Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Little 5 Corner Tavern



1174 Moreland Ave., Atlanta, GA http://www.thecornertavern.com/little5points/

On Friday night Heidi and I had dinner at the Little 5 Corner Tavern in the heart of Little 5 Points. If you're wondering how to locate it in this neighborhood of crazy facades and loads of loiters, look for the one that looks like a garage that's been tastefully spray-painted. Inside there are really cool booths rimmed with high back seats or exposed brick walls, and the place has ample space for diners without being crowded. It encourages you to relax and throw back a pint or two. This is a moderately priced restaurant. It's not cheap, but it's not expensive either. More on this subject later.

If you like good old fashioned fried food, you've found your personal heaven in the Tavern. There are fried artichoke hearts, fried buffalo-style shrimp, onion rings and shrimp and corn fritters on the appetizer portion of the menu. Heidi and I greatly enjoyed the fritters, which are fried with peppers and onions and served with a homemade mango dipping sauce. Or at least that's what the menu said - I couldn't detect even the faintest hint of mango, but I liked the creamy white sauce nonetheless. We were served at least 8 fritters, which put them at about $1 each ($8). I think this was a reasonable price.

For our entrees, Heidi had the Asian tuna burger ($8.75), which is a tuna patty with ginger-mustard glaze and Asian slaw. Heidi loved the seared-tuna, but couldn't handle the horseradish heavy slaw. I had the French Dip, which wowed me with it's excellent juicy meat and thick slices of melted provolone. The au jus as also dark and lovely, and the side of fries was well-seasoned and crisp ($8.75).

Hearkening back to my comments that the restaurant isn't cheap, one thing I'm referring to here is the beer. However, that doesn't mean I think it's overpriced. The Tavern serves a very well-selected I've heard that the Porter Beer Bar, just a few doors down from the Tavern, has an even better list. I'll compare the two once I make it over there, hopefully within the next couple of months. If it turns out there are two bars with great, noteworthy beer lists on the same street than Little 5 gets my award for best area for beer lovers in the city.

My last word on the beer: May I suggest La Terrible, a Canadian brew the Tavern has on tap for $6/pint? It was fantastic, a perfect complement to the French Dip. Not a light meal, but it truly hit the spot.

Verdict: A success on both beverage and food fronts.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Haveli



490 Franklin Rd. SE, Marietta, GA http://haveliindiancuisines.com/home.html

Last night my friends Megan and Brian and I had dinner at Haveli. I’ve been meaning to try Haveli for a while. It’s resided in its location just off of South Marietta Pkwy forever. You can’t help but spot the building with its big, bold sign and building that must have formerly an Applebee’s. Due to the long-time success of the restaurant I thought it must have great Indian food, and eagerly awaited my first meal there.

Alas, I must report to you that I found the food below average, bordering on bad.

I ordered the shrimp curry. The curry was too soupy and lacked sufficient flavor. It had a lot of fresh, shredded cilantro, but that was about it. I didn’t even bother to finish it. If an Indian restaurant can’t make a good curry, it might as well close its doors. The garlic naan was small and the garlic itself overpowering. It was $2.75 and pales in comparison to that served at Himalayas on Peachtree Rd. for $2.50. You’ll get at least 25% more bread at Himalayas, and it will taste better.

The worst thing about this is that Haveli isn’t cheap – my shrimp curry was $14.95. Himalayas offers a far superior version for $12.50, and this includes raita, rice, soup and coffee or tea (it’s $9.99 for a la carte). If I could have named a price after tasting the food I would have paid about $4.99 for my shrimp curry, and that’s keeping in mind that shrimp is expensive.

The website for Haveli is great – lots of pictures of the food and a good-looking bar. The reality is a major disappointment. The food is sub-par and the restaurant’s décor is uninspiring, more American than Indian. The idea should be that you love everything so much that you forget you’re in Marietta, Georgia. There’s no possibility that this will happen at Haveli.

On the flipside, Brian and Megan really enjoyed their dishes, lamb curry and chicken korma. Usually I take any opportunity to taste my companions’ food, but last night I was so discouraged by my own meal that I declined.

