Friday, July 31, 2009

Chocolate Pink




905 Juniper St., NE, Atlanta http://www.chocolatepinkcafe.com/

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love chocolate. I have a definite sweet tooth, and can generally rattle off a litany of desserts served in any restaurant I've patronized. When it comes to seeking out dessert for its own sake (as opposed to the final component of a meal), I'll take the desserts at Chocolate Pink Cafe about 90% of the time.

Chocolate Pink resides in a cute, brick shopping center at 905 Juniper at the intersection with 8th St. It is closed on Monday. Its Executive Pastry Chef, Christian Balbierer, trained in France and worked in Alon's, Bluepoint, Pano's & Paul's and Eclipse di Sol before opening the Cafe with business partner Michael Goodrich a few years ago. Kudos to Chef Christian for branching out on your own. You've certainly done the dessert lovers of Atlanta a big favor.

The first time I visited Chocolate Pink I was blown away by the beautiful dark brown and pink decor, soft French music playing in the background and the brightly lit glass dessert case. After carefully viewing all of the day’s pastries and listening to the chipper server describe them in all their individual goodness, I chose the signature Chocolate Pink Mousse Cake, which has a hazelnut cookie bottom, chocolate truffle mousse, chocolate buttermilk cake and chocolate ganache. It’s a little round cake with a pink chocolate ganache on top, and it was one of the smoothest, sweetest desserts I’ve ever eaten. My friend Kelly selected the Petunia, which is comprised of brown sugar bananas, chocolate buttermilk cake, Nutella ganache, hazelnut mousse, with a joconde border. Kelly loved the combination of Nutella, brown sugar and bananas. We sipped our lattes and immersed ourselves in the delicate but substantial pastries.

Last Thursday night my friend Eliza joined me for some coffee and pastries at 7pm. I had the chocolate toffee tart with Oreo cookie crust, which was a rich treat. Since my first visit, I made it a point to try a new dessert each time I returned to chocolate pink, and I’ve discovered an array of flavors that’s incomparable in the Atlanta bakery scene. The fleur de sel caramel is sort of a mini-pecan pie with a chocolate cookie shell, containing caramel and chocolate custard and sprinkled liberally with fleur de sel (a French gourmet sea salt). The sweetness of the chocolate and caramel is perfectly offset by the fleur de sel and pecans. If that sounds like too much chocolate for you, there’s also rich cheesecake, tart key lime pie and cinnamon spiked apple frangipane, each of which can hold its own on your flavor palette. The browned meringue top of the key lime pie is whipped up and around in three individual points, reminding me of a work in a Chihuli glass exhibit. The apple frangipane is especially pretty, containing four slices of apple laid out in a pinwheel across the top and baked until golden brown into the pastry.

Chocolate Pink also serves whimsical cupcakes (think PB&J), cookies, brownies, creamy tea drinks and individual chocolates by Norman Love Confections. They are the only edibles not made in-house.

Verdict: My favorite sweets in Atlanta. Scrumptious desserts, perfectly presented. A step above Alon's, Cafe Intermezzo and Piece of Cake.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Special Feature: Buzzy Bee, Dahlonega, GA


1405 McDonald Rd., Dahlonega, GA 30533

Recently, while I was visiting my dad in Dahlonega, I proudly showed him the squash, apple crumb cake and honey I bought at Farmhouse Produce. I know that my dad loves this store, so I was surprised when he shook his head with disappointment.

"I wish you wouldn't have bought honey there," he said. "I wanted to take you to this place up the road a few miles. There's a man who has honey hives and sells the honey in this little building. No one works in the building. People just come in and take the honey and leave their money. It works on the honor system."

This news left me completely stunned. While I did live in Dawsonville, GA for a few years in my youth (long before the North Georgia 400 outlet mall brought in hoards of people), I have resided in Atlanta the majority of my life. To my knowledge, no business in Atlanta works on the honor system. Despite the fact that I had just purchased a jar of honey, I picked up my purse and urged Daddy to lead me to this rural wonder.

We drove through some narrow roads up into the mountains of Lumpkin and White counties, occasionally passing little signs that noted "Local Honey" with an arrow, assuring us that we were on the correct path. We also passed the honey hives themselves, big wooden boxes which no doubt contained removable comb frames. About 10 minutes later we pulled up to a small, tan metal shed with a white sign that read "Local Honey for Sale" and a second, smaller sign that indeed confirmed what my dad had told me, "Honor System. Please come in and help yourself. Please come again." This was signed by Buzzy Bee.

