Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Waterhaven




75 Fifth St. NW, Atlanta, GA www.waterhavenatl.com

On Saturday night Kyle, Sabrina, my grandmother and I had dinner at Waterhaven.

I chose the daily special, a vegetable platter with an absolutely awesome succotash, some grilled squash and roasted red peppers, portobello mushroom ravioli, some sort of nearly tasteless fritter with red pepper sauce and an artichoke, red pepper and mushroom flan on a bed of arugula topped by shoestring fried onions that was surprisingly great. I say surprisingly because I usually dislike flan, but the texture was fairly firm and the flavors succulent. An interesting take on veggies. I would recommend this $17.00 dish to anyone.

My sister selected the Georgia Mountain Trout topped with bacon and a pecan and dried cranberry sauce. It was very good. The fish was tender and the bacon crisp. Sabrina especially liked the melt-in-your-mouth side of butternut squash ravioli. My grandmother also enjoyed her crab cakes ($11.00).

Overall, the menu is rather small at Waterhaven, but I like what's on it. For dessert, the only 3 options were the chocolate pie, the creme brulee' and lemon panacotta. I would liked to have seen at least one other choice, and maybe three or four more entrees.

Service: It was great. Our nice waiter Scotty advised us that Waterhaven employs a farm to table principle, another bonus for locavores.

Also, you can use the diningperks that I mentioned in last Friday's blog. Waterhaven also offers another deal where you can partake of a $25/person 3-course menu if you have a ticket to that night's performance at the nearby Georgia Tech Ferst Center for the Arts. Kyle selected this and got a house salad (the other choice was Ceasar), which he thought was lackluster, the flat-iron steak, which was a little tough but tasted good, and the chocolate pie, which was thick and rich. Too rich for his taste, just right for mine. It reminded me a little of the chocolate terrine from South City Kitchen, except the portion was about twice as large.

Despite this, I'm a little worried about the restaurant in terms of lack of business. Our dinner reservation was for 6:30, which is a little early for a Saturday, but by the time we left at 7:45 there were still only about 3 other tables of diners. I don't think Waterhaven is the best place I've ever eaten, but I think it deserves better than this.

A final note: Waterhaven will validate your parking at the Centergy parking deck just behind the restaurant.

Verdict: A good choice for a nice meal near Georgia Tech.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Special Feature: www.diningperks.com



What foodie doesn't like discounted meals or dining at new and/or unfamiliar restaurants? Diningperks.com makes this easy for you.

I wanted to pass along this secret to other Atlanta foodies. Diningperks.com features about a dozen restaurants (and a couple golf courses) in the Atlanta and North Georgia areas. You can purchase diningperks certificates that are worth $10 but cost you only $5, and $25 diningperks that cost you only $12.50. Basically this means you can dine for half price. The restaurant list is updated regularly, so be sure and check the website.

Many of you are probably familiar with restaurant.com, which has a much longer list of restaurants than diningperks. However, when you purchase a coupon from restaurant.com it can only be used at one specific restaurant, whereas diningperks can be used at any restaurant on their list. Also, restaurant.com coupons often exclude things like alcohol or require you to redeem them at certain time, like lunch or dinner. There's no such restrictions on diningperks.

One more difference between restaurant.com and diningperks is that with the former you can print the coupon immediately after you've purchased it. Diningperks mails you the savings certificates. I have never waited for more than 2 days to receive my certs, and I've placed at least twenty orders over the last five years, but keep in mind you're always at the mercy of our dear U.S. postal service. To be on the safe side, place your order a week prior to your anticipated dining time. (Note: the diningperks come in an envelope from "Atlanta Publishing Group". This is not junk mail, it's your coupons!)

Finally, don't forget to tip your server based on the full amount of your check before the discount. If you're still confused about appropriate tipping, see my previous two posts on this subject.

So, go ahead and take a risk on an unfamiliar restaurant. If it turns out to be awful, you haven't spent that much money testing it out. If it turns out to be great, you've just scored a great deal.

Verdict: A cool outlet for coupons for North Georgia restaurants.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Watershed




406 W. Ponce de Leon, Decatur, GA www.watershedrestaurant.com

Kyle, my grandmother and I had brunch at Watershed yesterday. Watershed is located in the heart of "cute" Decatur. The restaurant is housed in a former gas station, and is painted in greens and white with bright blue glassware sitting on white shelves inside. It's the perfect place to go in the springtime, because that's the feel you get there.

I've been to Watershed at least thirty times over the past eight or so years, so this review reflects all my experiences.

Scott Peacock is the head chef at Watershed. You may have seen or heard of Scott. He's been featured within the last year on Good Morning America's Saturday show and has a section of the Better Homes and Gardens Annual cookbook (either 2007 or 2008, I can't remember which). He's also authored an awesome cookbook with the late, great Edna Lewis, empress of Southern cooking.

