Thursday, June 14, 2007

Closed: Carlos' Cuban Cafe - The Food almost makes up for it

You know you're in ATL late when the place gets quiet. There's still people here, but they pass in clusters of 2 or 3, not the steady stream of people that were tromping past a few hours ago.

Most of this week, tonight included, has been unremarkable from a food point of view - the standards: MoMo's, Gordo's, Bonefish - and Atlanta Bread Company in the airport. On Monday, though, I branched out a bit, to mixed results. Carlos' barely counts as branching out, to be honest - I'd had lunch there once before a few months back, and it was just good enough to merit a return.

Carlos' starts off with good points in my book just based on the name. There was an amazing little hole in the wall in Santa Fe called Carlos' Gospel Cafe. Gone now, but they had a green chile stew that would peel paint off the walls and cure a hangover. The Carlos' in Tallahassee has the name in common with the Santa Fe establishment, but not much else. I stopped by around 8:30 - didn't seem late to me, but there was only one other table, and by 8:40, they were out the door. It was just me, a couple of wait staff, a cashier, a hostess, at least a couple of cooks, and I'm guessing a dishwasher. Lesson one: unless Carlos' does a raging lunch business, this place may have another thing in common with the Santa Fe Carlos' before too long. What may be a tendency toward overspending on staff did not extend to the physical space. This is a bare bones restaurant - not kitchy like Gordo's, but just a little run down.

I ordered Pollo de la Hija. The food, preceded by a small basket of garlic bread was definitely the highlight of the experience. Not inspired, exactly, but well thought out and well balanced. The chicken was tender and flavorful, served in a broth that was largely wine, but flavored with a little citrus (lime?) and a whole handful of interesting savory flavors I couldn't quite peg. The sauce was particularly good with the rice, which in turn was a great contrast to the sweetness of the maduros. Well thought out, and well executed.

And here's the funny thing - if this had run me $6, I'd have been raving about this little undiscovered gem. As it was, the chicken was one of the cheaper items on the menu at $18. Given the price of things, it seemed like the place was a little too up on itself; pretending to be fancy, when the reality had more to do with the plastic covered tables and uneven floor. Worth another trip? On the basis of the food, maybe. But not particularly soon.

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