Inside we found a tiny but charming collection of beeswax lip balm, beeswax candles, and jars of honey in two sizes. There was a little sign that directed customers to please put payment in the small, black, locked mailbox. A guest book lay on a table, and I saw that many people had signed it and made compliments about the products. A child had drawn pictures of bees using crayons, noting that he/she "hope you'll love it!" On the far side of the shop (which was surprisingly cooled by an air conditioner), the owners had posted a wealth of helpful information about bees, hives and beekeeping in history. Everything was very neat, organized, and welcoming. Daddy bought me an 8oz jar of honey for $6. It felt great to support a local businessman, even though it was through Daddy's dollar. I'll be sure to come back and spend my own money next time.

Although nearby Dawsonville has become a small but bustling little city, the mountain area of Dahlonega has managed to hold on to the quiet, simple, bucolic ways that anyone who has ever lived in the country reveres. Buzzy Bee, with its hard-working owners, its well-kept shop and honor system, is a perfect example of why that kind of life should never be allowed to die out in modern America.

Buzzy Bee doesn't have a website, but you can reach the proprietor, Tim Martin, at Martin120162@windstream.net.

Verdict: It's not the easiest place to locate, but the drive to Buzzy Bee is pleasant and the product is worth the side-trip if you're in the area.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Blue Moon Pizza




2359 Windy Hill Rd., Marietta, GA http://www.bluemoonpizzaatl.com/

I've never been the pizza fanatic like most people I know. Many of my peers seem to eagerly consume any pizza, either hot or cold, for breakfast, lunch or dinner up to several times per week. I don't understand this. My general feeling about pizza is that I can take it or leave it. I rarely find myself craving it. But when I do, I take a trip down Cobb Parkway to the intersection of Windy Hill and grab a seat at Blue Moon Pizza.

I've been a fan of Blue Moon since my former boyfriend and I randomly drove past it and decided to give it a try about four years ago. After eating there once we were hooked on the fresh, often surprising ingredients, the perfectly light-browned crust and the tasty tomato sauce. Among other things, the restaraunt includes cayenne-candied bacon (!), sun-dried tomatoes and fresh avocado on their list of available toppings.

My current favorite specialty pizza is the Luna, Blue Moon's signature pizza. It's topped with chorizo sausage, caramelized onions, jalapenos, spicy ranch, black olives, cilantro and house cheese. It's a wonderful blend of popping flavors. Between the chorizo, jalpenos and ranch it has a definite bite and a burning aftertaste, so if you're not into spicy food, don't order this. Looking for something milder? Kyle's favorite is the Margherita, which is elegantly topped with rows of overlapping roma tomatoes, creamy fresh milk mozzarella cheese and big leaves of fresh, green basil. It's a beautiful and simple pizza - red, white and green, appropriately the colors of the Italian flag. The Santa Fe chicken and the Greek (pictured above) are other great bets.

The only pizza I can't wholeheartedly recommend is the Cheese Steak. I ordered it once, about a year ago, and felt disappointed with the seasoned steak within. It seemed a little too much like hamburger to me.

Friday nights are pretty crowded, due to the team trivia that's held there at 8pm, so I'd recommend eating at Blue Moon on a weeknight. Your best bet is Thursday, when they serve a great variety of martinis for $6. Over the past couple of years I have tried all of them, but my favorite is the cheesecake martini, which contains Cruzan vanilla rum, pineapple and cranberry juices and is finished with a graham cracker coated rim. Sweet and delicious.

The service is generally very good, and the bartenders have always been especially friendly. If you aren't in the mood to eat, they're just as happy to have you enjoying a few beers at the attractive, casual bar. Blue Moon also serves salads, calzones, strombolis and desserts, but I can't comment on any of these items because I'm so taken with the pizza that I've never ordered anything else. I am a dessert junkie, so the fact that all this time I've never even tried a dessert at Blue Moon speaks volumes.

Blue Moon originally opened in 2003, and added a second location in Vinings a year or two ago. I've haven't been to the Vinings location, but I've never had a bad experience at the Marietta restaurant, so I'm willing to try it if I find myself in that area of town. Note: both locations are closed on Sundays, and most holidays.

It's somewhat more expensive than your local, tired Pizza Hut (the large specialty pizzas range from $21 to $25), but I promise that the difference between such chains and this family owned restaurant is vast, and you'll feel your money was well spent.

