Idea: A malleable restaurant experience

Reading through Tofugu’s Famous Foods of Every Japanese Prefecture [North, East, Central] makes me feel two things: hungry, and wistful. I want to go to all those places and try all those foods.

It occurred to me that it would be cool for a Japanese restaurant to have a small regular menu and then switch out other menu items, perhaps every quarter, to feature different items from different regions. It would be a little difficult logistically, as they’d have to source the ingredients and train the chefs and whatnot, but it would make for a fascinating dining experience. They could even change their decor to match the city or prefecture whose food they were featuring at any given time. A map and photos at the entryway could show guests what the current region is and what kinds of specialty items to expect.

The restaurant could also try weeklong events, such as an udon event or a ramen event, and go crazy with different selections. Maybe they could bring in guest chefs, specialists, to take some of the pressure off the main staff.

No matter how big a restaurant’s menu is–the menu at our current go-to Japanese restaurant is pretty huge–there’s always going to be something missing. And if Kitchen Nightmares has taught me anything, it’s that a smaller menu improves food quality all around. These lessons are actionable: shift to a smaller menu that changes regularly. This move would bring refreshing variety and the opportunity to try new things while allowing the chefs increased focus on each dish.


Sean and I are slowly searching out haunts in our new Atlanta-area home. Tonight we discovered our first Italian place, a lovely restaurant that combines a hole-in-the-wall feel with casual elegance.

Scalini’s is located on Cobb Parkway in the same shopping center as the Best Buy, just above I-285. A huge green light-up sign stretches across the restaurant’s section of strip mall, proclaiming “Scalini’s Italian Restaurant” to the deep parking lot and the roadway beyond. A purely decorative awning runs above the front window, which looks into the dimly-lit bar, and a windowed front entryway provides a glimpse into a cheerful foyer.

Upon entering, we saw a high-ceilinged room dominated to the left by a long refrigerated glass case, displaying its meats and vegetables before a wall filled with dried goods and spices. To the right, past a towering Lady Liberty statue, was a passage through to the bar, and the hostess was straight ahead, guarding the way to the rest of the restaurant.

At this point I was wondering if we were underdressed…but we were greeted warmly and escorted back beyond the bar to a very casual seating area with private booths. There, most surfaces–the walls, the backs of booths, even some light fixtures–were covered with graffiti, messages from past guests, just like at Rhinehart’s back in Augusta. The area was cozy and private, too, with a narrow walkway running between rows of booths so small they could almost be called cramped, their seat backs going almost to the ceiling. The table was plenty big enough, and the booth seats just, so we settled in comfortably.

The menu was expansive, with appetizers, pastas, meats, seafood, and several desserts. Each meal was served with a large salad that included lettuce, tomato, and beets. I was pleased to discover that I found the beets delicious. Meals also came with a bowl of delicious freshly-baked rolls, served with oil and garlic.

We started with a stuffed mushroom appetizer that was the only disappointing part of the meal. Maybe the kitchen was rushed, as it was a bit late in the evening. Maybe their recipe wasn’t great. Whatever the reason, the mushrooms were passable, but not wonderful like the rest of the meal.

Sean’s main dish was a seafood alfredo that looked absolutely divine…scallops and shrimp with fettuccine dredged in that amazing creamy sauce. I had Cannelloni del Mar: lobster, scallops, and shrimp with cheese, baked in a pasta tube with rosatella sauce. It was an extraordinary medley of flavors.

We managed to eat about half of the shared salad, all the mushrooms, a couple of rolls, and about a third each of our entrees. I did find room for some fantastic spumoni, which I think was pistachio and chocolate, served with a cookie of lower sweetness to temper the taste. Finally, full and happy, we strolled back to the car with three to-go boxes.

Tonight’s dinner was a fantastic experience. I was captivated, both by the food and by the ambiance. It looks like Scalini’s is going to be a favorite!

Sweet Lou’s Crab Shack

Today I decided to try a new place for lunch: Sweet Lou’s Crab Shack on Broad Street near 13th.

Sweet Lou's Crab Shack

I noticed the place the other day–there’s a huge blue banner with the restaurant’s name and a neat-looking crab right over the door. Today, upon closer inspection, I see the name “Sweet Lou’s Coffee and Bagel Sandwich Shop” on the windows. I’m not sure I would have been as intrigued by that…so bravo, Lou, on your rebranding!

Close-up of banner

The place is done up like a beach restaurant/coffee shop. You really just have to see it. I would have sat inside to enjoy the decor, but I was the only customer and it’s beautiful outside, so I opted for the sunny Broad Street view.

View of Broad Street from my table

The girl behind the counter has reddish hair and a smile like Christina Applegate’s. She plucked me up a menu off the coffee table in the couch and chair lounge area near the back of the joint. Looking over the selections, I was surprised at the number of items that did not involve crab. I noted that they have breakfast, sandwiches, and entrees, and they’re a little pricey. I settled on a fish sandwich called “Harbor Breeze”, a fruit salad (the sandwiches don’t come with any sides) and a can of Diet Coke.

my meal

I waited about 25 minutes for my food, but it was worth it. The fruit salad consisted of a large, pleasantly smooth green bowl filled with grapes, pineapple, strawberries, and kiwi. “Your fruit salad looks amazing,” the girl said as she placed it in front of me. “I’m jealous.”

fruit salad

The fish, light and crispy on the outside from frying, came on a toasted bagel with lettuce, tomato, and orange (probably American) cheese. It was delicious.

close-up of fish sandwich

The prices are a bit steep, and the location, on a block with a payday lender, a nail salon, a planned parenthood office and an imaging service, is not ideal. But the food is delicious, the ambiance is relaxed and fun, and there are indoor and outdoor seating options. It should do well…as long as enough people discover it!