Monday, August 31, 2009
110 West Congress St., Savannah, GA http://www.sapphiregrill.com/
On Saturday, August 22nd, Kyle and I ate dinner at Sapphire Grill in Savannah. Sapphire Grill is centrally located in downtown Savannah and can easily be recognized by its neon blue sign in front of the entrance. Foodie tourists can conveniently find it right next to Paula Deen's cooking store. We were fortunate enough to be seated at the absolute best table in the house, a plush round booth in the corner that offered us a little privacy and a great view of the restaurant's interior.
The most notable point about the restaurant is the great profusion of menus we were given upon being seated. Each of us had no fewer that FOUR separate menus - one wine list, one regular dinner menu (which Ernie called the "mother menu"), one four course fixed-price menu, and finally a menu featuring basic entrees with a variety of sauces that could be utilized in conjunction with the mother menu. Wow. A little overwhelming, but very exciting for a foodie. The entrees were mainly seafood with a few meat options, and there was a note about a three-course vegetable plate.
Ernie, it must be said, was an absolutely stellar server. He patiently walked us through all of the menus, giving us detailed and mouthwatering descriptions of nearly every dish, along with his personal recommendations. He was never without a smile on his face and took great care of us.
Appetizers: Kyle ordered the Sapphire ceasar salad, which I sampled and determined might be the best Ceasar salad I have ever eaten. Was it the anchovy confit or the pecorino butter drizzle that made it so great? Hmmm . . . probably the combination of the two. I ordered the seared foie gras with pineapple gelato, intrigued by the pairing of the sweet dessert with the foie gras. The fois gras was meaty and smooth, perfectly cooked, and the pineapple gelato was light and playful. I was left scraping the plate at the end of the course.
For our entrees, I ordered the cracked rice encrusted tuna and "forbidden black rice grits". Ernie promised that the tuna would be the best I had ever eaten and to order it as rare as I dared. I ordered it medium rare, and while it was very good it was not the best I had ever eaten. I felt that the cracked rice crust numbed the flavor a little. However, I can't fault the black grits, which were an absolutely scrumptious side. They were nearly indescribably good. I have noticed that this dish has begun showing up on Atlanta restaurant menus and I am looking forward to ordering it here as well.
Kyle ordered the grilled New York Strip, an item from the basic entrees menu. He chose two different sauces from the menu: a white truffle butter and a soy sauce based oil. Both were excellent, a definite step up from any type of steak sauce I have tasted in recent years. He also greatly enjoyed a side of teardrop tomatoes, which were roasted and oozing with summer ripeness.
For dessert we were torn between a chocolate cake and the vanilla bean creme brulee, and Ernie recommended the brulee. It was very good, in my opinion not quite as good as the same dish at Pano's & Paul's in Atlanta.
Despite the great quality of the food served there, I have to state that I think Sapphire Grill is a little overpriced. Our dinner there is the single most expensive dinner I have ever eaten in the U.S. as of today's date. The six course chef's tasting menu didn't have a price listed, and upon inquiry we discovered it was $100 per person. Chef Linton Hopkins of the James Beard Award-winning Restaurant Eugene here in Atlanta charges $85 for his seven course tasting menu, and the last time I checked Bacchanalia, commonly considered Atlanta's best restaurant, charges $75 for their standard fixed price dinner. Considering these comparisons I think Sapphire Grill is overcharging their customers.
As for the pictures: Forgive me, I was on vacation and got a little sloppy after tasting that wonderful foie gras. I forgot to take one of the entree until Kyle had eaten half of his, and my own entree was completely demolished by that time.
Verdict: A divine, if pricey, dinner. Ceasar salad, forbidden black rice grits, foie gras with pineapple gelato and teardrop tomatoes are all standouts.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Our second foodie stop in Savannah was the Gryphon Tea Room, where we had lunch last Saturday. I have been to the Tea Room one other time, almost two years ago with my sister Sabrina. Back then I was impressed with the restaurant's beautiful space, which was formerly pharmacy and still maintains some of the old, charming decor. There are stained glass windows inside, as well as cheerful, bright orange chairs and lots of light. The restaurant is connected to the nearby Savannah College of Art and Design, which has done wonders for many local businesses through restoring their buildings and supplying them with student workers.
