Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Special Feature: Wolf Mountain Vineyards


A couple of weekends ago Kyle and I joined some friends for a wine tasting at Wolf Mountain Vineyards. The vineyards are located amidst a lovely woodland setting, and the restaurant and tasting room overlook the Blue Ridge Mountains. Between that and the very good wine, the tasting was a wonderful experience.

Although Wolf Mountain produces a few mainstream favorites, like cabernet sauvignon and claret, they also make lots of interesting blends. For example, the Coupage, a merlot/cabernet sauvignon mix.

Our tasting consisted of six vintages of the Instinct, a "Rhone-style red wine" that's somewhere between and syrah and a cab. Good stuff, my favorites being the 2004 and 2007. Some vintages are French oaked, some are American oaked. We were served generous portions of the wine, along with plates of nuts and cheese beside thoroughly-detailed printed sheets explaining how each vintage was made and their inherent scents and flavors. Exactly the right combination of information and fun for a wine tasting.

Afterwards we went upstairs to the front bar for a second tasting. This one included several different varieties, my favorite of which was the Chanteloup 2004 ($23.95/bottle). Chanteloup is a medium-bodied, French-oaked white. Over the past decade I've gravitated from light whites to heavy reds, and nowadays I rarely choose to pick up a bottle of white from any vineyard. However, I was very pleased with this Chardonnay/Viognier blend.

Apparently we aren't the only ones who liked what we tasted. Our host (Brannon Boegner, the vineyard manager whose father established the winery in 1999) announced that their wine club now has over 500 members. Members can sign up for quarterly wine deliveries, free tastings and discounts. Wolf Mountain now ships to GA, FL, NC, CO and CA.

As a foodie, it shouldn't be news to you that Dahlonega, located approximately an hour and 15 minutes north of Atlanta, boasts about a dozen up-and-coming wineries. The soil in the area was proclaimed by the an expert to be nearly identical in composition to the soil in Tuscany, the Italian wine mecca. If you haven't made it to a (relatively) local tasting yet, make sure you contact the vineyard in question, as they often fill up fast. During the spring and especially the fall, the drive is scenic and the mountain air is smog-free. Worried about driving home after the tasting? You can stay in one of the nearby charming lodges. Why not make Wolf Mountain Vineyards your first stop on your Georgia eco-tourism route?

Wolf Mountains wines range from $16 to about $80.

Verdict: Impressive. A credit to the state of Georgia.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foodie Event: Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain spoke at the Cobb Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. The Southern Foodie wouldn't have missed it for the world. I spent two happy hours watching him pace slowly back and forth across the stage, sipping a bottle of beer and spinning tales of foodie heaven and hell.

Bourdain is well known for poking fun at celebrity chefs, especially those featured on The Food Network, and he began the show with a hilarious Sandra Lee story. Bourdain's acerbic comments and quick wit are his trademarks, and the audience ate it up.

Next he launched into an enjoyable diatribe about what's wrong with food television today, followed by a hilarious explanation of some of his many pet peeves. He eviscerated the Olive Garden chain. He (jokingly) claimed that watching Adam Richman on TV incites middle eastern goat herders to join Al Qaeda. He suggests telling your small child that Ronald McDonald has cooties.

Finally he gave the audience about 20 minutes worth of travel advice, garnered from recent years starring in the Travel Channel's hit show, No Reservations. First off, Bourdain encouraged us to be appreciative of any and every opportunity to travel (example: correct sushi eating etiquette). As Americans, we are greatly fortunate to be able to whip out our passport and know that our government will likely get us out of any scary situation we might get ourselves into. He also commands travelers to be respectful of other cultures, observing their customs and avoiding offense. This may sound pathetically obvious to some of you, but anyone who has travelled abroad has witnessed tourists getting an attitude about the simplest of misunderstandings.

However, Bourdain spent the most time urging travellers to be adventurous, especially when trying new and authentic foods. His only exception is Russia, where he says all bets are off, saying the last time he visited he was forced to admit that any 99 year-old Russian grandmother could drink him under the table. This is coming from a man who was drinking more than 30 shots of vodka every day of the trip.

