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It took me way too long to finally eat at East Atlanta Village’s Octopus Bar, a fringe endeavor—call it a restaurant addendum—that came to life last fall. Nhan Le, owner of Vietnamese pho joint So Ba, and Angus Brown, a chef who previously worked at Miller Union, devised a win-win brainchild: Brown, assisted by Le, takes over So Ba’s stoves at 10:30 every night except Sunday and cooks until 2:30 in the morning. The late-shift kitchen crew and waitstaff swoop in, and So Ba’s menu full of noodle soups disappears, replaced by a brainy list of mostly small plates, rife with provocative, primo ingredients that mingle Asian and American flavors. Brown and Le aim to please restaurant pros who start knocking off work right as Octopus Bar mobilizes. A similar chefs-cooking-for-chefs intent fueled the opening of Holeman and Finch Public House in 2008, and it’s a recipe other aspiring chef-owners would do well to follow. Octopus Bar’s setup, however odd, yields some of the most focused and individualistic cooking in the city.
Cauliflower sauteed with dates and green olives on a taqueria menu? I encountered this oddball side dish in January the first time I ate at East Atlanta's Holy Taco. It certainly seemed out of place alongside guacamole and brisket tacos, but the combination itself, when I tasted it, wasn’t outlandish at all: The salty-sweet tango of slivered Medjool dates and snippets of nutty Lucques olives entwined the same way that chocolate with pretzels or bacon with maple syrup do, and the neutral cauliflower made for a receptive backdrop.
There is no sign out front to announce the location of the Sound Table, the new restaurant-club from the owners of Midtown's Top Flr. "The Sound Table" is etched on the side of its building, perched at the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Boulevard in the Old Fourth Ward, but the words pale next to a stately mural of Martin Luther King Jr.'s visage. Park in the scruffy lot next to the building, then walk around to the front and pull open the black door flanked by large windows.
Among the forty-four dishes listed on an April menu at Restaurant Eugene, my eyes came to rest on a description that roused my curiosity: "Roasted shad roe, onion puree, lime pickle butter.” An uninitiated tablemate cocked his head quizzically when this plate arrived at the table. No way around it: Shad roe is one of nature’s uglier handiworks. A lobe of tiny eggs from the notoriously bony shad fish that runs briefly through the mid-Atlantic rivers in spring, the roe looks like a bloody horror-flick prop when raw and turns an unappealing gray when cooked. Yet this fleeting prize is sublime in flavor, offering a mild but hardscrabble pungency that suggests freezing water, upstream struggle, and the funkier nuances of caviar. Matching it with lime pickle butter tamed its feral qualities and evoked two distinct cuisines: Pickles are a staple in the South, but the triple hit of brine, heat, and citrus tasted undeniably of an Indian condiment. What an ingenious collaboration.