I ordered the Frenchman sandwich ($9.95), which is very similar to a Monte Cristo and equally delicious. It featured good, flavorful ham and warm caramelized onions. It was served with a mixed greens salad, which was very fresh, and a raspberry vinaigrette, which I found to be a little too sweet. Ben and Kyle both selected the Havana ($10.50), a nice Cuban sandwich with pickles. It was paired with a bowl of black beans and yellow rice, a common side to Cuban sandwiches in Georgia that my Cuban friend Carlos emphatically informed me is NOT an authentic Cuban staple. I tasted it and thought it could benefit from a few teaspoons of salt. Portion sizes were all very good.
We ended our meal by sharing a generously sized slice of Italian cream cake, a very sweet treat. That day the Tea Room also featured several other cakes, such as Oreo and the quintessentially Southern red velvet.
True to its name, the Gryphon's tea selection is also very good, featuring a number of black, white, green and herbal teas. I selected the apricot, which was perfect for summer. At $5.25 it wasn't cheap, but I was served a full pot of hot water as well as given a small white porcelain creamer and bowl of sugar, providing me with several cups of tea with my lunch.
The service was very good both times I dined at the Tea Room. You'll spend about the same amount you would on a lunch at O'Charley's, but you'll be treated to the beautiful decor, better food, and some soothing tea right in a very central location of downtown Savannah.
Verdict: A great stop for either a full lunch or afternoon tea. Include it in your plans to visit Savannah, GA.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
416 West Liberty St., Savannah, GA http://www.distillerysavannah.com/
Last Friday night Kyle and I had the good fortune to hang out with our friends Danielle and Ben at The Distillery in Savannah, GA. The Distillery is a cool pub. It's a prohibition style bar with appropriately dressed bartenders and some cool period decor. Local musicians can often be found playing live music, and silent movies play in the background. It's open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays, so you can drink most of the night away if you so choose.
The menu is good but not great. It's biggest advantage is the last page, entitled "The Quick and the Cheap", which lists inexpensive choices such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and small burgers geared towards "starving artists." This is especially needed in Savannah, a thriving artists' community and home of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Kyle enjoyed his burger, called The Distillery Budget Burger ($5, served with chips and a pickle), and my friend Danielle liked her Prohibition po'boy. This is available in both cod and shrimp. The shrimp was large and golden-fried ($12). I ordered the Annie's Cream of Crab Soup, unable to resist the description that "you will tell all your friends about this soup because it is that good". It was good, but not THAT good. The menu seems to be prone to hyperbole in general. However, I did greatly enjoy the Pretzel Treasures, little knobs of beautifully puffed, round pretzel bites served with a cheese dip made with Arrogant Bastard ale and a spicy mustard. A great choice paired with nearly any beer.
The best thing about the Distillery isn't the decor or the food though, it's the fantastic beer list. Just to name a few, they carry Avery Hog Heaven (from CO), Lagunitas Censored American Amber (CA), Wyder's Peach Cider (Canada), brews from the nearby Moon River Brewing Company, several varieties of Rogue (from OR, and always always great), and several Allagash varieties (ME). The entire list was 3 pages long. Very impressive. I would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of bars in the Atlanta area with such an interesting (and generally very affordable) beer selection.
The Distillery is so proud of it's unique and varied beers that the management has posted a large blackboard inside above the door which states that they don't carry any of what I consider to be the mainstream, crappy brands. Please see my photo for details. I think the idea is priceless.
The only downside of the bar's frequent changes in their selections is that what's listed on the website isn't always available. Ben scoped out the beer list in advance on the site and was disappointed that the first 3 brews he attempted to order weren't in stock. Just don't get too stuck on anything in particular and you'll leave happy.
Verdict: A pub for beer-lovers. Good, bargain-priced food, awesome beer selection.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Pope Avenue, Hilton Head, SC http://www.trufflesgrill.com/
Last Friday Kyle and I had lunch at Truffles Grill. Truffles Grill has two sister restaurants in the area called Truffles Cafe, but this location is the only Grill and has a different menu, so I maintain that it isn't a chain. Kyle and I were the first two customers to arrive that day, so I had plenty of time to survey the restaurant's decor, which was modern and earthy with different shades of brown, evocative of truffles, of course. I would have found this more appealing if businesses in Hilton Head didn't largely favor brown decor already, but I guess you can't blame the owners for catering to a theme that seems to work on the island. Naturally I am far more interested in the food anyway.
