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.