Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tasty China



585 Franklin Rd., #B3, Marietta, GA http://www.tasty-china.com/wordpress/

Last night Kyle and I joined a few friends at Tasty China. The commercial sites alongside Tasty China consist of a low-class Latin club, a Mediterranean grocery store and several empty and darkened shops. Tasty China’s exterior couldn’t be more inconspicuous, featuring a steel gray stucco exterior with a simple red sign on the marquee. Tasty China serves mainstream Americanized Chinese food as well as authentic Szechuan selections. My recommendation is to go with authenticity - you can get beef with broccoli anywhere. We have eaten at Tasty China about a dozen times over the past year, so my review contains information garnered from all my experiences there.

Other suggestions for Tasty China are:

Bring a group of people, sit down at one of the big round tables with lazy susans, and share everything.

Now for the food:
Love the cold sesame chicken: dark meat chicken on the bone cooked in sesame oil with sesame seeds. It was fantastic. We happily sucked the salty meat right off the bones, leaving a pile of carnage on the plate underneath the bowl. Next came the hot and numbing beef. The fresh, beautiful bright green cilantro leaves were the first prominent flavor, but after a few bites we felt that super spicy hot sensation that’s produced by hot chili oil and peppers. Sure enough, after about three pieces of meat our mouths were numb.

Another great bet: pork with bamboo shoots. The pork was superb. The dish consisted of perfectly cooked noodles, inch long pieces of pork in brown sauce and very tender, delicious yellow-green bamboo shoots. I tried to eat it patiently, savoring each wonderful bite, but ended up finishing my portion within a matter of minutes. Coriander spring rolls are fresh and unusual, and the fried eggplants is normally incredible, albeit very spicy.

Tasty China isn't just good, it's really inexpensive for the great quality of food you're getting. Kyle and I have often gone with our friends John and Amr, ordering at least seven dishes to be shared between the four of us, and our bill has only totalled around $50.

Another bonus: Tasty China doesn't have a liquor license, so you can BYOB. That's right, you can bring in beer, wine, liquor, whatever floats your boat, and there's no corkage fee.

Verdict: Can't get enough of this fantastic, cheap Szechuan food.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Food 101



4969 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, GA www.101concepts.com

Monday was a very nice day for me. I utilized my final vacation day of 2009 to go shopping and enjoy a leisurely lunch with my grandmother, a rare treat. Since we were in Sandy Springs we decided to check out Food 101 on Roswell Rd.

My grandmother, who is normally guilty of ordering a fried chicken salad at any and every restaurant that lists it on the menu, made the sudden and unexpected move of ordering the Maryland Crab Cake BLT sandwich ($13), along with the house potato chips. She was pleased with the fresh lettuce, crisp bacon, plump crab cake and soft brioche. The sandwich was large enough for her to enjoy one half at the restaurant and take the other half home for dinner, making it a pretty good bargain.

I ordered the cornmeal crusted calamari Caesar salad ($12). The calamari was crisp and only very lightly breaded, not greasy at all. The flesh was tender without being rubbery. I was disappointed to find that the romaine lay in full, uncut leaves on the plate. I spent the first five minutes of my meal chopping awkwardly with my fork and butter knife, trying to convert the huge greens into edible portions. Oddly enough, I think the best quality of this salad was the croutons, which were long, wide and very buttery. They were delicious, but only sparingly distributed - I think I had 4, and I would like to have had at least 6.

I also enjoyed a cup of hot tea with my meal, and was presented with a large wooden box filled with approximately twelve different organic selections. My small teapot was refilled with hot water at appropriately timed intervals.

If there's a downside to the restaurant, it's this: there is nothing in particular that really stands out at Food 101. Neither the menu nor the decor is especially interesting or impressive. Although I feel that our lunch was above average quality, it can't be called excellent. In my opinion, the Crab Cake BLT was the most unusual dish on the menu. In light of this, I would suggest that chef Jordan Wakefield be allowed to flex his creative muscles a bit more.

Verdict: A safe choice for food and service.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vickery's



1106 Crescent Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.vickerysbarandgrill.com

On Saturday my grandmother and I had lunch at Vickery's. Vickery's isn't a new restaurant - I specifically remember having a business lunch there in the fall of 2000 - but I think it often gets overlooked with all of the newer, flashier bars/grills in town. Let me remind you here why Vickery's is still cool.

# 1 - The casual bar. It's a great place to hang out with people of all walks of life. There are businessmen in suits and ties, twenty-somethings in skinny jeans and Converse and everyone in between. The dark, worn wood of the bar itself invites you to step up and have a pint in a place where you can just be yourself. In the main dining room there's a warming fire in the fireplace on cold days.

# 2 - If you're not a fan of the bar, you'll probably like the outdoor patio area. Comfortable and almost home-like.

# 3 - The service. We received outstanding service at Vickery's. Our server was very attentive, bestowing a warm, sincere smile upon us every time he came to our table, and we were also visited twice by the congenial manager.

# 4 - The sandwiches. I had a very good chicken sandwich (The Glenwood - $10) with black olives, avocado and pesto. The oily, basil-based sauce seeped halfway through the thick Ciabatta but not so much as to be messy, and the flavor was present without overpowering the other ingredients. The side of black beans was nice too, providing me with a hearty combination.

A few other notes. We ended our lunch with a serving of the bread pudding, which was I thought was very good, squishy in texture and covered with a simple syrup and plump golden raisins. Maybe I was just in the mood for a winter treat, because my grandmother ate two bites and commented "I've had better." At $5 it was a little pricey.

My grandmother is a tough critic. She was also disappointed with the Southern Pecan House Salad, pointing out that the candied pecans were broken into very small pieces, as opposed to O'Charley's pecan halves on their similar salad. For my part, I'll say that the sliced cucumbers were very fresh and the bleu cheese pleasantly pungent.

Vickery's also has another location in Glenwood Park.

Verdict: A good old standby, an unpretentious choice on busy, trendy Crescent Street.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lola



3280 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA www.h2sr.com

On Friday my friend Jenny and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Lola, a Mediterranean restaurant that's part of the Here to Serve Group. (Each Here to Serve restaurant is a different concept with a different menu, so it doesn't meet the definition of "chain" which would exclude it from my reviews.)

I chose the bucatini with roasted tomato cream sauce, green peas and serrano ham ($8). I half expected the ham to be diced and overly pinkish, but instead was rewarded with big, meaty chunks. I like that the chef didn't attempt to overcomplicate what should be a simple but satisfying dish.

The a side I chose (from among the fairly extensive tapas menu) the Tuscan truffle fries with Parmesan and truffle oil ($3). I have noticed that fries with white truffle oil seem to be popping up on Atlanta restaurant menus everywhere, and I keep ordering them because I love the idea, but as usual I was disappointed. If you are a true fan of the heady truffle flavor, you'll feel that the fries come up short in this area. I think if the kitchen added about 50% more oil when making the fries it would result in a marked improvement.

Jenny ordered the spinach and artichoke fondue appetizer, which at $7 costs a little more than my fries, but was extremely generous in portion. This could have been a meal until itself. She also ordered a very fresh and enjoyable salmon salad, a great choice for lunch.

I knew in advance that Lola prizes it's bellini menu, so I expected the sweet drinks to top out at at least $11 each. (Go to Harry's Bar in Venice, home of the original bellini, and you'll pay $14 for about 3 ozs of the delicious liquid.) To my surprise and delight, I found that the bellinis are only $5 each, and they're very good. Jenny enjoyed the standard with peach puree and I selected the blood orange version, which was lovely and bright. There were at least five other possibilities, including blueberry, which I think I'll try next time.

