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Scenes from a strip mall

Apres Diem knows how to work the after-hours vibe

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Few places could have pulled off what Apres Diem did. Several years back, they made a move from artsy digs on North Highland (when the business was called Cafe Diem) to a spot in the totally bland Midtown Promenade strip mall. Yet setting up shop next door to a busy movie theater has been great for business. And the cafe has somehow managed to hang onto its hipster cred. Despite the bourgeois environs, Apres is still cool.

I've never quite understood the allure of Apres Diem's patio -- why remind ourselves we're in a strip mall? Instead, I prefer the smoky, sedated lounge. Comfy sofas and overstuffed chairs surround coffee tables in intimate arrangements. In the center of the room, a large dining table accommodates card games, coffee and passionate discussions of Nietzsche or the price of a dime bag. The dining room, while less cozy, is more practical for eating purposes. Flickering candles and little vases of flowers populate each table. Even when Apres is at its busiest, the noise doesn't intrude on conversation.

Apres Diem's menu is nearly identical to that of its sister restaurant, Carroll Street Cafe, though I think things are executed with a bit less precision and care at Apres. Mussels steamed in Bass Ale are spicy enough to make me sniffle, but besides that, I can't detect much flavor. I prefer the crunchy, mildly sweet shrimp cakes. They remind me of something I'd like to munch on with a steaming bowl of tomato soup on a cold day.

I'm also a fan of the simple, unfussy pastas. Fettuccine basilic couldn't be more basic: Glossy, garlic-sautéed tomatoes mingle with shreds of fresh basil and al dente pasta. The penne albufera is a little fancier: Perky tomato-cream sauce coats noodles, asparagus spears and mushrooms.

Apres wades into murky territory with the more elaborate dinner specials. It's frequently a case of ingredient overkill. A steak special comes with a side salad but is also topped with mixed greens; there's vinaigrette over the greens, but also demiglace alongside the steak, and a few dabs of chutney for good measure. On the side: mashed potatoes and green beans. In all the commotion, the steak gets lost.

For a restaurant in a strip mall, Apres Diem rocks the attitude. You never have to feel guilty about drinking in the afternoon here -- everyone is. The place always seems to have an after-hours vibe, even in the middle of the day. And the service is so unapologetically bad, it's almost comical. I have to say, though, they work it. Too much cheerfulness and Apres Diem would drift into strip mall restaurant anonymity.

Queer Eye in the Kitchen

Ted Allen, one of the "Fab Five" from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," will sign copies of his new cookbook Thurs., Nov. 10, 8 p.m., at Outwrite Bookstore. The book is called The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes. 991 Piedmont Ave. 404-607-0082. www.outwritebooks.com.

Truffle Shuffle

Nightly through Sat., Nov. 12, the Food Studio will celebrate the white Alba truffle with a special a la carte truffle menu. The celebration culminates Sun., Nov. 13, with a five-course prix-fixe truffle dinner. Cost is $90 per person (wine pairings an additional $35). 887 W. Marietta St. 404-815-6677. www.fifthgroup.com.

Gather 'Round the Fire

Woodfire Grill has a busy social calendar this fall. Make reservations for Thurs., Nov. 10, for a dinner highlighting winter squash. On Tues., Nov. 15, wine director Greg Koetting hosts a tasting party focusing on holiday wines. Think of wines that go with turkey and fruitcake: Shiraz, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Nouveau. Cost is $20 per person. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.

Bull's-Eye

On Tues., Nov. 15, Taurus will host the Atlanta Community Food Bank's monthly supper club dinner, when 20 percent of the night's proceeds benefit Atlanta's Table, the Food Bank's prepared-food project. For reservations, call 404-214-0641. 1745 Peachtree Road. www.taurusrestaurant.com.

Birthday Bash

Eno kicks off a weeklong sixth anniversary celebration Tues., Nov. 15, with a wine tasting hosted by Anthony Jewell of Plaisir de Merle, a South African winery. The tasting starts at 6:30 p.m. and costs $10 per person. On Fri., Nov. 18, Eno will host a holiday "Shop 'n Sip" party from 6-8 p.m. with a trunk show featuring apparel and accessories by LUI-B, Paige Brown and Jacqueline Rose. A complimentary glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne makes shopping all the merrier. 800 Peachtree St. 404-685-3191. www.eno-atlanta.com.

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