Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ca Dao




4646 Buford Hwy, Suite R, Chamblee, GA

My friend John and I were driving along Buford Hwy on Christmas Eve, determined to randomly choose an ethnic spot for lunch. We passed a shopping center that I thought looked awfully familiar, and decided to go inside.

After about 20 minutes staring at the walls, booths and decor, I realized that this was the former Bamboo Grill & Hot Pot, which I reviewed back on May 20th. Apparently Bamboo Grill closed down in the middle of the summer, which was a real shame, in my opinion. Now the space houses a Vietnamese restaurant called Ca Dao.

We started with some spring rolls. Good, neatly wrapped and a true appetizer for the coming main courses.

For my entree, I chose the # 66, pork rice in clay pot. I loved the rich flavor of the twice cooked pork, and the sauteed vegetables. I also liked the rice, especially the grains at the bottom of the pot, which were cooked the longest and had an almost caramelized brown taste and appearance. However, I was disappointed with the meat & veggie to rice ratio: this dish was probably 70% rice. Fortunately it wasn't too expensive - most of the dishes at Ca Dao are under $9.

John ordered the # 82, a "special combination" of grilled pork and fried shrimp with other fried crispy things (despite our best efforts, we couldn't tell exactly what these things were) inside a rice paper wrap. This dish was very similar to a thick spring roll, about 6 inches long, only with a harder outside and the strange crispy things within. Just because I couldn't identify the ingredients doesn't mean I didn't like # 82. I did. However, I wouldn't consider it a meal, especially if you've got a big appetite.

Besides the clay pot dishes and rice paper rolls, Ca Dao has an extensive menu of pho soup, always a great choice for a cold day. You can get any combination of beef/pork/tripe/shrimp with vegetables and good broth. I didn't order any pho on Friday, so I can't compare it to great nearby restaurants like Pho Bac, but Ca Dao looks right at home on Buford Hwy, so I bet it's pretty good here.

Oh, and the tea is good here. A nice jasmine, not bitter at all, and not sweet.

Service was fine. Good luck to the owners in getting more business. Ca Dao was pretty deserted on Christmas Eve.

Verdict: Worth a stop.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chocolate Bar



201 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Suite C, Decatur, GA www.thechocolatebardecatur.com

Last Thursday night Kyle and I visited Chocolate Bar, located in the heart of Decatur. We have been to Chocolate Bar several times, but not recently. I think the last time was about 2 years ago. We loved their inspired desserts and cocktails, but hated the terrible service. And by terrible, I mean THE WORST. Most of the time we were just served incredibly slowly, even when we were the only people in the Bar. One time we overheard two servers, standing about 3 feet away, voicing their desire for all of the customers to just GET OUT and leave them alone. Yes, this actually happened.

However, we bought a GroupOn a few months back and decided to give it another try. Knowing the high turnover rate at restaurants, we figured all of the belligerent staff we encountered before was probably long gone by now.

And to our happy surprise, that was exactly the case. Our waitress, Luba, was great. She whisked away our dirty plates and perfectly timed the arrival of our courses. And she actually smiled at us. Up until now, smiling servers have been noticeably absent at Chocolate Bar.

I ordered the lemon-ginger martini ($9). This is comprised of Grey Goose, "sweet" lemon and ginger. The parentheses are mine - this is not a sweet cocktail. It's very tart, and there's more than a subtle hint of ginger. I liked it very much, but I'm also a big lemon and ginger lover, so I was hoping for a big dose of each. I got it.

Kyle ordered the Grand Manhattan($11). When he took his first sip, his eyes grew wide and he pushed it my way. I took one whiff of it and pushed it back. Whatever infusion the house made, it's a strong one. You'll only need one of these babies for the night.

If you like sweet, creamy drinks, I can recommend the Chocolate Bar and the Mississippi Sidehand from previous experiences at the Bar. Delish.

We also started with a few snacks. I ordered the black truffle popcorn ($5.50), and received a large bowl, complete with shavings of what may or may not have been bonafide black truffle. Whatever it was, it was tremendously salty. This is coming from someone who salts about 80% of her food, so be forewarned. I liked the rich, earthy flavor, but couldn't handle the copious amount of salt and only ate about half of this dish. Next time I might try the Madras curry popcorn ($4) instead.

I also ate the salami ($7), which was thickly sliced and accompanied by some overly crisp chunks of garlic bread. This was average. The bread was barely edible and had a slightly burned smell, and the salami was too strong. It was overpowering, not a good complement to either the popcorn or the dessert.

Kyle and I shared the oreos and milk ($9 on the online menu, but $12 at the Bar????), something we knew in advance was a total delight, and by far the shining star of our meal. This is comprised of lovely dark chocolate souffles about the size of the palm of your hand, with a thick white chocolate center and a small scoop of milk sorbet on the side. The souffles are served warm and soft, and are topped with what I think is coarse rock salt. It mixes perfectly with the sorbet. You'll love it. It's meant for two people, but I saw a couple at another table with one each.

The Chocolate Bar also has a glass counter with various truffles, bon bons and pastries. The selection appeared to be pretty good.

Verdict: Much improved service. Don't miss the oreos and milk. Be sure to check your receipt to make sure you weren't overcharged.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Special Feature: Celso's Cakes


6070 Dawson Blvd, Ste. C, Norcross, GA www.celsoscakesgallery.com

I heard about this place a couple of years ago from a co-worker of mine who had used the bakery for her wedding. Last spring Kyle and I scheduled a wedding cake tasting and were just thrilled with the absolutely delicious taste of these cakes. Celso's cakes were phenomenal, and at least $1/slice cheaper than the other Atlanta bakeries I considered prior to my wedding.

And our cake came out beautifully. Kyle chose the larger, bottom layer, which was a vanilla cake with white chocolate raspberry fill. I chose the top layer, which was bittersweet chocolate cake with amaretto fill. Our wedding guests had a nice choice and raved about the moist cake, thick icing and true raspberry and amaretto flavors.

Last night I returned to Celso's to pick up a few of their holiday boxes, which come in three sizes and contain pound cake, gourmet cookies and pecan diamonds. Everyone at my wedding enjoyed my cake so much, I decided this would be an excellent gift for several people on my list. Wish I could have picked up an eggnog cheesecake for myself.

While I was there I gazed into the glass counter, which contained all kinds of little goodies. Celso's sells petit fours, mini cupcakes, chocolate napoleons and assorted pastries year-round. The mango mascarpone cake sounds great too, doesn't it?

Chef Celso has lots of experience baking in Atlanta. He's a former pastry chef at the SwissHotel, Grand Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. He is always on hand to deal with customers directly, and is often accompanied by his lovely wife, Pavla. When brides schedule a tasting, they'll be meeting with the actual chef who will bake their cake. How's that for peace of mind?