Verdict: Best pizza I've had in Atlanta.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

R. Thomas






1812 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta http://www.rthomasdeluxegrill.com/

Yesterday my sister and I had lunch at R. Thomas Deluxe Grill. We've been to R. Thomas about half a dozen times, escaping to its shady location on busy Peachtree St. for some healthy food and views of the eclectic dining room. The restaurant opened in 1985, and is open for business 24 hours a day. If you have a craving for ocean vegetables or a green, herbal smoothie at 3am, R. Thomas will happily accomodate you.

Eclectic may not be a sufficient word for the decor of R. Thomas. I always tell people who are meeting me there that it is perhaps the strangest-looking building on Peachtree. The exterior is multi-colored and framed with huge plants and bird cages filled with talking parrots. Inside, metallic streamers, Chinese parasols and lanterns hang from the ceiling, and brightly clothed tables are accompanied by dark green lawn chairs. I really can't do its odd quality justice here. It's something you'll have to see for yourself.

And I do recommend that you see it, taking the opportunity to eat something on the large, descriptive menu. Today Sabrina and I both ordered quesadillas. Mine was the breakfast quesadilla plate, which came with eggs, cream cheese, fresh basil, white chedddar, bacon, pepper and onions wrapped in a tortilla and served with salsa, sour cream and my choice of a side dish. it was tasty and filling. There are at least 15 vegetables from which to choose, and I opted for the cinnamon sweet potatoes. The quesadilla was very good, but the potatoes were only average. I often consider the sides at R. Thomas to be a let down, and have in fact never eaten one that I would describe as excellent.

R. Thomas serves breakfast all the time, so be sure to try their French toast one of these days. It's not as good as the French toast at Cafe 458, but Cafe 458 only serves the dish for Sunday brunch. The chicken piccata is very good, but pricy at $18.50, and I love the seared wild ahi tuna salad. This huge salad includes sashimi grade tuna (this is kind of a stretch), red cabbage, carrots, scallions, daikon, red peppers and snow peas with lemon agave hempseed dressing, with sides of seaweed salad and cultured veggies. All of those ingredients justify its price of $15.25.

If you think that sounds like a lot of interesting and healthy food, you've just scratched the surface of what's offered at R. Thomas. They have an extensive smoothie and juice menu, lots of vegetarian and raw options, and pride themselves on serving homegrown herbs, organic oils, organic free range eggs and wild caught tuna. One day I ordered the aforementioned salad and found a black, rubbery thing that I could only surmise was some sort of sea urchin. Eating it didn't shed any light on the matter.

For dessert, R. Thomas has a number of varied selections, including raw apple pie, vegan cake of the day and banana chocolate chip cake. Today we chose the latter. It was super moist, delicious, and seemed to be soaked with mashed banana. It was almost like a banana nut bread with chocolate chips and syrup - definitely a great dessert. However, it costs a whopping $7.75. Up to this point I thought that nearby Cafe Intermezzo was the only place who had the gall to charge over $7 for a piece of cake, but apparently I was mistaken.

I wish I could say the service is great, but most of the time it's not. Some of the servers are nice and attentive, but many times you'll find yourself waiting for your food, drink refills or check. This seems to be the case regardless of whether the restaurant is busy or not.

Verdict: R. Thomas Deluxe Grill offers a truly original setting and a wide variety of good tasting, healthy choices. A very interesting, but slightly expensive lunch or dinner alternative.

Taka




385 Pharr Rd. NE, Atlanta 404/869-2802 http://sushiandpassion.blogspot.com/

Ever since Soto closed his amazing restaurant a few years ago and moved to NYC I have been a little depressed, feeling that Atlanta had lost its sushi superstar. I've been to a few other places that have received great critical acclaim but I've left disappointed. I was beginning to think that Atlanta would never again host a sushibar with stellar quality fish and original, creative, hot and cold specials.
That was until I ate dinner for the first time at Taka, on Pharr Rd. in Buckhead.

Last night's dinner was a perfect opportunity for me to review the restaurant, because my friend John and my new friend Keith treated me and several other sushi-lovers to an awesome variety of dishes. I had the great fortune to sample at least ten different specialties and rolls, paired with some wonderful wines from Cakebread Cellars and a '95 Dominus. Thanks, guys!

Taka Moriuchi is brilliant. Each one of his dishes was a work of culinary art. The fish was super fresh, the vegetables bright and enticing, and the aromas invigorating. Taka's hits were too numerous for me to completely detail without droning on for twenty paragraphs, so I'll just go over some of the highlights here.