Before we entered the restaurant we could smell the appealing, tangy/spicy aroma of barbecued ribs, which we had already been told by our hotel's concierge were outstanding. Kyle ordered these and enjoyed the good flavor and juicy meat. At lunch they serve a half rack of baby back, but Kyle wasn't left hungry because the ribs were paired with a coleslaw and a fair portion of shoestring fries.
I ordered the crab cake, which was The large size of the crab cake somewhat justified the $16 price of this dish, which is normally higher than I prefer to spend at lunch. The cake was decorated with wasabi mayonnaise, which was quite tasty, and the crab meat itself fell apart in hefty, steaming chunks. My entree also came with the shoestring fries and coleslaw. Kyle and I agreed that the fries were very good, but he felt that the coleslaw was a step down from the dish served at KFC, his gold standard for slaw. I haven't been to KFC in over 15 years and am not overly fond of coleslaw anyway, so it's best to go with his opinion on this.
The menu at Truffles Grill is interesting. Besides the aforementioned dishes, it also lists a homemade black bean burger, grilled homemade pimento cheese and tomato dill soup. The wine list looked decent, and non-alcoholic choices include "hand-crafted real fruit teas or lemonade" in blueberry, raspberry or mango. With that kind of title I was pleasantly surprised to see that the price was $2.50. I expected it to be at least $3.
I wish we would have had room to sample one of the homemade desserts, but Kyle and I wisely chose to give our full stomachs a break for the afternoon. (I noticed that the restaurant constantly points out that their items are homemade, which I thought was a little unnecessary. Surely customers shouldn't assume that everything is made elsewhere?) Our service was cordial and attentive throughout the meal.
The big disappointment with Truffles Grill came several days after I dined there. I had booked my reservation on opentable.com and was dismayed to discover that the restaurant had marked me as a no-show. Since I was exactly on time for my reservation, checked in with the host upon arrival and was one of possibly 6 diners in the restaurant I cannot understand how such an oversight occurred. Fortunately opentable was very professional when I inquired about the situation and awarded me my credit. However, this episode left a bad taste in my mouth about the restaurant where I was previously a fan.
Verdict: Good food in an attractive environment.
Monday, August 24, 2009
18 Harbourside Ln., Hilton Head, SC http://www.kingfisherseafood.com/
Last week Kyle and I vacationed in Hilton Head, SC and Savannah, GA. We chose Kingfisher Seafood for our first dinner in Hilton Head. Our hotel, the Marriott Resort, recommended it, and it was located practically across the street in an attractive harbor. The Kingfisher was also a convenient choice because we dined there on a Tuesday night, and the city hosts a fireworks show on Tuesdays during the summer just outside of the restaurant. At 9pm we literally walked out Kingfisher's back door and down to the bridge, above which the fireworks were set off. Location-wise, it couldn't have been better.
Another advantage to the Kingfisher was its happy hour, which ran from 5 to 8pm. (The website says it begins at 4:30, but the menu said 5pm, so I'm going with that reference.) Many other restaurants on the island offer happy hour specials, but they typically only last until 7pm at the latest. Although the restaurant was pretty crowded and at least four families were waiting for tables when we arrived, we had no problem grabbing a seat at the bar and availing ourselves of the $2 Kingfisher drafts (very similar to Budweiser) and 1 pound of snow crab for $11.99. This is the best deal I have seen on snow crab recently.
The snow crab did not disappoint. It had been a long time since I had enjoyed this dish, mainly because Atlanta restaurants rarely offer it, and when they do it is expensive and poor quality. The snow crab at Kingfisher was juicy and delicious. I received two big sections with large, meaty joints and knuckles, accompanied by the usual seasoned drawn butter. Since this was Kyle's first snow crab dinner I included him in the picture above. While he usually steers away from seafood he complimented the crab.