And there will definitely be a next time. The food was good, the service was attentive and swift during the lunch rush hour, and the bellinis are an inexpensive treat.

Note: Don't forget to ask your waiter to validate your parking in the Terminus deck before you leave. It's free up to 2 hours.

Verdict: I'll be back. Try Lola, even if it's just for the bellinis.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Vatica



1475 Terrell Mill Rd., Ste. 105, Marietta, GA http://www.indiagourmet.com/

Remember my review of Raja, the mediocre Indian restaurant on Peachtree Rd. in Atlanta? I promised that I would review some additional, much better Indian restaurants in the future. This is one step towards fulfilling my promise.

Like so many places I love Vatica is situated in a boring, somewhat dilapidated shopping center with nothing to indicate that what’s inside would be otherwise. However, Creative Loafing’s reviewer, Bill Addison, stated that “this is home-style cookin’ like your mama would have made, had she been from Gujarat in Western India.” (http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/Atlanta_Restaurants_vatica/GoodEats/Content?oid=oid:54233&contentView=clReview 8/7/02) That was enough to pique my interest.

Eating at Vatica is an interesting, unusual experience for several reasons. For one, thali style meals are hard to find at Indian restaurants in Atlanta. For another thing, the fact that Vatica serves thali means they don’t have a regular menu. Sadhana (the chef) makes delicious, healthy dishes of her own choosing every day from scratch, and that’s what you eat if you dine there, period. Also, it’s one of the best values in the Atlanta area. Lunch is $8 per person, dinner is $12, and it’s all you can eat.

That’s right. A member of the waitstaff will bring you a round, steel tray with five or six bowls filled with selections, as well as naan bread, steamed basmati rice and pappadams. The pappadams are crispy and spicy, ingrained with black peppercorns. For your selections, you can pretty much count on some variety of beans, often in the form of dahl, a hot soup similar to mulligatawny, a couple of curried vegetables and raita, the creamy, cooling yogurt condiment that is commonly served at Indian restaurants. Simply put, it’s like Indian comfort food.

However, Vatica doesn’t make any guarantees about what they’re serving on a daily basis. You come in, sit down, they bring you food and you eat it. Every few minutes an attendant comes around with a cart, ready to refill any of your dishes or supply more bread or rice. If you’re super picky about particular foods or flavors and can’t live without a large menu, Vatica’s probably not for you. However, if you appreciate really awesome Indian food at a great price, you’ll be in heaven.

Dhiru is the house manager. He and his son-in-law man the restaurant’s dining room and take care of the customers. Dhiru is a riot. He’s a small framed, wiry man with thinning white hair. His laugh is contagious and he is famous for teasing his customers. Don't be offended. Just think of him as your incorrigible grandfather.

Verdict: The best Indian food in Marietta.

Friday, December 4, 2009

CamiCakes



2221 Peachtree Rd. Ste. B, Atlanta www.camicakes.com

First off - sorry for the delay in posting. I'm afraid I was dwelling in post-Thanksgiving bloat, munching on leftovers and generally not acquiring information about which to blog.

A few days ago I stopped in to CamiCakes, a gourmet cupcake place in a nondescript shopping center on Peachtree.

I brought back three different varieties: the mint chocolate chip, the red velvet and the Elvis. My co-worker Erin loved the mint chocolate chip, which is topped with mint chocolate chips. She claims that the mint icing wasn't over-the-top sweet, a good think in her opinion. I ate the red velvet, which was naturally topped with cream cheese icing. I thought the icing was slightly overkill, masking the nice cake flavor that is distinctive to red velvet. I really liked the addition of the small bits of lightly toasted pecans.

Kyle tried the Elvis, which is a chocolate cake with peanut butter and banana frosting. Kyle was probably the wrong person to critique the Elvis, as he isn't a huge fan of peanut butter and banana. He liked the cake but felt the combination of icings tasted a little odd.

The best quality of CamiCakes cupcakes is their texture. The cake itself is extremely moist and tasty. I think the cupcakes are probably as good as those served at Chocolate Pink on Juniper, and they're $.50 cheaper than Chocolate Pink's at $2.50 each or $28/dozen. However, CamiCakes' store doesn't have the charm and appeal of the Chocolate Pink Cafe. If you're getting cupcakes to go, choose CamiCakes. If you want to sit for half an hour, slowly nibbling your cupcake and sipping Illy coffee while listening to soft French music, choose Chocolate Pink.

Other flavors include pineapple toasted coconut, lemon drop, carrot and Cinaswirl among others. Each cake is prettily decorated and served with a smile at CamiCakes, which also has a couple of locations in Florida.

CamiCakes is an African-American woman-owned business.

Verdict: A cute little sweet treat.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Food for Thought: Thanksgiving Out


Last night I was driving home from work, visions of my upcoming family Thanksgiving feast dancing through my head, when I spotted a sign posted on the board of a local McDonald's. It read "Open Thanksgiving Morning". As I veered off the road to take a picture of this disturbing sight, I thought back on all of my Thanksgiving meals from years past and determined that not one of them included a Big Mac or Fillet-O-Fish. This is a good thing in my opinion.

I have conflicting feelings on restaurants that choose to open for business on Thanksgiving Day. My first and foremost reaction is pity for the employees who are potentially forgoing their own family gatherings (or missing out on sleeping in that cold morning) while they stand behind a cash register or refill condiment dispensers. My second thought is that it's a benefit to many people that McDonald's will be open for breakfast that morning. To a traveler looking at multiple hours of driving ahead of him, an Egg McMuffin and a hot cup of coffee provides great relief.

My third thought is that I feel very blessed that I have a Thanksgiving feast to anticipate, unlike many people who may be homeless or simply without family or close friends with which to enjoy the year's best holiday meal. McDonald's isn't an option for me because I have better plans . . . but what if I didn't?

This got me wondering where I would like to dine if circumstances dictated that I couldn't eat a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving Day as usual. Assuming that every restaurant was open and ready to prepare dinner for me, where would I want to dine? McDonald's, of course, was far from my first choice. I tried to decide if I would want to find a place that might make home-style food and good turkey, like Cracker Barrel, or if I would want to go all out and indulge in the seven course tasting menu at Restaurant Eugene.

Eventually I eschewed both of these routes, deciding instead upon Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Sandy Springs for my Thanksgiving Meal out. Why Ruth's Chris? For one thing, steak cooked in sizzling butter whets my chops every time. Also, the creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin are nice comfort foods. The service at Ruth's Chris is always great, and there's at least one fireplace on the main level that invites you to lounge around, full to the brim with rich food, in one of their comfortable armchairs alongside the table. And while they may not have pies for dessert, the bread pudding with whiskey sauce is a fitting winter treat.

I'm sure you've got your own ideas about the best Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant. Please share them with my blog community, and have a very happy and delicious Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Special Feature: Cape Food & Beverage



2080 Peachtree Industrial Ct., Atlanta, GA http://www.shop-southafricans.com/

Yesterday I finally made it around to shopping at Cape Food and Beverage on the north end of Peachtree Rd. My friend Max told me about this place at least six months ago but various activities and commitments have kept me from checking it out until now.

Cape Food & Beverage is a South African grocery store. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. A South African grocery store is actually in operation in Atlanta, GA.

Some of the items on the shelves included Ouma biscuits (several flavors), chutneys, curries, fig jam and peri-peri sauce. I picked up a bottle of lemon pepper peri-peri and plan to marinate some chicken in it soon. I saw a product called Chili Bite Batter and read on the back of the box that a person should mix it with watercress, onion and/or spinach for a tasty dish. Seemed interesting. If you like rooibas tea, a product of South Africa, you've got your pick of half a dozen varieties. I chose the vanilla rooibas by Cape Tea and am enjoying it even as I post this.

