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Blind dining

Meeting Internet pals for Thai and turnips at Little Bangkok and Mumbo Jumbo

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I've been an Internet junky for about 15 years. One of the odder effects of life in cyberspace is getting to know people's personalities quite well in chat rooms and news groups long before you meet in person -- if ever.

I've been skittish about personal meetings since six years ago when I had lunch with someone who developed, shall we say, a more than average interest in me. This first became evident when she began leaving notes on my neighbors' cars about me. Ultimately, she appeared at my door, displaying her breasts, spouting word salad, punctuating each incomprehensible complaint with a slash of a small knife. Police!

Well, hey, it's the holiday season and time for me to cease expectation that every perfectly amusing person I chat with online is a maniac with a paring knife. Take well-known theater lighting designer Bart McGeehon and young curmudgeon David Landrip. Not three minutes after meeting them for the first time at Little Bangkok (225 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-315-1530), I felt perfectly comfortable excusing myself to the bathroom to remove my titanium undershirt.

Little Bangkok is one of my favorite places to grab a quick meal. While you'll find better Thai food at, say, Tamarind, you won't find food as good for the very low prices unless you head far out Buford Highway. Appetizers include classics like nua nom tok ($5.95), slices of grilled steak with mint leaves, onions, hot peppers and lime sauce. Little Bangkok's version is quite fresh and, if you've ordered this around town, you know that makes a big difference.

Nam sod, ground pork, is similar but adds ginger to the spices (both $5.95). But my favorite starter is the dirt-cheap fried tofu, deliciously chewy with a creamy interior, served with a decent peanut sauce, though it needs a shot of chili paste ($2.95). The spicy seafood soup ($7.95) is a state-of-the-art version with shrimp, scallops, crab and mussels the night of my visit. It is plenty for three or four. All of the starters are meant to feed at least two.

I suggest you pick your entree from the specials listed on a board out front. I almost always order the chicken and eggplant in a very spicy curry sauce. Avocado shrimp, David's choice, was the least impressive dish to me. I liked Bart's basil chicken but I actually prefer the green curried chicken here. All entrees are well under $10.

Not a day later, I headed downtown to lunch with another Internet friend, Chris Miles, at Mumbo Jumbo (89 Park Place, 404-523-0330). Chris, a PR man, looked a bit discouraged when I suggested Mumbo Jumbo.

The restaurant recently changed hands and is under the ownership of Shaun Doty, who is also the executive chef. This restaurant has a rather strange history.

The location originally was one of Atlanta's oldest bars. Then it became the trendy nightspot Velvet. When it opened, it was something to see, I'm telling you. The decor is kind of neo-Satanic, post-Medieval, with a fireplace big enough to roast a boar.

The original menu, guided by Guenter Seeger, was fairly progressive but paid major attention from the outset to the location. Sitting in downtown Atlanta, its trade is almost exclusively business folks on expense accounts. That means the restaurant lost its trendy edge pretty quickly.

We lunched the day after it snowed so the restaurant was nearly empty. When we were seated, I was handed a menu whose pages were torn and soiled. When I tried to order, the waiter informed me I'd been given a dinner menu. We'd have to start over.

We sampled three starters. I liked the idea of fried calamari with okra added to the jalapeos ($6). The calamari was cooked just right. I would have liked more okra, but everything worked fine until I dipped into the sauce -- a really obnoxiously sweet and barely piquant sauce that should be immediately revised.

An arugula salad with oregano, feta and olives was fine ($8), but the best starter was a very crispy flatbread lightly drizzled with black truffle oil and topped with slices of Vella jack cheese and some kind of micro-salad sprout ($8).

Entrees range from $9 to $14 at lunch. Chris picked his usual -- the "business special." It's half of a chicken salad sandwich with soup or gumbo ($10). Chris ordered the day's soup, a potato-cheese. I was astonished by its lousy quality. Imagine thin vichyssoises into which Velveeta was stirred. Flavorless, even saltless. The chicken salad, made with the now ubiquitous white truffle oil, was good but needs a lighter touch with the dressing and a bit of vegetation added to break up the texture.

I ordered a grilled baby chicken, split and served over grits studded with country ham and turnip greens ($14). The chicken itself was vastly undercooked. There's no excuse for that, especially when grilling. The grits were watery and the turnip greens tasteless. A major disappointment.

Shall we blame the snow?

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