Thursday, November 10, 2011

Urban PL8



1082 Huff Rd., Atlanta, GA www.urbanpl8.com

Tonight I had dinner with my friends Paul and Erin at Urban Pl8. It's on Huff Rd., a street otherwise known for it's bevy of interior design warehouses and it's intersection with Howell Mill Rd. where Figo, Bacchanalia, JCT Kitchen, etc. reside. If you turn there, you'll need to drive a little over a mile before you'll see the sign on the left. Be on the lookout, or you'll be like me and Paul and miss it the first time (maybe even the second). The restaurant itself is back off the road.

Urban Pl8 has a strange vibe going on, specifically a "paleo" vibe. If you're unfamiliar with that term, it's a type of diet that focuses on getting as close to the diet of ancient humans as possible. You know, no processed foods, no grains or beans, no food that can't enter our bodies in "its natural state."

Personally, I have no idea why anyone would want to bother with all that, but that didn't make me unwilling to try or prejudiced against the restaurant, especially since most of the menu's items are fairly healthy and reasonably affordable. Most entrees were about $15, and there's a bar for those who are so inclined. Oh yeah, and plenty of vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free options if you're on those diets.

I had the Indian shrimp with coconut and vegetables ($16). This came with brown rice, kale, sauteed tomatoes, onions, and more garlic than any dish should ever contain. I'll be tasting garlic tomorrow morning at breakfast at this rate. Otherwise, I liked the kale, enjoyed the fat shrimp and bright red tomatoes. It all came in a round, deep white bowl, Asian style.

Paul ordered the red curry tofu ($12), which is pan seared. He liked it, but didn't really expound upon it the way he does when he truly loves a dish. It comes with sweet potatoes, broccoli, basil and coconut milk. One thing you should know is there's lots of coconut on the menu at this restaurant. If you're into tropical or Asian flavors, you'll be happy. If not, you'll probably be disappointed.

But this will be far from your biggest disappointment. That will definitely be the service.

It didn't start out badly. We were seated and given menus, and quickly received our drinks from a bright, smiling female server. She did her best to explain the paleo concept to us, then she left and didn't return to take our orders for a while (probably about 10 minutes). Next it took half an hour to receive our food, and the place wasn't crazy crowded. A member of the kitchen staff brought our entrees, and then we never saw anyone again. I kept turning around in my seat, blatantly looking for someone, anyone, to inquire about our satisfaction with the meals, refill our empty water glasses, offer us the check, anything, whatever. No dice. Finally I went to the bar and mentioned our waitress had been M.I.A. for quite a while.

"What does she look like?" the pretty bartender asked. I dutifully described the long absent woman. "Oh, she went home," she said, looking vaguely disturbed.

Well, that explains it, I guess.

Another server came to our table, apologized, and took our dessert order. This was a truly intriguing dish - chocolate pudding, but not really pudding. Not pudding at all, actually. Avocado, cocoa, agave for sweetness, coconut milk (see what I mean?), and banana. No dairy, no processed sugar. It had a vaguely mousse-like consistency, and smelled like jarred baby food. Must have been the mashed 'nana. The cocoa tasted much more like carob powder to me, a substance I ignorantly purchased back in college when I was going through an unfortunate healthy smoothie phase. I'm not saying the "pudding" was the worst thing I've ever had, but it wasn't the thick, milky texture or sweet chocolate flavor I'd anticipated.

After eating the pudding, I asked for the check from the new server and presented my Scoutmob coupon, which promises 50% off up to $20.

"Oh, I see you have a Scoutmob," she says, her brow darkening. "There's a mistake on that and we've reissued it. We only give up to $15 off. It was Scoutmob's mistake, not ours."

Are you kidding me? First we wait forever to get our dinners, then our waitress flat out leaves and no one takes her place finishing up our table. Though the new girl was apologetic, and gave us the "pudding" on the house, I don't think that makes up for severely neglectful service AND failure to honor a clearly stated, well circulated coupon. I mean, it's $5 - do you want us to come back for another meal, or don't you?

Guess you don't, and I have no problem moving on to greener pastures.