The store has also recently begun stocking lots of Cadbury candy bars and other goodies, including Sweetie Pie for $1.55. Kyle sampled it last night and liked it's marshmallow center encased in milk chocolate. I chose a Massaam's deluxe nougat candy in almond cherry flavor. It's sort of like a chewy version of divinity. Very sweet and wrapped in edible rice paper. You'll find a large selection of South African soft drinks, including one called Grapister that looked interesting.

Cape also has two refrigerators full of meat, specifically biltong, droewors and Boerewors. the Boerewors comes in choice of lean turkey or beef. The very helpful female shop manager recommended that I grill them, and since I don't have a grill I declined to make a purchase. They also carry biltong, which I have since discovered is a cured meat made up of ostrich and beef. It's supposedly similar to jerky. If anyone reading this has eaten it or the other meats I would love to read your comments.

The only downside to Cape is the hours of operation. They're open Mon - Fri from 9:30 to 5, exactly when most people are working, and on Saturday from 10 to 3pm.

Verdict: The most convenient route to South African cuisine for Atlantans.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Foodie Reading: Confessions of a Kitchen Diva


Over the past ten years - the current span of my "cooking life" - I have learned many invaluable cooking tips. Some I've gleaned from conversations with my mom and grandmother, most I've learned through trial and error. However, I've also learned a lot from cookbooks, including Claudine Destino's Confessions of a Kitchen Diva. Claudine is a part-time caterer from Roswell, Georgia. She also teaches cooking classes on occasion.

For one thing, I've learned that there are many ways to make my dinner parties run smoothly and free of last minute kitchen drama. When I’ve got a free Sunday afternoon, I like to whip up a batch of Party Quiche Bites, a great recipe found on page 51. These can be frozen and quickly warmed up in a pinch. I’ve also made a promise to myself to do all of my shopping the day prior to a big dinner I’m throwing. On one particularly unfortunate occasion I remember standing in my kitchen, frantically plowing through my shelves for that bottle of raspberry vinegar I needed for the night’s salad. Half an hour before my guests were scheduled to arrive, I had to send my date out on a frenzied trip to the grocery store to acquire this indispensable but missing ingredient. I only have one thing to say about this incident: never again.

I actually have the pleasure of being personally acquainted with Claudine Destino, author of Confessions of a Kitchen Diva, through her daughter, my friend Lindsey. I’ve been to Claudine’s home for large get-togethers on several occasions, and she’s always cool and classy in the kitchen. She never betrays a hint of panic, so I consider her a model hostess and highly endorse her ideas on entertaining. Her food is always scrumptious and her home is beautiful without being stuffy.

I attended a wedding shower for Lindsey in the spring of 2005, when Claudine had prepared a heavenly Kahlua and pecan baked brie. While everyone else talked and laughed out in the fading sunlight, I ate nearly a quarter of the brie with no attempt to be sociable. Although the goal isn’t to stun all of your guests into silence when they visit your home for dinner, it’s a pretty awesome feeling when they love your food too much to talk.

The brie recipe alone (page 22) is a good enough reason to buy this cookbook, but there are many others I've also enjoyed. One is the Zuppa de Ceci's, a soup of pureed chickpeas which includes butter, heavy cream, Swiss cheese, marjoram, thyme and a little sherry. The creamy texture and luscious flavor is unbeatable. The colorful Cloissone' salad (page 70) and the Unorthodox Spinach Salad (page 72) are part of my regular lunch repertoire. Kyle loves the Chicken Cordon Bleu recipe found on page 158.

You can purchase this conveniently spiral bound cookbook for under $20 on barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com, or you may visit Claudine's website at akitchendiva.com.

Verdict: Wherever you are in your cooking life - novice, mid-level or seasoned chef - you can learn something from Confessions of a Kitchen Diva.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Special Feature: Rice Country Hams


12217 Lebanon Rd., Mt. Juliet, TN www.ricecountryhams.com

I love bacon.
I love sausage too - one brand of sausage in particular - but my love for bacon is only equal to my love of chocolate. I love bacon so much that I have actually licked strips of raw bacon before put putting them into the pan to fry them. (Thank God Kyle has never witnessed me doing this, or I might be single right now.) You don’t have to warn me about trichinosis. I know about it, but it’s hard to think of negative, unlikely possibilities like contracting a disease caused by parasites from raw pork when I’m hungry and can smell the unrivaled meat that is called bacon.

The best sausage and bacon I’ve ever eaten comes from Rice Country Farms in tiny Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. The only reason I know of Rice’s existence is that I once dated a man who grew up there. Rice Farms cures their pork all year until October, when they begin selling it to the public at their Mt. Juliet location, via telephone and the internet. After the holidays, they close up again to tend to the meat. This is very serious business.

Mt. Juliet is a very small country town, and for a long time Rice Country Farms and its hams were only famous in the general vicinity. However, several years ago Martha Stewart featured it on her show and claimed that Rice makes the best country ham she’s ever eaten. You can imagine the pandemonium that this created. Poor Mt. Juliet was inundated with city folks from all over the east coast that holiday season, and the phones nearly rang off the hook at Rice Country Farms. They only have a limited supply of meat each year, so the story goes that many of Mt. Juliet’s natives were left empty handed after the big crush of Martha inspired orders from outsiders.

The first time I tasted the sausage I discovered that it's unbelievable. Simply a complete joy to taste, to chew and to swallow. An earthly, clearly pork flavor coated my mouth in a heavenly wave. Even though I wasn’t extremely impressed with the famous ham, this sausage completely converted me to Rice Country Farms as a customer for life. I’ve almost never ordered sausage patties at a restaurant since that morning, and I’ve never once purchased any other brand from the grocery store, because I knew it couldn’t live up to the true Tennessee sausages lovingly smoked throughout the year and sold during the holidays by Rice.

Next I tried the bacon. Happy, happy day! The bacon was very thickly sliced, and turned a beautiful, marbled brown in the frying pan. This is no bacon for dieters, it’s fatty and full of sodium and nitrates. I’m not sorry or disappointed about that. It’s simple, proud and true country bacon, it’s not pretending to be anything else. Rice also makes a peppered bacon that is heavily coated with coarsely ground black pepper. While I encourage utilizing the smoked bacon for recipes, I advise anyone to eat the peppered bacon alone. As my friend Eric (a Rice Country Farms convert through my recommendation) says, “That bacon’s not playing around.” It’s for serious bacon fans only.

Verdict: The best bacon and sausage I've ever eaten. Don't miss out - place a large order and freeze what you can't eat right away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pho 96




5000 Buford Hwy, Ste. C, Chamblee, GA 770/452-9644

Last night my friend Brad and I had dinner at Pho 96 on Buford Hwy. I do not claim to be a Vietnamese pho aficionado, so when I get a jones for pho I have to consult someone with a true pho fever - in this case I want to thank John for the good recommendation.

I ordered pho with beef brisket and well-done flank steak. The aroma of my soup was totally mesmerizing. the broth was rich and complex. The brisket was so tender it was falling apart in my bowl, and the flank steak was especially flavorful. Despite being described as "well done" the flavor hadn't been cooked out of it. The rice noodles were silky. I added a little fresh basil, a few bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime from the large serving dish provided with our entrees and was quite satisfied with my meal.

