I don't know about you, but the young are very different from me. There is the matter of music, for example. Driving to a restaurant, my friend Van insists on listening to J-Lo, which for me is akin to trying to eat white bread with my ears. I play music by the goddess -- Patti Smith -- and he says she sounds like a dinosaur.
Oh well. There are advantages. When I hear a song I enjoy, like Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama," he can quickly identify it and I now have five remixes of the song, which has become sort of a desperate incantation for me, you know what I'm saying?
Not that drama is all bad -- at least when it is undertaken with conscious intention and there's an end in sight. One of the most dramatic restaurant interiors I've encountered in quite a while is the new One Midtown Kitchen (559 Dutch Valley Road, 404-892-4111). In a warehouse building that looks otherwise completely inconspicuous, the restaurant has a door framed by a large purple-lit panel that makes you wonder if it's not actually a strip club or dirty bookstore. Then you go through the door, part a gray curtain -- which of course immediately turns up the sense of theatricality -- and you are greeted by a host who puts you somewhat in mind of the Kit Kat Club's emcee in Cabaret.
"Goooooood evening, so niiiiiiiice to see you," he says, staring at you like a long-lost friend, with his hands pressed together. Van and I turned around to see who he was talking to. "Welcome to One, I do hope you'll be dining with us, hmmmmm?" Later, when Van needed to use the rest room, he rushed in ahead of him. "Let me check and make sure there's plenty of toilet paper," he said.
After this bit of surreal theater -- and the host is kinkily delightful -- one takes in the scene. The kitchen is a marvel -- completely open with an 80-foot curving counter beneath an illuminated tortoise-shell awning. You may eat at the counter, which ends where an impressive wine bar begins. The ceiling drips with icicle lights, candles burn here and there. But most impressive of all, the brick wall at the far end of the large room has big windows that offer a view of the Midtown skyline behind the green expanse surrounding the water treatment facility.
Of course, the view triggered my geriatric nostalgia, for the green expanse once was home to one of the decadent late-night clubs of my youth, the notorious Cove, or "Il Palazzo di Cha Cha Cha" or "The 7-Eleven of Sex," as I variously called it. "Oh, I'm tellin' you," I said to Van, "I had some good times there, like the night I was kicked out for turning over the jukebox after I bought some bad drugs and ... "
"Whatever," he snapped. "I know how they made this concrete floor look so good. I saw it on the Do It Yourself Network."
It's not surprising that One is so impressive. The most visible owner is Bob Amick, one of the partners in the Peasant restaurant group when you could still get a decent meal at one of those restaurants. Chef of the restaurant is Kevin Reilly, a New York import who was executive chef of SoHo's very popular Zoe.
The menu, which is printed daily, is devoted to uncomplicated but slightly kinky American cuisine. To Amick's credit, the restaurant is within many people's price range. You can have a wood-grilled hamburger ($9), designer pizza ($8) or a panino -- a grilled Italian-style sandwich ($8). But there are also heavier-ticket items, though nothing ran over $19 the evening of my visit.
I was curious about the "American charcuterie" -- an assortment of Italian-style artisan meats, like prosciutto and wind-cured salami ($12). Produced by a New York company called Hobbs, the meats -- maybe with the exception of the prosciutto -- were as good as many Italian ones. The meats were accompanied by a lemon-pepper aioli, half a head of wood-roasted garlic, marinated olives and bread sticks. You'll want to use the baguettes in the bread assortment for spreading the garlic.
I also sampled a killer gazpacho made with grilled vegetables and lime-spiked creme fraiche, swimming with fried, crunchy crawfish tails. A bargain at $5. Other starters and grazing dishes included heirloom tomatoes with ricotta ($7), a salad of lamb kabobs and feta cheese with preserved lemon and oregano ($11); an amazing trio of roasted cauliflower with raisins, garlic and hot peppers, marinated squash with mint and pine nuts and artichokes, beets and pearl onions baked with ginger ($9). Also: fried calamari, wood-roasted mussels, tuna tartar and chipotle-barbecued lamb ribs.
We decided to give a few of the heavier dishes a try. I was excited to see grilled skirt steak with fries on the menu ($16). Skirt steak is the same cut from which fajitas are made -- a delicious cut but not quite as good as hanger steak, the French favorite which it resembles. I don't know why hanger steaks haven't caught on in Atlanta. Sotto Sotto served a delicious version for a few months and then switched to a much less interesting cut.
The skirt steak, sliced thin, was served over an enormous mound of parmesan- and herb-dusted fries. Though the steak couldn't have been better, drenched with a red-wind shallot sauce, it was a ridiculously small portion, sitting on the fries like a cherry atop a sundae. I'd rather pay a bit more for more steak but in any case I'd like to see the teenager's portion of fries reduced by a third.
Van ordered the whole fish -- a wood-roasted striped bass with baby artichokes, fingerling potatoes and arugula ($18). Used to eating a lot of Vietnamese renderings of the same dish, he was offended the head had been removed. Whatever! I was offended that he asked the waiter to bring Tabasco to drench the delicate, wonderful fish.
Other entrees included grilled chicken, wood-roasted shellfish, grilled tuna and braised short ribs. The latter are making an overdue comeback on trendy menus all over town.
We were far too full to attempt dessert. You do it and let me know. Be certain, by the way, to visit the restroom here -- a unisex affair whose signs are lace doll clothes suspended in the air. There's a lounge with a video screen and doors to the actual restroom which are marked, when in use, by red lights -- as if you were recording a song.
You should definitely give One a try. It's good to see Amick back with such a creative undertaking.
An extraordinary waiter
I landed at lunchtime the same day with Young Van at Lenox where we dined at Brasserie Le Coze and I had my favorite roasted chicken in the city, served over rapini ($14.50). Van ordered mussels with fries ($11).
Our waiter, a Hawaiian who went to school in Paris and was last living in Tahiti, was the best I've encountered in a long time. Kalani, whose name means "Tears of Heaven," teaches hula when he's not waiting tables. I declare him Waitron of the Week if only for making Van, who cannot get his tea sweet enough, a little pot of sugary syrup. I accused him of doing it in order to avoid sweeping 10 sugar wrappers from the table every five minutes, but he insisted it was all in the line of duty.
Anticipating every need, witty but unobtrusive, Kalani should begin training other servers as well as teaching hula.
Brasserie le Coze remains, by the way, among the best French restaurants in the city. It has been up and down over the last few years but a recent dinner there was as satisfying as my lunch.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.