Friday, October 15, 2010

Eclipse di Luna



4505 Ashford-Dunwoody Rd., Atlanta, GA www.eclipsediluna.com

First off, I love tapas. I love the whole experience of ordering lots of small dishes to share with a fun group of friends, "fun" meaning people who are open to branching out and trying unfamiliar flavor combination. I've been to several tapas restaurants in the metro Atlanta area over the past decade, but Eclipse di Luna remains my favorite.

Why? For one thing, they have a long and varied menu. On one side of the page you'll find meat and seafood selections, and the reverse is vegetarian items. My problem at Eclipse isn't finding things I like, it's trying to decide how many dishes I can eat without exploding.

This isn't necessarily a problem at a lot of tapas places, either because the offerings are boring (calamari, bruschetta, and more calamari and bruschetta) or because each item is priced at about half the cost of a traditional entree, but in only 1/4th of the portion. The result of eating tapas shouldn't be that you spent twice as much (or more) on your dinner than you would normally, and it also shouldn't be that you leave the table broke but hungry.

You won't have either issue at Eclipse di Luna. The portion size is predictable (usually enough for about 3-4 people to have a few bites each) and the prices are fair, ranging from about $3.50 to $6.50).

You're probably reading this saying, "Alright, already! Tell me about the food!" OK, I've dined at Eclipse di Luna approximately 10 times, so I can't go into detail about each and every item, but here are some highlights.

The ceviche sangrita ($4.95) is one of my favorites. I love ceviche, not just because the citrus flavor pops, but because it's simple and super healthy. Eclipse does a good job with it, and gives you a decent sized bowl of shrimp, scallops and grouper for the price.

Another favorite is the Acun Crudo, Eclipse's version of tuna tartare. I'm pretty picky about tuna tartare, having first been exposed to it at the former legendary Soto sushi restaurant. Eclipse's tuna tartare isn't that good, although it's still a winner and costs about half as much ($5.25) as it used to at Soto's. The avocado gives it a creamy element, the sesame seeds give it depth, and the grape tomatoes keep it fresh and acidic. I could eat several servings of this dish and be perfectly happy.

The queso frito con meil ($4.75), fried goat cheese with caremelized onions and honey, is a good but a little overly sweet for my taste. About 1/2 teaspoon less honey ought to fix this problem.

Love the Aceitunas y Almendras ($3.95), a great assortment of both black and green Spanish olives in a tasty marinade. Often this is served with shiny, slightly oiled marcona almonds, a lovely treat.

In the past I've loved the very crispy fried green beans, but when I ate there most recently (last Saturday - an excellent choice for my bachelorette party) I found the beans to be limp and somewhat unappealing. I hope this was an isolated incident. The carne asada ($5.25) always has a good sauce, but it's also always tough. The hummus is average.

The service, if not especially warm, is very fast, even when the restaurant is packed.

Every time I've eaten here, the restaurant has been loud, sometimes so loud that I've had to shout at my companion throughout the meal. However, I've never yet eaten at a "quiet" tapas restaurant, especially during peak dinner hours, so this wasn't a surprise. The mere idea of tapas encourages lively interaction. Just don't look to Eclipse for a romantic dinner.

Verdict: A consistently good restaurant.
Eclipse di Luna also has a location (the original) on Miami Circle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Livingston



659 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta www.livingstonatlanta.com

OK, so I had an experience at this restaurant on Saturday that I don't think is going to give my readers the best idea of what they should expect at Livingston. However, I've never claimed to possess the funds or time of a professional food critic - restaurants normally get one shot with me before I review - so you'll have to read on and draw your own conclusions.

My friend Danielle and I had lunch at Livingston on Saturday. Well, we attempted to have lunch. When we got to there our would-be server informed us that Livingston is offering a brunch buffet ONLY on Saturdays until 3. "Didn't someone tell you?" Well, no. I made our reservation on opentable.com after viewing the lunch menu, which looked very good, and didn't receive any kind of notice that I wouldn't be able to order from it. This includes when the hostess called me that day to confirm my reservation.