Our service at the bar was outstanding. Our bartender, Tina, was a pistol (I mean this in the best way possible). She was quick with our food, drink refills and witty commentary. We requested that the Braves game be shown on one of the bar's two TV's and she accommodated us right away. She also gave us tips on more dining and activities on the island. Finally, she mixed me up a delicious cocktail with Malibu rum that just made sense after our day at the beach.
If you've ever been to Hilton Head then you already know it's swarming with families and elderly people. It's not a hangout for the young and wild. Many restaurants close early (9pm in some cases) and it's nearly impossible to find a liquor store that's actually open at any time of day. Most of the establishments specifically cater to people with multiple small children, and dining rooms can get loud and hectic quickly. The lounge area at the Kingfisher appeared to be a little more adult-oriented, a blessing for me and Kyle.
Verdict: Although it's touristy, Kingfisher offers great service and happy hour specials. A nice way to spend a relaxing evening.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
1927 Lakeside Pkwy., Tucker, GA http://www.lumiereatlanta.com/
It's hard for me to name a better bargain in Atlanta fine dining than Lumiere', the restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Atlanta.
Let me guess: you didn't know that the famous Le Cordon Bleu had a campus in Atlanta, specifically in Tucker near the LaVista Rd. exit of I-285. I would suspect that most Atlantans would share your surprise. The school is tucked into an unassuming office park, so you'll need to look for the blue and white sign at the entrance and then scan the parking lots for a patio with tables and chairs. That's how you'll know you are in the right place. Note: I've eaten at Lumiere' half a dozen times and never seen anyone seated outside, a small mystery.
Lumiere' is a cool place to eat for several reasons, the first being that the kitchen is staffed almost entirely by students who are within two weeks of completing their studies there. Each student must work in the front and back of the house, gaining experience cooking, serving and busing tables. They are excited about moving on to their externships (which range from b&bs abroad to The Ritz-Carlton hotels) and are eager to please, if a little nervous about dealing with some of their first customers. The downside to this is that the service is often fairly slow - last night we waited almost 45 minutes between our appetizers and entrees. Try to be patient and think of the meal as a sort of European experience.
Another big reason Lumiere' is great is because of the prices. Soups are around $3 each, salads $4-5, entrees $10-15, etc. Most of the wine is also very reasonable, with many good selections costing $6 per glass. Tips are not required, but if you do leave a gratuity it will go towards the school's scholarship fund. In a few weeks, these same students will be employed at restaurants where you will be paying two to three times as much to eat their food.
The summer vegetable soup with white beans and pesto was sublime, but my friend Paul was a little disappointed with his appetizer of grilled asparagus, smoked ham, cantaloupe salsa and arugula, noting that the ham was boiled. We were expecting Serrano or prosciutto, considering the cantaloupe's presence. For his entree, Paul ordered the pan-fried trout with succotash salad, fried leeks and a lemon-parsley buerre blanc, which was excellent. At $10.95 it was a steal. My friend Erin ordered the roasted breast of chicken, which I thought was a little dry. I greatly enjoyed the sea scallops with sauteed leeks and fennel. The scallops and veggies lay on a bed of white cheddar grits which was surrounded by a shellfish broth. This costs $13.95. I ordered a very similar dish a few months ago at Park's Edge (in Inman Park) and paid twice that much, and although the scallops were smaller at Lumiere' they were also more numerous, and just as tasty. On the downside, my party agreed that all of the dishes lacked sufficient seasoning. Had there been a salt shaker at the table I would have utilized it.
For dessert we shared a slice of the lemon mascarpone cheesecake with honey-balsalmic reduction and maserated strawberries. I felt the lemon could have been more pronounced, but the texture was ideal, creamy and smooth. This dessert was not quite as good a deal as the entrees - at $3.95 the size of the piece was somewhat small.
A bonus for those of you with allergies: I noticed that the restaurant offers gluten-free lunch and dinner menus.
A few bonuses for foodies: The students at Le Cordon Bleu will happily take you on a tour of the school upon request. If you aren't up for the whole tour (which takes about 10 minutes) you can still enjoy a view of the students in class, seen through a huge window from the lobby. There is also a bookstore with a selection of cooking tools and top quality knives as well as Le Cordon Bleu aprons and dish towels for sale.
Another option to the traditional lunch or dinner is Lumiere's buffet, which is offered once every three weeks for one night. It's is very difficult to find such a great selection of delectibles at another restaurant in Atlanta for $19.95 per person.