Brad ordered a beef and rice vermicelli dish (pictured above) topped with fresh cilantro, onions and carrots. He gave the dish a thumbs up. We shared an order of spring rolls which contained large, fat and fresh shrimp accompanied by a shredded carrot and peanut dipping sauce. Great stuff.

I also noticed that there were more than 40 different beverages (non-alcoholic only) on the menu, although I was too full of spring rolls and soup to sample any of them.

Pho in general is very inexpensive. I ordered a small bowl for under $7 that more than met my needs. If you're on a budget, Pho 96 is a very good choice. You may want to forgo the specialty beverages in this case, because they all appeared to cost at least $3 each. Considering that you get free (and Brad says authentic) tea with your meal, you're hardly in need of an additional beverage anyway. Both entrees and appetizer came to $17 before gratuity. Our service was also cordial and attentive, so I was happy to leave a nice tip.

When we arrived at 7pm Pho 96 was completely empty. When we left there were customers dining at about four other tables, which is still pretty scant. With all of the pho competition (the famous Pho Bac is within sight on the same street) I wonder how long this place can afford to stay in business. Brad suggested that the bulk of the patrons may dine much closer to closing time, which I believe is 10pm on weeknights. Hopefully this is the case.

Verdict: Good food with fresh ingredients that hits the spot.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thai Fusion



2140 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA http://www.thaifusionatlanta.com/

Yesterday my friends Dave and Courtney had lunch with me at Thai Fusion on Peachtree. Thai Fusion is located in a large shopping center on Peachtree in Buckhead. Look for the yellow brick restaurant Vita if you need a landmark.

The interior of Thai Fusion is understated without being boring. There are lovely framed black and white photos on the walls, which are painted a surprisingly nice mustard color. Or maybe I should say curry color. Hee, hee.

Let's get this out of the way first: the last Thai restaurant I reviewed on the blog was Chaba Thai in Duluth. Thai Fusion is nowhere near as good as Chaba Thai, but it's far more conveniently located unless you live north of the perimeter. It's also less expensive.

The egg rolls were average (and fairly small, about two bites worth) and the crab rangoon, which I normally associate with Americanized Chinese restaurants, was warm and cooked appropriately crisp on the outside while retaining its nice soft center.

For the entrees: I ordered the Massaman chicken, a dish served with a brown sauce containing large wedges of avocado and cashews. I liked it - rate it about a seven on a scale of ten. Dave ordered the Panang chicken and commented that the sauce had a wonderful flavor but was a little thin.

Courtney really enjoyed the spicy basil leaves, a dish that included bell peppers and onions in a spicy basil sauce. She liked the flavor and thought it was appropriately spicy. All of our dishes were attractively presented with plenty of rice. All of our entrees were $8, a nice price for a sit-down lunch.

We also had the green tea ice cream, which I chose because I read another complimentary review of it. It was fine, not great. Green tea ice cream varies greatly in flavor across Atlanta: some like it sweet, some don't, etc. Thai Fusion's version is not sweet and is very subtle. A little too subtle for my taste, although I feel that way about green tea in general.

The service was fine, but the lunch menu promised us coconut soup along with our entrees and we never received any soup. I also didn't see any other patron being served soup, so I'm not sure if they were having a "bad soup day" or if the restaurant just isn't including the soup anymore. Obviously if that is the case they should revise their menu.

(A side note: My followers may remember that another recently reviewed restaurant, Raja, also neglected to serve me soup that was clearly listed as included with the entree on the lunch menu. Maybe I am exuding some sort of negative soup vibes . . .)

Verdict: A quiet and pleasant lunch destination.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Road Trip: Hong Kong - Macon, GA



5936 Zebulon Rd. 478/471-0979

Hong Kong is exactly the kind of restaurant I normally loathe. The primary reason for this is because it serves Americanized Chinese food, a pseudo cuisine mainly consisting of fried rice, limp broccoli and poor quality dark meat chicken. Hong Kong is located in a shopping center where Kroger is the anchor store. It's right beside a Blockbuster, a position that almost immediately dooms every restaurant in my mind: this screams to the public that your food is only good enough for take-out.

Hong Kong is not a sit-down restaurant per se. There are cheap plastic booths where you may sit, but there is no table service. When you enter the restaurant you will see large pictures of the 15 or so dishes above the cash register. All of them are quite familiar and generally boring: moo goo gai pan, cashew chicken, sweet and sour shrimp. I hate ordering based on overhead photos.

I ordered the house chow mein fun because it was the most ridiculous sounding item on the menu, poured myself some water in a very tiny plastic cup from the automatic dispenser, and settled glumly into the cold plastic booth.

I absolutely cannot believe that I am writing this, but I loved the house chow mein fun.

Maybe its strengths can be traced to the word "house." In my experience, "house" can mean one of two things: 1. a concoction of the cheapest leftover ingredients in the kitchen or 2. an opportunity for an otherwise regulated chef to make his own, surprisingly good creation. The house chow mein fun was the latter. It included chow mein noodles, with generous portions of thinly sliced green onions, pork, chicken, shrimp and a quite salty but delicious sauce. The chicken was white meat, chunky and juicy, and the shrimp was fatter and tasted fresher than I have normally encountered in like restaurants. I liked the dish so much that I took half of it home and ate it for dinner.

Of course my cousin Holly, who is 13 years old and the reason we were eating at Hong Kong in the first place, really enjoyed her General Tso's chicken. I tasted it and was unimpressed, the feeling I expected to have about my own entree. I also ordered an egg roll, which unfortunately turned out to be nearly tasteless.

Portions were very large (most diners should only order the "small") and appropriately inexpensive. All 3 of the people in my party took home leftovers. Possibly the worst thing about the restaurant is that they serve these huge meals on very wimpy Styrofoam plates which bow under the weight of the food, and you'll be struggling with the cheap plastic utensils. In hindsight, maybe this would have been a great take-out choice because then you can use your own dishes and cutlery at home.

Verdict: A surprisingly good Americanized Chinese stop.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Special Feature: the PRC



732 Joseph E. Lowery Blvd, Atlanta, GA http://acfb.org/

Today I wanted to take the opportunity to shine a small spotlight on a very special place that is dear to my heart: the Product Rescue Center (PRC) of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I have been volunteering at the PRC for almost seven years, and I truly feel that every hour there has been time well spent.

This is how it works: The Food Bank sends trucks to pick up donated food from food drives and local grocery stores, then delivers the items to the PRC, where volunteers sort, inspect and pack like items. The goods are then sent to over 800 partner agencies (such as children's, women's and homeless shelters, and senior centers) in 38 counties in metro Atlanta and North Georgia.

The PRC is a great place for many reasons, one being that it is extremely well organized. When you volunteer there you'll be shown a cute video produced by the Cartoon Network that gives you all the info on the work at the PRC and what becomes of the donations. Once you enter the warehouse you'll be well supervised and directed by several friendly staff members. At the end of the shift one of them will tell you the number of pounds of food you packed and its equivalent number of meals, so you can instantly feel great about the work you performed.

There are two ways in which you can help the PRC: you can volunteer, or you can make food or monetary donations. Either will be much appreciated.

The PRC takes volunteers ages 8 and up, and they have shifts on multiple days and times. You can find me at the Wednesday night shift from 6 to 8:30pm, sorting and inspecting donated food.

If you'd like to donate, you may do so on the website with a credit/debit card (see the yellow "donate online" icon), or you may send a check to the address listed above. The Food Bank is able to convert every dollar to $5.66 worth of food (or six meals) for the needy, so even a small monetary donation can go a long way towards helping the underprivileged in your community.

