Monday, June 28, 2010

Parish




240 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 www.parishatl.com

Saturday night marked another trip to Virginia-Highlands for me. Kyle and I dined at Parish.

First off, the d├ęcor is great. Original floors, tin-plated ceiling, and rustic pottery with bright green granny smith apples livening up the tables. Iced tea and water are poured from mason jars, and a well-stocked bar lines one wall.

There are several interesting and often nostalgic options on the "supper" menu, including a picnic plate appetizer (pimento cheese, shaved honey baked ham, buttermilk biscuits and green tomato pickles - $9) and Root Beer Floats ($7). If only Kyle were a bigger sausage fan, I would have loved to try the appetizer sausage plate - 3 different homemade sausages with spicy mustard and chow chow ($8). Another delightful sounding item was the TV Dinner entree, described as a meat and 3 with a treat.

Intrigued, Kyle ordered the TV Dinner ($15). It was served in a cheerful orange tray, Saturday’s featured menu was maple turkey with dressing, roasted broccoli, a corn medley and cherry chocolate shortbread.

Alas, the TV dinner turned out to be a cuter concept than an impressive reality. The roasted broccoli was too spicy, leaving a bitter aftertaste in our mouths. The dressing was the cornbread kind, and I’m never a fan of that. It was a little too bland for my taste.

The Mississippi stuffed catfish ($17), however, was great. The stuffing is tasso ham and Louisiana crawfish. The dominant flavor is the ham, which is quite savory. Our waitress promised it would be flavorful, and it was. It wasn’t a huge portion, but it was just enough. Kudos to the chef on this item.

For my own dessert, I ordered the homemade Moon Pie ($7). Again, what a charming idea! Again, disappointing. The Moon Pie was pretty hard, too hard to cut with just a fork. The coating was an almost bitter dark chocolate. I only ate half of it, and I am a chocolate fiend.

The table service was slow, but it took almost 45 minutes for us to receive our entrees. I am more understanding about this when the restaurant is packed, but when we arrived it was only about 1/3rd full. Our waitress was apologetic about the delay.

Kyle and I tried Parish because we had a GroupOn. If we would have paid full price for the meal, our 2 entrees, 2 cocktails and 1 dessert would have totaled $58. While I enjoyed the catfish, I can’t say I think that the dinner as a whole was worth almost $60. I’d be willing to return and try some other items, as long as I had another coupon.

Verdict: Better than Fontaine’s, but needs improvement. Slightly overpriced.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fontaine's Oyster House



1026 1/2 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta, GA 30306 http://www.nnnwcorp.com/fontainesmainpage.html

My mom and I had lunch at Fontaine's on Saturday. First let me apologize for the poor quality of the pics. I forgot my camera that day and had to use my phone, which is barely adequate in these circumstances.

Since Fontaine's is "known" for their oysters, I decided to try some. I ordered the Oysters Rockefeller ($10.95 for 8). This marked a strange point in my life - a time when I had to give up on a particular food. I usually scoff at people who say they have "texture issues" with foods such as shrimp or mushrooms, but I think I have to admit to an issue of my own with oysters. Even baked into a lovely spinach and cheese sauce, I just couldn't get over the slimy little suckers. I'm making a point of this because I know many people are oyster fans and the oysters at Fontaine's may in fact be excellent. I just don't think I'm the best person to make that determination.

My mom ordered the seafood dinner. This comes in small, with one side ($11.95) and large, with two sides ($14.50). You get a choice of shrimp, scallops, catfish, oysters or crawfish, and can have the catfish and oysters fried, or the other items grilled, blackened or fried. Mom loves crawfish, so she ordered that along with red beans and rice with Andouille sausage. She liked it, but she didn't rave about it the way she usually does when presented with a steaming plate of Cajun or Creole food.

Most of Fontaine's menu is typical of seafood bars: peel and eat shrimp, crabcakes, oysters on the half shell, grilled/fried salmon or tuna. However, there are a few interesting items, such as oyster stew, Cajun rice balls, fried okra and Muffalettas.

This is the thing: nothing in particular stood out to me as exceptional at Fontaine's. The service was good, the food was fine, the decor was average, but there was nothing that would keep me coming back for more. I felt this way about Harry & Son's, also on N. Highland, and although Dark Horse Tavern rated higher it wasn't super either. Will this mediocre Virginia-Highlands trend continue? We'll find out this weekend, when I'll be back to try another option.

Verdict: OK, nothing special.

Monday, June 21, 2010

100th Post: Pub 71



4058 Peachtree Rd. - Atlanta, GA www.pub71.com

Yes, Southern Foodie family, it's true. I can hardly believe it myself. 100 posts on this blog. Cheers!

