Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paul's




10 Kings Circle, Atlanta, GA www.greatfoodinc.com

Last week I stopped for lunch at Paul’s, located in the Peachtree Hills section of Buckhead across from previously reviewed The Treehouse. Paul’s was opened by Paul Albrecht of the famed (and now conspicuously MIA) Pano’s and Paul’s. The website says Paul’s is “Restaurant Bar Sushi.” Something to please everyone, right?

I was in a sushi mood, so I started with the beef tataki ($9). The flavor was good, but the texture was too grizzly. Next I ordered the Rob Roll ($12). This is comprised of cucumber, kani, tempura asparagus and cream cheese on the inside, and alternating strips of ahi tuna and sliced avocado on the outside. It was lovely, but somewhat disappointing in terms of taste. I think the crispy asparagus was what threw me off, although the tuna was also only of average quality.

I also ordered the yellow tail nigiri ($5.50). I hate to say this, but it was possibly the worst yellow tail I’ve ever eaten. It was off-colored, and tasted old. Definitely not fresh. I nearly sent it back, but I knew it would end up making me late getting back to the office, so I kept it.

After that I was happy to accept my server’s offer of “something sweet to complete your meal.” Per his recommendation, I ordered the chocolate caramel tart with pistachio ice cream (on the online menu the tart is paired with coffee ice cream). Now THIS was stupendous. Very sweet, with big chunks of caramel and perfect, lovely, green and creamy ice cream. A wonderful combination, although pricey at $8.

However, I felt bad about judging Paul’s based solely on the sushi, especially because I’m guilty of very high standards in that department. I decided to return for lunch to try out some of the regular fare.

This turned out to be a good decision. I ordered the panfried flounder fillet in olive oil, which comes with mushrooms, artichokes, new potatoes, capers and lemon parsley. Or at least those are the ingredients listed on the menu. I was surprised to discover sections of white grapefruit also in the dish. I’m still not 100% convinced this was a good idea, but I think the dish did require a bit of fresh contrast to the rest of the heavy ingredients. I’m just not sure if the chef went in the right direction with such a tart fruit. I also think the potatoes could have been omitted for a healthier and lighter dish. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of rich food you’ll love the copious olive oil, grilled artichokes, browned mushrooms and the fried crust on the flounder. For $12 you’ll receive a good sized portion of fish and plenty of capers, lemon and parsley to flavor it.

A few notes on the atmosphere: it’s nice without being pretentious. I liked the warm wood paneling (which I normally hate) and the comfortable seat cushions dotted with bright pillows along with left wall. If you find the restaurant too expensive or stuffy, you can head upstairs to Paul’s On the Patio for a more casual experience.

Verdict: I'm willing to return, but it's far from my favorite place in this area. Steer clear of the sushi, but don't miss the chocolate tart.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ormsby's




1770 Howell Mill Rd., Atlanta, GA www.ormsbysatlanta.com

On Friday night my friend Erin and I went to Ormsby's on Howell Mill. We almost couldn't find it, which was apparently the restaurant's intention. It's located in the White Provision center, in two basement levels with the entrance underneath a stairwell. There's no sign - just a big O on the wooden door. It's meant to portray a speakeasy effect. Pretty cool, actually.

The food: far better than typical pub food. You can get fries or Sweetwater battered onion rings with your choice of 2 of 12 different sauces. I ordered the Guinness-braised bratwurst, topped with sauerkraut and stout mustard on a pretzel roll. The brat was delicious and juicy, the kraut appropriately sour and shredded just right. The pretzel roll was huge - expect to fill up on the bread. It was certainly worth the $7 asking price.

Erin ordered the pastrami and Swiss on rye, with a side of onion rings ($11). She only received 3 rings, but they were crunchy and enormous. The sandwich meat was plentiful and edged with pepper, the best pastrami I've tried in a while.

I'm itching to come back on a Tuesday, when the daily special is low country "frogmore stew", a concoction of shrimp, crab, new potatoes, corn and andouille in a spicy tomato broth ($13).The dessert menu includes maple cotton candy for only $3. The people in the table next to us ordered this and it looked perfect. The whole idea of a restaurant serving cotton candy is uniquely fun in my book.

