the area. ...

First a compliment: I love the brisket at Rolling Bones (377 Edgewood Ave., 404-222-2324). It takes me back to my years in Texas and Goode Co. BBQ in Houston, where I learned to love barbecued beef -- compared to the pork I grew up eating. But I also love the chopped pork here, mangled before your very eyes by a man whose skill will remind you of John Belushi's old "Saturday Night Live" skit.

But I hate the damn plastic forks and knives. I'm resolving to go on a yearlong campaign against the stuff. I mean, if you have to use plastic cutlery, how about buying something besides the flimsy stuff that induces what feels like writer's cramp. Interestingly, the other place I visit often that uses plastic and shouldn't is Daddy D'z, also a barbecue joint.

Wayne and I have given up going there unless we carry our own silverware. Not only is the plasticware especially flimsy for cutting around bones, the food is heaped onto little Styrofoam plates so that the flexing of the forks and knives -- they bend for a while before snapping in half -- tends to cause the food to fly off the plate.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.

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