And in honor of the milestone, I'm reviewing a good choice for your own personal celebrations, Pub 71 on Peachtree Rd. The pub is located in a shopping center in Brookhaven alongside the Mellow Mushroom.

Last Monday night my friend Brad and I had dinner and a few pints at Pub 71. This was the second time I'd had dinner there. I wasn't super impressed the first time. However, I want to say that the place has risen in my opinion due to the new and improved menu. The chef has added at least two dozen new dishes, most of which are inspired by the countries participating in the current World Cup competition. They range from English breakfast (a whopping combo of two eggs, black pudding, baked beans, mushrooms and bacon) to grilled bratwurst with caramelized onions and spicy mustard to moules frites (steamed mussels in a light beer broth, with a side of French fries). I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll receive a surge of compliments on the new offerings and decide to keep at least some of the items available permanently, but that's probably a longshot.

I really enjoyed both the items I ordered: the carne asada tacos and the pan de queso. The tacos ($10) were full of juicy beef and the pan de queso ($6) is little mini yucca cheese breads. The cheese is subtly baked into the bread, creating a surprisingly good appetizer.

Brad ordered the Bacalau fritters, which are made of salted cod with lemon aioli ($8). Ever the salt cod fan, he gives them his approval. I'm personally always excited to see salt cod on a restaurant menu in Atlanta.

In the past I've had the hummus trio, which was pretty disappointing. Actually, it made me more than a little sick, an incident I remember well but still can't understand as I've never had an adverse reaction to any of the obvious ingredients in the past. I've also had the burgers, which weren't anything to get excited about.

The beer menu is another thing I can't get too excited about. Much like the recently reviewed Dark Horse Tavern, Pub 71 doesn't serve anything especially interested, but you can always grab a Blue Moon, Woodchuck Cider or a Fullers (this is available only in bottles).

Pub 71 offers several fun options. There's team trivia at 8pm on Tuesdays, half-priced wine on Sundays and live music during the weekends. Diners can choose between a dark wood, traditional pub interior or an outdoor patio.

Verdict: It's not yet good enough to make my "Great Pubs in Georgia" list (see bottom of the blog), but it's improving. Take advantage of the World Cup menu while you've got the chance.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dark Horse Tavern




816 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta, GA www.darkhorseatlanta.com

Last Friday night my friend Erin and I had dinner at the Dark Horse Tavern. The Tavern is located in the heart of Virginia Highlands, always a pleasant and popular area. Except for the parking, which will either cost you $5 at one of several lots or will be free if you choose to park down a residential street, likely far, far away from the restaurant.

Some people like to enjoy their summer meals on bright, cheerful patios with frou-frou cocktails and loud, laughing conversations. This is me in the early spring (although I'm not usually loud), before the temperature rises above 80 degrees. Other people like to take cover in a cool, dark tavern alongside drunks who sing Bon Jovi tunes at the top of their lungs (which I find oddly amusing, as long as the crooner is brief). If you find this scenario appealing, the Dark Horse Tavern is the place for you.

Erin and I began with the loaded tavern tots appetizer ($6.99). This was sinfully delicious. Golden fried tater tots topped with crispy bacon, cheese, green onions and a side of sour cream. Not a diet food, but a great menu item. I'd happily return to the Tavern for more of this.

For our entrees, Erin and I both elected to build our own burgers, which starts at $6.95. The patty itself can be your choice of beef, buffalo, chicken, portabella mushroom, or black-bean chipotle veggie. You'll also get a choice of 5 breads. From there you add however little or much you like of toppings ranging from queso to Kalamata olives to chili, which vary in price. Of course, I want all the expensive additional toppings, like guacamole ($1.50). Another cool topping at this price point is fried green tomatoes.

Both Erin and I really liked our burgers, although I ordered mine medium and received sort of a medium rare. This wasn't enough to prevent me from eating it though, and I give it a thumbs up. Just keep in mind when you're building that you may end up with a $10 burger.

Along with the build burgers, Dark Horse Tavern offers common pub choices like wings, specialty burgers, fish n' chips, chicken tenders and sandwiches. There's a country fried steak on the menu I'd like to try in the future.

The beer menu is so-so. You'll find all the boring regulars (Amstel, Bud, Coors), along with a better category which includes Guinness, Smithwick's, Edison Light and a few local brews from Sweetwater and Terrapin. Nothing too "out there", which means that the Tavern won't be on my short list of pub favorites.

My only real complaint? It's smoky, like so many bars where 75% of the patrons light up at the stroke of 10pm. The whole restaurant has that ingrained smoke smell that will transfer itself onto your clothes, hair, lungs, etc.

My best advice is to have dinner at the Dark Horse Tavern and then walk a couple of doors down to Blind Willie's for a few beers and some great blues. Sandra Hall and the Shadows brought the house down when we saw them last Friday.