If you'd like to donate food, please see this link for instructions: http://acfb.org/operations/product_procurement/donate/. The PRC "most wanted" items include canned meats, peanut butter and canned fruits and vegetables.

Being a longtime volunteer at the PRC, I have seen many strange items come through the sort area. I know that everyone has good intentions when they are donating food for the hungry, but please try to be practical and keep in mind that the PRC cannot accept homemade baked/canned items, perishable goods or items that have expired over a year ago. You may be laughing at this, but I can tell you that my fellow volunteers have pulled gallons of milk, Ziploc bags full of home-baked biscuits and loaves of bread from the familiar blue bins. Two years ago we also received a tin of coffee that expired in 1975. I kid you not.

Verdict: The PRC is a fantastic place to volunteer and a wonderful service to our community. The Food Bank has many other projects that I will highlight in future posts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Raja Indian Restaurant



2955 Peachtree Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA www.2goclub.com

Today I ate lunch at Raja for the second time in the past six months. Raja is a small restaurant located beside an empty Verizon Wireless store in a shopping center on Peacthree Rd. in Buckhead. The interior reflects Americans' typical idea of Indian ambiance - red plastic tablecloths, gold wall hangings and the same, lyric less Oriental song replaying continuously in the background. Suffice it to say that you won't be eating at Raja for the decor.

You also won't be eating there for the food.

To give you the correct perspective on this post, I want to state that I absolutely adore Indian food. I shiver with excitement when I smell curry, lick my happy lips after eating naan bread and can practically drink cucumber raita out of a glass. I eat Indian cuisine every opportunity I get, which may not seem like very often given my complete deficiency of reviews of Indian restaurants up to this point. You have my word - there will be upcoming, additional posts on local Indian restaurants. Unfortunately Raja just happens to be the first one.

Today I had the chicken biryani lunch special. The special was $8.25 and came with soup, dal, rice and dessert. In the case of the biryani (which is comprised mainly of rice) I was served a vegetable medley rather than more rice, a reasonable and pleasant substitute. The vegetable medley was fragrant and soft, perhaps the best component of my meal. The biryani, normally a wonderful dish of pilau rice, peas, carrots and in my case, chicken, had a good flavor but was very greasy, leaving huge spots of dark red oil all over my plate. The chicken was dry and overcooked. The soup, which was some sort of completely pureed version of mulligatawny, had an very good, salty flavor. The flavor couldn't make up for the mushy consistency, however.

Speaking of mushy, the dal was ridiculous and nearly flavorless. Two spoonfulls were enough for me, and then it was unceremoniously shoved to the far reaches of my table. I also ordered a serving of naan ($2.75), and regret to inform you that it may have been the worst naan I've ever eaten. I want to clarify this: if I had not expected it to be the very lightly baked, leavened, bulbous and light brown bread that I am accustomed to receiving when I order naan at other restaurants, I may not have been disappointed. As far as bread goes, it was fine. As far as naan in particular goes, it was sub-par. The consistency (apparently a problem in multiple dishes at Raja) was too crispy, and the top was far too buttery. I love butter, but if naan is baked correctly it does not require slathered butter to produce flavor. Most steak lovers know that a really fine cut of beef does not require steak sauce. It's the same with naan and butter.

Incidentally, I never received a dessert on either of my trips to Raja. I don't know what happened here, but I wasn't severely disappointed about this discrepancy considering my general bad impression of the food.

You may not believe this after reading the above review, but I actually liked the food at Raja better on this trip than on my last lunch there. This time I would label it a C-, whereas several months ago I would have given it a D or D-. That time it was chicken curry, which one assumes that any Indian restaurant can adequately produce. In the case of Raja, all assumptions are out.

On a happier note, service was attentive. I was rereading Gone With the Wind during my lunch today and the waitstaff made sure to refill my water glass and clear my table without disturbing me. Very nice.

Verdict: Possibly improving but still poor.

update - sorry for delay

Hello blog family,
I will be posting a new blog this afternoon. Sorry for the delay.
- Southern Foodie

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food for Thought: Holiday Dinner Essential


It's that time of year again - the holidays are right around the corner. (Please do not hate me for reminding you of this fact!) The holidays are full of crowded shopping malls, themed music, temperatures dropping, spiritual rejoicing and time for catching up with family, and they are also filled with opportunities to eat huge portions of hot, rich foods. Yes! The time is indeed drawing near!

I woke up this morning dreaming of green bean casserole (topped with French fried onions, of course), turkey with giblet gravy and pumpkin pie. Maybe it's because the Atlanta weather has briefly turned cold, or maybe it's just because I love to stuff myself to near sickness and this act of gluttony is more readily excused during the upcoming holidays, but I can't seem to get the smells and flavors of holiday dinners out of my head today.

Which got me thinking about priorities. In most American homes, Thanksgiving and Christmas meals are composed of many dishes which range from spicy to sweet. I recall that last year when I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at Kyle's mother's house there was a greater number of dishes on the table than people sitting around it - a true holiday smorgasbord. If I had to choose one, and ONLY one, to eat on Thanksgiving or Christmas, what would it be?

Naturally it is highly doubtful that you would ever have to make such a terrible decision in reality, but I have noticed that contemplating this sort of question helps me to appreciate all of the wonderful options that most of us take for granted every year when we sit down to sup.

After spending my early morning running on the treadmill and considering all my holidays past (not a good combination of activities), I have concluded that I would never want to spend a holiday without my grandmother's sweet potato souffle. I know there are many versions of this, and my sister makes a great one with a thick layer of pecans on top, but I have to give my grandmother's my highest rating for holiday food. It's topped with cornflakes, a whole bag of marshmallows and candied pecans. I have seen her make it and I cringed when she melted an entire stick of butter during the process, but all thoughts of clogged arteries fled from my mind when I tasted that first steaming bite. Fabulous!

Maybe your essential holiday dish is a special casserole from a recipe your mom hides from the rest of the family. Maybe it's an ethnic dish passed down through generations or from relatives who are fairly new arrivals in the U.S. Maybe you are part of a vegetarian family and instead of turkey or ham, your relatives whip up some tofu delight topped with vegan gravy. Whatever it is, I'd like to hear about it. Please share your holiday dinner essential with the Southern Foodie community by leaving your comments to this post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crepe Revolution




4600 West Village Place, Smyrna, GA http://www.creperevolution.com/

On Tuesday night I had dinner with my friends Kelly and Beric at Crepe Revolution. Crepe Revolution is located in one of those live/work/play communities just off the Atlanta Rd. exit of 285.

The interior of the restaurant is modern but comfortable. There's a bright red leather couch beside the door for you to lounge in if you have to wait, and in back there's a well stocked bar area. Because the weather was nice we chose to sit on the patio, which is decorated with a trellis of plastic, grapes lighting the railing.

Normally I love crepes. I don't get to enjoy them very often, and I think the last one I ate was at IHOP (it was Nutella-filled and I have to admit, simply delicious). When I browsed the menu the descriptions of both the savory and the sweet crepes practically made my mouth water and my heart leap. About 15 minutes later this same heart took a nosedive.

The main reason for this was my entree, the chicken Thai peanut crepe. Many restaurants serve some type of chicken/Thai/peanut combo dish and I usually really like them. Not this time. The fresh herb crepe itself, along with the chicken and brocolli, was fine. It was the "spicy sweet lime sauce and Thai peanut dressing" that did me in. The lime tasted completely artificial and was so tart it made my lips pucker. The Thai peanut sauce was sweeter than many pies I've eaten, and I'm a Southerner, so that's a major statement. The dish was so disatisfactory that I nearly sent it back to the kitchen, something I haven't done in about 5 years. This crepe was supposed to be savory. What happened?