Verdict: Poor service, ho-hum food, and a coupon mishap that rubbed salt in the wound. Don't bother.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Broadway Cafe



2157 Briarcliff Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 404/239-0888

Last night my grandmother, mom and I had dinner at Broadway Cafe at the intersection of Briarcliff and Lavista roads. This is a vegetarian restaurant that includes dishes with egg substitute, fish and soy "chicken" or "sausage". The menu is all over the place - Italian pasta, pizza, Indian vegetable dishes, blintz souffles, Mediterranean fare, Southern cole slaw, "grown up mac n' cheese", Thai stir fry and English style fish and chips. While I'm generally disapproving of crazy mixed menus, I'm willing to overlook it in Broadway Cafe's case and consider it a place where anyone can find something he or she likes.

The reason I'm adopting a lenient attitude about the menu is because I had a great experience here. I chose the Mumbai vegetables ($12.95), the "chef's specialty", a blend of herbs, spices and lots of healthy stuff - green beans, red bell peppers, onions, cauliflower, tomato, red potatoes, etc. I don't know why the menu doesn't just label this as curry. It's definitely curry, and it's definitely delicious. Just the right amount of hot spicy, perfectly cooked vegetables, a smattering of fresh chopped cilantro on top. The sauce was on the thick side (a good quality), and was as good as you'd get in an actual Indian restaurant.

My mom ordered the Mediterranean platter ($9.95). This is supposed to be an appetizer, but is large enough to make an ample meal for one. Dark fried falafel, hummus, roasted eggplant and peppers, with a Turkish style chopped salad. Lots of good stuff here, and plenty of pita to pair with all of it. Everything was fresh.

We ended with another odd addition to the menu - beignets. Broadway Cafe's beignets are small, about the size of a silver dollar. When you order the dessert ($3.95), you get a whole plate full, maybe a dozen total. They are still doughy in the inside, coated with powdered sugar. They taste like they're really bad for you (read: they are heavy and sugary and addictive). Twelve sounds like a lot, but I'm telling you, you'll finish them off.

Our female server was cute and enthusiastic, but she forgot about us for a while after she delivered our entrees. Mumbai vegetables made me suck down the water, and my glass was empty for quite a while before our waitress resurfaced. There was also a young male host, who ran to the door and held it open for us when we entered and exited. Very pleasant, I'll say that much.

The decor is fairly simple - wooden booth and tables, cartoonish paintings of the New York theater district and well-known Broadway shows. Nothing fancy, just casual and unprepossessing.

Verdict: A nice neighborhood find.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft




1745 Peachtree Rd. Atlanta, GA www.tuktukatl.com

Last night my friend Valerie and I had dinner at Tuk Tuk, located in Brookwood Place on Peachtree in Buckhead. The restaurant occupies the space previously taken by Taurus, above the Viking store. (There's elevator access to the upper level.) I'd never been there before, but I knew Tuk Tuk was owned and operated by Dee Dee Niyomkul, daughter of the creators of the delicious, nearby swanky Thai restaurant Nana. With that legacy, I figured there must be some great food in store for me at Tuk Tuk.

So is Tuk Tuk on par with the grand Nan? Hmmm. No. But I want to immediately qualify that negative with a few notes:

Tuk Tuk is about half the price of Nan. Whereas I spent $26 on my entree last time I dined at Nan, I only spent $13 at Tuk Tuk, and $13 is on the high range of their menu. Tuk Tuk is doable on a regular basis/budget, while Nan is more of a special occasion or first date place.

Most of the dishes at Tuk Tuk seem simpler than the ones served at Nan. Take for example my dinner entree, Kow Mun Kai. This is steamed chicken with ginger, galanga and garlic rice topped with black bean chili sauce served with chicken consomme'.
Tuk Tuk's dishes aren't like those served at typical Atlanta Thai restaurants - they are about half that size. I got about 6 thin slices of chicken, very simply steamed, with a little ginger, about a cup of rice (noticeably garlic), a small condiment bowl of the black soy bean chili sauce, with another slightly larger bowl of the consomme. Our server encouraged me to try some of the soup by itself first, then pour a little onto the chicken. What excellent advice - the consomme' alone was top notch, and definitely added another layer of flavor to the chicken and rice. While I thought the chicken itself was too bland, I was happy with the sauces and sticky rice.