The only positive was the service, which was excellent. Our waiter was friendly and very solicitous without being annoying. Brian and Megan brought a coupon, and our waiter gave us credit for it then returned it to us for future use. That would be awesome if the food actually made me want to return.

Verdict: Below average. For great Indian food in Marietta, stick with Vatica on Powers Ferry Rd.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Black Bear Tavern



1931 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA www.blackbeartavern.net

First off, I want to apologize for the poor picture quality for this post. The sky was gray and threatening snow and the interior lighting of the restaurant was just dark enough to screw up all of my photography efforts. If you can't tell, the food picture is of the bacon and swiss cheeseburger, with a side of fried shoestring onions. The exterior shot shows the brick facade of the Tavern, which is located in a shopping center with Mama Fu's and CVS across the street from Piedmont Hospital.

Black Bear Tavern enjoys its close proximatey to the busy hospital, whose employees patronize the watering hole during their lunch hours. It also plays up the association, naming its one pound burger The Double-Stacked Piedmont Hospital Burger, an entree fairly guaranteed to give the eater a coronary. There's plenty of other burgers if you aren't so hungry, and the meat is cut thick and cooked fairly juicy. The shoestring onions I chose as a side item (other possibilities are fries or the daily vegetable) were very good, not too greasy, but greasy enough.

Not in the mood for a burger? Black Bear has chicken sandwiches, pulled pork BBQ with coleslaw, a couple of ho-hum salads like Ceasar or grilled shrimp house, a daily soup and equally ho-hum appetizers like teriyaki style wings with bleu cheese or chips and salsa. I've tried the chicken quesadilla ($6.95) on a previous occasion and didn't like it enough to finish it, which is saying something. The bacon and swiss burger was step up, and my brother gives the thumbs up to the Wisconsin burger ($7.95), which is "covered in different cheeses." I only tried one bite of it, but it seemed like cheddar, Swiss and maybe mozzarella. The menu claims that Black Bear serves the "best burgers in town." This is definitely a stretch in my opinion - they're average or slightly better, but I think the Ted's Montana Grill that's located within walking distance of the Tavern cooks up a better burger.

So why go to Black Bear instead of Ted's? For one thing, the beer selection is better. They usually carry some local brews, like Sweetwater and Terrapin, along with some of the old standards like Newcastle, Harp, Bass, Guinness and Blue Moon. It's not a huge selection or especially creative, but it's more than just Bud and Miller. For another thing, there are two dart boards and the management doesn't mind if you hang around and play indefinitely after you finish your food/beverages. This leads me to the main attraction of Black Bear Tavern - it's a good place to go when you just want to relax and be yourself. You don't have to dress trendy, there's no techno music playing and you won't blow your paycheck on the food and drinks. It's less eclectic than The Albert in Inman Park, but the same feeling envelops the place.

There are also some higher-end entrees on the menu, like beef filet tips with a loaded potato cake ($10.95) and blackened salmon over wild rice (also $10.95) which I haven't had the occasion to try. These are the most expensive items on the menu. Both times I've eaten at Black Bear I had prompt and quick service.

Verdict: A friendly neighborhood watering hole.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bahel




3125 Briarcliff Rd., Ste. C, Atlanta, GA 404/325-6000

On Monday night Kyle, John and I ate dinner at Bahel, and Ethiopian restaurant near the intersection of Briarcliff and Clairmont roads. I had only eaten Ethiopian food on one occasion, back when I was in college and I was most certainly not a foodie. All I remember about that experience was that my date and I sat on big cushions on the floor and when I ordered chicken I received a hard boiled egg amidst a pool of some type of sauce. Despite this strange dinner, I decided to give Ethiopian cuisine another chance, and selected Bahel because of its convenient location.

And I'm really glad I did, because it was great. First of all, we didn't sit on the floor, we sat at a regular table. Second, the portions were huge. We ordered two meat entrees and a vegetable dish and it easily fed all three of us, and we ate until we were stuffed. My favorite was the chicken kitfo ($9.99), a moderately spicy dish that I couldn't get enough of. Kyle loved the gomen wot, a fantastic chopped and steamed collard greens dish for $5.00. The lega tibs ($9.99), a sauteed beef dish with green peppers, was chunky and flavorful. This also came with salad, which was unexciting.