Kelly ordered the creamy shrimp crepe. This was better than my crepe, primarily because it included bacon. My readers must have learned by now that I think the addition of bacon can improve almost any dish. I also liked the flavor and consistency of the parmesan sauce, and the shrimp was nice and plump. However, the menu indicated that the dish included artichokes, and I couldn't detect them with my eyes or my tastebuds.

On to the desserts, which in my case was the lemon and sugar crepe. If you've ever eaten a lemon filled powdered donut, you have had this same experience except in a much thicker form. I like lemon, so I liked the crepe, which was drizzled with raspberry sauce. It was good but not great. Kelly ordered the apple sizzle, which was comprised of Granny Smith apples, cinnamon, caramel sauce and powdered sugar. This was better than my lemon crepe, but again, not spectacular. All sweet crepes are served with your choice of vanilla, chocolate or coffee ice cream. Most of the crepes listed seem so sweet that the addition of ice cream might put you into sugar shock.

The restaurant does have some items on the menu that are NOT crepes. There are appetizers like ginger shrimp or "big flat mushroom", which is served with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, and there are multiple salads, including one with duck. There's also a duck confit crepe on the dinner menu. I'm not a duck fan - the bird is just too oily and fatty for my taste - but I'd love to hear a duck lover's opinion on the dish.

Crepe Revolution also offers brunch on the weekends, and I'd be willing to return to try the "baked crepe cups" or the cheeze blintz. Also, the coffee is served in individual French presses, a lovely touch.

Verdict: The menu descriptions are much better than the actual products. Avoid the chicken Thai peanut crepe.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Special Feature: opentable.com


www.opentable.com

I have mentioned the website www.opentable.com several times in my posts recently, and I received an inquiry about it last week. It occurs to me that if one of my followers/readers is unfamiliar with opentable, there must be more. Here is a description of this great service.

Opentable is a website that allows the user to make restaurant reservations online. I've been using it for years, I can attest to its user-friendly format and reliability. You simply go to the website, select your city, and make a reservation at the restaurant of your choice. There are tons of restaurants in Atlanta who utilize opentable, including many chains as well as independent destinations. I've also successfully made reservations in San Diego, Hilton Head and Savannah. It's no more difficult to reserve a table in Lisbon, Portugal than it is right down the street from your office. (OK, Lisbon only currently has 1 participating restaurant, but the service is expanding all the time.)

Why do you want to make your reservations through opentable, as opposed to calling the restaurant or making a reservation directly on the restaurant's website? Because opentable rewards you for booking through their website. Typical reservations get you 100 points, but there are also 1,000 point reservations for select restaurants, mainly at off times of the week or day. If you are willing to eat out at 6pm on a Tuesday like an elderly person, you might be eligible for 1,000 points. When you accumulate 2,000 points you may request a $20 opentable gift certificate that is good at any participating restaurant. There are also 5,000 ($50) and 10,000 ($100) point levels. What sane foodie would turn down some free dining funds?

The website also allows the user to narrow down restaurants in a region by type of cuisine or neighborhood, a big help if you are planning to dine in a city/state/country with which you aren't entirely familiar. When you select a particular restaurant you can read a review, see the price range for an average meal and link up to the restaurant's website and/or menu, so opentable is truly a one stop experience. Once you make a reservation you get an email confirmation, and a reminder a couple of days before you are scheduled to dine out. You can also send an email to your dining companions right from the website, which can be a big time saver.

I like to use opentable to my utmost advantage by making reservations at restaurants in lower price ranges, then using my gift certificates in more expensive places that would normally be a stretch for me to afford. Hey, they make the rules. And the gift certificates are good for 6 months, so I have plenty of time to use them.

Verdict: A fantastic service for foodies everywhere.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Firkin & Lindberg




541 Main St., Atlanta, GA http://www.thefirkinandlindbergh.com/

On Tuesday my friend Brad and I had dinner and a few beers at The Firkin & Lindberg, a pub that recently opened at the corner of Lindberg and Piedmont in Atlanta. It has a nice, traditional exterior and an English themed menu with bangers and mash, chicken curry and the like. What doesn't it have but really, really needs?

A little dirt.

That's right, I said dirt. A true English or Irish style put is dark, worn and weathered. My favorite local example of this is McCracken's Irish Pub in the Marietta Square, although I admit that the deeply ingrained cigarette smoke will practically knock a normal person to the ground upon initial entry. Brick Store Pub in Decatur is another good example.

The Firkin & Lindberg is just too new for me. It's too pristine, too quiet, and a little overly decorated. Yes, of course it IS new, and that can't be helped. I have to assume that some dirt will inevitably set in over time, I just hope that the management will allow it to accumulate and give the place a little bit of real, true character. As it is now, the place just seems to be trying too hard.

Now that you've heard my take on the ambiance, I'll move on to the food. Brad and I began the meal with an order of Irish nachos, an item I've never seen on any menu. This is composed of waffle fries with melted cheese, bacon, green onions and sour cream. They were attractively presented, and Brad commented that he was relieved the fries weren't completely saturated with the sour cream and cheese. Instead we were allowed to enjoy the crisp quality of the fries, which were not greasy, as well as the toppings, which were evenly distributed.

I wasn't feeling quite as ravenous as usual, so I selected the angus sliders appetizer as my entree. Somehow I've managed to never try sliders up until this point, a minor miracle given the current sliders craze in Atlanta. These sliders had nicely melted slices of monterey jack cheese (tasted like American to me) and short strips of fairly crisp bacon. The buns looked toasted and a little shiny, just as I like them. The dish wasn't stellar, but it was pretty good - I give it a 7 on a scale of 1-10.

Brad ordered the fish and chips, which I was thoroughly prepared to dislike after observing the nearly sterile newness of the bar area. However, I have to admit that I enjoyed the fish, which was generously portioned and coated in nicely browned, crispy batter. I did wince when they brought it out atop faux newspaper, but Brad pointed out that due to health regulations the pub may not be able to wrap the fish in real newspaper. What is the world coming to when we can't have pub fish wrapped in bonafide, inky newspapers?

Our service was good, if a little overzealous. Our waitress was convinced that our table needed to be cleared every few minutes, long before we were finished with our meal. I give her credit in the drink department though, because when I asked her to have the bartender make me a beer "cocktail" she promptly brought a black velvet, which was a combination of Guinness and Cider.

Speaking of beer, I was disappointed with the lack of variety on the list. Pubs that appear to be traditionally English or Irish build up my expecations of a varied, interesting list, and The Firkin & Lindberg didn't live up to them. There are the usual decent choices of Guinness, Harp, Boddingtons and the like, but no obscure or super premium choices. If I enter a bar and find I've tried all of the beers available I can't truly endorse it. I also don't remember seeing any local beers, a sad omission in Atlanta, home of quality breweries like Sweetwater and Red Brick.

Verdict: Above average food with a below average beverage selection. Too new, but given time could see improvement.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Relish



590 Mimosa Blvd, Roswell, GA http://relishgoodfood.com/

On Friday night Kyle and I ate dinner at Relish. I have eaten at Relish about half a dozen times - once for the Sunday brunch, once for lunch and the remaining meals were dinners - so my review is based on my impression of all of these experiences.

Relish is located in historic Roswell, GA. It's housed in a large stone building that used to be a funeral home at the corner of Mimosa and Marietta Hwy. There is a large parking lot behind the restaurant.

Don't let the building's morbid history scare you away from Relish. It's a very good restaurant. The service is consistently attentive and the atmosphere is casual. The interior is decorated in tans and sage green, and there are black and white photos of foods on the walls. It's smartly decorated without being uncomfortable or pretentious.

