Yebo Beach Haus is a spacious, airy restaurant set inside a Buckhead home. (Heidi Geldhauser)

Review: Party South African-style at Yebo Beach Haus in Buckhead

It is Thursday night, and the sun is setting on Yebo Beach Haus.

Inside, multicolored surfboards hang from white rafters. In a giant photograph behind the hostesses, penguins waddle in the crashing surf of South Africa’s Boulder Beach. The house is packed with Buckhead patrons ordering fruity cocktails from the bar, leaning back in wicker-wrapped metal chairs.

Outside, the heat finally has let up; a breeze is coming across the patio. A throng of women, sporting coiffed hair and summer dresses, raise their glasses of rose. The dappled golden rays shine down on the celebration. If it weren’t for the traffic on West Paces Ferry Road, you almost could believe this house was on the beach.

When I say house, I do mean house. Yebo Beach Haus, at 111 W. Paces Ferry Road, is in a white house that, aside from the elevated patio, still mostly resembles the elegant homes of the neighbors down the block. It is a storied address in Atlanta restaurant history, once belonging to Günter Seeger, the celebrated Michelin-starred chef who packed up from Atlanta during the Great Recession and now operates one of New York’s most talked about new restaurants. Back when Seeger was in charge, people talked about the elegance of dining inside such a finely appointed home. A restaurant called Coast operated in the space for a number of years after.

Yebo Beach Haus still feels a little like the elegant owners left town for the weekend and restaurateur Justin Anthony said, “Let’s throw a beach party instead.” He previously had operated Yebo at a location in Phipps Plaza.

Anthony also runs Cape Dutch on Cheshire Bridge and Biltong Bar in Ponce City Market. They are all designed with a South African theme in mind, some more than others. Aside from a few dishes, you could have told me Yebo was “Hamptons-themed” and I would’ve believed you.

So, anyway, now that you’ve been introduced to the host, let’s get back to the party. You’ll need a drink, of course. Try the On Leave, a short and lovely blend of tequila, rum, allspice dram and grapefruit poured over a block of ice. It’s better than the Johnny Utah, a too sweet combo of bourbon and blackberry liqueur.

You could go for a classic, but don’t get too snobby. You might confuse the waitress, like I did, if you ask for a Hemingway daiquiri. That old standard is on the menu as just “Hemingway,” so call it that, I guess. It came out on the sweet side, too.

Better yet, look around and take a tip from your peers. Everybody is drinking pink wine here. You should, too.

You may, as I did, get in the spirit of Yebo’s theme and want to drink some South African wine. After I inquired about the rose, a waitress offered to bring a taste of two. Very nice. She returned bearing three glasses instead, two tastes from South Africa and one from France. The bartender had insisted. She was right, of course; the Triennes from Provence was the dry glass I was looking for.

Oh, and there’s food here, too. I haven’t forgotten it, but, when putting Yebo’s charms in order of magnitude, this is an excellent place to look at, a pretty good place to drink at, and an OK place to eat at. Stick with the small plates and the party will continue.

I will say I loved the Cape oysters, a half dozen rather meaty bivalves that each had been dressed with pickled ginger juice, yuzu, sweet chile vinaigrette, microgreens and a dollop of bright red fish roe. That description appeared a little fussy on the menu (and even more so repeating it now), but the oyster itself was a true pleasure, a balance of sweet, acid and salt made even better by the fish eggs.

Those would pair nicely with the watermelon salad, a bright red disc of ripe melon topped with a pile of shaved fennel, feta cheese, orange supremes and mint.

The curry crab claw made for a more substantial plate. The claws themselves were mostly untouched — their sweet meat revealed by a clean, even cut through the shell — and came arranged atop a bed of rice and rich coconut milk curry.

But, my meals have included a few too many missteps, especially for the price of dishes here. A $16 bowl of langoustine ceviche came accompanied by “house chips” so uncrisp they could be bent like rubber.

The $39 kebab plate was such a disappointment: dry, chalky chunks of chicken, chewy shrimp and hunks of beef tenderloin that possessed the unappetizing, mushy texture of meat left too long in a marinade. I could almost hear Seeger’s ghost groan at all that mistreated meat.

The other large plates weren’t great, either. The grain bowl arrived as punishingly healthy tasting as it sounds, a pile of dry kale leaves and quinoa rescued by the seared tuna and avocado atop it. If you’re on a diet, though, perhaps this is exactly what you’re looking for.

The rub on the red snapper was a pleasure, possessing an herby depth of tarragon and garlic, but the plate itself was odd: three seared filets sitting atop one another accompanied by a lemon and a ramekin of remoulade without even a sprig of parsley in sight. It felt incomplete, maybe in a way that it wouldn’t have if the fish had been cooked whole.

But, where are we? I thought we were at a beach party. I got distracted by those disappointing big plates of food. Don’t make the same mistake. Order some pink wine and another round of oysters. Watch the sun set. Those passing cars? Just pretend they’re the sound of crashing waves and you’ll be fine.

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