The brunch buffet might be great, but it was $20/person and Danielle and I weren't prepared for that expense. I declined on principle - I won't be forced into paying more than I intended. Just when I thought we were going to have to leave, the server told us that they also have a bar menu, which was small but good. We were hungry, so we stayed. The fact that we had already valet parked the car (complementary, but a bit of a nuisance) had something to do with this.

Turns out that the bar menu is very, very small. Meaning you've got about 6 options if you want to eat, and they are all appetizers. Danielle ordered the popcorn shrimp with a mustard/peanut/ginger/cilantro dipping sauce ($9), which is placed on the side. I have to admit it was great. The shrimp wasn't greasy and the sauce was creamy and great, with a little kick. I ordered the Kobe beef sliders with a vidalia onion marmalade ($12). Some restaurants claim the beef is Kobe and I just don't believe them. Not the case here. The beef was very good, cooked just right, and highlighted (but not overwhelmed) by the marmalade. Danielle and I also shared a cheese board ($10). This was fine, not great. The cheddar was boring. The blue cheese was good and almost tangy. It came with peppered crackers (very peppery) and some plain toasted bread. The menu said it also came with rosemary almonds, but we didn't receive any of those. Too bad.

Maybe the best things Livingston has going for it are its ambiance and its location. It's right across the street from the Fox Theatre, in the historic Georgian Terrace Hotel. I love this hotel. The original Gone With the Wind cast party was held here, and if I had an unlimited budget, it would be the site of my upcoming wedding reception. The restaurant itself is gorgeous. High ceilings, two levels, great view of Peachtree and the Fox - everything including the champagne colored brocade wallpaper in the bathroom is beautiful.

Despite this, and my approbation of the few menu items we ordered, Livingston pissed me off at the end. They "cancelled" the reservation we made on opentable, which means I won't get my precious points. I assume this is because we didn't opt for the buffet in the main dining room, but I think that's pretty petty, since we weren't informed in advance that this is all they'd be serving. We still had food and drinks in the bar, so Livingston got our business anywhere, just in the adjoining room.

Verdict: Mixed feelings.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Food for Thought: Fun Food Fiction


Note to readers: Sorry for the long delay in posting. Due to both budget and diet concerns, I have been in a cooking phase and haven't eaten out in nearly 2 weeks. I promise that I will have at least 2 restaurant reviews next week.

Foodies love to not only cook, smell, touch and taste food, but true foodies love to read about it. Everyone is familiar with the icons of nonfiction food literature: Mimi Sheraton, Jeffrey Steingarten, Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain. But fiction authors haven't missed the culinary boat either. Here is some of my favorite fictional foodie reading.

I have read Gone With the Wind five times – more than any other book I’ve finished in my life – and my favorite part is just before the start of the Civil War, when the Wilkes throw a barbeque at Twelve Oaks. The descriptions of the meat turning on spits will drive any barbecue lover crazy. Another scene detailing the huge daily breakfasts is great too. Scarlett is one of my most beloved heroines of all time for many reasons, one of which is that she doesn’t adhere to the standards of her day which command ladies to “eat like birds,” especially in front of company. Mammy claims that Scarlett gobbles like a pig, which increases her worth in my eyes.

Another one of my top five favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo, describes several lavish, bountiful feasts within its lengthy but extremely worthy text. The French are not only masters of cuisine, they are also masters at describing it. Page after page of over the top meals awaits you.

Emile Zola’s Nana provides her party guests with a meal of endlessly varied dishes and unbelievable proportions. Nana spares no expense in pleasing the palates of her many guests, creating smorgasbords that require multiple hours to consume.

Accounts of the days leading up to the sinking of the Titanic (either true stories from survivors or fictionalized) always include awed descriptions of the meals served in the dining rooms, including the first class menu which amazed the diners because it included fresh strawberries. Strawberries were out of season at the time. If this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, please be aware that this was long before the days when food was raised in one country and transported thousands of miles to another year-round.

P.S. My favorite children’s book involving food is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. It’s set in the imaginary town of Chewandswallow, where meals rain down from the sky three times each day. It’s a delight for readers of all ages.

P.P.S. Warning – reading any of the above books may cause ravenous hunger on the part of the reader. Place a padlock on your refrigerator door and hide the key before reading. For good measure, throw your credit cards in the freezer beforehand.