Watershed serves my favorite brunch in Atlanta. I'm not saying it's the cheapest, or the best deal - that would be Cafe 458 (which I previously reviewed). However, the service at Watershed is much more consistent and several of the servers have been there for 5+ years. The menu features some great items, such as the sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits ($9), which I tried for the first time yesterday. The biscuits were a little small, but they were flaky and buttery, and the gravy was chunky, with big pieces of mildly spicy bulk sausage.

Kyle and my grandmother ordered my usual brunch favorite, the French Toast with candied bacon ($13). The candied bacon is rich and delicious, but the caramelized sugar has a bad tendency to stick in one's teeth. The French toast is very thick and golden, and it's topped with powdered sugar and fruit. The fruit in this case was sliced strawberries. You can't not love it.

Watershed offers Bloody Mary's and Mimosas at breakfast, and my personal non-alcoholic beverage, the steamed milk with honey ($3.50). I have never seen this on another menu in Atlanta.

Speaking of Atlanta menus, the first time I ever saw shrimp grits on one was at Watershed. They've kept the same awesome recipe for years. The grits ($9 are incredibly creamy and the shrimp is ground up in little bits, so diners who like the flavor but not the texture of shrimp will be pleased. It's served with a long "plank" of super-buttery bread. You'll want to eat this all day, it's so good. Note: shrimp grits are served any time EXCEPT for Sunday brunch.

For lunch, I like to order the white truffle chicken salad sandwich ($9). Yes, it is as good and sinful as it sounds. Another great bet is the garlic and thyme roasted pork sandwich with fig conserve, fresh cheese and Dijon mustard. It's a tasty combination of sweet, sour and tart. The pimento cheese sandwich is fine, but overpriced at $8. The chocolate cake is generally praised, but I found it to be a little disappointing - not chocolaty enough, not moist enough, etc. I'm a chocolate cake fanatic though, so if you're looking for something simple this might be just the ticket for you.

In all the times I've been to Watershed I've never had dinner there. One reason for that is that I'm happy with the brunch and lunch, and the dinner menu is noticeably more expensive. If you're OK with paying $19-$38 per entree than be my guest. You might want to partake of the extensive wine list while you're there.

One final note about Watershed. They make an effort to serve locally grown produce. I had the best lima beans I've ever eaten in my life here a couple of years ago as part of the veggie plate.

Verdict: My favorite brunch in Atlanta. When not brunching, don't miss out on the shrimp grits.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Coco Loco




2625 Piedmont Rd. NE, Atlanta GA www.cocolocoatlanta.com

Last night my friend Kevin and I had dinner at Coco Loco. Coco Loco opened in 1988 and claims to serve Atlanta's best Cuban food. It's located in a shopping center near the intersection of Piedmont and Sydney Marcus.

I have to begin this review with a story. Several years ago I worked with a guy named Carlos who had recently immigrated from Cuba. I asked him where I could find authentic, delicious Cuban food in Atlanta. He deadpanned, "Miami." I wasn't going to let it go that easily, and said that there must be some place that lived up to his standards, and asked if he had been to Havana Sandwich Shop, formerly on Buford Hwy.

"The Cuban sandwiches are great there," I explained. "They're served with black beans with onions and a side of yellow rice with tomatoes."

"There's no such thing in Cuba as a Cuban sandwich," he replied. "And Cubans would never eat yellow rice with tomatoes on top. Never!" He promptly directed me to a restaurant in Miami and refused to discuss the subject any further.

So in other words, I should have known better than to have great expectations of Coco Loco.

We shared an appetizer of empanadas and croqueta combo. Croqueta are deep fried ham croquettes. They were okay, but should have been removed from the fryer three or four minutes earlier. The empanadas tasted good but were runny. The crust, however, was nice.

Kevin ordered the Cuban sandwich ($5.50). Even though we've now been informed by a native that it's not an authentic dish, we still like it. Kevin was happy.

I ordered the paella. It was full of what I think was yellow rice but was nearly orange, with a smattering of squid, two shrimp, two mussells, three slices of sausage and a lot of sliced, nearly dry chicken ($12.95). It was average at best, which is a sad statement about such a dynamic, meat and shellfish packed dish. The plantains on the side were pretty good though, sweet and brown.

Verdict: Not terrible, but below average. If this is Atlanta's best Cuban food, then Atlanta's in trouble.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fickle Pickle




1085 Canton St., Roswell, GA www.ficklepicklecafe.com

Last night Heidi and I had dinner at The Fickle Pickle in historic Roswell, Georgia. The first thing I have to say about this is that I almost never found the place. This wasn't the fault of The Pickle though. Here's a tip - if you're get off 400 at the Northridge Rd. intersection and travel down Roswell Rd., Roswell Rd. will become Atlanta St., and soon afterwards the road will fork. Stay to the left! My days of mapquesting are over.