Verdict: Fine dining at an excellent value.
Monday, August 10, 2009
240 MLK Jr. Dr., Atlanta, GA 30312 http://www.nicksfood.com/
Kyle and I picked up dinner at Nick's on Saturday night. I say "picked up" because Nick's is strictly a takeout place, no dining room. We've actually been trying to get dinner from Nick's for a couple of months now, but have been repeatedly thwarted in our efforts. The first time we drove over there it was 8:15 on a Saturday night, and the place was deserted. The next time the restaurant was closed for the 4th of July holiday weekend. Apparently this is not unusual; I've seen a few complaints about the odd hours on several foodie websites, and one person even wrote that the owners close the place for a whole month during the summer so they can return to Greece. A whole month! (Not that I blame them - I've been to Greece and it is awesome. If I had the ability to go every year I'd close up shop too.)
Last week I decided to be proactive and call Nick's and get confirmation that the restaurant would be open for dinner on Saturday. I asked the man with the thick Greek accent if they'd be open, and he said "of course" like I was completely crazy. I asked him how long exactly they'd be open, and he said, "we stay open late on Saturdays, until 7pm." I'm not sure how many people consider 7pm to be a "late" hour on a Saturday night, but the situation is what it is.
The man on the phone was Nick, of course. He, his wife and his daughters run the restaurant, preparing great food in a very sketchy location. Nick's restaurant is at the intersection of MLK and Hill St., and the downtrodden building sits in a bumpy, gravel parking lot.
Fans of Nick's seem to agree with my cardinal rule of Atlanta restaurants, the old maxim of "Don't judge a book by its cover". Despite its exterior, the food at Nick's is very good. Kyle and I had the gyros, fries and two slices of baklava. Kyle had the grilled chicken and I had the lamb. The gyros might have been slightly better than the ones I have had a Cafe Agora, although I'm probably biased because I added mushrooms and feta cheese to the gyro at Nick's (for an extra $1). The baklava is good, but not as great as the pistachio dusted baklava at Cafe Agora. It is however, cheaper - sold at Nick's for $1.50 per slice as opposed to Cafe Agora's whopping $3.55.
Nick's offers some great options if you aren't in the mood for a gyro. The restaurant offers a daily special - on Saturday if was lasagna. They offer baked chicken marinated in lemon and herbs and served with potatoes. Another choice is spanakopita, fresh spinach baked with feta cheese and wrapped in homemade dough. If you want to go lighter, there are a few salads (Greek, chef and grilled chicken). Nick's menu also includes some Southern favorites like sweet tea, chicken fingers or chicken livers. I haven't tried any of these other dishes so I can't review them . . . yet. A return trip to Nick's is definitely part of my agenda. Assuming the restaurant is open when I get there.
Verdict: Surprisingly good Greek food at a good price.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
820 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta (Virginia-Highlands) http://www.harryandsonsrestaurant.com/
Last night my friend TJ and I ate dinner at Harry & Son's. Harry & Son's is a restaurant that serves Thai food and sushi in the ever-popular Virginia-Highlands commercial area of Atlanta. My reason for choosing Harry & Son's was simple: I had a buy-1-entree-get-1-free coupon. I figured that if TJ and I hated the food, we could at least take comfort from the knowledge that we hadn't spent very much money on it, especially since many of the entrees are in the $11 range.
Fortunately we didn't hate the food. However, I can't say I loved it either.
TJ ordered the Pad See-U, which was flat noodles sauteed with egg, broccoli, garlic and Thai soy sauce with either beef, pork, chicken or tofu. TJ ordered the chicken version. I ordered the Pad Woon Sen, which includes sauteed mung beans, cabbage, carrot, tomato, baby corn, green onions and zucchini with your choice or chicken, beef or tofu. I selected the tofu, and wasn't disappointed. Within six minutes our friendly female server brought our entrees, which were steaming and wonderfully fragrant. I wasn't sure how I would feel about the dish's inclusion of cabbage and tomato, but these veggies turned out to be great complements to the other ingredients. TJ liked his Pad See-U
We also ordered sushi. Let me state for the record that I almost never order sushi from a restaurant that does not exclusively serve sushi. I did it in this case because I just finished reading a book about the history and art of sushi, and was determined to eat the next sushi that I encountered. First I ordered the 6 piece maki of yellowtail and scallions. I thought the yellowtail lacked flavor. Next I ordered the combination # 2, which consisted of a roll of spicy shrimp tempura, snow crab, avocado, masago, cucumber and sriracha sauce and a roll of fresh water eel and avocado ($12). I ate the shrimp and crab, and thought it was attractive but of average taste, and TJ ate the eel, which he enjoyed.