Relish's greatest strength is their entrees. The shrimp and grits is nice and filling, and the tasso gravy only mildly spicy. The pan roasted scallops with Southern succotash and corn jus is tasty and the shellfish is tender. I wasn't a huge fan of the bacon wrapped mountain trout - it's better in theory than in reality, when your bacon is completely stuck to the fish's scales and seems to have the flavor cooked out of it - but the green beans on top were slightly garlicky and perfectly crisp. Kyle really liked his wood grilled angus hamburger ($8.95), which was two steps up in quality but only one step up in price from fast food burgers.

The best deal I've found is the Tuesday night special of fried catfish I enjoyed a few months ago. I usually don't like catfish, but I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised to find this particular dish not typically "fishy", and the batter wasn't greasy. It came with cornbread and spicy coleslaw (the jalapenos give it a good kick) and a slice of red velvet cake. The cake was a little disappointing (as are all of the desserts I've tried at Relish), but the fish was generously portioned and the whole meal only costs $13.95. That's an awesome value.

The drink menu is also interesting. Our current favorite is the cucumber lemonade with Jack Daniels. Relish's signature drink is the non-alcoholic version, which I thought sounded a little strange at first but ended up relishing (hee, hee) the very refreshing, unusual flavor.

Although Relish claims to have the best brunch in town, I'm not as big a fan of it as I am the lunch and dinner menu. The brunch does include some of the same items as offered otherwise, along with a carving station with prime rib and omelette's cooked to order, but I was just expecting something more than what I found. Also, on the one occasion when I brunched at Relish the omelette service was slow and many of the serving dishes emptied and remained that way, leaving my party with fewer choices than we'd hoped.

Verdict: A sunny spot with a good menu in historic Roswell. Grab a drink, enjoy your upsized entree and skip dessert.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Blue Bicycle




671 Lumpkin Campground Rd., Dawsonville, GA http://www.bluebicycle.net/

Last Saturday my sister Sabrina and I lunched at The Blue Bicycle in Dawsonville, GA.

I know what you're saying: Dawsonville?

Or maybe you aren't saying that. Maybe you are familiar with the Dawsonville of today, a growing town centered around the North Georgia 400 premium outlet mall. You know that Dawsonville has two Japanese hibachi-style steakhouses, a hotel and annoying traffic on busy 400, so you can understand that Dawsonville might also have a decent little bistro. Then again, maybe you remember the Dawsonville of yesteryear, which merely offered a McDonald's with a Bill Elliott racing theme and a couple of barbeque joints in an otherwise culinary vacant place. That's the Dawsonville I knew when I lived there during my adolescence, so any inspired and non-chain restaurant there takes me by pleasant surprise.

The Blue Bicycle was my sister's suggestion. She lives in Cumming, so she's got the skinny on the good stuff in north Georgia. While I was skeptical at first, I remembered that it was Sabrina who introduced me to Rathbun's and Flip, both of which I adore. So I decided to give this supposed bistro in Dawsonville a shot.

And I'm so glad I did. The Blue Bicycle, located right behind the outlet mall, is a hidden gem amidst the mundane predictability of nearby Ruby Tuesday and Longhorn steakhouse. The interior is casual chic, with black and white photographs of citiscapes adorning the walls, along with an actual antique blue bicycle. Each table is topped with a different set of salt and pepper shakers, a fun little note in a charming environment.

I began with an order of crab and corn cakes ($6). You can see from the photo that it was in fact only one cake, not "cakes". Possibly it is necessary to advise your server how many cakes you require and understand that you will be charged per cake. I loved the cake. It had a little kick of flavor without being too spicy.

For my entree I chose the pimento cheese tartine. The online American Heritage dictionary defines tartine as "a French open faced sandwich, especially one with a rich or fancy spread." This was somewhat accurate. I was served several ladles full of pimento cheese atop two slices of bread that resembled biscotti in size and texture, but of course were not sweet. The quality of the pimento cheese was on par with my grandmother's, which is a big compliment. The dish ($8) was served with my choice of a salad or the soup du jour. I went with the soup, which was a very thick and creamy potato leek. I give it a 7 out of 10. Would have liked a little more leek flavor, not so much a dominate potato.

Sabrina ordered the curried chicken salad ($8), which was very similar to a restaurant I make at home, and equally good. It contains raisins, chunks of apple and a light curry dressing on mixed greens. A nice choice for those who don't want something to heavy.

Another plus is the wine list. The Blue Bicycle offers a pretty interesting selection (especially by Dawsonville's standards) and includes several wines from the vineyards of Dahlonega, GA, twenty minutes north of the restaurant. Seems that even Dawsonville restaurants are now making attempts to become locavores.

Verdict: Hands down my favorite restaurant in Dawsonville, GA.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Elevation ChopHouse and Skybar




1723 McCollum Pkwy, Bldg. 600, Kennesaw, GA http://www.elevationchophouse.com/ElevationChophouse.html

On Friday night Kyle and I had dinner with our friend April at Elevation ChopHouse and Skybar. If you've ever dined at the Downwind Restaurant & Lounge at Peachtree-Dekalb airport, you have an idea of what you'll see here. The big draw is that the restaurant overlooks the airfield, so you can watch the planes take off and land while you eat. This is interesting, but keep in mind that the "entertainment" can be noisy.

Elevation's dinner entree prices turned out to be a little more than we'd budgeted for on this particular occasion (two dishes @ $10, but most of them ranging from $15 to $26), so we decided to feast solely on appetizers.

We ordered the calamari, which was served with sides of marinara and citris aioli. I liked that the calamari seemed to be dusted with dill, but the squid itself was a little tough. We also had the gourmet nachos, which included "black bean angus chili", fresh jalapeno relish and peppered queso. This was good but not great. I thought the consistency of the angus chili was a little off. We did however enjoy the capicola flatbread. The bread itself was soft and fragrant, and the toppings were appropriately melted and yummy. All three dishes were generously portioned and we had plenty to go around.

Elevation offers a good selection of mixed drinks and about 15 different bottled and draft beers. I was intrigued by the liquid nitrogen margaritas. They sounded exciting, and they didn't disappoint. These drinks are made tableside by a friendly bartender, and its a pleasure to watch your drink froth, emit large and dramatic clouds of frigid air and practically boil in your glass. The margaritas come in lemon lime, pomegranate and black raspberry. I enjoyed the pomegranate, and considering the presentation and the fact that the charge includes a donation to a local animal shelter, $14 is a fair price.

Friday and Saturday nights are busy, as a Elevation hosts bands which seem to draw a crowd. The upper level of the restaurant overlooks the bar below on one side, and front row seats for the airfield on the other, so there are no bad booths or tables. Along one side of the room you'll find oversized, black leather armchairs which are great for lounging in while you sip your cocktail and watch the band. There's a second bar with seating upstairs, so you'll have several choices of where to perch for the night. The restaurant also offers a Sunday Blues brunch, which I'd like to try in the future.

Verdict: A real find with lots of personality in normally predictable Kennesaw, Georgia. Average to good food with attentive service.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

El Myr


1091 Euclid Ave., Atlanta, GA http://www.elmyr.com/

What is El Myr? Until last Friday night I would have asked you the same question. After my friend Heidi and I had dinner there, in the heart of Little Five Points on Euclid Avenue, I can give you at least a partial answer.

El Myr is a hangout place for those who believe they are non-conforming by dressing in skinny jeans (true for both genders of patrons), donning asymmetrical haircuts and sporting lots of tattoos. For those of you who are familiar with Little Five, I'm sure you're chuckling and agreeing with me that these nice folks are in fact, conforming to the area's standard dress code and attitude.