Beer: Fabulous selection. Of course, no one can beat Summits Wayside Tavern in terms of variety, but Ormsby's is carrying a hefty list. The list on the website is only a partial. I tried an excellent and fragrant Canadian beer that burst with Granny Smith apples, and a lovely caramel stout. There are good descriptions beside each brew on the list, so you won't be flying blind.

Also, the waitstaff was great. Erin changed her drink order 3 times and the bartender never batted an eye. Despite the crowd, we never waited too long for any of our drinks or entrees.

Verdict: Admirable beer selection, very good food that caters to the young and hip crowd.

The atmosphere deserves some further commentary here. It's obvious that Ormby's is a sister restaurant to Atkins Park Tavern. The customers are basically the same - young, somewhat affluent and trendy. You'll see lots of 23 year old guys in dress shirts with sleeves rolled up, khakis and flip-flops, while the ladies wear predictably flirty dresses and heels. The noise level is loud, nearly club-like, and the place is huge. Downstairs there are lots of tables along with bocce ball, 2 skee ball machines, darts, pool tables and what appeared to be shuffleboard. Upstairs is less intimidating, and there you'll find a long bar facing more private tables.

These are the reasons that Ormsby's won't make it on my Great Pubs in Georgia list. It's too much the "it" place to be, not low key enough for me to sit comfortably drinking my beer. It's also too loud for me to spend an extended period of time here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bacchanalia



1198 Howell Mill Rd., Atlanta, GA www.starprovisions.com

On Saturday the 10th Kyle and I had dinner at Bacchanalia. This was actually at the second time I had dined at the restaurant, the first time being 10 years ago when it was still located in the charming restored home on Pharr Rd. Several years ago it relocated to Howell Mill Rd., in the same shopping center as Figo, Taqueria Del Sol and JCT Kitchen.

For those of you who aren’t aware how Bacchanalia works, it’s a fixed priced restaurant. Your dinner will cost $75, and it will include one appetizer, entrée, “cheese and contrast” (more on this later) and dessert. Your menu will give you about 7 or 8 choices for each course. There’s an optional salad course which will cost you an additional $10, and if you really want to blow your bank account you can allow the restaurant to present you with wine pairings for each dish. Don’t even ask what your dinner will cost if you decide to do this.

Between my meal and Kyle’s, there was too much food to comment on everything without making this post a mile long, so I’ll just comment on the highlights.

Our first amuse’ bouche was gougeres, those wonderful, buttery little balls of barely cooked dough. They were phenomenal. We could have eaten an entire tray of these.

Appetizer: Pushing aside any moral reservations I may have about the “preparation”, I ordered the foie gras. It came with a variety of very tiny items such as blueberry jam, fresh blueberries, shaved dehydrated buttermilk and buttermilk dots, along with small brioche toasts. It was ridiculously good, soft and mouth-watering. I was surprised at the large portion size. The best foie gras I’ve ever had to date.

Entrée: Kyle ordered the steak, and felt it was good but not the greatest. Upon the server’s recommendation I had the Georgia Mountain Trout with bacon and chanterelles. I’ve noticed that many good restaurants in Atlanta pair trout with bacon lately. It’s a good combination, but becoming too common. The fish was very fresh, but there weren’t enough mushrooms and the bacon was a tad undercooked.

Now for the cheese and contrast. Each special cheese on the menu was paired with a contrasting food meant to bring out the best in each item. I selected the Pierre Robert with poached blueberries. The Pierre Robert is an excellent, very creamy Brie-type cheese with a strong flavor, almost like a blue cheese. It was beautifully paired with the sweet and colorful poached blueberries. Kyle opted for the buffalo mozzarella with basil and tomatoes (effectively a Caprese’ salad). He enjoyed this, and felt the tomatoes were especially fresh.

Dessert: Kyle was disappointed with his chocolate cherry soufflé, commenting to me that the cherries were bitter and the souffle’ itself too light, almost inconsequential. My blueberry tart, however, was perfect. The brown-butter crust was beautiful and super buttery, and the blueberries were luscious. It was the perfect size and texture.