Verdict: Make this your first choice for special occasion cakes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party




1645 McLendon Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.drbombays.com

On Sunday my friend Eliza and I had high tea at Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party near Little 5 Points. You can read that sentence again - it is completely correct. Dr. Bombay's is one of the few places in the metro Atlanta area (and probably the least expensive) who still serve high tea. Every single day of the week you can enjoy it from 3:30 to 5:30pm, $25 for two people.

Dr. Bombay's knows how to do high tea. You can expect very sweet, lovely little petite fours, tiny cupcakes in flavors like red velvet, mini brownies, egg salad sandwiches, and huge scones (in different flavors, such as apple cinnamon) aside real clotted green and a small pot of jam. These are all presented on a cute two-tiered serving tray. Each pair of guests will share a pot of tea in the flavor of your choosing.

As for the tea, a blackboard lists dozens of great flavors. You can find the usual suspects like early grey and English breakfast, along with lots of sublime green teas and lovely fruits. I thoroughly enjoyed the peach tea, along with the blackberry sage. A friend of mine likes the apple cinnamon. Regardless of your taste, you'll have no problem finding something you like here.

This was my second excursion to Dr. Bombay's. My sweet sister Sabrina threw me a wonderfully girly bridal shower there in September. Everyone who attended raved about how much fun it was. When you book a large group (call the tea house to do so), they will give you your own space and bring out multiple teas so your guests will have a nice variety.

High tea isn't the only option at Dr. Bombay's, though. You can enjoy a simple cup of tea with or without goodies displayed in the glass case any time. For a light meal, you can choose from sandwiches on fresh bread, small sides or bakery items.

It's an absolutely charming place. All the pots, cups and utensils are mismatched. There a walls full of bookcases containing an array of used books for sale: all profits go to charities abroad. The space works equally well for students with their laptops as it does for ladies in hats and gloves. I had a great time here on both occasions, and I can't wait to return.

Verdict: If you've been searching for a modestly priced, serious tea house in Atlanta, look no further.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Valenza




1441 Dresden Dr., Atlanta, GA www.valenzarestaurant.com

On Friday night Kyle and I had dinner at Valenza. Well, actually my office hosted their annual holiday party at the restaurant, which meant that we had a limited selection of the menu with which to work.

We began with the calamari, in this case grilled with pine nuts, roasted tomatoes and a hint of lemoncello. A nice combination that's a little off the beaten path. The salumi e forgmaggi, an artisan cheese and cured meat plate, is very good, but pricey at $16. Loved the thin-sliced prosciutto.

My friend Erin tried the merluzzo, a pan roasted silver hake with Brussels sprouts, chanterelles, pancetta and brown butter ($26). In my mind, you can't go wrong with a good fish and brown butter. The pancetta wasn't overpowering, rather it offset the lovely, woodsy chanterelle mushrooms and absolutely delicious fresh, sauteed Brussels sprouts. You won't find bitter sprouts here, folks.

I had the ravioli with butternut squash filling ($16). This was exactly what homemade pasta should be - beautiful, soft, super-absorbent. The squash filling was very good, and the dish was topped with chopped pecans brown butter and sage. The last place where I ordered butternut squash ravioli was Figo, and I can tell you that this may be more expensive, but it was far superior.

Kyle had the C.A.B. ribeye with arugula, nickel filet beans and lemon ($28). He's not a fan of arugula, but other than that he felt the meat was cooked exactly as he ordered and that it was a very good cut.

I was less impressed with the desserts. The crostata di mele, or apple crostada with caramel gelato and sauce, was a little lackluster. The cesto d'espresso (espresso custard with mascarpone cream) was a slightly better, but didn't give me that completely satisfied feeling I expect from dessert. If I return to Valenza I'll probably try the warm chocolate tart, a selection that always makes me happy. All desserts at Valenza are $7.

The service was impressive. Each server was on top of his/her game, keeping the wine flowing and the tables cleared as soon as anyone was finished with a course. The manager, Michel Arnette, personally checked on us several times to insure our satisfaction. He was funny and very approachable.

I used to live within walking distance of Valenza's location, and over the past decade I've noticed this area morphing into a charming place with substance, developing character and culture. The addition of Valenza as a high quality, neighborhood restaurant is definitely a great thing for Brookhaven residents.

Verdict: A neighborhood find.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Social Vinings




3621 Vinings Slope Dr. Ste. 1100, Atlanta http://www.greatfoodinc.com/Social_Vinings/Social_Vinings.html

Kyle and I had dinner with some friends at Social Vinings, one of the several restaurants around town owned by Chef Paul Albrecht (I previously reviewed another one, Paul's). Social Vinings is located in (surprise) the Vinings area of Atlanta/Smyrna, just off Paces Ferry Rd. There is limited self-parking in a deck behind the restaurant along with valet.

We started with the tuna tartare ($8) and the filet mignon bruschetta ($7.50). The tuna was very good, better than what I had recently at Eclipse di Luna, with a little spicy aftertaste. The bruschetta was stupendous. Kyle wants us to go back and just get about 3 orders of this for dinner.

Next we had a large sashimi platter. Wonderful fresh fish on a cumcumber salad. The yellow tail was especially good, which surprised me since I found this fish at Paul's to be sub-par.

My friend John loved the sauteed calf's liver with caramelized onions (always a good addition), apples, mashed potatoes and crispy bacon ($19). The more he ate it, the more he praised the strong flavor of the liver with the perfectly cooked bacon, creamy potatoes and locally grown (Ellijay, GA) apples.

Kyle had the ribeye filet ($25), and Amr ordered the surf and turf ($38 - filet mignon and lobster tail), and they were both very pleased. Pam and I both ordered the pan roasted sea bass ($29), which came with a juicy tomato risotto and some dynamite brocolli drizzled with basil oil. I don't know if I ever want to eat broccoli without basil oil again. The sea bass was tender and buttery, exactly as I'd hoped.

Last but certainly not least, we indulged in dessert. We tried both the rocky road spasm with Bailey's ice cream and the deep fried oreo cookies. The former is sort of a deconstructed, abstract version of rocky road - chunks of dark chocolate fudge, mini marshmallows, candied pecans and fresh sliced strawberries litter the plate, with a big scoop of absolutely luscious Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream on top. Very good. But the real favorite was the fried oreos. One plate gets you 2. It's a warm, gooey batch of goodness. Pam said she considered it a combination donut and double-stuffed oreo with powdered sugar. Ingy said that if she could eat these every day she would be content to live the rest of her life alone. Guess that makes them the ultimate comfort food. All desserts are $6.

Followers, I have to say that I can't find anything to dislike about Social Vinings. Everything we ordered was excellent and our server was great. If anything, the volume was a little loud for my taste. It's on the pricey side for Cobb county, but it's also far and away a superior choice to most of the restaurants in the area.

