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First Look: Ziba’s Restaurant & Wine Bar

Courtesy of Ziba's

Courtesy of Ziba's

If your house is in an old neighborhood with uneven sidewalks, poor soil and towering oaks creating shifting patterns of sunlight and shade, it can take some trial and error to figure out your garden. Over years you learn where to plant the roses, where to plant the hydrangeas, and whether the gods of sun and squirrel will allow you to bring any tomatoes to harvest.

So it is for restaurants. Old neighborhood dining spaces beckon enterprising chefs, but it is always hard to determine whether or not a particular concept can flower in an idiosyncratic space.

The dim, elegant cafe space at 560 Boulevard in Grant Park has been sending its siren call to would-be restaurateurs for as long as I’ve lived in Atlanta. With its narrow antechamber opening to a fine dining room with a pressed-tin ceiling, this spot has always seemed the essence of a prime neighborhood hang. I recall it was a French restaurant called Cafe La Glace, Nayarit Taqueria and, in recent years, Solstice Cafe. Now it has become Ziba’s Restaurant & Wine Bar, a place that dabbles broadly in Mediterranean flavors.

The look: Dramatic chandeliers, walls the russet color of raw silk and overstuffed lounge furniture by the front plate windows give off a casual/exotic/quasi-Persian vibe that is instantly comfortable. You would be happy having dinner at that deep wooden bar in the back of the room, or sitting in one of the armchairs by the window and ordering a hookah with flavored tobacco. We opted for a small corner table.

The menu: Goes all over the place, but touches down frequently enough in the Mediterranean region to give it some grounding. There are a dozen “small bites” and a half dozen “big bites,” including lamb chops with grilled vegetable couscous ($18.95), tahini tuna with quinoa tabbouleh ($15.75), and crab cakes with low-country aïoli ($14.95).

We opted to go with small plates. A simple Greek-style chopped salad with feta ($5.25) was tangy and tasty, and we loved the medjool dates stuffed with celery, manchego cheese and almonds ($3.95). A dash of smoked paprika really set the flavors off. A bowl of steamed clams with merguez sausage and feta cheese ($7.50) was wonderful, and we sopped all we could sop with the accompanying pita bread.

A couple of items elicited that “hmm…interesting” faint praise as damnation reaction. Grilled calamari (actually texturized strips of cuttlefish) came with salty olive tapenade and grilled pickled artichoke hearts ($6.50), while Persian meatballs ($5.95) combined beef, lamb, rice and split peas into bready orbs. Still, we appreciated the chef’s efforts to break the mold.

The wine: Many bottles are available for $7 a glass. However, I thought my 3-ounce pour of vinho verde was a bit of a rip. Go by the bottle.

The crowd: Regulars eating at the bar, a couple on a first date, a family with kids, assorted hipsters. Grant Park denizens happy to give this place a chance.

Consider: Dinner Party Roulette. On Saturday night the owners will seat four parties of two at the big communal table and pour a gratis glass of wine to break the ice. Make new friends.

6 comments Add your comment

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Born in the 50s; Survived the 60s and 70s; blocked the 80s

July 13th, 2010
2:49 pm

Interesting, but can someone explain to me why this Hookah silliness won’t just go away?

Fred

July 14th, 2010
3:46 pm

Very interesting article John. Your first two paragraphs so a “literary flair” if you will, that I didn’t know you had. Very powerful imagery.

I didn’t get one phrase though.

“A couple of items elicited that “hmm…interesting” faint praise as damnation reaction.”

Is that good or bad?

Sounds though like a place I want to try. If you were sopping up all you could sop up of the juice of a dish with your pita bread, my wife would probably be smacking ME to keep me from licking the bowl………

Son of Puerquito

July 14th, 2010
8:08 pm

Hey Fred! you are needed back on the Burrito article.

kieth

July 15th, 2010
12:04 pm

we drove over to zibas from the highlands last week. Sorry to say that it was a real let down. The food was quite bad and the service was worse, and to top it off there was that lame hookay smoking there.. We used to commute to solstice regularly. Wish she was still there.

Elise

July 23rd, 2010
12:11 pm

My husband and I have enjoyed the delicious food and attentive service at Ziba’s several times. Marcie, (owner and former Solstice employee), stops by our table to say hello and to thank us for our business when we’re there. Must tries are the coconut and curry soup, hummus and baba ganoush plate, dates, tuna and tabouli, and chicken spanakopita. We like Ziba’s so much, that we had our my daughter’s first birthday party there. Our 40+ guests raved about the food and thought the Hookahs was a fun touch for the adults. Ziba’s took good care of my guests! If you happen to experience an off night there, simply mention it to Marcie. She’ll make it right. I’m thrilled Ziba’s is in Grant Park! We’ll be returning for brunch on Sunday.