There is something about walking into Luckie Food Lounge that is distinctly like checking in at the airport. The hostesses have the often frazzled demeanor of workers at the airline counter – the stand even looks like a check-in counter. Waiters are decked out in mechanic-style uniforms, adding to the airport vibe. And, come to think of it, managing the seating of a 350-seat restaurant is not unlike filling an airplane.
The blue-brown cavernous space isn't like an airplane, but it is like a swank airport bar. It has taken the worst restaurant trend of recent years, television omnipresence, and brought it to a whole new level. One side of the dining room is made up of an entire wall of screens, and sitting adjacent to the wall can be an exercise in fighting off schizophrenia – how do you focus on a meal or a dining partner when a larger-than-life Christiane Amanpour battles for your attention alongside a nature documentary and then next to that, screen-saver-style graphics of fireworks spewing menacingly? Try to look in another direction, toward the bar perhaps, and four plasma screens all showing different programs glare down at you.
The one pleasing visual distraction comes in the form of large tropical fish tanks. They serve as a reminder that the restaurant sits across the street from the Georgia Aquarium and help in easing the tourists from one experience to another. Wouldn't want to jolt the poor souls. $12 hot dog, anyone?
Yes, there is much here that is geared toward catching aquarium runoff. Perhaps the most charming touch is a kid's menu presented in the form of a View-Master. The adult menu covers everything from that $12 hot dog, made from 100 percent Kobe beef (which doesn't make up for the stale roll), to steaks, pizzas, salads and "specialties."
Oh, and let's not forget the sushi. Actually, let's forget the sushi. My one attempt at testing that side of the menu rendered fishy, slimy yellowtail sashimi and a spicy tuna roll with rice that had obviously been sitting out for some time.
If you stay away from the sushi, seafood is where the kitchen excels the most. Fat diver scallops are seared nicely, bathed in a rich caper and brown butter sauce; they sit atop a reasonably creamy serving of Parmesan polenta. The shrimp portion of the shrimp and grits is a pleasing, buttery stew of the crustacean swathed in shiitake mushrooms, bacon and tomatoes. The "spicy" grits served as a scoop in the center of the plate are not at all spicy, however, and have a strange, clumpy, gummy consistency.
Pizzas are highly edible, from the basic margherita to the naughtily greasy "heart attack pie," which tops five kinds of meat with a fried egg. The crust is thin and the toppings fresh. But the fun pretty much ends there.
Mussels I had one evening were shrunken and measly. The broth, which was supposed to be a ginger and lemongrass affair, tasted almost meaty, with no whiff of either of those flavors. A grilled chicken breast had all but the thighbone removed and suffered from dryness as a result. The hulking "Flintstone style" pork shank is a fun idea, but the meat was dry, and the sides are boring – mashed potatoes and green beans, which serve as the one-side-fits-all for many of the dishes.
Venture into desserts and it becomes clear the restaurant is counting on visual appeal and has left taste flailing in the distance. The dessert named "nuts about 'ya" is arresting to look at, a large, spherical confection with a checkerboard pattern apparently made up of hazelnut gelato, amaretto mousse, almond sponge cake and almond brittle. The problem is that it tastes uniformly of cardboard.
A better bet is the "chocolate chaos" plate, which is an offering of rudimentary but fun chocolate candy bars and bites. Anyone who has ever been a child will appreciate the dish, but the gooey sweetness is overwhelming long before the plate is clean.
Strangely, the wines seem geared toward a more sophisticated palate – I guess Gruner Veltliner, that trendy and delicious grape from Austria, would go along nicely with the chicken finger platter (no, that's not a kid's View-Master selection, it's on the regular menu). But it seems a little odd. The sake list is also extensive and thoughtful.
It is probably a tough line to walk – to serve massive numbers of people, ranging from tourists and their aquarium-weary kids to high rollers and their entourages. Luckie Food Lounge makes a valiant effort at covering all the bases but ultimately falls short at delivering food worth eating in anything more than a pinch.