Verdict: Great loaded tater tots, unexciting beer selection.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cuban Diner



1484 Roswell Rd., Marietta, GA http://mariettacubandiner.com

On Thursday night Kyle and I had dinner at the Cuban Diner. I need to begin this review with a few words on the location.

Cuban Diner is located in a run-down, old shopping center on Roswell Rd near the intersection of Lower Roswell Rd. The flagship store in the center is an old family-owned drugstore. The exterior is shady - but as all of my fellow Buford Hwy devotees know - you can't judge a book by its cover. You'll be very happy if you just cross your fingers and give the restaurant a try.

Kyle ordered media noche, a sandwich of ham, Swiss, pork, mustard mayo and a pickle on a sweet pressed roll ($7.50). The difference between this and their El Cubano is the bread - the other is, of course, Cuban bread. The portion size is smaller than you would have received at the former tried-and-true Havana Sandwich Shop on Buford Hwy, but it's very good and comes with a choice of sides. Kyle selected the maduros, sweet fried plantains. They were great. Cooked to perfection.

I ordered the pescado a la plancha, which is grilled fish fillet in Cuban lime marinade ($7.99). I received chicken instead of fish. As soon as I pointed this out, the horrified owner (Jose') had my fish ready in less than 5 minutes, and allowed me to box up the chicken to take home. Which I did, and it was awesome, covered with sauteed onions. The fish, though, is a real treat. It's golden and crisp on the edges, with a super marinade. All the entrees come with 3 sides, and I chose the tostones (fried green plantains), moros (black beans and rice) and yuca con mojo, which was my favorite. Yuca con mojo is cassava with raw onion rings, lime juice and oil. It is incredible - tender, with a flavor that pops. The tostones were very good and salty. The maduros was OK but lacked sufficient flavor, although I may just be spoiled after the yuca con mojo and incredible fish. Jose' says they cook the black beans and rice together all day long, every day. The entree with 3 sides is the best deal I've seen in a long time.

This place is far, far superior to the better known Coco-Loco.

The sangria is also great. Juicy and sweet, but not overly sweet.

Jose', is pleasantly gregarious. He is the kind of jolly person you'd associate with a family-owned pizza place. He apologized at least 4 times with the fish-chicken mix-up. He was hard at work the entire time we dined there - waiting tables, directing the cook, cleaning up, answering the phones. He mentioned that business is great during lunch, on Friday nights and the weekends, but often dead on weeknights. This is a man who obviously takes his business seriously. Let's help him make it a bigger success.

I have Kyle to thank for this excellent experience. He has some kind of restaurant app on his iPhone that allows the user to type in a location and type of cuisine and then lists the nearest restaurants meeting that description. We only live about 15 minutes away from Cuban Diner but never would have found it otherwise. I can't wait to return for more. Just thinking about the yuca con mojo makes me hungry.

Verdict: Better than Havana Sandwich Shop. (Yes, I mean the old location.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Il Bacio



2571 Piedmont Rd., Ste. 120, Atlanta, GA 30324 www.ilbacioatl.com

My friend Kevin and I have had dinner at Il Bacio three times now, so this review is indicative of all our experiences.

On Tuesday I ordered the daily special appetizer, which was a crab-filled ravioli with a lobster cream sauce. I would give this a 4 on a scale of 1-10. It was overly fishy, and the sauce was runny. Kevin has ordered the lasagna di casa ($11.95) twice, and wasn't very impressed. The proscuitto de parma focaccia ($7.95) was better, but a little lackluster. Maybe if they added more arugula, the flavor might pop more.

The bread presented at the beginning of the meal is like a thinner version of Pizza Hut's breadsticks, and it's served with butter, not olive oil. I thought this was supposed to be an Italian restaurant?

Kevin really enjoyed the minestrone. The item that gets the best marks in my book is the gelato. It's creamy and generously scooped. There are some traditional Italian choices as well as a few novelties, such as oatmeal cookie and Girl Scout Thin Mint. I like the regular mint and the Smores flavors. Kevin found the oatmeal cookie overly sweet.

I've never tried the pizza, which seems to be much of the restaurant's draw, because they only serve it by the slice at lunch. At dinner, you have to buy a whole pie.

Service has been pleasant and fairly swift each time. The decor is attractive, but lacks personality.

This may be the key to understanding the restaurant - it's there, and you'll receive edible food and good service, but nothing stands out, nothing differentiates it from any other Italian restaurant in this price range. Everything is a little bland.

Verdict: Average.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Special Feature: Cajun Meat Company


2207 Roswell Rd., Suite 200, Marietta, GA www.cajunmeatcompany.com

On Saturday I visited one of my favorite independent shops in Marietta – Cajun Meat Company.

Cajun Meat Company is a true butcher’s shop, with a Cajun twist of course. You can buy typical choices like filet mignon, pork ribs or brisket, but you can also get lots of other great meats. You can find almost any stuffed meat – chicken, pork chop, quail and rabbit – and plenty of sausage – chicken, tasso, andouille, Italian, homemade pork boudin. This place is definitely a sausage lovers dream.

Need a uniquely Cajun side dish? How about shrimp dressing, crawfish ettoufee’, or chicken and sausage gumbo?

Cajun Meat Company also has a set of shelves with Zatarain’s, Cajun and Creole spices, rice, etc.

OK, I’ll admit it: you can find most of these items in either your local grocery or specialty store. So why patronize Cajun Meat Company? For one thing, you may be able to buy the items elsewhere, but probably not all in one location. If you’re going to have a real Cajun feast, this is a one-stop shop for you.

For another thing, it’s a great, local family-owned business. The staff is always hard at work and willing to answer your questions about the meat and dry goods or provide cooking tips.

During the holiday season, you can order turducken. What in the heck is turducken? It’s “A De-Boned Turkey stuffed with sausage stuffed with a De-Boned Duck stuffed with sausage stuffed with a De-Boned Chicken stuffed with cornbread.” I have never tried turducken myself, mainly because you have to order it in large quantities, a breast being $43.50 and an entire turducken (15 pounds) costing $69.95. However, every person I know who has tried it raves about it. One of these years it will be my turn to host the family Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and my guests will be in for a surprise.

Turducken isn’t the only novelty offered at Cajun Meat Company. You can also order a deboned stuck pig. I couldn’t find a price for this on the website.

Cajun Meat Company is tucked in a shopping center near the intersection of Roswell Rd. and Barnes Mill Rd., in the corner beside a Curves fitness. It is closed on Sundays.

Verdict: A true original in Marietta, GA.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Park Tavern




500 10th St. NE, Atlanta, GA www.parktavern.com

On Sunday Kyle and I had the misfortune of eating lunch at Park Tavern.

Guess you can already see how this particular review is going to go!

First off, this Sunday was NOT the day to dine at Park Tavern. The Jazz Festival was in full swing at Piedmont Park, the Tavern's backyard. The Tavern usually has free parking but was charging $20 which could be turned into a food voucher. This didn't help us at all, because we already had a $40 GroupOn. The parking attendant saw our GroupOn, indicating that we were definitely going to be eating at the Tavern and not just leaving our car there before heading to the jazz festival, and still wouldn't let us in for free. I like to walk, but not for a mile uphill after eating a heavy meal. Which is exactly what happened, of course, since we had to park in Timbuktu.

Second, the music is really loud. I asked to be seated far away from the music and was placed outside by the smirking hostess, right next to another diner who was talking loudly on his cell. There were lots and lots of other tables where she could have seated us. The obvious choice would have been to put us indoors, as the band was outside, but nothing seems obvious to the employees of Park Tavern.

For example, once the band really got rolling the employees opened the door of the inside dining area, letting the music in. This would have been OK, except they didn't turn off the music that was playing inside, creating what Kyle called "dueling jazz bands."

The service was slow and sullen throughout. I watched several members of the waitstaff while I was eating and a bad attitude seemed to prevail, indicated by their expressions, reactions to customers and customers' visible annoyance over long waits. The restaurant wasn't even 1/4 full, so I'm not sure why customers had to wait very long for service.

Kyle ordered the daily special, the ribs. The full rack ($18.99) was huge, enough to fill Kyle with a few ribs left over for me. The sauce was tasty. However, the meat was very difficult to separate from the bone. We literally had to use both hands to pull the ribs apart. Rib meat should be super tender, practically falling off the bone. Completely the opposite here.

Here's what Park Tavern did right:
1. The beer. Park Tavern has their own brews. The Olmstead amber was OK, but the Park Trail Ale (a pale ale) was great.
2. The decor inside. Dark and great for downing a few pints. We asked to get the Braves on TV, and after a little confusion with the remote the staff managed it for us.
3. Sashimi - it's available with your choice of fish upon request. I ordered yellow tail and salmon. It was fine, but a little pricey at $5.50 each.
4. The seared walu. Park Tavern has a sushi bar with an average selection - there are lots of Americanized choices like spicy tuna and California rolls that I usually avoid. However, the seared walu ($12.99), a fatty white tuna, is awesome. The fish's flavor is divine, and is paired with a subtle combination of cucumber, ponzu and shredded nori. If I were to return to the Tavern, I'd probably place 3 orders for this, grab a Park Trail Ale and call it a day.

But I probably won't return, despite the great walu and beer. There are restaurants I can patronize in Atlanta with far superior service, no parking issues, lower prices and equally good sushi. Why should I lower my standards unnecessarily?

Verdict: Once was enough for me.