Friday, September 24, 2010

Oriental Pearl




5399 New Peachtree Rd., Chamblee, GA 770/986-9866

Last night Kyle, John, Amr and our new friend Kelly had dinner at Oriental Pearl. John is a huge foodie who will eat just about anything, and he has raved about this place for months. I have been to this restaurant twice in the past, but the last time I was there was at least 4 years ago, so I agreed to start afresh.

Let's start with what I really loved: The grouper. This restaurant knows how to cook grouper, in more ways than one. First there's the excellent grouper with black bean sauce. Tender fish, good vegetables, fantastic black bean sauce. Then there's the grouper soup with 1000 year foo. 1000 years? Surely that's an exaggeration . . . sounds like something Andrew Zimmern would tackle. Anyway, the grouper is in the soup is great, the broth is fragrant and the "foo" (I think this is an egg of some sort) was interesting, in a good way.

Another big hit was the baby bok choy with garlic sauce. Kyle and I prepare a similar recipe at home with Vietnamese stir-fry sauce, and this was almost as good. Almost.

What I wasn't crazy about: the conch with XO sauce. The sauce was very good, but the conch was tough. The spinach with garlic sauce was overly wilted. The pork spare ribs in black bean sauce were chewy, and full of fat. I tasted it and immediately discarded it.

The filet mignon with black pepper sauce could not have possibly been filet mignon, but it was still pretty good. I think renaming it to simply "steak with black pepper sauce" would give customers the right expectations and consequently leave a better impression. John also highly recommends the snow pea leaves, but I can't vouch for this as the restaurant was out of the dish last night.

Unlike John, I don't think that Oriental Pearl is better than Tasty China in Marietta (previously reviewed on 12/29/09). I think the flavors are more intense at Tasty China, and that Tasty has more mouthwatering, memorable items than Oriental Pearl. Don't get me wrong - I liked it, and I liked it better than I remembered from dining there years ago. It's moderately priced, (dishes range from about $10 to $23) and the service is good. And they serve really great, super fragrant jasmine tea. It's just not my favorite.

Verdict: Good Chinese food in Chamblee. Love the grouper.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kirkwood Public House




1963 Hosea Williams Dr., Atlanta, GA www.kirkwoodpublichouse.com

Heidi and I had dinner at Kirkwood Public House on Friday night. It's in the same spot on Hosea Williams that Vinocity used to occupy. Parking is a little complicated. You may want to valet to avoid getting towed.

The beer selection was well above average. Kirkwood PH doesn't offer a ton of beers like Summits Wayside Tavern, but the several dozen available are good ones. Left Hand milk stout and Southhampton double white ale are some examples.

The Kirkwood Public House seems to have something special going on every night - Jazz Mondays, Texas Hold 'Em Tuesdays . . . on Friday night there was a sort of bluegrass band. Consequently it was very loud and we chose to sit outside, on the small but adequate patio.

Service was good throughout. Maybe a little slow towards the end of the evening.

Good luck trying to view the menu on the website. It's shown in dark red on a dark red/white background. Look closely and highlight the entire area. It's there. A few noteworthy items are the varied selection of sliders - you can choose lamb, turkey, pulled pork, veggie - you name it. 3 sliders for $9 and so on. Most of the other options are predictable, however. Buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and grits, vegetarian penne pasta with an option to add meat. Ho hum. But I'm more forgiving of a boring menu if the restaurant has interesting beer, as this one does.

I ordered one of the daily specials, a flatbread with caremelized onions, portobello mushrooms and Parmesan topped with a little pile of arugula. This was OK, not super. The flatbread needed salt, some basil, diced tomato . . . something to give it more flavor. It was too bland, and a healthy dose of salt didn't help. The predominant flavor was garlic, and of that there was too much. The arugula helped, because it was dressed in a balsalmic vinaigrette. Still, I wouldn't order it again.

Heidi fared much better with her order, which was the chicken salad sandwich. The salad contained green olives, toasted almonds, lemon pepper mayo - what a great combination! Kudos to the chef on that one.

Verdict - Getting there with the food. Already a winner with the beer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Candi's for Breakfast



660 Irwin St., Atlanta, GA www.candisforbreakfast.com

This morning I went to Candi's for Breakfast. This restaurant is located on Irwin St. near the intersection with Krog. It shares a building with Jake's ice cream and a bakery, along with a couple of other small businesses. Inside you'll find some well worn rugs, mismatched tables/chairs and a small but quaint sitting area in front of a large window.

