Christmas has released its annual stranglehold on our throats. Thank you, Jesus.
This year, I was totally not in the mood and my friend Bette and I ended up at the inexpensive Hong Kong Harbour on Christmas Day. This restaurant has been a mainstay for about 20 years, offering Midtown’s most authentic Chinese cuisine. Besides that, it is open until 1 a.m. every night of the week.
If I’m out and about after 10, when most of the city’s restaurants close, I’ll stop there frequently. The later it is, the likelier to see tables of well-known chefs passing around bowls of the restaurant’s excellent food.
Bette grew up in Miami, where her family joined the rest of the Jewish community for the traditional Chinese dinner every Christmas. But she’s not an adventurous diner, so she runs from anything remotely unfamiliar. Happily for her, there’s plenty on the Hong Kong Harbour menu, like the beef lo mein she ordered, that is ultra-familiar to people who like Chinese-American fare. She also ordered Mandarin-style spare ribs, which the server warned her were actually pork chops. They were sticky-sweet to my taste—not something I enjoy.
I’m not that adventurous myself here. My favorite dish is the ground pork and shrimp wrapped in crispy bean curd. I mix the table’s hot chili oil with a dribble of soy sauce and anoint the large nuggets. The salt-and-pepper squid is among the city’s best. I’m personally not very fond of run-of-the-mill Chinese brown sauces, but I like anything here—oysters, for example—made with a black bean sauce.
There’s a lunch menu that is super-cheap, with the Chinese-American favorites like Mongolian beef and Kung Pao chicken. I always order from the regular menu. (2184 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-325-7630, hongkongharbouratl.com)
Last Word great new addition to ATL
There’s an exciting newbie in town: Last Word. It has opened in the spot formerly occupied by P’cheen, a few doors down from Highland Bakery. The restaurant has been open less than a month and offers some very cool, inventive dishes (ditto for cocktails). The menu is mainly small plates and, really, I urge you to stick to those.
One don’t-miss is thin slices of porchetta di testa, octopus, and radishes with saffron aioli, fried capers, golden raisins, and micro-greens. I know you’re wondering what the porchetta is. Well, it’s basically made from a pig’s head—different from head cheese, I promise—and is amazingly flavorful and tender, as is the octopus. The mild crunch of the radishes, the slight saltiness of the capers, the creamy aioli…I could go on.
A creamy soup will stun you with its strong flavor of parsnips. It is topped with a swath of nigella seeds—a tiny, pungent seed whose unique flavor, slightly bitter, explodes in the mouth. Fluffy couscous and spicy harissa surround a chunk of braised goat. It’s the best goat I’ve ever tasted; very light on gaminess. If you do want a bit of the gamy, try the rabbit liver mousse. Spread it on house-made crackers and top it with a tiny slice of apple.
For dessert, order the roasted dates and figs with lavender honey, sea salt and house-made Greek-style yogurt. A pistachio ice cream sandwich and sorbets were homey-good, but the dates and figs—exemplary of the strong Middle Eastern influence here—are the best choice.
I expect the menu will change regularly, but so far, it’s hard to imagine any outright failures. (701 Highland Ave., 404-343-1274, www.lastwordatl.com)
Ladies lunch at Café Lapin
Where do ladies lunch? At Café Lapin. Located in Peachtree Battle Shopping Center, this French café—open for breakfast, lunch and dinner most days of the week—is great fun. It really is densely populated with Buckhead ladies at lunchtime, picking at quiche Lorraine, one of five different chicken salads, a grilled pimento cheese sandwich, or a burger, among other dishes. The meatloaf sandwich is my favorite, but not always available. Entrees like a wine-braised lamb shank and a hanger steak appear at night. Pastries are always tempting. (2341 Peachtree Road, 404-812-9171, cafelelapin.com)