The salmon ceviche was cool and bright, mixed with surprise seasonal white grapes and sliced grape tomatoes. It was packed with flavor. The Aji Tataki - Japanese jack fish with ginger, green onion and shiso leaf, was perfectly prepared and left me scraping the plate, hungry for more. The grilled chilean seabass, marinated in miso and sake, was just as good as the baked seabass I had at Soto's years ago. It was unbelievably tender.

And finally, the Japanese pancake, the okonomiyaki. Ahhh. I have read a few reviews of this that noted Taka is the only restaurant in Atlanta that serves it. What a shame that it's not more commonly offered. The complex flavor of the combination of fish and the beauty of the dish will astound you.

My only criticism is of the passion roll, which is eel with spicy avocado paste topping, red tuna and orange salmon. The sauce was so hot that I felt it overwhelmed the more delicate flavors of the fish. Other than that, I can't complain about anything.

Incidentally, the service was great. Taka Moriuchi himself stopped by our table several times and was all smiles. So would you be, if you had his talent with a sharp knife.

Verdict: The best sushi I've eaten in Atlanta since the close of Soto on Piedmont. Should be the number one choice of any sushi aficionado.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Special Feature: Farmhouse Produce, Dahlonega, GA


4690 Hwy. 52 E., Dahlonega, GA 30533 706-864-8968

Last Tuesday I dropped into Publix on West Paces Ferry Rd. in Atlanta because I remembered that I had failed to pick up a few tomatoes for a gazpacho Kyle and I were making for lunch later that week. I'd just finished reading a book touting locally grown produce, and I was bound and determined to purchase some Southern red tomatoes. When I spotted the organic tomatoes in the produce section, I was incensed to find that the label read "product of Canada." Canada?! Why did Publix carry Canadian tomatoes in the middle of the summer, when half of Georgia's population grows fantastic, juicy tomatoes in their gardens? If you can't get Georgia tomatoes at the grocery store in July, what is the world coming to?

The following Saturday I passed by the Farmhouse Produce store in route to my dad's house in Dahlonega, GA, and remembering the disappointment at Publix I turned in, eager to purchase some fresh Georgia produce at last. Inside, I found a wealth of delicious fruits and vegetables, as well as one of the owners, Cindy, manning the cash register. She and her husband Reggie run the place along with a very helpful and congenial crew.

While Farmhouse Produce can be considered a roadside stand, that's something of a stretch. It's really a store. In addition to fresh seasonal varieties like peaches, tomatoes and cucumbers, Farmhouse offers a large variety of salsas, preserves and ciders. One shelf held one of my dad's Southern favorites, chow-chow, and another contained Smokey Mountain watermelon rind pickles. I saw Scuppernong cider from nearby Cumming, GA, and "A Lot of Bull" hot sauce, from Hillside Orchard Farms in Tiger, GA. Outside there are bags of hot, boiled peanuts. In the wooden boxes along the wall I found Vidalia onions and a summer variety of squash I'd never seen before. Cindy informed me it was Georgia grown Patty Pan. I can't wait to saute' it this week and post a review.

While the owners make a special effort to stock the store with locally-grown produce, "local" is somewhat relative. I saw peaches from Georgia, but I also spotted peaches from South Carolina. The ham in the refrigerator was from North Carolina, and the jars of Apple Barn apple butter hailed from Sevierville, Tennessee. Lots of the jars of sauces, jams and relishes under the name of Farmhouse Produce don't indicate where the product was actually grown. By and large though, I feel like I'm "buying locally" when I shop there. I've stopped in during the summer when they've sold fresh peas, and have been very pleased to see that they were all grown in Georgia.

While I was inside, I bought the patty pan squash, a jar of Ray's Bees honey from Dahlonega (Cindy approved, assuring me that it was real "country honey"), and best of all, an apple walnut crumb cake which Cindy informed me was made by a Ms. Bobbi Howell. Herein lies the joy of the local produce stand: when's the last time you shopped in Kroger or Publix and the cashier could tell you the name of the local woman who baked the pie or cake you purchased? That Bobbi Howell sure can bake a delicious cake. My aunt Sue told me that Bobbi's banana nut bread is equally delicious.

If Dahlonega is too far for you to travel to pick up some beautiful red tomatoes or fresh peaches, I bet there is a roadside produce stand near you that can serve you equally or nearly as well. In Cobb County, GA, there is a good stand on Lower Roswell Rd. near the intersection of Johnson Ferry, and in Dekalb there's Sherry's Produce at 3863 Lawrenceville Hwy. (which also sells flowers) and David's Produce at 3561 LaVista Rd. My grandmother is a big fan of the homemade layer cakes sold there.

