REVIEW: Kitty Dare brings unfocused pan-Mediterranean menu to storied space

At Kitty Dare, baseball-sized arancini are cut in half and rest on a bed of meaty Bolognese. Courtest of Dara Paryas

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At Kitty Dare, baseball-sized arancini are cut in half and rest on a bed of meaty Bolognese. Courtest of Dara Paryas

The tenants that have occupied the space at 1029 Edgewood Ave. in Inman Park are as storied as the neighborhood itself.

Newer transplants to Atlanta, myself included, have known it only as Robert Phalen’s Southern-focused farm-to-table One Eared Stag. A few of my dining partners, however, could recall Shaun Doty bringing his personality to the place as Shaun’s, and back when Deacon Burton ran a dual soul food restaurant and TV repair shop there.

When he learned last year that Phalen wouldn’t be renewing the lease, industry veteran Jaamy Zarnegar (Last Resort Grill in Athens) jumped at the opportunity to open a Mediterranean restaurant in one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods.

Although a Burton’s Grill sign discovered during renovations hangs in homage on a wall, the place now is named Kitty Dare — after a late friend of Zarnegar’s who shared his passion for food and drink. The interior and patio are bright, tiled from a Mediterranean design makeover, and feature greenery.

Executive Chef Giuseppe Esposito, a native of Italy, attempts to showcase the flavors of the Mediterranean by culling — and often combining — ingredients from that diverse region of the world. His is an explorable, approachable menu, divided into four courses.

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The Dips Trio features, clockwise from left, grilled eggplant dip mirza ghasemi, pea and pistachio hummus, and salmon-based taramasalada, the standout of the bunch. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

The Dips Trio features, clockwise from left, grilled eggplant dip mirza ghasemi, pea and pistachio hummus, and salmon-based taramasalada, the standout of the bunch. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

caption arrowCaption
The Dips Trio features, clockwise from left, grilled eggplant dip mirza ghasemi, pea and pistachio hummus, and salmon-based taramasalada, the standout of the bunch. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Grazing on a mezze spread of dips with house-made Persian leavened flatbread barabari is a delightful way to begin that culinary trek. The Dips Trio features a springtime, silky pea and pistachio hummus; the grilled eggplant dip mirza ghasemi, associated with Iranian and Persian cookery; and taramasalada, a Greek fish roe spread, the standout of the bunch. Whereas cod roe normally would be the go-to fish for this salty, savory dip, Esposito opts for salmon eggs, to fine effect.

Arancini is another fine starter option. Here, a pair of oversized fried risotto balls are cut in half to reveal a filling of English peas and an exquisite, meaty Bolognese.

The street food of Zarnegar’s Iranian youth is represented with Koobideh Kabab. Two skewers of grilled, well-seasoned ground lamb and beef come with thick cubes of herb-marinated feta (delicious) and a runny cucumber salad (not so delicious).

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Koobideh Kabab is an appetizer on the Kitty Dare menu. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Koobideh Kabab is an appetizer on the Kitty Dare menu. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

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Koobideh Kabab is an appetizer on the Kitty Dare menu. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Pair any of these openers — or sides, such as oregano- and feta-flecked fries or roasted pepper salad — with a glass of wine. Zarnegar has applied his passion for vino to curate a lengthy (31!) by-the-glass list. You’ll find French, Italian and Spanish wines, but also a Lebanese sauvignon blanc, a Moroccan red, and a fruity, juicy, unfussy white table wine from Israeli producer Golan Heights.

I’d skip the cocktail selection, which needs either recipe revamping or measured pouring, to fix unbalanced drinks, including a Manhattan so potent it burns, and a bitter French 75 without bubbles.

I’d also skip the second course. After a first round of flavor-ranging appetizers, the French onion soup, and Caesar, Greek and bibb salads, are unimaginative and disappointing, especially considering the extent to which the Mediterranean region pays homage to fresh produce in salads.

The third course is where we get to the main disappointment. During my visits, service moved at such a snail’s pace, regardless of the hour or day, that it was well into two hours before the mains arrived. While Esposito’s pillowy gnocchi, draped in a sensational lamb ragu, was worth the wait, not so the dry berbere chicken; underseasoned, sinewy tri-tip steak, or seared shrimp, which came atop sauceless house-made bucatini garnished with red chile flakes, pistachio crumbles and breadcrumbs that left me parched.

Also, I can’t understand why a burger is on this menu, or why vegetarians and vegans have only one entree option: risotto. My bowl lacked creaminess and depth of flavor. It was so one-dimensional that it made me wonder whether any stock was being used at all.

Things sweetened up in the end, with what you might call an Eastern Mediterranean parfait: layers of roasted quince, chocolate “soil,” mascarpone cream, crumbled amaretto cookies and finely chopped pistachios.

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A parfait on the Kitty Dare dessert menu features roasted quince, chocolate "soil," mascarpone cream, amaretto cookie crumble and pistachio. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

A parfait on the Kitty Dare dessert menu features roasted quince, chocolate "soil," mascarpone cream, amaretto cookie crumble and pistachio. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

caption arrowCaption
A parfait on the Kitty Dare dessert menu features roasted quince, chocolate "soil," mascarpone cream, amaretto cookie crumble and pistachio. Courtesy of Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Credit: Dara Paryas

Apart from its wine program, Kitty Dare feels scattered and unfocused. Its broad food selection — there’s even a Little Kitty menu of American kid standbys (grilled cheese, pasta, chicken fingers and mac and cheese) — seems like a people-pleasing effort, rather than a careful consideration of the rich cuisines that hail from the 16 nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

For Kitty Dare to be liked as much as its predecessors in this storied space, it needs to determine its identity — and make getting to know that personality worth the prices.

KITTY DARE

Food: Mediterranean

Service: friendly but slow

Best dishes: eggplant, dips, kebab, arancini, gnocchi, and parfait of roasted quince, chocolate soil, mascarpone cream, amaretto cookie crumble and pistachio

Vegetarian selections: labneh, eggplant, dips, onion soup, cauliflower, some salads, risotto, all side dishes

Alcohol: full bar

Price range: $$$-$$$$

Credit cards: all major cards accepted

Hours: Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Children: yes

Parking: free street parking

MARTA station: Inman Park/Reynoldstown

Reservations: accepted

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: above average at times

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 1029 Edgewood Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-228-1566

Website: kittydare.com

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