Bourdain is unapologetically opinionated, and is rarely modest. He recently gave up his long-time heavy smoking habit and is loudly bitter about it. During the Q&A session, he was asked by an audience member why he portrayed a certain low-class area of a South American country. He answer is that he may revisit the region for a future episode of No Reservations and highlight a "better" part of the city, but it's his show, and he'll go where and do what he wants on it, period. This brought wild cheers from most of the audience (including me), but one can't help but see that Bourdain isn't seeking our approval. Another audience member asked about his bottle of beer, which turned out to be Sweetwater 420. Following the vociferous applause from the audience he sneeringly said "it's so easy to pander to the locals." And indeed it is, as it's easy for Bourdain to impress anyone who paid a minimum of $40 for a ticket to hear him talk about whatever he wanted for 2 hours. Some of us have been eagerly reading his books and watching No Reservations for years, and couldn't wait for Saturday's live show. He captivated us from the moment he set foot on stage.

Verdict: A highly entertaining show from a world-class food personality/chef. Worth every penny.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kuroshio Sushi Bar

840 Ernest Barrett Pkwy., Ste. 500, Kennesaw, GA www.kuroshioshushi.com

Loathe to return to our regular lives following our return from our honeymoon, Kyle and I had a nice lunch at this sushi restaurant in Kennesaw last Sunday.

The menu for this restaurant is quite long and varied. There are a few temaki rolls (conical shaped hand rolls), traditional maki and , yakatori sticks and tempura, dollar maki and dollar nigiri, a bevy of sashimi platters, as well as non-sushi dishes like teryaki, spicy lemongrass meats, grilled seafood and noodle soups. If you like Japanese food at all, you can find something you'll want to eat here.

If you're into specialty rolls, you'll love this place. The menu features two whole pages of special rolls crammed with every sort of fish and topping imaginable. Most of the rolls have "cute" little names, some of which are locally inspired, like the KSU Owl Roll (lots of crunchy items in this).

I think I may have mentioned in a previous post that I'm primarily a sushi traditionalist, ordering maki about 90% of the time. I don't like hard things like asparagus or "fillers" like cream cheese in my sushi. I think that most sauces mask the flavor of the fish instead of enhancing it. I also think rolls with "cute" names are an unnecessary gimmick, most often employed when the house knows their fish is of inferior quality and wants to distract the naive' American customer. However, I was in a particularly good mood and feeling open-minded on Sunday, so I ordered a special roll. Must have been the post-honeymoon bliss.

I chose the Hip Hop Roll ($12). This is comprised of yellowtail and scallions, topped with super white w/avocado and spicy tuna sauce. While I still believe that plain old maki or nigiri are tops, this was pretty good for a flashy, incongruously named roll. The yellowtail was of good quality, and the sauce wasn't half bad, I just think there was too much of it.

Kyle ordered the Sassy Nana Roll ($11), which is salmon, asparagus and cream cheese topped with bluefin tuna and super white fish, coated with sweet spicy sauce. It was a minor miracle that Kyle even ordered this roll, as he typically turns his nose up at any seafood that isn't canned tuna. You have to take this into consideration when I say that he liked the roll, but didn't love it. I had one piece and pushed it aside, but you also have to consider my early paragraph about hating at least half of everything about this roll.

We also shared a plate of beef fried rice ($9). It may sound a little expensive, but we received a very large portion, enough for a lunch for me later in the week. Kuroshio's fried rice includes chopped zucchini along with the usual vegetables like green onion. An interesting and pleasant addition. This dish keeps well when refrigerated.

Verdict: There is such a good variety of sushi, etc. here that I would definitely recommend Kuroshio to anyone. I think the fish was good for the price, and the service was excellent. I'd definitely be willing to return.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bistro Niko

3344 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA www.buckheadrestaurants.com

I can't help but think that this place was opened by the ridiculously successful Buckhead Life Group to compete with Le Pied de Cochon, located right across the street at the Intercontinental Hotel. It's similarly decorated, with a small but lovely patio that sits just above busy Peachtree Road.

Kyle and I ate here the morning after our wonderful wedding, Sunday, October 24th. I've passed the restaurant umpteen times and couldn't wait to have a leisurely brunch on the patio.

