560 Dutch Valley Road, Atlanta

If restaurants are like families, then Amuse must have some interesting conversations around the dinner table. Charismatic family members would include restaurant veterans Arnaud Michel of Anis and Andy Alibaksh of the Cafe Diem family of casual restaurants — Après Diem, Carpe Diem, Carroll St. Cafe and Village Pizza; plus, peripatetic chef Lenny Robinson, who bopped from his much-talked about downtown venue Les Fleurs de Lis Cafe to Peasant Bistro, only to arrive at Amuse with not so much as a whisper of an explanation as to why he left any for the other.

The talk is bistro, but the food is much more brasserie. Robinson’s strengths — and he has many — lie in solid French cooking, and for all the talk of Amuse having a “global” approach to casual French cuisine, I’m happy to report that the menu is actually more Francophile-friendly than worldly inspired.

That’s a good thing when it comes to Robinson, who, at Fleurs de Lis garnered a rep for fast talk and a short temper (one of my colleagues dubbed him “grumpy-olicious”). I never heard any argument about the excellent food at this French bistro (that eventually turned into a New Orleans-style counter lunch spot), but almost everyone who ate there had something to say about the lack of space and Robinson’s on-again, off-again decorum with the public.

At Amuse, owners Michel and Alibaksh can worry about all that, and let Robinson do what he’s best at: cooking. The location, which was formerly home to Allegro, has changed its decor a good bit. Belts fastened around square pillars and layered on top of each other, as well as a sculpture of bicycle wheels and bric-a-brac-like wall hangings even the owners couldn’t identify add visual texture to warm red walls. Large chalkboards loom, spouting daily specials and Wednesday’s prix fixe menu. A cozy, inviting seating area beckons from between the bar and dining areas.

In the kitchen, Robinson is up to his old tricks. While charred octopus served chilled with mint in a chile-scented dressing is too chewy to be seductive, there are plenty of other nibbles to entice, most notably duck liver pâté, a semi-mousse of heady liver flavor crowned with orange-and-marjoram jelly just right for spreading over French rolls. We used the stale rolls for dipping into an insanely delicious jus from moules en biere Belgique, served with frites. Hefty mussels are plump, clean and tender, basking in part cream, part broth, laced with a warming heat from chile peppers.

A sort-of slaw underneath a very crispy strip of pork belly is almost worthy on its own — shreds of Napa cabbage are seasoned lightly with yuzu, bits of avocado and mint. And Robinson’s orange-glazed piglet is a hunk of burnin’ love, with a thick layer of insulating fat giving way to tender shoulder meat over pickled, julienned brussels sprouts. Chile seems to be on Robinson’s favorite things list, because it shows up deliciously again in spaghettini.

If this were a new venue from fresh-faced restaurateurs, stale bread and inconsistent service would be understandable, but Michel and Alibaksh are hardly new at this. Some servers seem spot-on, while others are noticeably out of step, from taking orders to resetting the table. If friendliness is a counter for ineptitude (and sometimes it can be), then all can be forgiven.

Robinson could be accused of inconsistency as well. While his cooking rarely wavers from exceptional, he is often out of dishes offered on the menu, or wavers from an ingredient.

He also falters on dessert — a pear tatin was loaded down with stiff, improperly cooked fruit and a cold puff pastry crust, while a roasted marshmallow over crème brûlée (my reason for ordering it in the first place — goodness knows we don’t need more crème brûlée) never appeared.

Which leaves room for more duck liver pâté and mussels.


Overall rating:

Food: French brasserie

Service: Spotty

Price range: $$

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Hours of operation: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Brunch: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays. Dinner: 6-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 6-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Best dishes: duck liver pâté, mussels in Belgian beer, orange-glazed piglet, crisped pork belly

Vegetarian selections: salads, risotto

Children: yes

Parking: adjacent lot, or complimentary valet

Reservations: yes

Wheelchair access: yes

Smoking: patio only

Noise level: medium

Patio: yes

Takeout: yes

Address, telephone: 560 Dutch Valley Road, Atlanta, 404-888-1890

Web site:

Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.

Key to AJC ratings


Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.


One of the best in the Atlanta area.

Very good

Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.


A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.


Food is more miss than hit.

Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.

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