I ordered the Sop Em' Up Biscuits with sausage gravy ($5). The biscuits were fine, a little above average in terms of good flavor and consistency, and the sausage gravy was moderately spicy.

The al la carte item of 2 eggs any style ($1.95), however, was pretty disappointing. I ordered them scrambled, and am sorry to say they were undercooked, almost runny. I would have much preferred to wait an extra minute or two for my meal than to receive these nearly inedible eggs.

As you can see from the pic, these items were just put on the plate without much regard for presentation. Yes, of course I think that the quality of the food is far more important than the appearance. Presentation shouldn't be totally disregarded though. A few slices of fresh fruit or a even a simple sprig of parsley would have livened up the otherwise unattractive/boring look. The eggs and biscuits were like two half-liquid blobs on the poor plate.

Having only eaten one meal at Candi's, I can't say for sure whether it's good overall or not. There are some interesting items on the menu, such as homemade beignets, stuffed biscuits, and The Big Easy, a breakfast platter of sauteed potatoes, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, ham and sausage topped with 2 eggs any style (steer clear of the scrambled!) with optional sour cream and hot sauce ($8). Maybe one of these selections would have been more impressive than what I ordered today.

Could it be that Candi and her staff are great cooks, they just haven't hit their stride yet or were having an "off" day? Or was this the best they have to offer?

Verdict: Not a great first experience, but I'd be willing to give Candi's another shot. Good service.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Douceur de France




367 Glover St., Marietta, GA www.douceurdefrance.com

On Saturday afternoon my dad, Vicki, Kyle and I had brunch at Douceur de France. I have eaten at this restaurant at least half a dozen times, but my experiences have been spread out between the past five years. The owners have a second location in Roswell. If you’ve never been there, be aware that the Marietta restaurant is located in an industrial area very close to a train track. When you’re driving there you’ll think you’re in the wrong place, then you’ll see it. Once you’re seated you’ll be treated to the frequent loud noise of a passing train. So loud that you won’t even try to continue your conversation with your dining partner.

Sounds atrocious, right? You’ll likely forget all about that once you start eating Douceur de France’s great food, or maybe even prior to that, when you go inside and view their pastry counter and revolving display holding at least 2 dozen types of tarts, pastries, √©clairs and cakes. You’ll be hard pressed to select only one.

Normally I’d be in favor of cake before breakfast (yes, you read that correctly), but I averted my eyes from the sweets counter and headed outdoors to sit on the patio, where the goodies were out of sight. Still on the diet, or at least making an attempt, if you haven’t already guessed.

I ordered the Panini salmon ($7.85). Delicious crisply grilled baguette with two perfectly poached eggs, a fair portion of fresh smoked salmon and Hollandaise sauce. The side dish of hash browns was dynamite and required no seasoning. The portion was good without being too much. My dad ordered the tourte a poulet (chicken pot pie), which had a wonderful, buttery crust and thick brown mushroom sauce, and was a steal at $7.95.

Besides the Croque Madame, which I remember had great deal of melted cheddar along with a healthy portion of turkey ($5.90), I can’t recall everything I’ve eaten at Douceur de France over the years. I do, however, know that I liked everything.

Frankly I was worried about taking my family to this restaurant, because in the past I have had painfully slow, apathetic service. My friend Kelly and I have had at least two lunches here that took nearly two hours on weekdays when we clearly needed to get back to work. The waitstaff is primarily young, female and flippant (or scattered, at best). Even getting a menu has been a chore in the past.

However, I was relieved that the service on Saturday was much improved. Our waitress, though young and female, took our orders about 10 minutes after we were seated (trust me, much better than usual), and delivered our entrees correctly and completely about 15 minutes later. Pretty good considering the restaurant was nearly full. The young woman was polite and actually smiled at us once. I hope this wasn’t a fluke. The reason I haven’t been back to this restaurant in the past year is because the service was so unbelievably bad the last time I ate there. I’d love to think it has turned around.

So for the price of breakfast at IHOP, you can get a lovely French-inspired meal at a cute restaurant. (IHOP is always my standard for comparison when I review brunch, because the food there is consistently average or a little better, and everyone is familiar with the menu and cost of dining there.)

Verdict: Very good French breakfast and lunch. The jury is still out on the service.