A word of advice - this restaurant is the "it" place to eat in Vinings right now. Be sure to make a reservation through Open Table. My friend Amr says the bar is packed solid on Friday nights.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Special Feature: Wolf Mountain Vineyards



www.wolfmountainvineyards.com

A couple of weekends ago Kyle and I joined some friends for a wine tasting at Wolf Mountain Vineyards. The vineyards are located amidst a lovely woodland setting, and the restaurant and tasting room overlook the Blue Ridge Mountains. Between that and the very good wine, the tasting was a wonderful experience.

Although Wolf Mountain produces a few mainstream favorites, like cabernet sauvignon and claret, they also make lots of interesting blends. For example, the Coupage, a merlot/cabernet sauvignon mix.

Our tasting consisted of six vintages of the Instinct, a "Rhone-style red wine" that's somewhere between and syrah and a cab. Good stuff, my favorites being the 2004 and 2007. Some vintages are French oaked, some are American oaked. We were served generous portions of the wine, along with plates of nuts and cheese beside thoroughly-detailed printed sheets explaining how each vintage was made and their inherent scents and flavors. Exactly the right combination of information and fun for a wine tasting.

Afterwards we went upstairs to the front bar for a second tasting. This one included several different varieties, my favorite of which was the Chanteloup 2004 ($23.95/bottle). Chanteloup is a medium-bodied, French-oaked white. Over the past decade I've gravitated from light whites to heavy reds, and nowadays I rarely choose to pick up a bottle of white from any vineyard. However, I was very pleased with this Chardonnay/Viognier blend.

Apparently we aren't the only ones who liked what we tasted. Our host (Brannon Boegner, the vineyard manager whose father established the winery in 1999) announced that their wine club now has over 500 members. Members can sign up for quarterly wine deliveries, free tastings and discounts. Wolf Mountain now ships to GA, FL, NC, CO and CA.

As a foodie, it shouldn't be news to you that Dahlonega, located approximately an hour and 15 minutes north of Atlanta, boasts about a dozen up-and-coming wineries. The soil in the area was proclaimed by the an expert to be nearly identical in composition to the soil in Tuscany, the Italian wine mecca. If you haven't made it to a (relatively) local tasting yet, make sure you contact the vineyard in question, as they often fill up fast. During the spring and especially the fall, the drive is scenic and the mountain air is smog-free. Worried about driving home after the tasting? You can stay in one of the nearby charming lodges. Why not make Wolf Mountain Vineyards your first stop on your Georgia eco-tourism route?

Wolf Mountains wines range from $16 to about $80.

Verdict: Impressive. A credit to the state of Georgia.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foodie Event: Anthony Bourdain


Anthony Bourdain spoke at the Cobb Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. The Southern Foodie wouldn't have missed it for the world. I spent two happy hours watching him pace slowly back and forth across the stage, sipping a bottle of beer and spinning tales of foodie heaven and hell.

Bourdain is well known for poking fun at celebrity chefs, especially those featured on The Food Network, and he began the show with a hilarious Sandra Lee story. Bourdain's acerbic comments and quick wit are his trademarks, and the audience ate it up.

Next he launched into an enjoyable diatribe about what's wrong with food television today, followed by a hilarious explanation of some of his many pet peeves. He eviscerated the Olive Garden chain. He (jokingly) claimed that watching Adam Richman on TV incites middle eastern goat herders to join Al Qaeda. He suggests telling your small child that Ronald McDonald has cooties.

Finally he gave the audience about 20 minutes worth of travel advice, garnered from recent years starring in the Travel Channel's hit show, No Reservations. First off, Bourdain encouraged us to be appreciative of any and every opportunity to travel (example: correct sushi eating etiquette). As Americans, we are greatly fortunate to be able to whip out our passport and know that our government will likely get us out of any scary situation we might get ourselves into. He also commands travelers to be respectful of other cultures, observing their customs and avoiding offense. This may sound pathetically obvious to some of you, but anyone who has travelled abroad has witnessed tourists getting an attitude about the simplest of misunderstandings.

However, Bourdain spent the most time urging travellers to be adventurous, especially when trying new and authentic foods. His only exception is Russia, where he says all bets are off, saying the last time he visited he was forced to admit that any 99 year-old Russian grandmother could drink him under the table. This is coming from a man who was drinking more than 30 shots of vodka every day of the trip.

Bourdain is unapologetically opinionated, and is rarely modest. He recently gave up his long-time heavy smoking habit and is loudly bitter about it. During the Q&A session, he was asked by an audience member why he portrayed a certain low-class area of a South American country. He answer is that he may revisit the region for a future episode of No Reservations and highlight a "better" part of the city, but it's his show, and he'll go where and do what he wants on it, period. This brought wild cheers from most of the audience (including me), but one can't help but see that Bourdain isn't seeking our approval. Another audience member asked about his bottle of beer, which turned out to be Sweetwater 420. Following the vociferous applause from the audience he sneeringly said "it's so easy to pander to the locals." And indeed it is, as it's easy for Bourdain to impress anyone who paid a minimum of $40 for a ticket to hear him talk about whatever he wanted for 2 hours. Some of us have been eagerly reading his books and watching No Reservations for years, and couldn't wait for Saturday's live show. He captivated us from the moment he set foot on stage.

Verdict: A highly entertaining show from a world-class food personality/chef. Worth every penny.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kuroshio Sushi Bar



840 Ernest Barrett Pkwy., Ste. 500, Kennesaw, GA www.kuroshioshushi.com

Loathe to return to our regular lives following our return from our honeymoon, Kyle and I had a nice lunch at this sushi restaurant in Kennesaw last Sunday.

The menu for this restaurant is quite long and varied. There are a few temaki rolls (conical shaped hand rolls), traditional maki and , yakatori sticks and tempura, dollar maki and dollar nigiri, a bevy of sashimi platters, as well as non-sushi dishes like teryaki, spicy lemongrass meats, grilled seafood and noodle soups. If you like Japanese food at all, you can find something you'll want to eat here.

If you're into specialty rolls, you'll love this place. The menu features two whole pages of special rolls crammed with every sort of fish and topping imaginable. Most of the rolls have "cute" little names, some of which are locally inspired, like the KSU Owl Roll (lots of crunchy items in this).

I think I may have mentioned in a previous post that I'm primarily a sushi traditionalist, ordering maki about 90% of the time. I don't like hard things like asparagus or "fillers" like cream cheese in my sushi. I think that most sauces mask the flavor of the fish instead of enhancing it. I also think rolls with "cute" names are an unnecessary gimmick, most often employed when the house knows their fish is of inferior quality and wants to distract the naive' American customer. However, I was in a particularly good mood and feeling open-minded on Sunday, so I ordered a special roll. Must have been the post-honeymoon bliss.

