"We're here for dinner," I told the woman at Zennubian 7 (163 Peters St., 404-521-9961).
"I'm sorry," she said. "But we stop serving food at 8 on Sunday."
"But it's only 7," I replied.
"No, it's 8," she said. "I'll check."
She went into the back, returned and said again that it was 8.
"Oh, OK," I said. "I did reset my watch today, so maybe I screwed up."
"It's 7," Wayne said. "Ask anyone."
The woman asked another diner what time it was. He said 7.
"Oh! I looked on our computer. I forgot it didn't change for daylight savings," the woman said. "Sit anywhere."
Sit anywhere? We didn't see any chairs. A few people were sitting on the floor on cushions. We made our way to a narrow bar with stools. Caribbean music was playing. Later I would hear fado and South African chanting. Japanese silk screens hung from the ceiling. A projector cast images of a Japanese film on a wall. A portrait of Bruce Lee caught my eye.
"We're really a tea house," the woman said, handing us a weighty menu of teas, along with a light menu of vegan cuisine.
"When does the Mad Hatter arrive at this tea party?" I whispered to Wayne.
Zennubian is the coolest place I've visited in many months. In the Castleberry section of downtown, it's in the first building on the right as you cross the bridge onto Peters Street. It was open for a while more than a year ago but had to close to make some city-mandated improvements to the space. And now, once again, it's the subject of controversy. Because it's in a historic district, it has committed a major no-no by replacing the grim 1970s-style door with a marvelous door carved with the face of a golden-haired Buddha.
The owners are reconfiguring the entrance space so it can maintain the present door behind an appropriately hideous one. Meanwhile, some residents of the building are trying to limit its hours of operation.
That's a lot of drama for a business whose mottos are "Instilling the Art of Peace" and "Life Love Tea."
We were told the teahouse's name was meant to evoke the fact that Japan and African nations were engaged in trade before any others. Zen and Nubian philosophy are not specifically advocated. "We just wanted to create a very spiritual environment," our server told us.
Mkay, let's eat.
The menu is salads and sandwiches, along with rice and noodle dishes. You can also order smoothies and freshly pressed juices. The salads are huge portions of organic greens tossed with unexpected extras such as raspberries, blackberries, dried cranberries and strawberries. They are topped with the day's veggies, which can be anything from grilled portobellos and squash to snap beans. You can order extras such as grilled tofu or shiitake mushrooms, too.
Sandwiches are made with fluffy, nan-like bread. Wayne ordered veggie chicken and, at a second visit, I ordered veggie meatballs with marinara. We didn't miss the meat. A friend ordered a bowl of jasmine basmati rice served with grilled vegetables and fresh herbs, drizzled with a ginger-lemongrass sauce.
You'll be given a small taste of a tea when you first arrive, but you'll want to purchase a full pot from the staggeringly huge menu (from which you can also order tea by the pound). Wayne and I settled on a fruity Jamaica. During my next visit, I tried the iced organic, citron green tea – a wonderful spectacle featuring a skewer of candied ginger and mango from which a tea bag dangled into the liquid. Of course, you can forget your "sweetea" here. I did unearth some honey hidden at the end of the bar.
My only complaint about the food is a very heavy hand with the salad dressing. Even when I asked for a light dose my second visit, it was too heavy. You may want to ask for it on the side.
There's also a fun retail area at Zennubian. You can buy beads, rocks, clothing, teapots, weird drinks, herbs, incense and a strange white clay to spread on your dry skin. My friend bought a little vial of some tonic containing a ginseng root. "Be sure to eat the root," our host instructed.
What else? Live jazz on Tuesday nights, Wi-Fi and the sheer pleasure of soaking up the ambiance of such a delightfully eccentric place. Life, love and tea.
Here and there
Want to eat truly healthy, affordable gourmet meals at home? Check out Good Measure Meals. This service, whose profits benefit Project Open Hand, offers a full day's meals (or just the evening meal), constructed according to different dietary needs.
You can have the meals delivered or pick them up at numerous locations throughout the city. Call 404-261-7080 or visit GoodMeasureMeals.com for more information. ...
Columbus Robinson writes to recommend Fusion Asian Café (770-227-0042) in the Mall of Georgia.
He says: "This restaurant serves Thai, Malaysian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese dishes, along with Asian cooking with an American twist.
"I have tried many of their dishes, including, three soft Asian tacos, one with Mongolian beef, one with teriyaki chicken and one with mango shrimp. They are served with duck sauce topped with fresh jicama and cucumber. The stuffed eggplant with minced shrimp is also fantastic.
"I have also tried: 'seafood madness,' consisting of all types of seafood with a sauce that tastes like lobster bisque; 'drunken chicken' cooked with Chinese cooking wine that is full of fragrance; and seared lamb with Masaman curry sauce. For dessert, there's fantastic mango pie and banana roti."
Columbus recommends avoiding Friday and Saturday evenings when the restaurant is very crowded. ...
Softshell crabs are in season. Call Woodfire Grill (1782 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-347-9055) to see if they're on the menu. Or check out Just Loaf'n (313 Boulevard, 404-525-4001) where I ate a delicious po'boy made with the crabs last week.