When the chefs at Bacchanalia decide want to use a particular seasonal ingredient, you’ll find that ingredient in lots of the featured dishes. For example, my appetizer, cheese and contrast and dessert courses all contained blueberries. Kyle read another review of the restaurant from a diner who said he had strawberries in each of his courses. While I’m all for eating/cooking seasonally, this is a little disappointing. $75 (pre-tax and pre-tip) is a lot of money to lay down for a single dinner. When I pay this much, I expect a little more variety.

Be forewarned that you can’t just decide that you want to dine at Bacchanalia on a Tuesday and expect to get reservations for the following Friday night. Kyle and I had to make reservations over a month in advance to avoid eating at 9pm. Once you arrive there, you can expect to be seated a foot away from the next table. This will not be a romantic dinner – Bacchanalia is very loud when full (and I assume its nearly always full), and you’ll have to raise your voice quite a bit to hear your date speaking. Our service was very good without being intrusive.

So how does Bacchanalia measure up to other Atlanta establishments in its price range? According to Kyle, it falls short. We dined at Woodfire Grill in January (see blog history for review) and he felt the food, atmosphere and the service were far superior.

I had to consider this for awhile. My experience at Bacchanalia a decade ago was so fantastic that it was hard for me to give another place top billing, but eventually I had to admit that I preferred both Woodfire Grill and Restaurant Eugene over Bacchanalia. At Eugene, you will receive 5 courses (compared to B’s 4) for $10 less. Woodfire makes the same effort to include organic, locally-grown, seasonal foods without overwhelming you with any one ingredient. At Woodfire our waitstaff made more of an effort to describe the dishes and all their special ingredients. Like at Eugene, Woodfire charges $65 for the 5 course tasting menu. Bacchanalia trumps both their competitors in price without providing a better dining experience.

Verdict: Very, very good, but not the best. Somewhat overpriced.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Manuel's Tavern



602 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta, GA www.manuelstavern.com

Some know it as the legendary Liberal's hangout, but some know it simply as a good place to grab a beer and a bit of lunch or dinner. Yes, it's Manuel's Tavern.

Manuel's Tavern has been in business since 1956, when it was opened by Manuel Maloof, former CEO of Dekalb County and staunch Democrat. Though Manuel passed away in 2004, the restaurant is still owned by his family. It strives to appeal to people of all races, classes and backgrounds, so you'll see everyone under the sun here when you're having dinner.

I had the fish and chips appetizer as my dinner entree ($7.95). The fish aren't fillets, and they aren't sticks, they're in between. A good size comparison would be the chicken strips at Chik-Fil-A. They're served very, very hot. The hoki in its golden beer batter is great, I wouldn't change anything about it. The tartar sauce is homemade and tastes like it. The fries alongside it weren't so great. They were a little mushy and limp, and I prefer straight and crisp fries.

My friend Heidi, who has eaten at Manuel's far more often than I, recommends the hummus, The chef salad is nice and fresh, but has an oversized portion of diced red onions.

Almost every dish at Manuel's is under $10, so you won't blow your paycheck here. They have a few cheap and loveable options, like the "Dogzilla," a 1/2 pound all-beef hotdog with fries, for $6.25. With prices like that you can still afford a beer or two, and you'll find a good beer selection which includes gems like Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, Founder's Dirty Bastard and Piraat Triple on draft. There's also some local Sweetwater and Highland Gaelic Ale from NC. In the bottle you can find other great beers like Old Rasputin Imperial Stout Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, still my favorite wheat beer after a decade of taste-testing.

One thing about Manuel's that I underestimated was the size. Be aware that Manuel's is crowded some nights, particularly ones that would appeal to Democrats. Apparently it was a complete madhouse on election night in 2008.

Late diners will be happy to know that Manuel's closes at midnight on Sunday and Monday and at 2am Tuesday through Saturday.

Another great thing is the parking. Unlike most dining venues in Inman Park/Highlands/Little 5 there is lots of free parking, in two actual lots, not on the street. If you ever saw me try to parallel park you'd know why I got so excited about this.

Verdict: Good honest food and nice beer selection in a historic, locally-owned establishment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

King of Pops



http://kingofpops.com

So after hearing people sing its praises for a couple of months now, I finally got around to trying King of Pops.

If you haven't heard the scoop on King of Pops, you've missed an interesting story. The owner, Steven Carse, lost his corporate job at AIG and opened a gourmet popsicle business, meaning that he bought a rolling cart (like the ones that hotdog guys in NYC use) and began making and selling interesting and delicious popsicles. It might sound crazy, but it's been an amazing success.