If you know of any great roadside stands near you, please share it with the community by posting a comment here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Road Trip: Dahlonega, GA - Wylies



19 N. Chestatee St., Dahlonega, GA http://wyliesrestaurant.com/default.aspx

My dad and stepmom, Vickie, live on the outskirts of Dahlonega, GA, about an hour and a half from Atlanta. I spent the weekend with them, and this morning we drove into historic Dahlonega. It was a beautiful day, cool for summer, and the exterior of the restaurant was charming. Seemed like the perfect time for brunch on a patio.

First let me say that we arrived at Wylies mainly due to the lack of choices on Sunday morning. Wylies was one of the only two restaurants within walking distance that was open before noon, and my dad and Vickie had already had a less than stellar experience at the other place.

The good news is that we were indeed seated on the patio, and the service was very cordial, exactly what you would expect in a small, Southern town. The names of the six selections on the breakfast menu were often cute (The Gold Rush breakfast), capitalizing on local lore.

The bad news is that the food was lacking in every area. It wasn't terrible, but I can't say it was good, or even average.

Daddy ordered the French toast, which was attractively presented with powdered sugar and decent quality, warm maple syrup. He liked it, but I think he's a little biased because he rarely gets to enjoy such a sugary breakfast. When I tried it I thought it was bland, and the toast itself was thin. Vickie ordered eggs with home fries and a biscuit. I had high hopes for the biscuit, considering that this was Dahlonega, but I was disappointed in the lack of flavor. Pillsbury biscuits, which I use as my standard because everyone in America has had a Pillsbury biscuit at some point and can easily remember how it tastes, are shoulders and above the biscuits served at Wylies.

I ordered the breakfast burrito, which came with a choice of home fries or queso grits. I asked our waiter which he would recommend, and he immediately indicated the home fries. If the home fries are really the better of the two, than I grieve for the poor grits. I have never had worse home fries in any restaurant. They were puny, dark rounds that must have been fried twice as long as necessary. The burrito could be made with my choice of sausage, bacon or ham, and I chose sausage. This was a mistake. The sausage was hard and lackluster. The burrito itself contained very little eggs and only a few tablespoons of black beans, leaving me mainly with American cheese (far from my favorite, but no other choices were available) and tortilla. Although Wylies' website claims it's a steakhouse, our waiter informed us that they "are known for their breakfasts." All I could think was: really?

Also, I asked for a copy of the menu twice, and although I was assured both times that I would receive it I never did. The restaurant wasn't especially crowded, so I can't really understand how our waiter made this double omission. Maybe he had a premonition that I was already too much of a negative opinion about the meal to be placated.

On the bright side, everything was really cheap. Each meal was under $7. At least you won't be spending too much to be unhappy with your meal.

Verdict: Unworthy of such a prime location in quaint Dahlonega square. If you're in the area on Sunday morning, wait until noon when you'll have more dining choices, and go elsewhere for your meal.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Co'm




4005-E Buford Hwy, Atlanta http://www.comgrill.com/

A few notes before I begin the review: If I somehow made it to 10 reviews without covering at least one restaurant on Buford Hwy I would certainly be remiss, so here goes. Also, this restaurant has two locations, one on Buford Hwy and one on Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd. Kyle told me I technically shouldn't blog about it because this means it's a chain. In my opinion, two links do not a chain make, so I am reviewing as planned.

Last night Kyle, Heidi and I ate dinner at Co'm Vietnamese Grill. Co'm is located on Buford Hwy, among one of the many shopping centers on that street where no sign is in English and there's not clear anchor store to look for when you're driving by. Co'm is near the intersection of Buford Hwy and Clairmont Rd. It is in the corner of the shopping center next to the Carniceria Mi Pueblo meat market & groceries. When you're on Buford Hwy, look for the Chevron and turn.
The reason I am giving you such specific directions is because I don't want you to go in search of Co'm only to get frustrated and give up when you can't find it. Trust me, it's worth the extra effort to locate the place.

I don't usually like Vietnamese food. In fact, it's my least favorite ethnic cuisine next to Korean food which includes my personal pick for the worst dish on earth, kimchi. Therefore, it is truly amazing how much I love eating at Co'm.

My friend John found Co'm last year, simply by driving along Buford Hwy in search of Vietnamese food and choosing the restaurant at random. Afterwards he couldn't stop talking about it, and I finally broke down and agreed to try it, if for no other reason than to shut him up.