Now, on to the food. The Fickle Pickle is owned by the same people as Relish, which I reviewed and liked back in October. The Pickle is more casual - probably the best words to describe is are "down home". You place your order at the counter and take a seat at any checkered tablecloth covered table in the multi-room restaurant that used to be a house (I know, I'm reviewing lots of these converted places lately). The menu is posted on a large chalkboard above the register, and most of the selections are gourmet sandwiches or salads. The menu isn't as upscale as that of Relish, but it's also less expensive. I spent a whopping $10 on my sandwich, side and dessert and had enough food for lunch today.

Heidi and I started with the fried, sliced pickles. They are served with a Creole' remoulade sauce that's decent. I liked the pickles, but I didn't love them. However, I need to give you the heads up here that I'm not a huge pickle fan in general, so frying doesn't improve their taste that much in my book. For some reason I kept eating them anyway - they perfectly fit the definition of "snack food."

I chose the horseradish beef sandwich as my entree ($8.25). The beef was much meatier than most of the roast beef sandwiches. Expect to have to pull it apart with your hands as well as your teeth. The blue cheese came in big crumbles, a great addition. The sourdough bread was thick, soft in the middle with a firm outer crust. Very nice.

For my side dish, I ordered the The potato salad, which was great. Tangy, in a good way, and chunky with red new potatoes. I rarely eat potato salad because most of the time I think it's lackluster and a I'd rather get my carbs from some sort of sugary treat than boring ole' potatoes. This potato salad is not boring.

Finally, I ate a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing. Loved it. Red velvet is sometimes fails to excite me. Lots of bakeries or cafes in Atlanta like to make red velvet cakes and cupcakes because it's a quintessentially Southern flavor. Lots of them mess it up. I can tell you that I have never made a red velvet cake that was to my own liking, so I feel for these poor people.

Fickle Pickle makes a great red velvet cupcake. Delicious. I'd love to know their secret, but I'm sure they're keeping it.

Verdict: A casual, down home restaurant in historic Roswell. Don't miss the red velvet cupcakes.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

South City Kitchen - Vinings



1675 Cumberland Pkwy, Smyrna, GA http://southcitykitchen.com/vinings/index.htm

South City Kitchen - Vinings is the second location of this restaurant owned by Fifth Group. The flagship location is on Crescent St. in midtown. I have eaten there for dinner once, about two years ago, so I thought it was time to try out the sister store about half a mile off the S. Atlanta Rd. exit of 285. It's part of one of those live-work-play communities and is appropriately cute.

When I went to the midtown location two years ago I remember I had a chicken and dumplings dish that was only so-so, and I noted that this dish is no longer on the menu. This time I had the shrimp purloo, which included exactly six large shrimp atop a bed of Carolina Plantation rice mixed with locally grown okra and Benton's country ham. I specifically mention the brand names here because I truly think they made a difference in the quality of the dish - it was great. The okra was just barely tender and delicious. The whole thing was surrounded by a very tasty, spring green rosemary oil that perfectly complemented the other ingredients. Kudos to the chef.

Kyle ordered the BBQ sandwich. He approved of the sauce and particularly liked the coleslaw, and Kyle is picky about coleslaw.

There are a few other interesting items on the menu that I plan to try in the future. The Coca-Cola braised beef brisket comes immediately to mind. I especially like that it's paired with Brussells sprouts, an rare vegetable on Atlanta menus.

Kyle and I usually have very different tastes in desserts and that night was no exception. He ordered the banana pudding and I ordered the chocolate terrine (each $6.75). The banana pudding was served in a parfait glass. Nice presentation, but Kyle was disappointed that the pudding was topped with Cool Whip instead of homemade meringue. I agree - this struck me as a cheap substitution. I enjoyed the chocolate terrine, which was very rich and served with a bourbon sabayon. The texture was great - like a denser version of mousse, my all time favorite dessert.

If you've ever been to Relish in Roswell, you'll find a lot of similarities at South City Kitchen. Relish is a little more casual, the decor less hip, but the pricing and service is the same and the menus both have fried green tomatoes, butter bean hummus, fried catfish and bread pudding (the bread puddin at Relish is Crispy-Creme, at SCK it's cinnamon-raisin). Which restaurant is superior? It's hard to say, but I'm leaning towards Relish.

Verdict: A nice choice for contemporary Southern food in Vinings.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mosaic



3097 Maple Dr., Atlanta, GA www.mosaicatl.com

On Wednesday I ate lunch at Mosaic. Despite the fact that Mosaic resides in the heart of Buckhead, a stone's throw from the LA Fitness on Peachtree, I just now discovered it. It's down Maple Drive in the form of a really cute brick and white house with patio. The decor and pricing is similar to that of nearby Anis, but it's a little less worn and less French of course.