Friday, September 10, 2010

London Bistro & Ultra Lounge




1950 Howell Mill Rd., Atlanta, GA www.londonbistrolounge.com

Last Saturday night Heidi and I had dinner at London Bistro & Ultra Lounge. The name of this place is indicative of the dichotomy the owners are apparently trying to achieve here - in the early hours of the evening you can have a nice, probably quiet dinner, while later the place becomes more club-like as a DJ arrives and a disco balls spins. I feel that my "club days" are likely behind me at this point, so Heidi and I showed up early.

As was the case with previously reviewed P'Cheen, London Bistro was basically empty when we arrived. As was also the case with P'Cheen, the food and service were surprisingly good.

We began with The Castles ($6.95) - Fried green tomatoes with grilled shrimp and remoulade sauce. You get 3 slices of tomatoes, fried but not greasy, with a decent sized shrimp on each and slightly spicy sauce. Liked it.

For her entree, Heidi ordered the chicken tikka masala ($9.95), commonly known as Londoners' favorite dish. She commented that it was mild but tasty, right on target.

I ordered the Oxford Beef, which is oxtails in a red wine sauce with vegetables and coconut jasmine rice ($12.95). I've never had oxtail, so I was taking a chance here (as foodies should). It was great - super tender with a strong beefy flavor. Lots of fat, and good bite-sized vegetables like potatoes and carrots. The small mound of coconut jasmine rice is perfect, with a distinctly coconut flavor that is both delicious and fragrant. It's a nice complement to the beef.

If I have a problem with London Bistro it's that the portions are on the small side. Maybe an extra side dish or appetizer for your party would do the trick.

A word of caution here: The drinks are quite strong. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you should be aware. One cocktail equaled tipsy for us, two equaled borderline drunk.

For my fellow frugal diners out there, look on the website under the "goodies" tab for a 20% off dinner coupon. Must have a party of 2 or more.

Verdict: Better than expected. I'll be back.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

P'Cheen


701-5 Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.pcheen.com

Sorry about the lack of pics of the food - the restaurant was dark, and my camera was uncooperative.

On Friday night I had dinner at P’Cheen with Kyle, Sabrina and Ryan. I’ve had a GroupOn for this place for several months now and just hadn’t gotten around to using it, so I called that morning and left a message requesting a reservation (per the instructions on the restaurant’s recording). At 5pm I noticed that no one had returned my call, so I called again. The person who answered the phone seemed unconcerned that I had left a message earlier and been ignored, and took my reservation.

When we got to the restaurant at 7:30, I saw why he wasn’t too worried. The restaurant was virtually empty. Ours was one of only 2 occupied tables.

Usually the lack of patrons on a Friday night is a sign that a restaurant’s food is going to be bad, but not so in this case. 3 out of 4 of us enjoyed our food.

Ryan ordered the risotto du jour ($1), which was heavenly.

I ordered 4 selections ($10) from the artisan cheeses and house-cured meats: the 90-day prosciutto, duck’s breast (tasted exactly like Virginia smoked ham), a blue cheese and goat cheese. This came with several fingers of crusty bread. While I can honestly say that I enjoyed what I ordered, I must also say that the portion size was tiny. There is no way this should be ordered as an entr√©e – instead get it as an appetizer. I recently had dinner at The Grape in Vinings, and ordered an extremely similar plate, and received literally twice this much food.

The only person who wasn’t very pleased was Kyle, who ordered the Bistro Steak a la Planca con Chimicurri ($15). He thought the grilled angus steak was tough, but he liked the sauce. Sabrina also ordered this and thought it was fine, but she didn’t rave about it.

We all shared a side of spaetzle ($5), which was lovely, warm and crisp. It would have been perfect if the chef would have taken it a little easier with the garlic. Wish spaetzle was on more Atlanta menus.

The beer selection is good, but not great. There are a few interesting choices, but not a broad spectrum. Ryan and I both really liked the McSorley's Irish black lager, at a completely fair price of $5/draft.

The service was great. Our waitress was bright and cheerful, and took good care of us throughout. The manager came by our table towards the end of the meal and checked on us, and was visibly involved in the preparation and service throughout. The atmosphere is part old bar (worn seats and scuffed flooring), part lounge (mood music and lighting).

All in all, it was a good experience. The price was consistent with most of the other restaurants in Virginia-Highlands, and there is also a nice outdoor dining area on the sidewalk. When we left the restaurant there were several more tables of diners, but not enough to make a big difference. I’m unsure of the reason for this – maybe it’s because P’Cheen isn’t the new, trendy place to go anymore? If so, that’s too bad. I think P’Cheen deserves better.

Verdict: A B+.