I chose the Hip Hop Roll ($12). This is comprised of yellowtail and scallions, topped with super white w/avocado and spicy tuna sauce. While I still believe that plain old maki or nigiri are tops, this was pretty good for a flashy, incongruously named roll. The yellowtail was of good quality, and the sauce wasn't half bad, I just think there was too much of it.

Kyle ordered the Sassy Nana Roll ($11), which is salmon, asparagus and cream cheese topped with bluefin tuna and super white fish, coated with sweet spicy sauce. It was a minor miracle that Kyle even ordered this roll, as he typically turns his nose up at any seafood that isn't canned tuna. You have to take this into consideration when I say that he liked the roll, but didn't love it. I had one piece and pushed it aside, but you also have to consider my early paragraph about hating at least half of everything about this roll.

We also shared a plate of beef fried rice ($9). It may sound a little expensive, but we received a very large portion, enough for a lunch for me later in the week. Kuroshio's fried rice includes chopped zucchini along with the usual vegetables like green onion. An interesting and pleasant addition. This dish keeps well when refrigerated.

Verdict: There is such a good variety of sushi, etc. here that I would definitely recommend Kuroshio to anyone. I think the fish was good for the price, and the service was excellent. I'd definitely be willing to return.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bistro Niko




3344 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA www.buckheadrestaurants.com

I can't help but think that this place was opened by the ridiculously successful Buckhead Life Group to compete with Le Pied de Cochon, located right across the street at the Intercontinental Hotel. It's similarly decorated, with a small but lovely patio that sits just above busy Peachtree Road.

Kyle and I ate here the morning after our wonderful wedding, Sunday, October 24th. I've passed the restaurant umpteen times and couldn't wait to have a leisurely brunch on the patio.

And that we did. Kyle ordered the Chantilly Belgian Waffle with maple syrup and fresh heavy cream. ($13. I noticed that this has changed on the web menu to brioche French toast with caramelized bananas and candied pecans, which sounds excellent as well). 4 triangular slices of perfectly browned, crisp waffle lay on the plate, alongside 3 small bowls containing butter, thick whipped cream and rich syrup. It was pure joy.

I ordered a fantastic puff pastry with scrambled eggs, freshly steamed asparagus and sauteed cremini mushrooms. What a fantastic, savory meal! It was luscious, scrumptious, the eggs fluffy and buttery, the mushrooms flavorful and plump, the pastry light and beautiful. It was accompanied by a fresh arugula salad with just the right amount of homemade vinagrette. It was perfect . . . and it's also no longer on the menu. This is a tragedy. I thought about this dish several times when I was on my honeymoon and am very disappointed I won't be able to enjoy it again here.

So, the food was great. But the service was another story entirely. It was terrible. Yes, terrible. Our waitress was both slow and inattentive. There was a 10 minute stretch when we couldn't spot her at any table, much less ours. Patrons at other tables craned their necks searching for her, and when she reappeared she seemed blissfully ignorant of her neglect. As soon as she brought me my coffee (which she didn't do until she brought my entree), I asked her for cream and sugar, and none appeared until my coffee was completely cold. It also took a long time for us to get our check. It's nice to have a leisurely brunch on Sunday, but I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to make it home.

I have no idea how to rate this place, such was the vast difference between the quality of the food and the quality of the service. I think I'd be more inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt if they wouldn't have removed the exact two items we ordered and enjoyed. Maybe I'll try it again one day, but it won't be the first on my list.

Verdict: Excellent brunch, awful service.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Miller Union




999 Brady Ave., Atlanta, GA www.millerunion.com

Hello, followers! Just a quick note to say that I'm sorry for the delay in posting. However, I have a good excuse - I was on my honeymoon! Now I am back in town and ready to eat.

I actually ate dinner at this restaurant almost a month ago, before I got married and skipped the country. Consequently I'm afraid the memory of the details of the meal have dimmed a bit. This will be a shorter review than usual.

My sister and I started our meal with the creamy grits fritters, at a very reasonable price of $5. Very good. My favorite thing about this dish is how crispy the outside was fried in comparison to how soft the inside was. This is literally grits with a hard shell. A lovely contrast.

My sister ordered the quail ($22) for an entree. This is currently listed on the website as sauteed with wild mushrooms, arugula and cornbread dressing. A month ago it came with celery and farro. Something you should know right off the bat about Miller Union is that the menu changes regularly, according to what ingredients the chef can get locally, fresh, and many times organically. Don't look at the menu online and get stuck on any particular item, or you'll likely be disappointed when you get to the restaurant.

Which would be unfortunate, because the menu always contains great options.

My sister enjoyed the quail, except with quail you have to keep in mind that half of the bird's weight consists of bones. You'll have to pick your way through to get to the meat, which is fine, if you like dark meat chicken. The farro was tasty and the celery was tender-crisp.

I liked my entree better, a fantastic flounder fillet with a super fresh mixed local beans mix, a little corn, and fresh micro peppercress (yes, peppercress is correct. I had to ask the waiter about this and he gave me the lowdown - $26). The lovely chicken broth base was very savory and a total delight. The flounder was tender and sublime. I would happily order this again any time.

We had the warm plum crisp with custard sauce for dessert ($7). Yum! Subtle and darkly satisfying, although I think tacking on an additional $3 or a scoop of ice cream was a cheap shot.

I was also happy to see a local cabernet on the list, from Dahlonega's Frog Town vineyard (440). A very nice wine. I wish more of Atlanta's restaurants would take advantage of Dahlonega's increasingly good offerings.

Not that I should be surprised. Miller Union with Chef Steven Satterfield (former sous chef at one of my annual favorites, previously reviewed Watershed in Decatur) has been recently touted in Bon Appetit as a top ten new restaurant in the U.S. and also voted best new restaurant in Atlanta magazine. I pretty much knew going in that I was going to be happy with my meal here, and Miller Union didn't disappoint me. I can't say I experience the wow factor of Restaurant Eugene or Woodfire Grill, but I think that the food here lives up to the talk.

Verdict: Hot on the tail of local foodie favorites like Restaurant Eugene, Steven Satterfield has made Miller Union a success.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Eclipse di Luna



4505 Ashford-Dunwoody Rd., Atlanta, GA www.eclipsediluna.com

First off, I love tapas. I love the whole experience of ordering lots of small dishes to share with a fun group of friends, "fun" meaning people who are open to branching out and trying unfamiliar flavor combination. I've been to several tapas restaurants in the metro Atlanta area over the past decade, but Eclipse di Luna remains my favorite.

Why? For one thing, they have a long and varied menu. On one side of the page you'll find meat and seafood selections, and the reverse is vegetarian items. My problem at Eclipse isn't finding things I like, it's trying to decide how many dishes I can eat without exploding.