The other major difference between Mosaic and Anis is the service. The service at Anis is usually aloof and often slow (you know the French stereotype, right?). The service at Mosaic is outstanding. My female server was warm and attentive, and she made an excellent suggestion, that I try the daily special, grilled mahi-mahi with veggies sauteed in a ginger soy sauce ($13).

It was simple, or maybe I should say simply divine. The mahi-mahi was perfectly grilled, still juicy and meaty, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that "veggies" included red onion, bell peppers, celery cut on the bias, carrots and bright green, still crisp snow peas. The sauce was a little much - don't opt for this dish if you're only half-hearted about ginger - but overall I was very pleased with it. The portion was just enough for lunch - filling without putting me to sleep half an hour later at my desk.

The lunch menu also included a roasted shrimp orzo salad that sounded nice and tandoori tilapia with coconut-scented rice. Yum. For dinner you can choose from dishes ranging from the ever-popular butternut squash bisque, paella, and French cut pork chop with horseradish potatoes.

Mosaic also serves Sunday brunch from 11:30am to 3pm with the usual suspects: buttermilk pancakes, eggs benedict, and a Kobe beef trio of slides with a ginger-soy (I'm noticing a theme here) glaze and the above-mentioned tilapia. Not a huge array of choices, but good stuff nonetheless.

Verdict: If you're an Anis fan, try Mosaic for a more American menu and better service.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Saravanaa Bhavan




2179 Lawrenceville Hwy., Decatur, GA

This first comment I want to make about this place is don't let the website confuse you. The restaurant is not located in a hotel. It's at the intersection of Lawrenceville Hwy and across from Shamrock Plaza.

The second comment I want to make about Saravanaa Bhavan is that it's technically a chain. There are various locations around the world and within the U.S. in California, New Jersey and New York, but the one on Lawrenceville Hwy is the only one in Georgia. I know that I said I don't blog about chain restaurants, but I made an exception in this case because an acquaintance of mine from Tamil Nadu, India highly recommended it. My bad experience at Haveli in Marietta a few weeks ago left me craving good quality, authentic Indian food so I couldn't resist giving it a try with Kyle and my mom last week.

Now, for the food. Are you ready for this?

Spectacular.

Astonishingly delicious.

Possibly the best Indian food I have ever eaten anywhere, which includes a visit to London where they know what they're doing in terms of Indian cuisine.

What was so great about it? Let's start with the vegetable curry, which I ordered per the recommendation of my friendly and helpful server, Rajmohan. It was moderately spicy, with big chunks of potato and a thick, well-rounded sauce. At $8.75 it wasn't super cheap, but well worth the price.

We also tried the butter naan, a large, soft bread with big air pockets akin to cooked pizza dough. It was extremely tasty. I primarily used mine to scoop up big dollops of the coconut chutney. The chutney was milky and cooling at first with a spicy kick aftertaste.

The absolute best think we tried was the vegetable bonda appetizer ($4.25). We were served three mixed vegetable batter-fried small rolls that resembled hush puppies. Kyle and I agreed we could have made a meal out of these. The bonda also came with a small bowl of sambar, a savory chowder/stew made with tamarind that's popular in Southern India. Unlike many Indian restaurants in Atlanta which serve Northern Indian cuisine, Saravanaa Bhavan specializes in Southern Indian food. Trust me, you're in for a real treat.

Kyle ordered the vegetable biriyani ($7.00), a dish that we consider an old standby for Indian restaurants. Oddly enough, this was the most disappointing dish of anything we ordered. Don't get me wrong - it was good - just not as great as everything else. I did like the inclusion of a big cinnamon stick amidst the rice, green beans and other veggies. It was almost as good as the biriyani served at Himalaya on Peachtree Industrial.

My mom ordered the combo 1 ($9.25), which came with another small bowl of sambar, a "mini" (in this case, about 1 foot long) potato filled dosa, more coconut chutney, a few idly rice cakes in what appeared to be more sambar and a sweet orange dessert that we think was made of shredded carrots and raisins. Fantastic. If you want a sampler of several good Saravanaa Bhavan dishes, the combo 1 is the way to go.

The menu itself is extensive. I could (and would, if convenient) order a different dish every week and have enough for a whole year without repetition. There are lengthy (think 2 feet up to 6 feet long) and fine crepe dosas filled with everything imaginable. There are enough curries to make the head spin. There are four different flavors of naan as well as roti and poori breads. There are milkshakes, lassis and madras coffee, along with alcoholic beverages from a surprisingly well-stocked bar in the corner of the restaurant.

A few final notes: Saravanaa Bhavan is all vegetarian and is closed on Tuesdays.

Verdict: A+ The Best Indian food I've had in Atlanta to date.