Friday, April 30, 2010

Paper Mill Grill



305 Village Pkwy, Marietta, GA www.papermillgrill.com

Last Saturday my friends Kelly and Joanie joined me at the Paper Mill Grill. Paper Mill Grill is in East Cobb, near the intersection of Johnson Ferry and Paper Mill Rd. The restaurant is in an office park.

I ordered the grouper tacos, which came with cilantro slaw, gaucamole and salsa ($11.99). The cajun seared grouper strips were great - perfectly spicy without burning my mouth. The portion size was also generous - 3 good sized tacos. The salsa was average at best, tasted store-bought. The tortilla chips were awful - like the cheapest generic store brand you've ever tasted.

My friend Kelly tried the BBQ grilled chicken spinach salad ($11.99). The spinach was fresh and bright green, and the chicken was laid out atop the spinach with the barbecue sauce drizzled artfully. Again, a good portion. Joanie had the grilled chicken Greek wrap, which included feta cheese, hummus, Kalamata olives, grilled chicken and shaved romaine in a tomato basil wrap ($9.99). All three of us were generally happy with our choices.

Paper Mill Grill also serves dinner, and there is a separate 3-course for $14.99 early bird menu, but I can't ascertain from the website what hours or days qualify for this. The regular dinner menu is fairly extensive, including everything from filet mignon to Mongolian pork chops. There are lots of seafood choices: diver scallops with French lentils, smoked bacon and apple cider reduction ($21.99), salmon, crap, grouper, trout and shrimp dishes. I'm planning to return and try the Chesapeake au gratin - scallops, shrimp, crab, sherry cream and cheddar herb crust ($23.99).

Service: Our waiter was very nice but we waited too long to receive our food. We were seated near the kitchen, which has an open front, and I could view at least three employees shooting the breeze as we hungrily anticipated our lunch. There were only about 4 other tables with customers, so I'm unsure of the reason for the holdup. However, it wasn't so bad that I wouldn't give them another chance.

Overall, the restaurant is a good option for Cobb diners who'd prefer not to take the trip downtown for an upscale meal.

Verdict: A nicely rounded menu, food comparable to Houston's.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nava




3060 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA http://buckheadrestaurants.com/nava.html

I had high hopes for Nava. I know several Atlantans who claim the restaurant serves the best food of all the Buckhead Life Group restaurants, maybe even the best food in the city. It's conveniently situated in the heart of Buckhead at the intersection of W. Paces Ferry and Peachtree Roads. The exterior boasts a nice patio that sits against a large reflecting pool and fountain. The interior is tastefully decorated with Southwestern art and furnishings.

However, the food just didn't cut it for me.

I had lunch at Nava with three co-workers last Thursday. I had the red chili seared scallops with smoked tomato grits, saffron tostada and salsa fresca. The grits were the highlight of the dish.

Something I've noticed lately: when Atlanta restaurants serve scallops, they do so on a long, slim white porcelain dish. In my opinion, that's because it's a pretty way to arrange their ever so few scallops atop a bed of some sort of grain or noodle.

For dessert we had a banana enchilada. We were served several small enchiladas with a a caramel sauce. They were sort of like overly fried canolis. I was impressed with this novel idea, but felt the dish was only so-so. There were two small bites of banana bread (called bullets) alongside. The caramel was too subtle, and the bananas too sparing.

Okay, here's the truth - the food was pretty good, but not what I've come to expect from Buckhead Life Group. The portions were smaller, and nothing stood out as particularly spectacular on the menu. Nothing was wrong with the food per se, but nothing about it made me want to gobble down another dish either. It was an expensive lunch (purchased by my boss, hence the lack of prices in this review), and I can think of at least five other restaurants in the area where I think I'd get a more satisfing meal for the same amount of money (or less). Buckhead Life shouldn't settle for "pretty good."

The service: it's almost unfair to complain about this, because the poor girl timidly informed us at the end of her shift that this was her first day serving lunch without help. I wish she would have warned us upfront. Then we wouldn't have crushed her with multiple questions about ingredients in dishes and how they compared to other menu options. We also might have understood how she forgot our soup (which the manager comped for my boss' wife) and extended what should have been a short lunch to an hour and a half. We were her only table, so she must have been very nervous.

Even taking the service out of the picture, Nava has been my least favorite of the Buckhead Life restaurants. The fact is that it's very difficult to impress me with Tex-Mex or Mexican style cuisine. Also, unlike some of the other Group's restaurants the ambiance isn't particularly romantic and there aren't any secluded tables. A comparison to Pricci in this area makes Nava fall painfully short. While I think it made for a fine lunch with my co-workers, I wouldn't want to bring a date there.

One plus for Nava - I noticed they offer a gluten-free lunch and dinner menu.

Verdict: A B+.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food for Thought: Simple, Real Mexican


In 2005, my former boyfriend Will and I took a Mexican Riviera cruise that began in Puerto Vallarta. We signed up for an eight hour excursion that included a visit to a small town, where we watched as an extremely strong middle aged woman stirred a huge trough of corn meal, shaped the dough into rounds with her hands, then served us delicious corn tortillas hot out of the oven.

