Is the greatest menu compliment "Ahhh! I want everything"? It seems to happen to me, and many of the pals I eat with, at Atlas. If it has changed at all since its sale to Bryan Carr of Pomme, it's become even more the French bistro. And that's a good thing.
Clearly a regular stop for many folks on their way to the Grand Center culture spots, it slows down after eight or so and becomes a date night venue or one for catching up with four or five pals. Noise levels, thank you, are reasonable, too.
And the food? Those who love mussels need to try these, with their classic white wine and garlic broth. Huge, tender, and steamed just until they open, they're a perfect example of why they've become so popular in the last decade. The lettuce and radish salad, a stalwart on the menu, now carries more fresh tarragon than ever in its creamy dressing, which is slightly pungent, still good enough to lure diners away from some of the more dramatic first courses.
For those who wonder at the presence of pasta on this French-ish menu, please understand that along the eastern part of France's Mediterranean coast, pasta has crept over from Italy. It's a little disconcerting to see "pates fraiches" scrawled on a chalkboard outside a restaurant in Nice, but this isn't fresh pate to serve with bread and cornichon pickles, it's fresh pasta. (Watch for pates au pistou for the Provencal version of pesto.) At Atlas, ricotta gnocchi, very tender and not at all gummy, are bathed in a pale green pesto sauce studded with nuggets of sundried tomato.
Difficult to pass up the lamb shank braised with red wine and served with couscous, but we managed. A succulent pork chop perched on a slice of potato gratin, happily awaiting its fate. Duck breast, quickly sauteed and sliced, wore a light sauce of ginger and just a little lime, a good contrast with its innate richness. Alongside was polenta and strips of braised sweet peppers. Daube, the classic beef stew from Provence (pronounce it as if you were starting to say "Doberman"), was pretty much spot on, its gravy thick and redolent of red wine and scented with orange peel, nuggets of carrots here and there, the meat managing to be both lean and tender. The only disappointment was the olives, which were so bland they tasted like the canned California ones. A swirl of fettucini and some emerald-green sauteed spinach finished off the plate.
Another never-can-resist comes with the dessert choices. Profiteroles are classic French, cream puffs filled at the last minute with a scoop of ice cream and served with a pitcher of warm chocolate sauce. This is all about texture and temperature as well as taste, think of a hot fudge sundae in a tender cone. Blissful, whether you choose vanilla or coffee ice cream. And then there's the lemon torte. And this really is a torte, not a tart that someone misspelled. A layer of cake is topped with a creamy mousse that has raspberries and blueberries in it, some whipped cream on top, and berries alongside. the berries peer out from the filling to give hints of what's to come, and add a nice tartness that balances well, since the lemon notes are moving slightly to the sweet side.
Knowledgeable and very pleasant service. We see they've starting weekend brunch as of May 7. Probably worth an investigation.
5516 Pershing Ave.
Dinner Tues.-Sat, Brunch Sat.-Sun
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair