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Bobotie Call

South African cuisine disappoints at 10 Degrees South

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Ethnic restaurants dot nearly every neighborhood in the city these days. You can find multiple options of Ethiopian, Honduran, Bangladeshi or Malaysian foods all within a few miles of one another. But there's only one South African restaurant in the city -- 10 Degrees South.

Geography geeks may be confused: "Wait, South Africa's not 10 degrees south of the equator." The name actually refers to the 10 degrees the country spans between latitudinal lines -- a little bit catchier than "33-And-Some-Odd Degrees South." The eatery caters to a large and growing population of ex-pat South Africans in Atlanta and the surrounding 'burbs. So, these "African-Americans" are mostly white, with an accent that often gets mistaken for British or Australian.

The Buckhead-area restaurant lacks the pretense of snotty establishments nearby. It's located in a converted house and has the usual problems that come with that arrangement. The ceilings are low, and our waiter, who was nearly 7 foot tall, had to continually duck when approaching the table for fear of being decapitated by a ceiling fan. Walls weirdly separate rooms, dividing an already small space. The interior is painted a safari-inspired tan with African artifacts or dashiki-inspired artwork here or there. You enter through the back door (where the majority of the parking is located), making you feel part of a "Southern family."

South Africa combines many different cultural and culinary influences: Dutch (or Afrikaner), English and the original tribes of the region. Seafood is a staple of South African cuisine, but high-quality seafood is in short supply in landlocked Atlanta, so the menu lacks many of the dishes that are familiar in South Africa. There are selections of prawns ($21), Kingklip fish ($18) and trout ($18), but that's about it except for daily specials that may include seafood. You're mostly left with heavy, pricey entrees such as the rump steak ($20) and lamb chops ($20).

I did try a seafood special of Cape Capensas with a spicy blue crab sauce ($25). The flavor of the mild, white fish was lost beneath the spicy, peppery sauce. Don't expect to be able to taste the crab, either.

If you're feeling a little Swiss Family Robinson, there's the ostrich filet ($24) and medallions ($22). The ostrich medallions were pan-seared and served with a mild red wine and rosemary sauce and They provide a lighter alternative to a slab of beef.

I was pleased with the sosatie. The skewers of marinated beef were simultaneously sweet, sour and spicy, the meat soft and succulent. But all too soon, I couldn't handle it. The vinegar in the marinade became overwhelming and I turned to my water more and more to get rid of the tangy taste.

The bobotie ($16) was another story. A flavorful English meat pie (a huge influence on the cultural cuisine), the dish is similar to a potpie with a flaky crust and much more flavorful than its English cousins. Inside, ground beef is mixed with brown sugar, raisins and custard. A couple of bites were interesting, but the flavors became quickly bland and I left the dish unfinished.

When you aren't happy with an entree, sometimes the side courses can see you through the meal. But all we got were yellow and white rice, sauteed carrots and peas, and none were too filling or satisfying.

The most interesting side item arrived with the Boerewors ($15.50), a ground beef sausage that was very English in taste and presentation. But the side of stywer pap was the strangest thing about the plate. Imagine a bowl of grits that had been ground up and formed to the shape of its container, then tipped onto the plate. The first few bites were an adventure but the mound of white grain should have been kept at a smaller size -- more like a polenta cake -- to keep it manageable.

A salad appetizer also disappointed. The name "Safari Salad" ($7.50) probably should have tipped us off. The simple bowl of mixed greens came with a papaya vinaigrette and what were supposed to be "exotic fruit." But the fruit consisted of cantaloupe and honey dew, and the papaya was nonexistent from the taste of the vinaigrette. Exotic? Maybe if you're from Iceland. Not even a star fruit or persimmon -- I would have even settled for a pineapple or mango. What was I paying for again?

At least there was friendly service and a large wine list featuring many South African vintages. But that didn't do much to change my opinion at the end of the evening.

I left mostly feeling ripped off, even though I had wanted to like the friendly, cozy bastion of another south.

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