Next we hiked a mile through a rainforest further inland, after which we took a tour bus several miles uphill to a sparsely populated village, where we were deposited at a family’s personal home complete with organic garden. The mistress of the house demonstrated how to grind corn into meal for tortillas using a large stone and hard wooden tray. When she asked for volunteers to help her grind, I quickly indicated my willingness and I was chosen to try my hand at it. I soon discovered that this is very hard, monotonous work, and if my family were dependent on me to make tortillas they would likely starve to death.

Following this activity, she graciously cooked us what were possibly the world’s best homemade tamales, using the vegetables grown in her garden. As our little tour group of eight Americans sat around this nice woman’s kitchen table and quietly ate our tamales, I determined that genuine, homemade Mexican cuisine is completely different from the Mexican food served at cheap restaurants in Atlanta. Years later I read Anthony Bourdain’s description of America’s misconception of Mexican food in A Cook’s Tour. He chides his readers that “You may think you’ve tried Mexican food. Unless you’ve been to Mexico and eaten in a home, you haven’t. Mexican food is not that sour two-day-old sludge foaming and fermenting in the center of your table next to a few stale corn chips, a little limp cilantro turning to slime among the long gone onions.” He goes on to confirm what I was surprised to learn on my cruise: “In Mexico, everything is fresh.” (A Cook’s Tour, pg 210).

I bit into the warm tortillas, knowing that our hostess had ground the corn meal by hand and seasoned our vegetables with only the freshest ingredients. She had spent her weeks growing the peppers and onions, cultivating her garden with an expert and loving hand. We had watched as she efficiently but carefully prepared our meal, and we humbly stood in line to receive our portions, softly mumbling “gracias, senora” as she served us. When she smiled, her eyes shone brightly and her skin glowed radiantly. While I ate this simple meal, I thought that the tamales were one of the top ten best dishes I had ever eaten anywhere in my life. That was four years ago, and although I have eaten hundreds of delicious meals since that time, my opinion remains unchanged.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Himalayas



5520 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Atlanta, GA www.himalayasindian.com

On Sunday night Kyle and I had dinner at Himalayas, located in a pitiful, nearly empty shopping center across the street from a Honda dealership on Peachtree Industrial. This was one of many, many meals we have enjoyed there.

Enjoyed is the correct word in the case of Himalayas. I've loved their food since I started eating there about 7 years ago. Here are a few highlights:

Beef curry: If you're at all familiar with India and the Hindu religion you know that it's very difficult to find an Indian restaurant that serves beef. Himalayas does, and it serves it well. The beef curry ($8.99) can be ordered mild, medium or hot. I prefer medium, which leaves a slight burning in my mouth but doesn't require me to gulp multiple glasses of water. The beef is served in thick, tender chunks in a flavorful, dark and delicious curry sauce.

Naan: We love the plain naan, which is the best I've had in Atlanta. It's soft and full of bulbous air pockets. You'll devour every buttery bite. For $1.99, it's a steal.

Chicken tikka: I know, I know. Tikka is the most common Indian dish to be found these days, and some of you will turn your noses up when I say this, but it is excellent at Himalayas ($8.99). It comes out steaming on a silver platter, with deep red pieces of juicy chicken, onions and green bell peppers. You can get the bone-in version (tandoori) for a couple bucks less.

Chicken biriani - Best biriani I've ever tasted ($8.99). It's light, not weighty, and contains large cardamom seeds and smells heavenly of saffron.

I could go on, but I'll wrap it up by stating that I've only ever had one dish at Himalayas that I disliked, the Dal Makhni ($7.99). This is a lentil dish with butter, tomatoes and herbs. I thought it was too bitter. I've had it twice since then - at another restaurant, and on a cruise ship - and each time it was much better.

The prices for the above dishes are for the a la carte versions. In most cases, you can opt for the "dinner" instead, which supplies you with a cup of incredible Mulligatawny soup (almost every cup contains a big wedge of lime), lovely pilaw rice, cucumber raita and your choice of coffee or chai. When Kyle and I eat dinner here, only one of us selects the "dinner" dish. We know we'll be served enough rice and raita to share, so it's a waste of money for us both to place dinner orders.

Verdict: It might look like a hole in the wall, but Himalayas will wow you with their great Indian food.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mezza



2751 Lavista Rd., Atlanta, GA www.mezzabistro.com

Last Monday night my friend Milagros and I ate dinner at Mezza, located in Oak Grove Center near the intersections of Lavista and Oak Grove Roads. I was really looking forward to this, because I love Mediterranean cuisine. Mezza serves tapas (along with sandwiches and platters), another great thing in my book because it means I get to try lots of different dishes.

Unfortunately I have to admit I was disappointed. For one thing, it's overpriced. Most of the tapas are $6-$7 each, and you'll need to eat at least 3 of them if you don't want to leave hungry. I'm accustomed to tapas that range from $2-$3 for vegetarian and $5-$8 for meats, so this was an unpleasant surprise.

