As if I expected anything different. Shout is, after all, the sister restaurant to Tom Catherall's Twist in Phipps Plaza, whose cacophonous pageantry still inspires lines out the door on weekends. And so I brace myself for the latest addition to Atlanta's vocal workout restaurants, with all its standard-option furnishings - the ever-younger hoochie mamas, the pomegranate martinis, the small plates of fusion fussiness. Aren't we bored with this formula yet?
Quite the opposite, apparently: The onslaught of ear-shattering scenester eateries in Midtown has only just begun. I have a conspiracy theory that Catherall and Bob Amick (who has two new Midtown restaurants on the way) are in cahoots with the hearing aid industry. We'll all be needing premature aural assistance if we keep patronizing these joints.
But Catherall is a shrewd businessman. Shout isn't so much a restaurant as it is a night-on-the-town multiplex. What and where you eat - if you want to eat at all - within the Colony Square compound depend on your social whims for the evening.
The debauched main dining room is my least favorite place to convene. In the right kinky mood, I could perhaps savor the super club-cum-sex club booths drenched in scarlet, or appreciate the strange stalagmites dividing the central tables that seem to sprout from diners' backs like characters in a Maurice Sendak book. Most of the time, though, the nauseating din kills any libidinous buzz I may be cultivating.
Also, in the dining room it seems appropriate to order appetizers and entrees, when what I really want to do is nibble solely on small plates, which is the strength of Shout's menu.
Executive chef Ian Winslade, whom Catherall lured from Bluepointe, certainly comes equipped with the creds to serve fusion conceptions in mobbed hot spots. But he's still finding his footing within this kitchen. The opening menu was a bit too global. It dipped its toe into nearly every major cuisine on the European and Asian continents, from Morocco and Greece to India and Burma. Oh, and we mustn't forget the sandwiches, salads and pizzas. And, of course, there's a separate sushi bar with its own extensive menu. But I'll get to that by and by.
The fare is still ambitiously broad, but Winslade has been weeding out some of the less successful dishes so the better ones are easier to stumble upon. I hope the Jonah crab salad doesn't disappear anytime soon. Lumps of Jonah crab, similar to Dungeness, are tossed into a spry, courageously spicy green papaya salad. Panko-crusted tuna, another worthy survivor from the first round of cuts, gets a mere suggestion of crunch from light breading. It's served with an avocado-edamame sauce that comes off like Japanese guacamole. Quirky, but it works.
Garlic crab spring rolls, a new and welcome addition to the ensemble, arrive hot and crackly, with an addictively playful filling. The smoked paprika sauce has an arousing pang of mustard that inspires quadruple dipping. But mustard gets mistreated in confounding ways elsewhere. In the Greek spreads starter, the white bean hummus broadcasts a bright yellow and possesses the sting of French's mustard. A halibut entree is crusted with the same fluorescent stuff. Maybe the sour, vinegary pow adds the right note to a hotdog, but it doesn't hum along so harmoniously with delicate fish over pickled ginger and cucumber salad.
Startlingly pungent seasonings like the mustard often show up where you don't expect them. "Tea smoked and potato wrapped" is a clever treatment for bland Atlantic salmon, but the coconut curry sauce can clear your sinuses with its overdose of lemongrass. If you're suffering from allergies, this is the choice for you. A four-mushroom pizza reeks with truffle oil. I'd definitely revisit that particular combination, with glassy roasted potatoes and goat cheese, though sans stinky oil.
A melty hunk of beef short rib in a pool of red wine reduction seems safe enough. Then you pick up a lovely, speckled gnocchi. The first sensation of billowy texture - ah! - is followed by a jarring jolt of allspice, clove and cinnamon. Who snuck a Christmas cookie into my dinner? The description does warn you that the gnocchi are spiced, and I eventually got used to the way the sweet, heady flavors melded with the beef and sauce. But you've been warned: That first bite can be traumatic.
If I've come to Shout to seriously chow, I prefer to do it on the patio out front. It's a whole different experience to relax into a faux-wicker chair on the edge of Peachtree Street. At lunch, I compose a create-it-yourself salad - maybe with bacon, blue cheese, spinach and sweet onions with an herby vinaigrette - or bare down on a spicy cheeseburger with some decent fries. In the evening, I like to sit on the patio just to watch the parade of life shuffle through Shout's revolving doors. The other night we saw some prom-goers squeezed into getups that would make Mariah Carey blush. I suspect their mamas did not see them walk out the door in those dresses.
The sushi bar, compared to the rest of Shout, feels like a monastic cloister. Only whiffs of bedlam drift in from the dining room, and echoes from the empty mall on the other side of the wall sound peacefully contained.
I've modestly explored the sushi offerings and found that, as with the main menu, the starters proffer the greatest rewards (you can order any sushi item in the dining room as well). Uzukuri displays gentle slices of Japanese red snapper steeped in a buoyant sauce of yuzu and soy that brings to mind the elusive flavors served at Soto in Buckhead. Fried hamachi-kama, yellowtail cheek, includes pockets of lush, creamy flesh that are worth digging through tunnels of wide fish bone for.
Rolls are fashioned from the overkill school of sushi. "B52" has a crispy exterior from flash frying and features salmon, yellowtail, asparagus and - oh, brother - cream cheese and scallions. The volcano roll's ingredients taste muted: The mango has no tropical resonance, the teriyaki glaze no pluck. Whatever. Plenty of folks clamor for that kind of watered-down sushi. I'm not one of them. See ya at MF Sushibar.
But wait. Even if my ears are ringing and I've had my fill of hit-and-miss food, I still want to climb the stairs to Shout's rooftop lounge. An amber-lit antechamber gives way to a sultry outside scene. White cabanas flanked with linen curtains line the deck. Pretty bodies canoodle at the bar or in the corner. The women grip pink cocktails. A small fireplace scares off the early summer chill.
Whenever I visit the rooftop, I order a gin and tonic and lean on the railing, contemplating the sheer urban landscape. Skyscrapers surround on all sides. You can gaze into the windows of workaholics still at the office at 11 p.m. on Friday. It's an oddly beautiful, reassuring view.
And it's where you'll find me hanging out as I wait for the revolution toward small, intimate restaurants to finally blossom in this city.