But let me back up a little bit. The food arrived on a huge round dish with rolls of spongy, thin brown bread all around the edges. Our waitress explained that utensils aren't used in Ethiopian cuisine. Instead, you tear off a piece of the bread and sort of pinch and scoop the meat or vegetables within in, then stuff the entire thing in your mouth. It was a much easier method to master than chopsticks. Your server will dump bowls of each dish you ordered onto the big plate, and everyone shares.

There were several raw beef options on the menu, but once our waitress discovered that we had were Ethiopian cuisine novices she strongly advised us against ordering these. Both John and I happen to love steak tartar, so I was willing to try it, but I've learned the hard way over the years that if your server tells you to not order something, you obey. Maybe another time - they all seemed to contain clarified butter, which I love. We also spotted some other diners eating a plate of steaming ribs that looked pretty good. For vegetarians, there were lots of bean and lentil options as well as cabbage, collards and carrots.

Oh, and it's also really inexpensive. Our entire dinner, including one glass of honey wine (not my favorite, tasted sort of sour) and one Ethiopian beer (St. George - a run of the mill pilsner) came to $36, and we had enough food leftover to take some home.

The one incongruity was the restroom, which is unisex. It was decorated with pictures of French shop fronts and bakeries, the kind you would expect to see in any cafe or French restaurant in the city. The main dining room, which only has about 8 tables, is decorated in dark reds and beiges, with African inspired furniture. It makes a lot more sense than the French stuff in the restroom.

Verdict: Lots of spicy good food for a pittance.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Treehouse



7 Kings Circle, Atlanta, GA www.treehouseatlanta.com

On Friday I had lunch at The Treehouse. The Treehouse is located in Peachtree Hills, less than 5 minutes from Peachtree Rd. in Buckhead.

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about The Treehouse at first. It's appropriately decorated in shades of brown and green, but it seems a little gloomy from the outside on an overcast day. Inside you can take your pick from the casually mismatched tables, sitting inside the front area near a heat lamp or along the edges of the patio facing an array of potted greenery. On Friday it was about 1/3 full of patrons ranging from college students to old men reading newspapers. The bar looks like a cozy place for locals to hang out.

The lunch menu is fairly small, with a few salads, a soup du jour, quesadillas, tacos and burgers. You can start with the usuals: buffalo wings, chips and salsa or chicken fingers - nothing stands out, no item is particularly creative. The blackened grouper Reuben, the most expensive item on the menu at $9.95, was probably the most exciting selection.

I went for the quesadilla. For $6.00 it comes with cheddar and Monterrey jack cheeses, cilantro and a side of salsa, and from there you can build it to your liking, adding various ingredients. The basics, such as black beans or jalapenos, are $.75 each. The special items, such as Canadian bacon and guacamole, are $2.00 each. My quesadilla contained tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and sour cream. I sat back and waited somewhat skeptically for my lunch to arrive.

First point in The Treehouse's favor: I got my order in 7 minutes flat, making this a great restaurant to patronize on my workday lunch break. Second point: The service was very friendly throughout my meal. Third point: The quesadilla was unbelievably good. The spinach was super fresh, cut in thick strips instead of chopped into oblivion. The tomatoes were very red and juicy, and the sour cream was thick and flavorful. The salsa was clearly homemade, not your usual Pace or other store-bought brand, almost like a chimichurri. And the tortillas! I'm not sure if they rubbed them with butter or fried them in some sort of special pan, but they were beautifully browned and crisp, nearly melting in my mouth. I had to force myself to eat it slowly.

I'll definitely come back for more.

Verdict: A surprisingly good neighborhood place.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Food for Thought: Tipping - Part 2


I once had a co-worker who told me that she tipped 15% at modest or moderately priced restaurants but never more than 10% at pricey ones (meaning when she was spending more than $30 per person on the meal). Her theory is that 10% of a $100 meal is $10, and that’s plenty of money. I was stupefied by this remark. How do people come up with this horseshit? For one thing, how much does $10 really amount to these days in this economy? If you just spent $100 on a meal, you know that $10 spent at that same restaurant gets you next to nothing.