The other problem was that they weren't that good. They were okay, but not one of the eight dishes we tried was excellent. My favorite liked the #3 fool mudammas, which is simmered fava beans marinated in garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. This was a hearty dish. The $18 muhammara, a mix of ground red bell peppers, walnuts, pistachios, lemon juice, garlic and mild cayenee pepper, was pretty good. The #46 chicken shwarma was so-so. We also had baklava, which came in two varieties, pistachio and pine nut. The pine nut was interesting. I preferred the pistachio. Again, nothing really sticks out in my mind as special. Everything is served with plenty of warm pita. My friend and I each spent $20 for what I feel should have only cost us about $12 each.

Had it cost $12, I still probably wouldn't return. That's because there are several other restaurants that serve tapas in the city that I think make better food, or offer a greater variety of dishes. For example, if you would like to branch out from purely Mediterranean tapas, I would suggest Eclipse di Luna. Their selections are far superior, although I will admit I preferred the atmosphere at Mezza. It's not that Mezza has an awesome decor - the decor is fine, but nothing really special - it's that the restaurant is much quieter. You can have a peaceful dinner there.

On a positive note, the service was quick and friendly.

Verdict: A distant second to Eclipse di Luna.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Carpe Diem



105 Sycamore Place, Decatur, GA www.apresdiem.com

Easter Sunday is always a prime brunch opportunity. This Easter my mom, Kyle and I ate at Carpe Diem.

First I want to comment to on the decor - it's really cute. There are nice, round corner booths for groups, fabric draped from the ceiling and an exposed brick wall with colorful and original art that mainly portrays jazz musicians. There's also a large patio outside.

I ordered the lobster benedict ($14). This was very good, and the portion size was huge - two english muffins topped with beautiful eggs and lumps of lobster meat. It came with fresh, seasonal fruit, which in this case was not very ripe honeydew melon and red seedless grapes, and a side of potatoes.

Kyle ordered the Belgian waffle ($10), which also came with a side of fruit. He liked it. The brunch menu is actually pretty impressive period. There are lots of options, something to please everyone.

My mother took issue with the side order of potatoes, because she was under the impression it was just potatoes. Instead it was mixed with squash and cannelini beans (which I thought was great). Just FYI.

Another complaint was the Bellinis. Now, I will admit I'm picky about bellinis because I've had the pleasure of imbibing the original at Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy. I truly believe though that I would have disapproved of this bellini even had I not been able to make the former claim. The bellinis at Carpe Diem are made with peach schnapps, not peach or (preferably pear) puree. The consistency is off, as well as the flavor. Stick with the kir royales ($4). If you like mimosas, you'll have a choice of 3 different sizes; regular, super (about another 4 ounces) or bottomless for $15.

Unfortunately, the service was slow. I know you probably think I'm being obnoxious by saying this, because it WAS Easter Sunday. However, our party arrived before the big crowds, when only about 1/4 of the restaurant's tables were filled. There shouldn't have been a delay, but we waited a long time for our drinks and another twenty minutes for our entrees. Our waitress was nice, she just wasn't speedy.

Verdict: Better than average, but not the best.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Atmosphere Bistro




1620 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.atmospherebistro.com

On Saturday my friend Rebecca and I had brunch at Atmosphere Bistro, which is located in the Ansley area of Atlanta in a lovely restored home. This was the second time I have dined at Atmosphere. The first was another brunch with my grandmother shortly after they opened a couple of years ago.

I have to make another comparison with Anis on Grandview Ave. here: Atmosphere has a similar French-themed menu and a great patio with umbrella topped tables. It's not quite as worn or eclectic as Anis, but it's equally enjoyable. Anytime I think of Anis my opinion is overshadowed by the aloof service I get there. Atmosphere has much more cordial and attentive servers. Our server on Saturday, Andrew, was great.

Rebecca and I chose the day's special appetizer, a goat cheese with roasted red peppers, pinenuts and arugula. Lovely. The cheese was melted just right - gooey in the center while still retaining it's shape and pale yellow hue. The arugula was fresh and bright green, a spring delight.

For my entree I selected the carpaccio de boeuf, topped with a lemon, shavings of parmesan and more arugula. It was great. About a year ago I had beef carpaccio at Rathbun's and was very disappointed when it came out with a 3" stack of shaved parmesan, insuring that the cheese completely obliterated the excellent flavor of the beef. The carpaccio was much better at Atmosphere. The thin, short parmesan shavings were just right, and the fresh lemon and arugula served to accentuate the flavor of the beef rather than mask it. I had the small plate ($9), which was the perfect size considering that I began the meal with an appetizer. The large plate is $14.

Brunch entrees range from $7-$18, while dinner entrees average about $25. Atmospher also offers a $25 3-course dinner option. At dinner the restaurant offers all of the traditional French selections Francophiles come to love: Lobster Thermador, Escargots, Fois Gras and Duck Leg Confit. There are rabbit options on both the brunch and dinner menus. You can expect everything will be pleasantly plated.

Music lovers can come for live Jazz on Thursday nights.

Verdict: A nice choice for a spring brunch or romantic French dinner.