Other simple but pleasing dishes are the Pad Mee (sauteed vermicelli rice noodles with mushrooms, sprouts, scallions and egg), curries with your choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp, and Tom Yum Koong (traditional lemongrass soup with shrimp). These are dishes you will see at every Thai restaurant, in any city. Tuk Tuk also has some interesting, different items though, including lots of the small plates, which range from $7 - $9. The next time I eat at Tuk Tuk I'm planning to order the Kao Pad Goong Chiang, which is fried rice with diced Thai sausage, eggs, onions and Chinese broccoli ($13). We've all had fried rice umpteen times in our lives by adulthood, but not with Thai sausage. Sounds yummy.

Valerie ordered the Kanom jeen khew whan, which is basically green curry chicken with steamed rice noodles instead of just rice ($14). I tasted it and liked it, although I didn't find it as spicy as I might expect. I like my green curry with a distinct kick, and I didn't find it here. Still, the eggplant and bamboo shoots were tender, and the green curry sauce was good. Not as good as at Chaba Thai, but those of us ITP also don't have to go all the way out to Duluth for it, either.

Tuk Tuk has a very nice interior, with lots of black and white decor, boxes of Thai crackers and cookies adorning one wall, a spacious dining room, little lights that dangle from the ceiling and give the place a nice ambiance as the evening progresses. Our server, Gus, was great. He made good suggestions from the menu, smiled continuously and saw to our needs.

He did something else really cool - made me a Bangkok snow cone ($6). You read that right - Tuk Tuk has a cute, old fashioned snow cone stand where your server will create a huge snow cone (actually, it's in a bowl) just for you. The ice is topped with sweetened condensed milk and colorful rosewater, while a bevy of Thai dessert staples awaits you at the bottom: red beans, lychees, lotus and palm seeds. It may sound strange, but it was quite pleasant. Big enough for a small family to share, and not insanely sweet.

So, it's not as romantic or suave as Nan, and the menu isn't as complex or well cultivated. However, it's about half the price and you'll leave satisfied, especially if you're looking for a more fun, casual atmosphere.

Verdict: It's got that something special . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recipe: Chickpea Stew with Spinach & Chorizo


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/chickpea-stew-with-spinach-and-chorizo

Another Food & Wine gem. Chickpea stew with spinach and chorizo. It encompasses lots of food categories - the ubiquitous chopped onion, spicy meat, healthy greens, bright tomatoes, good beans - with just enough herbs to kick it into high gear. You can do without the bay leaf in a pinch, but you'll find the rosemary is absolutely necessary. As always, fresh is best if you can get it.

I pulled this recipe out of my October issue of Food & Wine back in 2005, and have been making it at least once a month during the fall and winter ever since. Being a stew, it just feels like a cold weather meal to me. The list of ingredients isn't long, and you can make it in about half an hour if you use canned (and rinsed) chickpeas instead of soaking dry beans overnight and simmering them for hours the next day. Normally I follow Food & Wine's recipes to the letter, but since chickpeas are kind of bland even when they're at their best, I haven't tasted much if any difference when I've used the canned beans.

My only other tip about this is that if you forget to cook the chorizo beforehand, you can cook it along with the onion as long as you stir frequently and don't burn it. I actually prefer to do it this way, because I omit the olive oil and cook the onions in the sausage grease instead. Make sure you get the soft sausage, in the link form, not the hard deli style chorizo. It really has a different flavor and consistency that melds well with the other ingredients in the stew.

Do yourself a favor: when you make this recipe, buy a big bag or bushel of fresh spinach, and after you make this heavy stew, use the remaining spinach in a salad the next day. That way, you can get a good contrasting use of the spinach, which is the healthiest part of the recipe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sufi's



1814 Peachtree St. Atlanta, GA www.sufisatlanta.com

On Thursday night Kevin and I had dinner at Sufi's, located on Peachtree right beside previously reviewed R. Thomas deluxe grill.

You'll begin your meal with traditional Persian bread (sort of a thicker, less butter, rectangular version of Indian naan), with a plate of various side items like sliced radishes, fresh mint and basil, good quality, firm feta, and olives. The restaurant is dimly lit, so be sure not to mistake the large pat of butter with feta. I've done this on both trips to Sufi's, and it's an unpleasant experience. I'm not even sure why they include butter - the bread doesn't need it, especially if you order one of the yogurts as an appetizer. The yogurts ($6 each) come with either grated cooked beets, shallots, spinach, or Kevin's favorite, cucumber and herbs. It's a nice way to lighten up your bread and prepare you for your entree.

We also had an order of dolmeh, grape leaves stuff with rice, ground beef, chives, tarragon, parsley, cilantro and raisins ($8). Not the best dolmeh I've ever had, but still at least average. It contained too much of something bitter . . . maybe tarragon?