And after tasting the popsicles myself, I can see why. When my friend Heidi and I visited the cart across from Manuel's on Thursday we were happy to see at least seven different available flavors. For example, coconut lime, banana puddin' and lemon basil, all of which sounded nice and refreshing on a scorching hot day.

Heidi opted for the ever-popular chocolate sea salt, which was rich and creamy (but not entirely salty enough for my taste), and I had the pineapple ginger. This was tart, juicy, and full of fresh, minced ginger. A truly unique flavor.

While we ate dinner across the street, I watched as car after car stopped to buy popsicles at the cart. Moms with little kids in minivans, hippies in Subarus, middle aged people in business clothes and teenage girls all happily purchased pops. One bearded biker rode away doublefisting chocolate sea salt popsicles. Clearly, age, gender, race or station in life are not determining factors in good popsicle taste.

I want to eliminate some confusion here - there are now TWO King of Pops carts, each manned by one of the two brothers (I believe their names are Steven and Jonathan). One is always located across the street from Manuel's Tavern, and the other moves around to different places in Atlanta.

The brothers update their locations on their Twitter site, so you can determine their whereabouts and make sure they haven't run out of treats before you drive downtown.

The pops are $2.50 each, which isn't super cheap, but is a fair price for what you're getting - a conveniently constructed slice of fresh flavors and happiness.

Verdict: A winner. An excellent treat for a hot day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sublime Doughnuts


535 10th St. NW, Atlanta, GA www.sublimedoughnuts.com

Last weekend I made a stop at Sublime Doughnuts, located near the intersection of Northside and 10th St. Several people had recommended I try them, mentioning that the store bakes unique doughnuts such as orange dream star, caramel apple fritter and deluxe cinammon twist. I decided to pick up half a dozen and try them all with Kyle over the weekend.

A couple quick notes on the shop: the day I was there it was staffed entirely by young men, all of whom were helpful and happy to describe any/all of the available doughnuts. The shop itself has a nice interior. It's more like a clean, trendy coffee shop with couches and reading lights than the loud, sort of grubby interior I'm used to encountering at Dunkin' Donuts. The owners clearly wanted their customers to feel comfortable enjoying the doughnuts there. Another bonus is that the chef, Kamal Grant, is a Georgia native.

First I tried the chocolate banana fritter. Excellent. I was worried the banana would be overpowered by the chocolate. Not so. I was just right.

I was a little disappointed with the Smores doughnut, mainly because there was only about a tablespoon of melted marshallow on the outside center. The chocolate and grated graham crackers were spot on, but I think they need to at least double the amount of marshmallow for this one.

My favorite was the A Town mocha cream. This was covered with milk chocolate icing and the filling was in the top half of the A. It was incredible, just the right amount of coffee flavor with a sweet coating.

Kyle tried the fresh strawberry n cream and the Reese's peanut butter cup varities. He liked them both, commenting that the sliced strawberries were very fresh and that there were big chunks of Reese's peanut butter cups on the donoughts.

He also ate the red velvet cream, which he didn't like as much because of the walnuts on top. Walnuts can be tricky: I usually like them, but sometimes their flavor will throw off the other flavors in a dish. This was the case here.

These great flavors aren't cheap. Half a dozen doughnuts cost me over $11. You can get twice that many doughnuts at Dunkin' Donuts, perhaps in a much more convenient location.

As is the often the case, buying Sublime doughnuts is a question of quality versus quantity. If you need to treat your Sunday school class, it's probably best to stick with Krispy Kreme, an old Atlanta favorite (best enjoyed hot, of course). If you want something different, with superior ingredients, you're better served by Sublime.

You can access the website for a full list of doughnuts, but be aware that not all of these types are available every day. For example, the store was out of the Nutella when I was there last Saturday.

Guess that means I'm going to have to go back for another round!

Verdict: A great addition to the Atlanta sweets/breakfast scene.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eats




600 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.eatsonponce.net

Last Thursday I had dinner with my friends Megan and Brian at Eats. For those of you who have never heard of Eats (in this case, you better be new to Atlanta, because Eats has been around forever), it’s something of an experience.