Again, I'm a sushi snob and am never particularly inclined towards rolls, so that is a factor in this review. Another factor in my dissatisfaction with the sushi is that I'm fresh off my recent trip to Taka, where the sushi was out of this world. After the fantastic (and pricier) sushi at Taka, I was bound to be disappointed with the next sushi I ate.
A note here about the location: its really cute and in a nice, pedestrian-friendly area, so the restaurant will likely be crowded. By 7:30pm both dining rooms were about 3/4 full, but the fortunately the service was smooth. Be prepared to either park and walk up to 1/4 of a mile or pay $5 in a nearby lot. This goes for any other restaurants at this part of busy N. Highland.
Verdict: Above average Thai, below average sushi at reasonable prices.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
918 Austin Ave., Atlanta (Inman Park) http://www.thealbertatlanta.com/web/welcome-to-the-albert-atlanta.html
On Saturday night Kyle and I were dogsitting in Inman Park and took the opportunity to stroll down the charming, residential Austin Ave. to The Albert, a family-owned pub. Once inside, we learned that The Albert got its name from the owner's son. The pub is decorated with pictures of famous Alberts throughout history. I think the decor is a point in the pub's favor - it has its own, undisputed personality. Its a casual place, completely unpretentious, just the atmosphere I want in a pub.
We settled in at the bar to watch the Braves games (The Albert shows all their games, so this is a great place for baseball fans) and ordered some wings and the chicken egg rolls. Kyle's wings came with blue cheese and celery, and he ordered them medium hot. He gives them a good score, saying they are head and shoulders above the wings served at the nearby Zesto's. I was a little less impressed with the chicken egg rolls, which were accompanied by a blood orange ginger sauce. The rolls were a little too dry, and the sauce didn't live up to its promise. I give the dish a C+. The menu also featured salads, sandwiches, and some ambitious sounding entrees such as mushroom risotto ($10.95) and flank steak with asparagus and garlic butter ($12.95). I'd be willing to sample some of the lighter fare at a later date. Another patron also informed me that they make their own mozzarella (which she added is delicious), and I think that's pretty impressive for a pub.
However, I never go to a pub with high expectations about the food. My goal is to sample the beer selection and have a good time. The Albert scored better in these areas.
The beer selection at The Albert is decent. There are the basics, and then there are a few better brews like Chimay. Kyle and I were happy to try three different beers from New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado, which we don't find very often at other local pubs. We enjoyed the Fat Tire (Amber), the Mothership Wit (wheat) and the 1554 Enlightened Black Ale. Kyle prefers hefeweizens, so he liked the Mothership Wit best, and I'm a sucker for a black ale, so I preferred the 1554.
The Albert also offered multiple specialty martinis (at $8 each, an average price), and a PB&J, which is a 24oz. Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy and a shot of Jager. I hate both PBR and Jager, but something about this combination attracted me, much like a train wreck attracts. It tastes exactly like you think. If you like the aforementioned, you'll like the combo, if not, consider yourself warned. It's interesting to note that the bartenders serve the Jager shots in little paper medicine cups.
The absolute best thing about The Albert was the bartender, Glenna. She's 25 years old, pregnant, heavily tattooed, and really nice. She strikes just the right balance between talking your ear off and ignoring you. She's the perfect bartender - happy, pleasantly gregarious, always there to refill your drink or offer you another dish from the kitchen. She's the best bartender I've had in a long time. Glenna alone is worth the trip to The Albert. The nice-looking, dark haired male bartender who replaced her at the end of her shift was also smiling and attentive.
Verdict: I had a lot of fun at The Albert, and I feel a little jealous of my dog-owning friends for living in such a cute neighborhood with a welcoming, well-staffed bar.