We ordered a massive mixed seafood plate with vermicelli and I stuffed myself to the gills, shocked by the excellent quality of each item. Since then I've returned twice, bringing new friends each time.

Last night Heidi and Kyle both ordered the bun la lot bo, which is rice vermicelli with beef wrapped in grilled grape leaves. I have ordered this dish before and so recommended it to my companions. Heidi loved it. Kyle thought the meat was too rich, somewhat on par with the heavily spiced beef kabobs served in Persian restaurants. However, he did enjoy the grilled grape leaves, the tender vermicelli and the slivers of carrot served with the meat.
I ordered the Co'm tam hai san, which is seafood fragrant rice, accompanied by your choice of charcoal grilled flounder or tilapia. Tilapia is fine, but when given a choice I will always take flounder. It proved to be an good decision, because the grilled flounder was incredible. It was a beautiful tan in color, with darker edges and a marvelous, smoky charcoal scent. It had a slightly spicy kick. A bite of the flounder with a little rice and cilantro, dipped into the ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce nuoc cham, was an unbeatable combination. The nuoc cham complements any dish, and while it contains fish sauce and red pepper chili flakes it's quite sweet.

A note here: if you dislike cilantro, don't even set foot in this restaurant. The cooks include the fresh herb in every dish, and while it doesn't overpower the other ingredients it definitely makes it's presence known.

For dessert, you might notice that there is a short dessert list in the back of your menu. The restaurant no longer makes any of these desserts, and instead makes one dessert that changes daily. The last time I ate at Co'm I was given a lovely mango custard, this time we were given silky espresso and chocolate cake. Both were good, made even better because they're included automatically with the dinner at no extra charge. Co'm is a great deal all the way around: Kyle, Heidi and I enjoyed 3 entrees and 2 beverages for $30.

I've only tried one beverage at Co'm, the cafe sua da, or espresso iced coffee with condensed milk. Those of you who are sensitive to caffeine should consider yourself warned: I drank this the first time I ate there with John at 2pm and I was still wide awake at 3am. Tasty, but powerful.

Verdict: A true star on the always promising Buford Hwy. The best Vietnamese food I've had to date in Atlanta.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basil's




2985 Grandview Ave., Atlanta http://www.basils.net/8.html

Today Kevin and I ate lunch at Basil's. It's a little restaurant and bar just off of Pharr Rd. on Grandview Avenue that serves dishes rooted in Mediterranean cuisine. Although Basil's has been around for years, this is the first time I've ever eaten here, mainly because I usually stop at the French restaurant across the street, Anis. However, Kevin is a big fan of Mediterranean food and we're making it our business to try all of the Mediterranean themed restaurants in Atlanta, so Basil's was our next stop.

The patio is very nice, partly shaded by a large canvas with a slightly sunnier area sporting big umbrellas. The patio was cool and pleasant, especially as it sits up on a small hill, giving you the illusion that you're not really that close to busy Pharr Rd. Little touches of color, such as the dark blue wine glasses that sit atop each of the tables, give the dining area some extra personality.

We began with the calamari appetizer ($7), which is fried and "tipped" with aioli and accompanied by tomato cumin sauce. I liked the calamari, as the aioli wasn't overwhelming, the meat was tender and not overly fried, but the only reason I know that the sauce contained cumin is that the menu told me so; it was virtually undetectable otherwise. However, I especially enjoyed that the dish included fried pieces of yellow bell peppers and onions, an unexpected bonus.

Kevin chose the entree sampler ($13), which included grilled chicken breast, kafta (in this case, lamb), tabulleh, and hummus with sliced pita. The chicken and kafta get Kevin's seal of approval, but I think the tabulleh wasn't chopped finely enough and the hummus tasted too strongly of tahini. Don't get me wrong; I like tahini, but this was like straight tahini paste with a little olive oil. I wanted to ask the chef what happened to the chickpeas? I selected the pesto pizza, and unusual choice for me as I don't consider myself a big pizza fan. The draw in this case was the promise of goat cheese, spinach and tomatoes, which seemed like a good match for a warm (but not too hot) summer's day. I was pleased with the pizza. The goat cheese was thickly piled, the spinach was fresh and not at all stringy, and the tomatoes were fresh and ripe. For $11 it was a good deal, especially since I boxed up almost half of it and can stretch it out for a second meal later this week.

Verdict: A good choice for a long lunch or early evening dinner. Affordable prices for above average quality dishes. Great outdoor seating. Good service.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Flip




1587 Howell Mill Rd. Atlanta http://www.flipburgerboutique.com/

Last night I ate dinner at Flip with Kyle, my sister and brother-in-law. This was the fourth time I have eaten at the restaurant, so my review will reflect my combined experiences.