If you’re in the mood for some Southern style vegetables, then you’ve come to the right place. There’s collards, corn on the cob, lima beans sweet potatoes among others. And you’ll get corn bread, which I don’t like because it’s not sweet. Sweet is the only way I take my cornbread. Vegetarians can get a 3 veggie plate for $4.50, or a 4 veggie plate for $5.50.

Eats claims to make the “best jerk chicken in town.” I don’t eat jerk chicken in enough places in Atlanta to either confirm or deny that statement, but I will say that I like it. My friend Brian thought it was overly covered with spices. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I am a person who loves highly spiced, flavorable food. I also like their lemon pepper chicken. Eats also offers meatloaf. I’ve never tasted it, but I’ve smelled it, and it smells delicious. You can choose a meat and 2 vegetables for $6,90 or a meat and 3 vegetables for $7.30. The chicken portions are huge, so this is a great deal.

Then there’s the pasta. You choose a pasta and pair it with a sauce. Prices vary depending on the sauce, and whether or not you add any “extras”, like mushrooms or Italian sausage or an extra piece of garlic bread (the first piece is included), but you can expect to pay around $5.75.

I tried a brownie for the first time ever last week. It was rich and yummy, like it was made with lots of Crisco.

There are two lines at Eats – one for the pasta, and one for the meat and veggies. If the lines are long, don’t fret; service is fast and efficient. You’ll have your meal in less than 10 minutes, most likely less than 5. I like the ziti with pesto best.

I like Eats, always have. Although the menu is very limited, the food quality is consistent and everything is very inexpensive. For the same price you would pay for a burger and fries at McDonald’s you can get good, home-cooked food. Lots of students at local universities know this, so you’re bound to see plenty of them when you dine here.

You’re also bound to see, well, plenty of everybody. Eats attracts a wide range of people, from businessmen in suits to women in running shorts to large families to people who look like they work in “adult” shops or play bongo drums for a living. It’s kind of like Little 5 Points, all in one room.

Verdict: It’s not the absolute best food in Atlanta, but it’s a heck of deal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Morelli's


749 Moreland Ave. SE, Atlanta, GA www.morellisicecream.com

My friend Kathy recommended that I try Morelli’s, an ice cream shop in east Atlanta. She’d recently tried the salted caramel flavor. I brought up the website and saw that Morelli’s offers lots of interesting and unusual flavors, such as coconut jalapeno, sweet corn, and red bean.

Then I saw the one that made me decide I had to give Morelli’s a try: maple bacon brittle. I’ll try anything with bacon. Ice cream is no exception.

Morelli’s is located a couple of miles east of Little 5 Points on Moreland Avenue. It’s set up like Bruster’s, where you order from a window and eat your ice cream outside at one of the umbrella-covered tables. It’s in a small brick shopping plaza with a lot that was completely full when I got there. I ended up parking across the street in a gravel lot, but I don’t know if this is a good idea during the adjoining business’ working hours.

Alas, after 40 minutes of driving from Buckhead after work I arrived at Morelli’s and was told that they didn’t have the maple bacon brittle that day. Apparently the website is only a general guide to the flavors – you can’t assume that just because it’s listed on the site that the shop will have it that day.

Not what I wanted to hear, I can assure you.

But you have to take a step back in these situations and remind yourself, “Well, it IS an ice cream shop.”

A line was forming, so I had to make a quick decision about what to order. The day's specials included ginger cinnamon spice gelato, green tea ice cream and grapefruit campari sorbet. I chose the chocolate orange and the maple walnut flavors.

They were both excellent, especially the chocolate orange. It’s like an ice cream version of those chocolate oranges you can buy around Christmas. You know, the round ones that fit in the palm of your hand and are wrapped in foil and sectioned out just like a real orange? Delicious. The maple walnut was smooth and super creamy with lots of nuts. Great stuff.

While I was there, I saw a sign posted on the window that Kevin Gillespie, of previously reviewed Woodfire Grill, is now working in conjunction with Morelli’s. He’s now a “guest ice cream maker”, and his first flavor was S’mores, with homemade graham crackers and marshmallows and local honey. I’m a big fan of Gillespie, and his endorsement is a big deal for this little ice cream shop.

Verdict: Quality, delicious ice cream.