This isn't necessarily a problem at a lot of tapas places, either because the offerings are boring (calamari, bruschetta, and more calamari and bruschetta) or because each item is priced at about half the cost of a traditional entree, but in only 1/4th of the portion. The result of eating tapas shouldn't be that you spent twice as much (or more) on your dinner than you would normally, and it also shouldn't be that you leave the table broke but hungry.

You won't have either issue at Eclipse di Luna. The portion size is predictable (usually enough for about 3-4 people to have a few bites each) and the prices are fair, ranging from about $3.50 to $6.50).

You're probably reading this saying, "Alright, already! Tell me about the food!" OK, I've dined at Eclipse di Luna approximately 10 times, so I can't go into detail about each and every item, but here are some highlights.

The ceviche sangrita ($4.95) is one of my favorites. I love ceviche, not just because the citrus flavor pops, but because it's simple and super healthy. Eclipse does a good job with it, and gives you a decent sized bowl of shrimp, scallops and grouper for the price.

Another favorite is the Acun Crudo, Eclipse's version of tuna tartare. I'm pretty picky about tuna tartare, having first been exposed to it at the former legendary Soto sushi restaurant. Eclipse's tuna tartare isn't that good, although it's still a winner and costs about half as much ($5.25) as it used to at Soto's. The avocado gives it a creamy element, the sesame seeds give it depth, and the grape tomatoes keep it fresh and acidic. I could eat several servings of this dish and be perfectly happy.

The queso frito con meil ($4.75), fried goat cheese with caremelized onions and honey, is a good but a little overly sweet for my taste. About 1/2 teaspoon less honey ought to fix this problem.

Love the Aceitunas y Almendras ($3.95), a great assortment of both black and green Spanish olives in a tasty marinade. Often this is served with shiny, slightly oiled marcona almonds, a lovely treat.

In the past I've loved the very crispy fried green beans, but when I ate there most recently (last Saturday - an excellent choice for my bachelorette party) I found the beans to be limp and somewhat unappealing. I hope this was an isolated incident. The carne asada ($5.25) always has a good sauce, but it's also always tough. The hummus is average.

The service, if not especially warm, is very fast, even when the restaurant is packed.

Every time I've eaten here, the restaurant has been loud, sometimes so loud that I've had to shout at my companion throughout the meal. However, I've never yet eaten at a "quiet" tapas restaurant, especially during peak dinner hours, so this wasn't a surprise. The mere idea of tapas encourages lively interaction. Just don't look to Eclipse for a romantic dinner.

Verdict: A consistently good restaurant.
Eclipse di Luna also has a location (the original) on Miami Circle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Livingston



659 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta www.livingstonatlanta.com

OK, so I had an experience at this restaurant on Saturday that I don't think is going to give my readers the best idea of what they should expect at Livingston. However, I've never claimed to possess the funds or time of a professional food critic - restaurants normally get one shot with me before I review - so you'll have to read on and draw your own conclusions.

My friend Danielle and I had lunch at Livingston on Saturday. Well, we attempted to have lunch. When we got to there our would-be server informed us that Livingston is offering a brunch buffet ONLY on Saturdays until 3. "Didn't someone tell you?" Well, no. I made our reservation on opentable.com after viewing the lunch menu, which looked very good, and didn't receive any kind of notice that I wouldn't be able to order from it. This includes when the hostess called me that day to confirm my reservation.

The brunch buffet might be great, but it was $20/person and Danielle and I weren't prepared for that expense. I declined on principle - I won't be forced into paying more than I intended. Just when I thought we were going to have to leave, the server told us that they also have a bar menu, which was small but good. We were hungry, so we stayed. The fact that we had already valet parked the car (complementary, but a bit of a nuisance) had something to do with this.

Turns out that the bar menu is very, very small. Meaning you've got about 6 options if you want to eat, and they are all appetizers. Danielle ordered the popcorn shrimp with a mustard/peanut/ginger/cilantro dipping sauce ($9), which is placed on the side. I have to admit it was great. The shrimp wasn't greasy and the sauce was creamy and great, with a little kick. I ordered the Kobe beef sliders with a vidalia onion marmalade ($12). Some restaurants claim the beef is Kobe and I just don't believe them. Not the case here. The beef was very good, cooked just right, and highlighted (but not overwhelmed) by the marmalade. Danielle and I also shared a cheese board ($10). This was fine, not great. The cheddar was boring. The blue cheese was good and almost tangy. It came with peppered crackers (very peppery) and some plain toasted bread. The menu said it also came with rosemary almonds, but we didn't receive any of those. Too bad.

Maybe the best things Livingston has going for it are its ambiance and its location. It's right across the street from the Fox Theatre, in the historic Georgian Terrace Hotel. I love this hotel. The original Gone With the Wind cast party was held here, and if I had an unlimited budget, it would be the site of my upcoming wedding reception. The restaurant itself is gorgeous. High ceilings, two levels, great view of Peachtree and the Fox - everything including the champagne colored brocade wallpaper in the bathroom is beautiful.

Despite this, and my approbation of the few menu items we ordered, Livingston pissed me off at the end. They "cancelled" the reservation we made on opentable, which means I won't get my precious points. I assume this is because we didn't opt for the buffet in the main dining room, but I think that's pretty petty, since we weren't informed in advance that this is all they'd be serving. We still had food and drinks in the bar, so Livingston got our business anywhere, just in the adjoining room.

Verdict: Mixed feelings.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Food for Thought: Fun Food Fiction


Note to readers: Sorry for the long delay in posting. Due to both budget and diet concerns, I have been in a cooking phase and haven't eaten out in nearly 2 weeks. I promise that I will have at least 2 restaurant reviews next week.

Foodies love to not only cook, smell, touch and taste food, but true foodies love to read about it. Everyone is familiar with the icons of nonfiction food literature: Mimi Sheraton, Jeffrey Steingarten, Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain. But fiction authors haven't missed the culinary boat either. Here is some of my favorite fictional foodie reading.

I have read Gone With the Wind five times – more than any other book I’ve finished in my life – and my favorite part is just before the start of the Civil War, when the Wilkes throw a barbeque at Twelve Oaks. The descriptions of the meat turning on spits will drive any barbecue lover crazy. Another scene detailing the huge daily breakfasts is great too. Scarlett is one of my most beloved heroines of all time for many reasons, one of which is that she doesn’t adhere to the standards of her day which command ladies to “eat like birds,” especially in front of company. Mammy claims that Scarlett gobbles like a pig, which increases her worth in my eyes.

Another one of my top five favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo, describes several lavish, bountiful feasts within its lengthy but extremely worthy text. The French are not only masters of cuisine, they are also masters at describing it. Page after page of over the top meals awaits you.

Emile Zola’s Nana provides her party guests with a meal of endlessly varied dishes and unbelievable proportions. Nana spares no expense in pleasing the palates of her many guests, creating smorgasbords that require multiple hours to consume.

