Little Trouble’s main attraction: Atmosphere, not food

In Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” a detective played by Harrison Ford wanders the streets of Los Angeles in the not-too-distant future. It is a dark movie, full of dim scenes, neon colors, beautiful women and philosophical discussions about what it means be to human.

The bar-restaurant Little Trouble is an overt homage to that film, with a touch of the unabashed goofiness of “Big Trouble in Little China” on the side. Every night I’ve been there, it has been full of dim scenes, neon colors and beautiful women, though I doubt that many people are bothering with philosophical discussions.

On a visual level, Little Trouble is a stunningly unique restaurant. You arrive down a long hallway that is lit at the end with a neon sign, creating a square, dark scene of silhouettes and bright colors that may already have been Instagrammed more than any restaurant entrance in all of Atlanta.

To the left, there is a long rectangular bar where slick-haired, tattooed bartenders are stirring cocktails and cracking beers. To the right, a dining room of tables, mirrors, more neon and the kind of dark, curving lines that put one in mind of surrealist H.R. Giger. If you can see clearly enough through the dim lights, you’ll notice a conspicuously notable crowd: the musician from this rock band, the chef from that restaurant, the photographer from so-and-so’s magazine.

Sit down, order an Emergency Drinking Beer or a Martin Likes Baseball, which is a ridiculous name for a crisp spin on a margarita, and take in the sights. At some point, you’ll remember that you’re at a restaurant, which is when things start to go downhill. The precise and inspired design of this place unfortunately highlights the imprecise and uninspired menu. It is as if an interior design team spent months painstakingly crafting this place and the kitchen skimmed a Momofuku cookbook and ate at a couple of izakayas for research.

Maybe that’s too harsh. The menu has some fine bar snacks, like a bowl of pork skins drizzled with a kick of honey sauce. The skins were dense and crisp without being too hard. I happily crunched on them throughout the night. The pork bun was soft, porky and spiked with just enough pickled carrot and daikon. The Thai beef dumplings were just as promised, full of beefy flavor and fish sauce and cilantro.

You can easily pick a few of these things, get through the night, and enjoy the sights. Unfortunately, it is too easy to pick wrong.

The yakitori (called “meat on a stick” on the menu) was marinated in several different sauces, I think, but the flavors were indistinct. They were served two to an order and ended up tasting vaguely sweet and salty and a little sesame — which would have been fine enough, I guess, if they had been cooked well. I had skewers of chicken thigh that were carbonized to half-charcoal and skewers of cubed pork that were unappetizingly rare. The pork belly skewers arrived melt-in-your-mouth tender. Stick with those.

There are a couple of bowls of ramen on the menu, neither of which you should order. The hot ramen packed a pile of steamed snapper atop a bowl of wavy noodles and spicy broth studded with carrots and tomatoes. I’m not really sure why the carrots and tomatoes were there, but the spicy broth was fine. The menu also promises mushrooms on that dish, but those showed up instead on my bowl of cold ramen, which was sweet and piled with long hunks of pork. Neither had notable broth or noodles or a coherent flavor profile.

Little Trouble is the latest creation of Victory Brands, a wonderful little chain of irreverent sandwich bars. The thing that makes their sandwich menu work is a deep and playful understanding of the pleasures of sandwiches. I can’t say the same for the Japanese and American traditions that Little Trouble’s kitchen is trying to play with.

If I said all of this to you at the restaurant, you would’ve stopped listening long ago. There’s too much to look at, and too many people to talk with, to bother wasting the night complaining.

I had fun at Little Trouble every night I was there and, from the looks of it, so did a lot of other people. The food clearly isn’t the point there. The cocktails are good and tasty enough, though a little on the pricey side. They’re Little Trouble’s tax on the main attraction of people-watching, of basking in the neon glow, of thinking about the not-so-distant future and hoping that the food is better than this.

Little Trouble

1170 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta.

1 of 4 stars (good)

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