If you claim to be a Southern foodie and you haven't heard about Flip, maybe you need to rethink your foodie status. Flip's chef is Richard Blais, formerly a runner-up on the fourth season of TV's Top Chef and previously a chef at the Atlanta restaurants Fishbone and One Midtown Kitchen. Flip is his baby.

Last night's experience at Flip was a little disappointing. We ordered the tempura asparagus, which are normally very crisp but drooped under the weight of too much oil. I chose the mushroom and Swiss burger, and I felt that the "burger" itself, which is made entirely of mushrooms, wasn't firm or substantial enough for me. My brother-in-law, Ryan, felt the lamburger failed to live up to its description, and Kyle thought the whipped cheese whiz on this favorite burger, the Philly, tasted a little unpleasant.

This however, should be viewed in contrast to the other three times I have dined at the restaurant, when the food was nothing short of delicious. The tuna burger, which includes pickled ginger and a smoked mayo Vietnamese salad on a yellowfin tuna patty, is unique and tasty. My favorite burger to date is the steak tartar burger, which features a generous helping of steak tartar on a burger patty and can only be described as sinfully flavorful. All of the burgers, regardless of makeup, can be labeled as eye candy.

The milkshakes are equally as interesting as the burgers. There's a very rich Nutella milkshake overflowing with burnt marshmallows, a nice alternative to typical plain chocolate, although I feel the hazelnut flavor is a little too faint and failed to completely meet my expectations. The pistachio with white truffle flavor is back on the menu after a brief hiatus, and I consider it a nice summery treat. Last night I enjoyed the Georgia peaches and cream flavor that's recently been added to the menu, and I was happy to discover it tasted of real peaches and wasn't overly sweet. Of course, true foodies will want to try the fois gras milkshake, just for the novelty of it. I tried it and was disappointed because I felt like it didn't contain enough fois gras, considering the $9 price.

Speaking of price, Flip can't really be considered a bargain. The burgers range from $6.50 for the plainest burger (the Flip) to $17 for the Kobe, which contains the famous high quality beef, fois gras and truffle oil. The average burger price is $8, and the burgers are small, only 5.5 ozs. The milkshakes are also fairly small, and they range from $6 to $9. While I state that Flip is expensive compared to typical burgers, I don't mean that it is overpriced - the ingredients are top of the line, and the combinations innovative and exciting.

The downside to Flip is mainly the fact that everyone knows it's great and so consequently show up in droves at all hours, every day of the week. You will almost certainly wait for a table, and if you order one of Flip's famous milkshakes you'll wait for at least 10 minutes to receive it. The restaurant won't take reservations, so there's no getting around this. Flip's customers and waitstaff are also overly trendy (in my opinion), and Flip seems to be as much of a place to "be seen" as a foodie hangout. The restaurant is actually called "Flip Burger Boutique", a somewhat pretentious title that seems to attract those more concerned with their appearances than what's on their plates. The service is average.
As a side note, the decor is cool. The word flip refers both to flipping burgers and to the furniture, which is "flipped". Faux tables are also attached to the ceiling in a mirror image of those on the floor.

Verdict: Despite my lackluster dinner last night, I will be happy to return to Flip any chance I get. My first three awesome meals there definitely outweigh the unfortunate fourth, and Blais' interesting new rifts on the classic American burger beckon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chaba Thai




9700 Medlock Bridge Rd., Duluth http://chabathaiduluth.com

My friend John and I ate lunch here today. I live in Smyrna and work in Buckhead, so Duluth is a little out of the way for me, but John has eaten there several times in the past couple of months and promised it would be worth the drive.

Chaba Thai is a smallish Thai restaurant and grill in a fairly upscale shopping center in Duluth. Inside there are about a dozen tables and a two-seater bar. It's a nice break from the Garrison's chain, or God forbid the Twisted Kilt, located in the same shopping center. The restaurant appeared clean and attractive. It looked traditionally Thai without verging on tacky. An odd note: the music playing seemed to be recorded karaoke versions of hit R&B tunes. I'm not sure why anybody would want to mess with Mary J. Blige's music, but apparently someone else does.