Accounts of the days leading up to the sinking of the Titanic (either true stories from survivors or fictionalized) always include awed descriptions of the meals served in the dining rooms, including the first class menu which amazed the diners because it included fresh strawberries. Strawberries were out of season at the time. If this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, please be aware that this was long before the days when food was raised in one country and transported thousands of miles to another year-round.

P.S. My favorite children’s book involving food is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. It’s set in the imaginary town of Chewandswallow, where meals rain down from the sky three times each day. It’s a delight for readers of all ages.

P.P.S. Warning – reading any of the above books may cause ravenous hunger on the part of the reader. Place a padlock on your refrigerator door and hide the key before reading. For good measure, throw your credit cards in the freezer beforehand.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oriental Pearl




5399 New Peachtree Rd., Chamblee, GA 770/986-9866

Last night Kyle, John, Amr and our new friend Kelly had dinner at Oriental Pearl. John is a huge foodie who will eat just about anything, and he has raved about this place for months. I have been to this restaurant twice in the past, but the last time I was there was at least 4 years ago, so I agreed to start afresh.

Let's start with what I really loved: The grouper. This restaurant knows how to cook grouper, in more ways than one. First there's the excellent grouper with black bean sauce. Tender fish, good vegetables, fantastic black bean sauce. Then there's the grouper soup with 1000 year foo. 1000 years? Surely that's an exaggeration . . . sounds like something Andrew Zimmern would tackle. Anyway, the grouper is in the soup is great, the broth is fragrant and the "foo" (I think this is an egg of some sort) was interesting, in a good way.

Another big hit was the baby bok choy with garlic sauce. Kyle and I prepare a similar recipe at home with Vietnamese stir-fry sauce, and this was almost as good. Almost.

What I wasn't crazy about: the conch with XO sauce. The sauce was very good, but the conch was tough. The spinach with garlic sauce was overly wilted. The pork spare ribs in black bean sauce were chewy, and full of fat. I tasted it and immediately discarded it.

The filet mignon with black pepper sauce could not have possibly been filet mignon, but it was still pretty good. I think renaming it to simply "steak with black pepper sauce" would give customers the right expectations and consequently leave a better impression. John also highly recommends the snow pea leaves, but I can't vouch for this as the restaurant was out of the dish last night.

Unlike John, I don't think that Oriental Pearl is better than Tasty China in Marietta (previously reviewed on 12/29/09). I think the flavors are more intense at Tasty China, and that Tasty has more mouthwatering, memorable items than Oriental Pearl. Don't get me wrong - I liked it, and I liked it better than I remembered from dining there years ago. It's moderately priced, (dishes range from about $10 to $23) and the service is good. And they serve really great, super fragrant jasmine tea. It's just not my favorite.

Verdict: Good Chinese food in Chamblee. Love the grouper.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kirkwood Public House




1963 Hosea Williams Dr., Atlanta, GA www.kirkwoodpublichouse.com

Heidi and I had dinner at Kirkwood Public House on Friday night. It's in the same spot on Hosea Williams that Vinocity used to occupy. Parking is a little complicated. You may want to valet to avoid getting towed.

The beer selection was well above average. Kirkwood PH doesn't offer a ton of beers like Summits Wayside Tavern, but the several dozen available are good ones. Left Hand milk stout and Southhampton double white ale are some examples.

The Kirkwood Public House seems to have something special going on every night - Jazz Mondays, Texas Hold 'Em Tuesdays . . . on Friday night there was a sort of bluegrass band. Consequently it was very loud and we chose to sit outside, on the small but adequate patio.

Service was good throughout. Maybe a little slow towards the end of the evening.

Good luck trying to view the menu on the website. It's shown in dark red on a dark red/white background. Look closely and highlight the entire area. It's there. A few noteworthy items are the varied selection of sliders - you can choose lamb, turkey, pulled pork, veggie - you name it. 3 sliders for $9 and so on. Most of the other options are predictable, however. Buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and grits, vegetarian penne pasta with an option to add meat. Ho hum. But I'm more forgiving of a boring menu if the restaurant has interesting beer, as this one does.

I ordered one of the daily specials, a flatbread with caremelized onions, portobello mushrooms and Parmesan topped with a little pile of arugula. This was OK, not super. The flatbread needed salt, some basil, diced tomato . . . something to give it more flavor. It was too bland, and a healthy dose of salt didn't help. The predominant flavor was garlic, and of that there was too much. The arugula helped, because it was dressed in a balsalmic vinaigrette. Still, I wouldn't order it again.

Heidi fared much better with her order, which was the chicken salad sandwich. The salad contained green olives, toasted almonds, lemon pepper mayo - what a great combination! Kudos to the chef on that one.

Verdict - Getting there with the food. Already a winner with the beer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Candi's for Breakfast



660 Irwin St., Atlanta, GA www.candisforbreakfast.com

This morning I went to Candi's for Breakfast. This restaurant is located on Irwin St. near the intersection with Krog. It shares a building with Jake's ice cream and a bakery, along with a couple of other small businesses. Inside you'll find some well worn rugs, mismatched tables/chairs and a small but quaint sitting area in front of a large window.

I ordered the Sop Em' Up Biscuits with sausage gravy ($5). The biscuits were fine, a little above average in terms of good flavor and consistency, and the sausage gravy was moderately spicy.

The al la carte item of 2 eggs any style ($1.95), however, was pretty disappointing. I ordered them scrambled, and am sorry to say they were undercooked, almost runny. I would have much preferred to wait an extra minute or two for my meal than to receive these nearly inedible eggs.

As you can see from the pic, these items were just put on the plate without much regard for presentation. Yes, of course I think that the quality of the food is far more important than the appearance. Presentation shouldn't be totally disregarded though. A few slices of fresh fruit or a even a simple sprig of parsley would have livened up the otherwise unattractive/boring look. The eggs and biscuits were like two half-liquid blobs on the poor plate.

Having only eaten one meal at Candi's, I can't say for sure whether it's good overall or not. There are some interesting items on the menu, such as homemade beignets, stuffed biscuits, and The Big Easy, a breakfast platter of sauteed potatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, ham and sausage topped with 2 eggs any style (steer clear of the scrambled!) with optional sour cream and hot sauce ($8). Maybe one of these selections would have been more impressive than what I ordered today.

Could it be that Candi and her staff are great cooks, they just haven't hit their stride yet or were having an "off" day? Or was this the best they have to offer?

Verdict: Not a great first experience, but I'd be willing to give Candi's another shot. Good service.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Douceur de France




367 Glover St., Marietta, GA www.douceurdefrance.com

On Saturday afternoon my dad, Vicki, Kyle and I had brunch at Douceur de France. I have eaten at this restaurant at least half a dozen times, but my experiences have been spread out between the past five years. The owners have a second location in Roswell. If you’ve never been there, be aware that the Marietta restaurant is located in an industrial area very close to a train track. When you’re driving there you’ll think you’re in the wrong place, then you’ll see it. Once you’re seated you’ll be treated to the frequent loud noise of a passing train. So loud that you won’t even try to continue your conversation with your dining partner.

