"Are you working?"
The owner of La Catracha (2847 Buford Highway, phone unlisted) stared down at me, frowning, through his glasses. I looked at Wayne and then at the notes I was taking.
"No, um, what do you mean?" I asked, sliding my menu over the notes.
He explained in rather broken English mixed with Spanish that the last person who had sat at one of his tables taking notes turned out to be stealing his menu to open a restaurant of his own.
"Oh, no," I said. "I'm not doing that. I promise," I said, laughing.
The man's demeanor changed instantly to cheerful. "No problem," he said.
Actually, this was my second visit to the Honduran restaurant. The night before, when I had taken a table alone in the huge but nearly empty dining room, he rushed over and said, "I'm sorry, the menu is in Spanish." I said that was OK. He shook his head. "It is food from Honduras," he said. I said that's what I was there for. He stared at me and decided to give me the menu.
So be warned. La Catracha is one of those ethnic places that is unaccustomed to English-speaking visitors, and while the owner can carry on a simple conversation, don't expect much help with the menu. During my first visit, I had no problem making a decision. The restaurant serves piping-hot chicharrones -- pieces of fried pork skin and fat -- with hunks of fried yucca tossed with raw cabbage and sprinkled with crumbly white cheese. I have had a similar dish at El Rincon Latino, where the cabbage was drizzled with some vinegar. Here, it's dry and you'll probably want to add some hot sauce to it.
The next night, I decided to order the ceibeño de cerdo. I had no idea how the dish would be prepared, except that it was with a fried pork chop. Well, it turned out, like the chicharrones dish, to be a heap of cabbage, this time interspersed with fried bananas. The garlicky pork chop was crispy and juicy, but the bananas were a bit cardboard-esque, probably cooked too long ago.
Wayne ordered pincho de res, a skewer of seasoned beef with rice, salad and some amazingly intense beans, pureed until they were almost fluffy. There are also Honduras-style tacos and soups, including mondongo, which -- warning! -- is tripe.
One of the restaurant's walls is actually a black curtain, behind which you have to walk to get to the restroom. You will find yourself in a huge room that becomes a nightclub at 10 every night. The owner told us that people from all of Atlanta's Latin communities come to the club to dance. The music is one of the most pleasant things about the place -- if they are playing Latin music instead of the bad American pop they played during much of my second visit.
Next door ...
A few doors down from La Catracha, in the same shopping center, is La Sabrosa, a Mexican taqueria that also prepares Peruvian specialties. Here, again, expect not to be understood in English. Luckily, though, there's a translation of the menu available.
Since most of the menu is the usual Mexican food, I was most interested in the Peruvian dishes. Unfortunately, all but one -- arroz chaufa -- are available only on weekends. The arroz dish is delicious, though. It's lightly fried rice with carrots, peas, onions, green peppers and some chunks of tender white chicken.
Here's the secret to seasoning it, though -- and they won't tell you unless you ask: among the salsas on the table is a pale green one, something like a salsa verde with sour cream. It is fiery hot and, perhaps because of the cream, the piquancy doesn't really register except as an aftertaste. You'll love it.
I also tried a couple of tacos -- mediocre carnitas and a savory cecina, which is thinly sliced, cured beef. Think Mexican beef jerky. La Sabrosa's is served softened. It's intensely salty and addictive. I had to have a second taco of the stuff.
I suggest you visit on the weekend and file a report with me about the Peruvian dishes.
Here and there
Even before my comments on Rice Box were published last week, I received this e-mail from Russ: "My roommate and I stopped by Rice Box recently, thinking from the cool-looking outside that perhaps it would replace Teaspace."
In your dreams!
Russ continues: "I've never had more bland, middle-of-the-road food. And when my roommate requested his spring roll, which had been forgotten, the conversation went this way:
"He: 'Um, I ordered a spring roll.'
"Waitress: 'No, you didn't.' (Walks away.)
"By the way," Russ writes, "'Rice Box' is the vaguely offensive name my female Asian friend gave herself." ...
Chuck Beary makes this recommendation:
"I recommend Sushi Mania (3855 Peachtree Road, 404-364-0098) highly. I spent a number of years in Chicago on Clark Street, learning the ins and outs of Japanese cuisine. Sushi Mania is L.A.-type sushi, not tied to the standard futomaki and uno ju. The young chef has the very honorable name of Kenney. The food is creative and adventurous. Everything on the menu is novel, including the Buckhead roll and the Lenox roll. The sunset roll is rolled in artfully designed avocado rather than nori."
The restaurant occupies the space formerly held by Harada. ...
Chipotle Mexican Grill, the McDonald's-owned chain, has opened its 10th Atlanta location at 123 Perimeter Center. Editor Bill Addison and I outraged a few readers by confessing how much we like the inexpensive cafes, especially the carnitas. But, honestly, give them props for using meats from vegetarian-fed animals that receive no hormones or antibiotics. ...
Mark your gay calendar. Ted Allen, the foodie on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," will speak and sign his new cookbook, The Food You Want to Eat, at 8 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 10, at Outwrite Bookstore, 991 Piedmont Ave.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at email@example.com.