We began our meal with fresh basil rolls, which contained fresh prawns, crab meat, steamed chicken, lettuce, bean sprouts, carrots and noodles wrapped in steamed rice paper and accompanied by a tamarind sauce with chopped peanuts. The roll was cut into eight 2" pieces much like sushi roll slices. The roll was light and tasty, a great appetizer in the sense that it wasn't filling but piqued my interest in the rest of the meal. Our next course was the Hot and Sour (Tom-Yum) seafood soup. This lovely soup's broth took it's wonderful flavor from coconut milk, chicken stock, lime juice and red chilis, and included mushrooms, shrimp, cilantro, and perfectly tender scallops and calamari. It was presented to us in a traditional metal pot and remained suitably hot throughout the meal.

Our main course was one of the house specials, the sea bass with green curry. This is John's favorite dish at Chaba Thai, and he has raved about it on several occasions. I am a huge fan of green curry (I make a great version at my house using Nigel Slater's recipe), and I think I set a high standard for this quintessentially Thai sauce. Chaba Thai makes an excellent green curry, thick and sweeter than Slater's recipe. The sea bass is itself was very good, and it is available either pan fried or steamed. We chose to have it pan fried, and I enjoyed the crisp, non-greasy breading. John prefers the fish to be steamed, and claims that the breading on the fried fish soaks up too much of the curry and dissipates its flavor. If any of my readers have tried this dish, I'd love to get your opinion on the cooking methods.

On the service side, our waitress was friendly and attentive without being overbearing. No complaints there.

Verdict: A definite neighborhood gem for Duluth residents. The fresh, quality cuisine is worth the drive on the weekends for the rest of metro Atlanta.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Radial




1530 Dekalb Avenue, Atlanta http://www.radial.us/

I petsit for my friends Kathy and Amy about half a mile from Radial, and I pass the restaurant every time I drive to their wonderful old home near Little 5 Points. I have been curious about Radial for a while but haven't had a chance to drop in until today, when Kyle and I decided to go there for lunch.

Radial is housed in a brick building on Dekalb Avenue. The interior features high ceilings, plain wooden booths will metal chairs and some "interesting" artwork by a presumably local artist. If you like it, you're in luck because it's for sale. The waitstaff is casually dressed and seem relaxed and sufficiently attentive. There is a dining room and an outdoor patio with umbrellas providing some shade. Radial is the kind of place where you can show up in your pyjama pants with your hair wet and your children in their Halloween costumes and no one will think anything about it. It's definitely reflective of the "anything goes" general atmosphere of Little 5 Points.

In honor of Independence Day the restaurant offered several themed specials, and Kyle and I both selected items from this small but interesting menu. He chose the red, white and blueberry pancakes along with a cup of the organic mocha coffee and I chose the Mama's Apple Pie French Toast with the plain organic coffee. As far as coffee goes, I must admit that I never really take notice of this beverage unless it is really good or really bad, and in this case it was neither. (Kyle commented that he thought the mocha coffee was better than Starbucks.) However, I am always happy to see a menu with the words "organic" or "free-trade" included, and Radial's menu has plenty of that. I also noticed that some of the omelettes were made of "cage-free" eggs.

The red, white and blueberry pancakes were composed of very blue blueberry buttermilk pancakes, whipped cream and strawberry syrup. The pancakes themselves were huge, and were a good buy at $7.75. The special French toast was made of challah, and as far as I'm concerned all French toast should only ever be challah or brioche, and cinnamon-syrup coated Granny Smith's apples with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I was disappointed that my ice cream was completely melted by the time our waitress brought it to the table, but the flavor of the dish was very good. Again, a good value for under $8. Both selections were standard American comfort foods, great for the occasion.

Although our entrees were affordable enough, our drink prices packed a wallop. A Coke is $1.99. Contrary to the prices shown on the restaurant's website, my coffee was $2.65 and Kyle's mocha was $3.75. Guess all that fair-trade dealing isn't cheap.

If all of this sounds pretty high carb and sugary to you, please be aware that Radial offers many more healthful options. The regular menu features buckwheat pancakes, veggie sausage links, a Vegan hash with marinated tofu and fresh veggies, hummus and salads. I can't comment on any of these dishes though, as Kyle and I chose to exercise our right of freedom to choose decadent, sweet breakfasts today.

My friend Heidi, who lives much nearer to Radial than I and has eaten there fairly regularly, feels that the quality of the food has dropped a notch or two lately, and I wonder if the patriotic menu was a conscious step on the chef's part to raise it back up to its previously good status. I am looking forward to dining here again within the next couple of months and ordering items off the regular menu, at which time I will update this post for a more well-rounded and thorough review.

Verdict: An easy, casual environment for brunch, with good service, a socially-conscious menu with a nice combination of sweet comfort foods and healthful dishes.