You should get the 'piranha ribs' from this Atlanta restaurant on your radar

It is not unusual to find exotic dishes on menus all over town. But when we noticed the “piranha ribs” at The Lawrence in Midtown, we wondered if the chef was playing with us.

Had he really found a source of the notorious, sharp-toothed fish that swims the fresh waters of the Amazon? And if so, how would it taste?

Maybe it was just some seriously toothsome style of beef or pork rib. Maybe the “mango habanero BBQ” is what gave the dish its menacing allure. (I could just feel it prickling and tormenting my tongue as it swam over my taste buds.) Turned out my imagination had gotten the best of me: It was fish, after all.

Beneath a charred, almost-crispy crisp, tender meat pulled easily from a long sharp bone. The mango-habanero sauce added assertive chili heat and a slightly sweet kiss from the tropics. (The zippy condiment tastes nothing like the sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce people often mop over ribs in the South.) Finally, a simple slaw dressed with citrus added a bit more zing and helped tone down the fireworks.

“So this is what piranha tastes like,” I mused.

The handiwork of executive chef Perry Griffith it's a memorable novelty dish, definitely worth a try, perhaps with one of partner and beverage director Eric Simpkins' curiously satisfying cocktails.

But I still felt the need to check the facts, and when I emailed Griffith, he told me the fish is actually pacu, a species so similar to piranha that people often get them confused.

“The only difference is the shape of their teeth,” he explained. “Pacus have rounded teeth like humans; piranhas are known for their razor-sharp teeth. Pacus are omnivores, while piranhas are the infamous carnivores.”

Griffith procures his unusual catch from United Seafood, and while it’s too early to tell if the fish might catch on with the public and turn into a trend, he has a hankering we’ll be seeing more of this piranha impersonator. For now, if you want to pretend you are living dangerously, stop by the Juniper Street restaurant and give it a try.

The Lawrence, 905 Juniper St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-961-7177. thelawrenceatlanta.com

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