And that we did. Kyle ordered the Chantilly Belgian Waffle with maple syrup and fresh heavy cream. ($13. I noticed that this has changed on the web menu to brioche French toast with caramelized bananas and candied pecans, which sounds excellent as well). 4 triangular slices of perfectly browned, crisp waffle lay on the plate, alongside 3 small bowls containing butter, thick whipped cream and rich syrup. It was pure joy.

I ordered a fantastic puff pastry with scrambled eggs, freshly steamed asparagus and sauteed cremini mushrooms. What a fantastic, savory meal! It was luscious, scrumptious, the eggs fluffy and buttery, the mushrooms flavorful and plump, the pastry light and beautiful. It was accompanied by a fresh arugula salad with just the right amount of homemade vinagrette. It was perfect . . . and it's also no longer on the menu. This is a tragedy. I thought about this dish several times when I was on my honeymoon and am very disappointed I won't be able to enjoy it again here.

So, the food was great. But the service was another story entirely. It was terrible. Yes, terrible. Our waitress was both slow and inattentive. There was a 10 minute stretch when we couldn't spot her at any table, much less ours. Patrons at other tables craned their necks searching for her, and when she reappeared she seemed blissfully ignorant of her neglect. As soon as she brought me my coffee (which she didn't do until she brought my entree), I asked her for cream and sugar, and none appeared until my coffee was completely cold. It also took a long time for us to get our check. It's nice to have a leisurely brunch on Sunday, but I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to make it home.

I have no idea how to rate this place, such was the vast difference between the quality of the food and the quality of the service. I think I'd be more inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt if they wouldn't have removed the exact two items we ordered and enjoyed. Maybe I'll try it again one day, but it won't be the first on my list.

Verdict: Excellent brunch, awful service.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Miller Union

999 Brady Ave., Atlanta, GA www.millerunion.com

Hello, followers! Just a quick note to say that I'm sorry for the delay in posting. However, I have a good excuse - I was on my honeymoon! Now I am back in town and ready to eat.

I actually ate dinner at this restaurant almost a month ago, before I got married and skipped the country. Consequently I'm afraid the memory of the details of the meal have dimmed a bit. This will be a shorter review than usual.

My sister and I started our meal with the creamy grits fritters, at a very reasonable price of $5. Very good. My favorite thing about this dish is how crispy the outside was fried in comparison to how soft the inside was. This is literally grits with a hard shell. A lovely contrast.

My sister ordered the quail ($22) for an entree. This is currently listed on the website as sauteed with wild mushrooms, arugula and cornbread dressing. A month ago it came with celery and farro. Something you should know right off the bat about Miller Union is that the menu changes regularly, according to what ingredients the chef can get locally, fresh, and many times organically. Don't look at the menu online and get stuck on any particular item, or you'll likely be disappointed when you get to the restaurant.

Which would be unfortunate, because the menu always contains great options.

My sister enjoyed the quail, except with quail you have to keep in mind that half of the bird's weight consists of bones. You'll have to pick your way through to get to the meat, which is fine, if you like dark meat chicken. The farro was tasty and the celery was tender-crisp.

I liked my entree better, a fantastic flounder fillet with a super fresh mixed local beans mix, a little corn, and fresh micro peppercress (yes, peppercress is correct. I had to ask the waiter about this and he gave me the lowdown - $26). The lovely chicken broth base was very savory and a total delight. The flounder was tender and sublime. I would happily order this again any time.

We had the warm plum crisp with custard sauce for dessert ($7). Yum! Subtle and darkly satisfying, although I think tacking on an additional $3 or a scoop of ice cream was a cheap shot.

I was also happy to see a local cabernet on the list, from Dahlonega's Frog Town vineyard (440). A very nice wine. I wish more of Atlanta's restaurants would take advantage of Dahlonega's increasingly good offerings.

Not that I should be surprised. Miller Union with Chef Steven Satterfield (former sous chef at one of my annual favorites, previously reviewed Watershed in Decatur) has been recently touted in Bon Appetit as a top ten new restaurant in the U.S. and also voted best new restaurant in Atlanta magazine. I pretty much knew going in that I was going to be happy with my meal here, and Miller Union didn't disappoint me. I can't say I experience the wow factor of Restaurant Eugene or Woodfire Grill, but I think that the food here lives up to the talk.

Verdict: Hot on the tail of local foodie favorites like Restaurant Eugene, Steven Satterfield has made Miller Union a success.