What is it with the trend toward prison colors? Half the new restaurants in the city are gray-walled, making me feel as though I’ll have to dig my way out with a spoon. It’s true, for instance, of Bittersweet—as well as of its catty-corner rival, which goes by the equally austere & creatively inauspicious (not to mention Google-thwarting) name of cafe | bar. Suffice it to say I had my doubts.

Sure enough, over the course of a recent evening there I did feel trapped, trapped I say, but in the crush of happy-hour revelers, standing 3 or 4 deep at the bar in the tiny back room, rather than involuntary inmates (which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have speared a bitch with a fork if it came to that). Clearly it’s a neighborhood hit, & rightly so: the open kitchen slings smartly conceived & nicely executed seasonal dishes all around (think smoked-goose salad in blueberry-sage vinaigrette). Pictures aren’t always worth 1000 words, especially mine, but I think these speak pretty clearly, so I’ll keep the verbiage to a minimum: props go especially to the ham-&-cheese sweet potato fries,

the buffalo meatballs with porter & cheddar in cherry-tomato demiglace,

& the caramelized onion-&-sage bread pudding in arugula-parsley cream.

The only exception to the crowd-pleasing rule was my strozzapreti, which lacked oomph; tossed with slightly undercooked cubes of sweet potato, fennel, kale, & roasted tomato, it didn’t quite hold together, the only real glue being not enough porcini butter at the bottom of the bowl. Still, 4 out of 5, the 5th being an unpictured charcuterie & cheese platter, is as good as dentist-recommended chewing gum.

***

Like District Meats below, Coohills aims to be a glam slam; big & handsome & hustling, it’s got a Colo-Med thing going on that’s working for it so far—especially since, unlike District Meats, the chef-owner, acclaimed Atlanta transplant Tom Coohill, is actually on premises. Loved the texture of the brandade—a warm, hearty sort of salt-cod mousse emulsified with olive oil—though it could’ve been even fishier for my tastes.

Coohill’s classical French background loomed large behind this duo of chicken-liver pâté & fatback-encased pâté de campagne, parfait in every way—texture, temperature, seasoning.

Still, the “melted flatbread,” which I think is a typo for “fatbread,” warmed my cockles most: an entire focaccia-like loaf, tender in & of itself & oozing with taleggio & ricotta to boot.

 

Given the generous portions & the well-heeled target market, tabs are really pretty reasonable, especially at happy hour. Unless, that is, you happen to be a Scotch drinker; by my side, the Director experienced one of the more painful moments of sticker shock I’ve seen. The price was so out of proportion to the rest (something like $36 for 2 normal-size pours of Glenlivet 10-year, or the cost of an entire bottle at retail) that we actually wondered if it was a glitch in the system. I’m inclined to think it was; in any case, I’ll be back whether Mr. Scotchy-Scotch joins me or not.

***

UPDATE: I’m beginning to figure out what to make of District Meats, if this stellar meal was any indication.

Damned if I know quite what to make of District Meats. Looks like celeb-chef Charlie Palmer swooped in here with visions of a combination European farmhouse & sports arena. Nor was I too sure about the crispy spiced chickpeas,

which were fried so deeply they were nearly incinerated, all crunch & no flesh. Odd. But Justin’s Stuffed Peppers proved a solid bet:

sweet, sweet piquillos roasted filled with incredibly juicy, marinated pulled pork & served over a red-pepper puree that was vibrant but not cloying, as so many are. Though unusually friendly, the on-the-ball bar staff also didn’t cling too thickly. I wish them luck, because the huge place was empty at the dinner hour on a Wednesday night—don’t think I’m the only one who’s unclear on the concept, sort of a steakhouse that hedges its bets.

Cafebar on Urbanspoon

Coohills 1400 on Urbanspoon

District Meats on Urbanspoon