No guarantees and no apologies
The Supper Club, Highland Tap and Scott's Rotisserie Cafe
Pity Michele Niesen. She gets no respect. The owner of The Supper Club, one of the city's kinkiest-looking boutique restaurants, takes risks that have as much potential to annoy as endear customers to her.
Literate and sassy, she sashays between the kitchen and dining room of her restaurant, serving wine and repartee, rosy-cheeked and blond, a cherubic hedonist. Located in a commercial strip in Decatur (308 W. Ponce de Leon Place, 404-370-1207), The Supper Club, drenched in Niesen's strong personality, is, however, definitely not for everyone.
A complaint from a reader about the pricey Valentine's Day dinner she and her husband ate there ($65 each) and Niesen's very salty response prompted me to revisit the restaurant last Saturday with my friends Britt and Joe.
Niesen, like any good artist, is adamant about her intention, making no apologies for the somewhat pricey fare at her restaurant "'Value,'" she wrote my reader, "is the most ridiculous word to use in conjunction with ... The Supper Club or any place that puts creativity or interest on a plate. Price is relative (I personally don't go out for a value. If I wanted value, I'd stay home and steam some broccoli). Atmosphere and mystique are part of the cost, as are imagination and creativity."
I mainly agree with her and, the $65 prix-fixe Valentine's menu aside, I don't find her regular menu particularly high, compared to other, often worse restaurants in the city. The three of us spent just under $100 (with no alcohol or dessert).
Honestly, there's not another restaurant in town whose decor I find more appealing. Half-gypsy fortune teller's parlor and half-bordello, the ambience is pure sensual eccentricity — a Coleridge poem in the form of decor. Not a single note of phony corporate drama can be found in the place. Nor, for that matter, are there any children, who are forbidden from this very adult scene.
The risk that Niesen takes with such a quirky look and self-assured manner is creating very high expectations about the food itself. Does she deliver? Mainly, but, as good as most of the food is, it certainly isn't quite as kinky as the spectacle of dining there itself.
Thus the present menu, which changes regularly, is devoted to some mainly straightforward Italian-inspired dishes. My starter paired unusually good fresh mozzarella with a warm tomato compote ($10) while Joe and Britt both ordered salads of mixed greens with gorgonzola, red peppers and pancetta ($8). There's also a Tuscan white bean soup, a plate of four cheeses, steamed mussels, escargot and skewered shrimp over sauteed spinach. Let pre-coital diners be warned: Garlic is featured in many of these dishes.
Of entrees, Joe's was the best: a steak of yellow fin tuna over spinach topped with green olive salsa ($20). I liked my rustic dish of chicken thighs stewed with tomatoes, olives and capers, served over linguine ($15). Other entrees include Italian meatloaf with red pepper coulis; a stew of clams, mussels and shrimps; penne carbonara with pancetta, green peas and sweet onion cream.
If you haven't visited this very unusual restaurant — which actually grew out of Niesen's habit of hosting rent-raising dinners at her home — by all means visit. Although you may hit an occasional mediocre dish, the experience redeems any shortfall I've ever encountered.
Here and there
On St. Patrick's Day, Wayne and I landed at Highland Tap in Virginia-Highland (1026 N. Highland Ave., 404-875-3673) because both of us were craving steak. This longtime neighborhood favorite was doing a particularly raucous bar business that night. One group of five young men yelled so much that, when I was on the way to the restroom, a woman stopped me and asked me if I'd ask them to be quiet.
"Maybe they're Irish," I said.
"But I'm having an anxiety attack every time they start yelling," she told me.
"You know," I said, "I don't work here."
"I know that," she replied. "You just look like someone who would enjoy telling them to be quiet."
Groan. I declined the assignment.
Wayne and I ordered the same: the 16-oz. New York strip steak with a Caesar salad ($23). Although we both were satisfied with our meal, I note that Highland Tap does not indicate the grade beef they use and our steaks were a bit tough. The cooking — "hickory charbroiling" — certainly isn't state-of-the-art like you find at Prime, Bones or Chops. Then again, you aren't going to impoverish yourself by eating here.
The restaurant also offers pastas, lobster, chicken, lamb chops, pork chops, some entree salads and seafood dishes. In fact these dishes dominate the menu to an extent it's hard to think of this as a steak house any more.
Scott's Rotisserie Cafe is a new lunch spot at 1877 Piedmont Ave. (404-815-8135). It replaces one of my favorites, Best of Creole, which went kaput a few months ago.
I had a perfectly decent lunch of rotisserie chicken with collards and Brunswick stew ($6.89), but the ambience of the place is a bit stressed. When I walked through the door a man at the opposite end of the restaurant yelled at me to have a seat in the middle of his rant to someone about an apparently unpleasant customer.
I instantly vowed to myself to be a good customer. Of course, I might as well have vowed to become a vegan.
When my "half a chicken" came to the table, it was actually two leg quarters. Not a word was said by the server and when the man-in-charge came by to ask about my meal, I broke my vow and said: "Well it tastes good but it's not half a chicken."
"Oh, I know," he said. "We ran out of breasts."
"It's OK," I said, "but you really should have told me."
"How are the collards?" he replied.
"Very good," I said. "Got any pepper sauce for them?"
"Tomorrow," he said. "We'll have some tomorrow."
I laughed and chalked it up to the stress of a new operation, though the restaurant has been in business a few weeks. And the man-in-charge did make an adjustment on my bill for the missing breast.
You'll also find salads and sandwiches — from burgers to roasted turkey — here, along with daily specials like meatloaf, lasagna, country-fried steak and spareribs.
Feedback of the week
I knew when I took some digs at the Majestic a few weeks back, I'd get some angry responses. My favorite was from Jim Bell whose e-mail included choice bits like: "Many of us have said to one or another, 'Why doesn't he just go far away and take his nastiness with him?'" In case I can't decide where to go, Mr. Bell makes this recommendation on concluding his epistle: "Please go away and take your miserable nastiness with you. I hear there is an opening at The Uganda Times." It's not true. I called. They aren't hiring.
He and another reader objected to statements in my column that were actually a quote from another CL staffer that I corrected myself. There's an apparently widespread belief that the Majestic has been sold. It has not, although — contrary to the contentions of my correspondents — the people at the restaurant told me that one partner bought out another there recently. If that's wrong, the restaurant should call and correct me. As far as my dissing of the food there, sorry. I've been to many diners with far better food and, as I said, the food is nothing of the quality it was 20 years ago. Both readers seemed to confuse my comments about the distant past with changes that might have occurred recently — none of which drew my comment.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504, or e-mail him at email@example.com??