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Delicious dish

A Va-Hi standby continues to impress

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I've always loved Dish's deconstructed dining room. It's a constant interplay between sophisticated and primitive. From the front vestibule, you enter the dining room through a gaping, jagged hole in the building's original brickwork. A U-shaped bar anchors the room, with austere linen-topped tables lining the walls. Concrete surfaces and steel beams are softened by cushy banquettes and fluttery rice paper light fixtures. Actually, it's those organic light fixtures -- so popular in the late '90s -- that are beginning to date Dish's interior. Well, that and those illuminated columns on the patio that fade from purple to green to pink. I realize they're Dish's visual signature, but they're a bit too flashy for me.

Dish's menu has vestiges of that same late '90s flash -- potato fluff, anyone? -- but the kitchen manages to keep things fresh and interesting without losing its focus. Duck tacos feature spicy shreds of succulent duck wrapped inside crispy, deep-fried corn tortillas. Cool tomatillo salsa livens up each bite. A word of advice: They come directly from fryer to table. Ever eager, I burned the hell out of my mouth on the first bite. Give them a moment to cool off before diving in.

A fried green tomato appetizer had so much going on, it threatened to spin out into a mess of clashing flavors but somehow kept its focus. A dollop of hummus topped the tomato, along with a pouf of lightly dressed field greens. Scattered around the plate were a few juicy grilled shrimp and dribbles of "green tomato essence." I can think of more appetizing-sounding combinations than fried green tomatoes and hummus, but it works. The creamy hummus and tangy tomato played perfectly off each other.

Endive and pears had been julienned and tossed together with blue cheese dressing to resemble a slaw. Between the endive and the pungent blue cheese, the salad was intensely bitter, but slivers of ripe pear provided a little burst of sweetness in each bite.

Pan-roasted skate wing with browned butter, haricots vert, diced potatoes and capers is a traditional preparation but was nonetheless a revelation to eat. The skate, meaty and substantial yet delicate, had formed a deliciously golden crust in the roasting pan. Briny capers and crisp green beans turned up the volume on the flavor and cut the richness a bit -- not too much, but just enough to alleviate the butter guilt.

Whenever the server brings out a giant carving knife prior to my entree's arrival, I envision myself sawing away at a dried-out hunk of meat all night. But here, a bone-in pork chop was surprisingly tender and juicy. The chop rested on a silky bed of baby spinach that had soaked up plenty of pork jus, giving it great flavor. I could've done without the macaroni and cheese that came alongside -- give me my mother-in-law's messy, gooey mac and cheese any day over "sophisticated" versions like the one here, made with penne and sharp cheddar. That was my only small complaint with the meal, though.

Despite a steady influx of new restaurants into a neighborhood that's nearing its saturation point, Dish has tenaciously hung onto its status -- and rightly so -- as one of the best places to eat in Virginia-Highland.

Restaurant Rumblings

There are some big goings-on at Fifth Group Restaurants. The restaurant group will open two new restaurants in the coming months. First up is a second South City Kitchen, located in Vinings. The restaurant is set to open at 1675 Cumberland Parkway. Coming on its heels is Ecco, a cozy Italian restaurant that will occupy the old Atlanta Fencing Club building at Cypress and Seventh streets in Midtown. Look for South City Kitchen to open in late 2005, and Ecco in early 2006.

Fall into a Glass

Woodfire Grill wine director Greg Koetting will host a wine tasting and talk Tues., Oct. 18. The focus: great wines for autumn. Cost is $20 per person. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.

Sophisticated Sipping

Spice will host a Silver Oak wine dinner Thurs., Oct. 20. Silver Oak is known for its palate-pleasing Cabernets. The dinner will include cocktails and appetizers followed by a five-course dinner paired with wines. The price is $95 per person. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.

Break Fast at the Fez

Throughout the month of Ramadan, Imperial Fez welcomes folks to break their daily fast with a special a la carte menu. The restaurant will offer a ceremonial meal that begins at sunset each night and lasts for one hour. 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870. www.imperialfez.com.

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