Sounds atrocious, right? You’ll likely forget all about that once you start eating Douceur de France’s great food, or maybe even prior to that, when you go inside and view their pastry counter and revolving display holding at least 2 dozen types of tarts, pastries, éclairs and cakes. You’ll be hard pressed to select only one.

Normally I’d be in favor of cake before breakfast (yes, you read that correctly), but I averted my eyes from the sweets counter and headed outdoors to sit on the patio, where the goodies were out of sight. Still on the diet, or at least making an attempt, if you haven’t already guessed.

I ordered the Panini salmon ($7.85). Delicious crisply grilled baguette with two perfectly poached eggs, a fair portion of fresh smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce. The side dish of hash browns was dynamite and required no seasoning. The portion was good without being too much. My dad ordered the tourte a poulet (chicken pot pie), which had a wonderful, buttery crust and thick brown mushroom sauce, and was a steal at $7.95.

Besides the Croque Madame, which I remember had great deal of melted cheddar along with a healthy portion of turkey ($5.90), I can’t recall everything I’ve eaten at Douceur de France over the years. I do, however, know that I liked everything.

Frankly I was worried about taking my family to this restaurant, because in the past I have had painfully slow, apathetic service. My friend Kelly and I have had at least two lunches here that took nearly two hours on weekdays when we clearly needed to get back to work. The waitstaff is primarily young, female and flippant (or scattered, at best). Even getting a menu has been a chore in the past.

However, I was relieved that the service on Saturday was much improved. Our waitress, though young and female, took our orders about 10 minutes after we were seated (trust me, much better than usual), and delivered our entrees correctly and completely about 15 minutes later. Pretty good considering the restaurant was nearly full. The young woman was polite and actually smiled at us once. I hope this wasn’t a fluke. The reason I haven’t been back to this restaurant in the past year is because the service was so unbelievably bad the last time I ate there. I’d love to think it has turned around.

So for the price of breakfast at IHOP, you can get a lovely French-inspired meal at a cute restaurant. (IHOP is always my standard for comparison when I review brunch, because the food there is consistently average or a little better, and everyone is familiar with the menu and cost of dining there.)

Verdict: Very good French breakfast and lunch. The jury is still out on the service.

Friday, September 10, 2010

London Bistro & Ultra Lounge




1950 Howell Mill Rd., Atlanta, GA www.londonbistrolounge.com

Last Saturday night Heidi and I had dinner at London Bistro & Ultra Lounge. The name of this place is indicative of the dichotomy the owners are apparently trying to achieve here - in the early hours of the evening you can have a nice, probably quiet dinner, while later the place becomes more club-like as a DJ arrives and a disco balls spins. I feel that my "club days" are likely behind me at this point, so Heidi and I showed up early.

As was the case with previously reviewed P'Cheen, London Bistro was basically empty when we arrived. As was also the case with P'Cheen, the food and service were surprisingly good.

We began with The Castles ($6.95) - Fried green tomatoes with grilled shrimp and remoulade sauce. You get 3 slices of tomatoes, fried but not greasy, with a decent sized shrimp on each and slightly spicy sauce. Liked it.

For her entree, Heidi ordered the chicken tikka masala ($9.95), commonly known as Londoners' favorite dish. She commented that it was mild but tasty, right on target.

I ordered the Oxford Beef, which is oxtails in a red wine sauce with vegetables and coconut jasmine rice ($12.95). I've never had oxtail, so I was taking a chance here (as foodies should). It was great - super tender with a strong beefy flavor. Lots of fat, and good bite-sized vegetables like potatoes and carrots. The small mound of coconut jasmine rice is perfect, with a distinctly coconut flavor that is both delicious and fragrant. It's a nice complement to the beef.

If I have a problem with London Bistro it's that the portions are on the small side. Maybe an extra side dish or appetizer for your party would do the trick.

A word of caution here: The drinks are quite strong. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you should be aware. One cocktail equaled tipsy for us, two equaled borderline drunk.

For my fellow frugal diners out there, look on the website under the "goodies" tab for a 20% off dinner coupon. Must have a party of 2 or more.

Verdict: Better than expected. I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

P'Cheen


701-5 Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.pcheen.com

Sorry about the lack of pics of the food - the restaurant was dark, and my camera was uncooperative.

On Friday night I had dinner at P’Cheen with Kyle, Sabrina and Ryan. I’ve had a GroupOn for this place for several months now and just hadn’t gotten around to using it, so I called that morning and left a message requesting a reservation (per the instructions on the restaurant’s recording). At 5pm I noticed that no one had returned my call, so I called again. The person who answered the phone seemed unconcerned that I had left a message earlier and been ignored, and took my reservation.

When we got to the restaurant at 7:30, I saw why he wasn’t too worried. The restaurant was virtually empty. Ours was one of only 2 occupied tables.

Usually the lack of patrons on a Friday night is a sign that a restaurant’s food is going to be bad, but not so in this case. 3 out of 4 of us enjoyed our food.

Ryan ordered the risotto du jour ($1), which was heavenly.

I ordered 4 selections ($10) from the artisan cheeses and house-cured meats: the 90-day prosciutto, duck’s breast (tasted exactly like Virginia smoked ham), a blue cheese and goat cheese. This came with several fingers of crusty bread. While I can honestly say that I enjoyed what I ordered, I must also say that the portion size was tiny. There is no way this should be ordered as an entrée – instead get it as an appetizer. I recently had dinner at The Grape in Vinings, and ordered an extremely similar plate, and received literally twice this much food.

The only person who wasn’t very pleased was Kyle, who ordered the Bistro Steak a la Planca con Chimicurri ($15). He thought the grilled angus steak was tough, but he liked the sauce. Sabrina also ordered this and thought it was fine, but she didn’t rave about it.

We all shared a side of spaetzle ($5), which was lovely, warm and crisp. It would have been perfect if the chef would have taken it a little easier with the garlic. Wish spaetzle was on more Atlanta menus.

The beer selection is good, but not great. There are a few interesting choices, but not a broad spectrum. Ryan and I both really liked the McSorley's Irish black lager, at a completely fair price of $5/draft.

The service was great. Our waitress was bright and cheerful, and took good care of us throughout. The manager came by our table towards the end of the meal and checked on us, and was visibly involved in the preparation and service throughout. The atmosphere is part old bar (worn seats and scuffed flooring), part lounge (mood music and lighting).

All in all, it was a good experience. The price was consistent with most of the other restaurants in Virginia-Highlands, and there is also a nice outdoor dining area on the sidewalk. When we left the restaurant there were several more tables of diners, but not enough to make a big difference. I’m unsure of the reason for this – maybe it’s because P’Cheen isn’t the new, trendy place to go anymore? If so, that’s too bad. I think P’Cheen deserves better.