I chose one of the specialty dishes, Zereshk polo with chicken ($18). You'll see in the pic that it comes with the usual big portion of saffron basmati rice, but in this case it's mixed with barberries and more saffron, almonds and pistachios. If you've never tried barberries, the flavor is very similar to cranberries. While I like cranberries, this is what throws me off about the dish. The tender chicken is very good, but it's overwhelmed by the tartness of the berries. Even the extra dose of saffron doesn't save it. I'd give this dish about a 7 of 10.

Kevin got another speciality dish, the ghemeh badenjoon ($16), which is chunks of lean beef in tomato sauce, split peas, sauteed eggplant and onions, on saffron basmati rice of course. This is a similar concept to the Turkish Iskender kabob, with a couple more vegetables. It's a pretty heavy dish, a good choice during cold weather.

This was our second dinner at Sufi's. When Kevin and I ate here before I had the koobideh kabob, which is 2 beef kabob skewers alongside a large plate of rice. The beef is quite good, but not as rich and flavorful as that of previously reviewed Darvish in Roswell. However, you have to weigh this against the slow-as-molasses service you'll probably get at Darvish. If your goal is to eat the best kabobs in Atlanta, trek out to Darvish and plan to stay a few hours. If you want 2nd best kabobs (which is still pretty good) and faster service, try Sufi's.

Vegetarians can select from a variety of meatless rice dishes, ranging from sweet (black cherry) to nutty to substantial (dill and protein-packed fava beans). Rice dishes are only $6, and between that and the free bread you should have a fine meal.

Nice atmosphere. Lovely copper-hued walls, burgundy fabric-covered booths, and small pillows, but no flat platforms for seating or huge rugs hanging from the ceilings. If you think Darvish is "overdone" in terms of decor, you'll enjoy Sufi's elegance.

Prices listed above are on par with other Persian restaurants in the metro area. Persian dining isn't ever the cheapest available option around, but this type of food has a personality all it's own that shouldn't be missed.

Verdict: Good stuff. I plan to make it a semi-regular dinner choice.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Recipe: Pancetta-Wrapped Roasted Turkey


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pancetta-wrapped-roasted-turkey

Here's your Thanksgiving recipe # 2 for this year, and it will put any plain ole' oven roasted turkey you've made in the past to shame. It has a hint of sweetness, a noticeable measure of spice, tender poultry and lip-smacking, fatty pancetta. If your favorite thing about Thanksgiving turkey is the fragrant, flavorful skin, then you'll be head over heels for this version.

Think that making a whole turkey is too daunting a task, will require too much time or simply produce more food than you need? You don't need a special occasion (or 4 hours) to make this recipe if you make a few, easy revisions. Kyle and I have made this several times when we've hosted another couple for dinner, and we've found that two one-pound breasts, 1/3 of the quantity of each ingredient in the rub, and 1/4 pound of pancetta will suffice. In this case, I only brine the bird for about 3 hours. This means that you can place it in the fridge to brine (using only 1/3 of each of the brining ingredients) at lunch, and still have plenty of time to get it ready for a 7pm dinner. That's because you don't have to roast it for nearly as long - an hour and a half should do it.

The other thing I would change about this recipe - and this tip applies regardless of whether or not you use a whole 13 pound turkey or a couple of breasts - is that I wouldn't add the pancetta until the last half an hour of roasting. Why bother with it so early on, when you have to worry about getting the foil on top just right and risk burning the pancetta to a crisp? If your pancetta is thin sliced by the deli, it will easily cook up to a soft, barely crisp texture in half an hour.

And as you can see from the picture, you can't beat this recipe for presentation. It's super cool looking, so make sure you make a prominent space for it in the center of your dinner table, or parade it out from the kitchen under your guests happy noses before you slice and serve. This will give them a few minutes of gleeful anticipation for their upcoming main course.

Verdict: Another fabulous, easier than it looks recipe from Food & Wine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coast Seafood & Raw Bar



111 W. Paces Ferry Rd., Atlanta, GA http://www.h2sr.com/

My grandmother and I had dinner at Coast Seafood & Raw Bar on Sunday night. Coast is located right across from the St. Regis hotel in Buckhead, near the intersection of W. Paces Ferry and Peachtree Rd. Coast is in the restored house structure formerly occupied by Home restaurant. Outside is an elevated white patio with 6 tables or so, warmed on Sunday by heat lamps. Inside is a dimly lit but cute dining room with more space - bright blue accents on the walls, sculptures of fish, frameless paintings of the seashore. It might sound corny, but it was actually quite tasteful.