El Myr is NOT a place for sensitive non-smokers. Patrons make smoke anywhere in the restaurant, and because the tables are so close together you'll feel like you're smoking with them.
El Myr IS a place for drinkers who want decent food at affordable prices. If you like the place you'll have plenty of time to party - on Monday through Saturday it is open until at least 2am. If you still lack a clear mental image of the restaurant at this point, just click on the link above and glance over the home page.

El Myr, according to the aforementioned website, is a "restaurant and cantina." I'm not a big fan of Americanized Mexican food and it is very difficult for a restaurant of this description to impress me. Therefore, I am including Heidi's opinions of the food here in an effort to be fair. Heidi has dined at El Myr numerous times and is very familiar with the menu.

I ordered the nachos ($7.25), and took our waitress' advice that the pork was better than the steak. While the nachos themselves were full of good things - salsa (I had a mixture of mild and hot, as there wasn't a moderate choice), thick sour cream, crisp corn chips and jalapenos - the pork itself was a little dry and overcooked. I was looking forward to juicy chunks of pork and instead encountered thinly shredded, nearly hard meat. The flavor was fine, just not the texture. On the bright side, I did enjoy my sangria. I give it a 6.5 out of a possible 10.

Heidi enjoys El Myr's burritos, and her best recommendation are the quesadillas ($4.50-$6.50). She likes the shrimp best. El Myr also offers a vegan quesadilla with tons of veggies. Additionally, I noticed that the menu features a Green Burrito, which consists of spinach, broccoli, green chilis, quacamole and jalapenos on a spinach tortilla. Sounds promising.

As for beer, you're in luck if you like cheap, bottled pilsners. There's PBR, Red Stripe, Schlitz, Coors Light and the like, with a few better picks like Pacifico and Newcastle. The draft selection is a little more upscale, but no rare brews or originals.

The big problem with El Myr on this occasion was the service. It was polite, but extremely slow. Heidi had chosen El Myr because of its close proximity to Horizon Theatre, where we had tickets to see a show at 8. We sat down at the restaurant just before 7, which should have given us ample time to dine at this casual restaurant. However, it took 10 minutes to get our drinks and 40 minutes for our orders to arrive. Even though I asked for the check when our waitress delivered our entrees, I had to track her down and impress upon her the urgency of the situation at 7:52. After scribbling my signature on the check Heidi and I literally ran out the door and down the block to avoid missing the opening act. Not the ideal situation when you have a stomach full of nachos.

Verdict: Disappointing experience in terms of food and service.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anis Cafe & Bistro




2974 Grandview Ave., Atlanta http://www.anisbistro.com/

On Tuesday I joined a group of friends for lunch at Anis. I have been dining at Anis - for lunch only - for at least four years, and this was probably my twentieth meal there. Like Basil's, which I reviewed in July and which resides across the street, Anis has a lovely patio which dinner-goers say is particularly romantic at night. The indoor seating is also attractive, decorated in soft tones, with a very small bar area where French men can often be found sipping pastis.

For this most recent lunch I ordered the farmhouse plate ($11) , my favorite dish of those I have tried. It is an absolutely lovely combination of thinly sliced proscuitto, saucisson, pate, sweet red peppers, cornichons, olives and multiple mustards. The pate is, in my opinion, the best to be found in any restaurant in Atlanta. My friend Eliza is a big fan of the salmon salad Nicoise, which appears to have been replaced with a similar dish called Atlantic Salmon salad. Anis usually offers a quiche as a daily special, and I have found the portions to be generous and the consistency good. The Croque Monsieur ($10) meets the standard. The Roasted Tomato Tartar ($8), which is served with buffalo mozzarella and baby arugula dressed with oil and vinegar, is a good choice if you have a very small appetite. Tasty, just not enough food for me or any other person who regularly cleans his/her plate.

The desserts are also very nice. Anis often serves a pear tart which is subtle and classically French, and on Tuesday my group enjoyed the chocolate tart. While we liked the tart itself, the chocolate chip ice cream that was served alongside it was a definite standout.

Lunch is very reasonably priced, with dishes ranging between $6 for the Salad Mason to $16 for the steak and frites. The steak and frites is a grilled bistro steak sandwich with a side of thick fries. I have ordered this in the past and often find the steak a little on the tough side. Dinner is noticeably more expensive (entrees from $19 to $29), which is why I have never dined there during the evening. With such as nice lunch menu, I'm content to patronize Anis in the afternoons, especially when the weather is nice.

I think that Anis takes it's French theme a little too far in one area, and that's the service. The waitstaff is often aloof and occasionally inattentive. I have found that it is difficult to get full descriptions of any of the dishes out of my servers. Most of the time they just seem to be wishing they were anywhere else but serving you.

Anis takes reservations on opentable.com, which are sometimes unnecessary but are a very good idea in the spring and fall during the weekends. Restaurant.com also offers discount gift certificates for the restaurant.

Verdict: A lovely country French place with sub-standard service. Go for the affordable lunch and atmosphere.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Special Feature: Savor, Atlanta, GA

2355 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA http://www.savorgourmet.com/

Savor should best be termed a mix between Harry & David and Williams-Sonoma. It's far more charming than either, and is independently owned, so you won't experience that yucky chain feel once you go inside.

Rather, you'll be pleased with Savor before you even make it inside its space in the Peachtree Battle shopping center on Peachtree Rd. Its exterior boasts a few tables where you can have lunch on a clear day, big potted plants and a sign that describes the cooking classes they've recently added. One class is geared towards teaching cooks how to perfectly prepare risotto, a topic I haven't seen at The Cook's Warehouse or the Viking Kitchen.

In terms of cooking tools and bakeware, the restaurant is very well stocked for it's size. Savor carries several colors of Emile Henry bakeware and the staff is able to special order anything in the catalog upon request. You'll also find hand-painted dinnerware, pretty table linens and cool ethnic items like clay, tandoori-style pots. A lovely bookcase near a fireplace contains loads of cookbooks, and you'll have a great time settling down and browsing through a stack on their comfortable sofa.

While you're there, partake of a great lunch courtesy either the prepared food counter or an order of a fresh sandwich or soup du jour. I recently enjoyed a tomato roasted and stuffed with spinach, garlic and buttery bread crumbs, and my favorite sandwich is the Toscano. The Toscano is comprised of fennel seed salami with Tuscan olive chutney, Provolone, mayo and local greens. It's a rich, decadent sandwich that I haven't seen equaled anywhere in the area.

Looking for a high-quality, foodie-worthy snack to take home? How about a luxe Vosges chocolate bar, or a hunk of goat cheese and some Italian flatbread? Or you could indulge in a large piece of homemade cake or pie. Last Thursday I ate a sweet and creamy slice of coconut custard pie and took a slice of the Derby pie (sort of a rich, chocolate chip variety) home to Kyle. Neither lasted very long.

On the shelves you'll find interesting spices and rubs, gourmet soup mixes and professional grade knives. Basically it's a store full of goodies. It's also my very favorite way to spend my lunch hour, the only downside being that I have to return to work after such a nice time unwinding over a piping hot panini and an Orangina.

Another bonus is that the staff is very friendly and personable. One (or both) of the owners is almost always on site and is hard at work maintaining the stock and chatting up customers, not just hanging around in a supervisory capacity.

Verdict: The best place in the busy Peachtree Battle shopping center. Stop in for top-quality bakeware and kitchen gadgets, lunch or food for your next dinner party.