Also, the servers at expensive establishments usually have waiting tables down to a science. They are extremely courteous, attentive, and are performing functions such as scraping your table of crumbs after each course and placing your napkin in your lap and refolding it when you visit the restroom. Often you’re being served by multiple waiters at once. I can bet my co-worker’s water glass was never more than 2" shy of full at any time during the course of her meal. These people are working very hard, and somehow this woman thinks they deserve less money that her waiter at the Applebees?

You think a 15% to 20% tip is a lot of money? Look at this way; if you were eating at your own home you wouldn’t be tipping anyone, but then you’d be transporting the food from the grocery store to your home, preparing and serving it yourself, then cleaning up the mess afterwards. When you dine out, other people are doing all of this for you. Your waitstaff is literally serving you. Yes, you are being charged for the food itself. That money goes to the cost of your food, salaries for the cooks and managers and general expenses of the restaurant. None of that money is going to your server – that’s why you tip. The tip must be factored into the cost of eating out, period. The bottom line is, if you can’t afford to tip the standard amount, you can’t afford to go out to eat.

Why will tipping make your dining experience more pleasant? Here’s a news flash: your server is the last person who handles your meal before you receive it. Just think about all that this statement implies. Do you really want to piss off the person brings the food to your table? I’m not saying that all servers are vindictive wretches who would stoop so low as to harm or defile your entrée before delivering it to you, but why take the chance that your waiter isn’t one of them? Got an apathetic or overly hurried waiter serving your table? If you want to guarantee that they’ll change from apathetic to downright rude or completely neglect you for the rest of the meal, go ahead and be obnoxious to this person.

Want a happy server instead? Try smiling at your waitress, speaking with her politely, actually replying with “and you?” when she asks how you are doing. It’s almost a certainty that you’ll get better service and have a more pleasant dining experience. For that matter, you might actually make another human being happier that day instead of just passing through or worse, making that person’s day more difficult. There’s good karma in that if nothing else.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pho Bac




4897 Buford Hwy., Suite 105, Chamblee, GA 770/986-4273

Remember my post a couple of weeks ago about casseroles, and how they are the perfect winter food? Another great contender for that title is pho, traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. It's hearty, it's warming, it's even pretty healthy. And no one does it better than Pho Bac on Buford Highway.

Okay, so Pho Bac isn't pretty. As my friend Paul pointed out during our dinner there last week, it looks like a cafeteria. It's located in one of the many nearly identical shopping centers that characterize Buford Highway. The service is average. But you aren't going there for the ambiance, or for the service. You're going there for the piping hot soup that comes out within minutes of placing your order.

The soup menu isn't quite as extensive as at Pho 96, but it's still sufficient. There are plenty of pho options for you to choose from: any combination of steak, tripe, flank and tendon is available. Soup is served up in small, medium and large bowls, and the medium will be enough to satisfy most appetites. Regardless of what type of soup you select, all the smalls are $5.25, and mediums are $6.45. This means that you can easily eat a great dinner for less than $10, even after tipping. As my hero, Clark Howard, would say: What a Deal!!

This time I was determined to get something different, so I ordered the #17A Pho Tom, which is shrimp noodle soup. It was fantastic. The shrimp were plump and lovely, and the broth was spectacular. If you've ever enjoyed pho, you know that the broth is the key - it's a savory, fragrant delicacy unlike any other food you've ever eaten. Pho Bac, which has been around for longer than most of its competitors on Buford Highway, has it down pat.

I also tried the sweet rice bean pudding, which was a little odd. It arrived in a large Styrofoam cup, and all I could see when I looked within was small, milky ice cubes. After removing about ten tablespoons of ice I finally made it down to "the good stuff", which was coconut flavored red beans and some sort of sweet, green, gummy candies. Not at all the consistency of pudding, and a strange combination, yes, but it worked.

Pho Bac also serves various rice dishes, vermicelli, and at least twenty different flavors of smoothie type beverages.

Verdict: A tried and true pho restaurant.