Verdict: A B+.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Food for Thought: How to Ruin a Nice Meal - Cell Phones


There is almost nothing that can spoil a great dining experience so completely for me as diners’ abuse of their cell phones.

When Kyle and I patronized our beloved Fogo de Chao Brazilian restaurant on Valentine’s Day two years ago, we were confronted with a superfluity of diners yacking away on their cells. As I’ve said, we adore Fogo de Chao and it would probably require several screaming babies and a tornado passing through the dining room to ruin the experience for us, but I was simply appalled to witness so many couples talking on their cell phones during dinner.

This rude behavior also extends to text messaging. The first time that Kyle and I were enjoying an expensive, romantic dinner and he picked up his cell phone to call anyone (and it wasn’t an emergency) he’d find himself eating alone, and I’d expect the same reaction from him if the case were reversed.

Did my fellow diners really endure the traffic jams and the long wait in the lobby that is inseparable from Valentine’s Day just so they could text all of their friends at the dinner table? They were paying almost $50 per person to enjoy some of the best meat that will ever pass their lips on what is supposed to be the most romantic night of the year, and they’re on the cell phone during dinner. If this is you, who in God’s name are you talking to? How important can the conversation be that it can’t be put off for a few hours, at least until the ride home? Unless your occupation is that of a surgeon or secret service agent I just can’t imagine that your job requires you to converse with co-workers during your dinner date.

Having a nice dinner in a restaurant should be a time to put aside all of these unnecessary distractions, breathe a sigh of relief, and enjoy your meal. If you feel compelled to send a text message after every bite of food you can’t possibly be concentrating on what you’re eating. Will you even remember the succulent flavor of that filet mignon you’ve been anticipating all week if you spend your meal arguing with a family member on your cell phone? In the case of our Valentine’s Day cell phone free-for-all at Fogo de Chao, I swear to God that we observed one couple sitting a few tables away from us who were actually texting each other rather than speaking. Is that what dining out, and for that matter, what relationships have come to?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Food for Thought: Lure of the Cafeteria


Last night my friends Megan, Brian and I met for dinner at the Piccadilly on Cobb Pkwy in Marietta. On the drive there after work I found myself getting anxious, even excited about eating at Piccadilly, an old, predictable chain, something I would normally only begrudgingly patronize. I wondered to myself, what exactly about Piccadilly inspires my heart to skip happily?

It’s that Piccadilly is a cafeteria. That’s right, one of those things that you dreaded when you were in school, complete with a line of diners, plastic trays and workers in aprons and hairnets. What makes little children, the elderly and me want to go there?

For starters, it’s the multitude of choices. Cafeterias offer fish, red meat and chicken, lots of veggies, salads ranging from fruit cocktail to Caesar. Last night at Piccadilly I saw thick slices of apple and cherry pies, red velvet cake and small pots of vanilla custard. Lots of choices are comfort foods, like carrot soufflé (which is sweet and luscious at Piccadilly), fried chicken, or chopped (Salisbury) steak, which I’ve adored since childhood but rarely encounter outside a cafeteria.

Yes, menus at regular sit-down restaurants across the nation have lengthy and varied menus. Some of them even have pictures of the items listed. Still, it’s not the same. At a cafeteria you’re within a foot of each item in your future meal, nothing between you and your intended than the clear Plexiglas barrier. You can smell the garlic bread, see the Jello jiggle. You can easily determine if the steak is well done or rare, or if the biscuits have been burned.

Another great thing about cafeterias is that they are usually a bargain. You can get a complete meal of meat, 2 vegetables and a dessert for under $8 in most cases. The portions aren’t too large or too small, and you’ll get your food immediately. No waiting hungrily for your waiter to bring you your meal, but you’ll still have someone (who should be tipped a couple of bucks) clean up your mess after you’re finished. It’s a great setup, and super kid-friendly. While children often hate their school cafeterias, they love the commercial versions. There’s something for even the pickiest kid, and there’s always multi-colored Jello cut up into perfect cubes, the way most moms never have time to arrange it.

It also helps that the Piccadilly workers are a little more upbeat than most of the poor cafeteria ladies I encountered in public schools, probably because since you are choosing to eat there you, the customer, are happier about being there.

No, it’s not the best food in the world. I’ll readily admit the quality of any dish is rarely above average. However, a dining experience is exactly that – an experience. It’s not comprised simply of great food, and discerning diners aren’t impressed with just an awesome meal without some extras like good service and ambiance. If we were, we’d all flock to France or NYC and eat nothing but classic French cooking without a care in the world when their waiters sneered at us or stuck us in a dark corner without a full set of silverware. At least at a cafeteria you know what you’re getting yourself into.

And maybe the cafeteria experience reminds the adults who dine there of something intrinsically simple and good in their childhoods. Jello will do that to you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Persepolis



6435 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, GA www.persepoliscuisine.com

On Monday night Kyle, our friend Amr and I had dinner at Persepolis, a Persian restaurant in Roswell Rd.

As soon as we sat down the staff brought us a huge flat bread along with a bowl of some absolutely delicious feta cheese, fresh mint and basil, chunks of radishes and onion.

We started our meal with the Persian Pickles, which are normally $3.99, but the restaurant was offering a buy-two-entrees-get-one-appetizer/dessert-free deal. The pickles were about the width and length of a man's finger, and were vinegary and delicious.

Kyle ordered the Joojeh Kabob ($13.99). This is skewers of cornish hen in saffron rice with rice (everything comes with basmati rice). He liked it, but I tasted it and thought and it was too gamey.

Amr ordered the Barreh (lamb) kabob ($15.99), which he thoroughly enjoyed.

I ordered the koresht fesenjan, which is steamed chicken in a sauce made of ground walnut and pomegranate sauce ($10.99). The sauce was thick and dark maroon in color, with a pleasant sweet/sour flavor. The only thing that disappointed me about this dish was the small portion of chicken - maybe four pieces about half the size of a chicken tender.

Service was attentive throughout. A team of servers kept our drinks filled and got our entrees on the table quickly.

The menu boasts some interesting dishes that I haven't encountered in some other Persian restaurant in Atlanta. For example, there are several dishes with sour pitted cherries, and fish kabobs. The daily specials all appear promising. When I return I plan to try the koresht gheimeh, cubed beef with Persian splitpeas, sun-dried lime simmered in Persian tomato sauce with spices ($10.99). Doesn't that sound warm and mouth-watering to you?

Persepolis offers a Royal Persian buffet lunch from noon to 3pm on weekdays, as well as brunch on the weekend.

Verdict: It doesn't have the ambiance of Darvish in Alpharetta, but Persepolis serves up equally great Persian cuisine.