We started with the chilled smoked salmon dip ($8), which comes with an ample supply of lightly toasted pita chips. This stuff is addictive. Not too chunky, not too smooth, and not overly fishy. Just right.

Grandmother ordered the BBQ Jumbo Gulf Shrimp ($9), served with a buttermilk biscuit. This is an appetizer, but my grandmother rarely eats more than 8 bites of any meal nowadays, so it was pretty much the right size for her. The dish included 6 appropriately large shrimp in a heavy, dark sauce, and a decent looking biscuit. She liked it all very much.

I ordered the blue cod, blackened, with a side of spring onions and sauteed spinach. This was from the fresh catch portion of the menu, which offers 7 types of fish or shellfish served pan-roasted, grilled, blackened or "naked". At first I thought the cod was too blackened - meaning the seasoning was overkill. Then after a few bites I started to really like it, and finished it with relish. I also loved the spinach, laden with small slices of garlic and fantastic with the greens. Well worth $15.50.

One thing I liked a lot about Coast was the selection of sides that are available with the entrees in the fresh catch section of the menu. You have your choice of french fries, cheese grits, red beans and rice, cole slaw or spring onions and sauteed spinach. For a $1 upcharge, you can have green beans, Brussels sprouts, baby squash, roasted baby vidalias, mashed potatoes and mac n' cheese. I've already mentioned that I thought the spinach was excellent, but I'm also thrilled to find Brussels sprouts on the menu. I love them, and almost never get a chance to order them when dining out. The roasted baby vidalias make excellent use of a local and famous onion. Most casual/semi-casual fish restaurants would settle for only offering cole slaw, fries or other potatoes. Kudos to Coast for providing a few more interesting options.

In addition to the above, Coast also offers baskets of fried fish with french fries, specialty entrees complete with sides, sandwiches and a decent number of starters. If you can't decide what you'd like, you could always order the seafood tower, which comes with chilled lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters, crabmeat and ceviche ($35 for 2, or $19.50 for a half portion).

Service was unremarkable. Polite, but not cordial.

I was surprised by how much I liked Coast. I used to consider Atlanta, a landlocked city, to have a very limited number of good seafood options. Lately, however, I've been getting really great fish all over town (examples: Empire State South, Grace 17:20 and Miller Union). Each of the aforementioned restaurants had better fish than what I ate at Coast, but they were also notably more expensive. Given the price, I think Coast was a great value.

Verdict: A good pick for moderately priced seafood.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Recipe: Nell's Sweet Potato Souffle'


Ingredients: 40 oz. can of sweet potatoes, drained; 1 1/2 sticks butter or margarine; 1 cup sugar; 1 cup whipping cream; 2 cups miniature marshmallows; 2 eggs; 1/2 cup brown sugar; 1 cup crushed cornflakes, 1/2 cup pecans.

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt 3/4 stick butter and marshmallows on low heat. Beat potatoes, sugar and eggs with electric mixer. Add the whipping cream, beating thoroughly, then add the marshmallow mixture until well mixed. Pour into ovenproof dish. For topping: Melt 3/4 cup margarine and brown sugar. Add cornflakes and pecans, stir until evenly coated. Spread over potato mixture. Bake 30-35 minutes.

Before you know it, Thanksgiving will be upon us. I will be posting a few autumn/Thanksgiving recipes that you may want to include at your next family gathering.

This recipe for sweet potato souffle is courtesy (and shared with permission from) my grandmother, Nell Braxton. While I love her more than anything, I have to admit that my grandmother isn't, as most people claim of their own grandmothers, the world's best cook. However, she has about half a dozen recipes that are simply awesome, and this souffle' is a big favorite of mine. It's a little labor intensive with all the heating various things on the stove, but it's worth the effort.

The reason this recipe is called a souffle' as opposed to the typical casserole is its texture. The whipping cream makes it creamy, almost light, and the melted marshmallows and butter give it a fluffy quality. Lots of people make sweet potato casseroles with marshmallows on the top. If you'd like, you may also add some marshmallows to the topping, but be prepared for an extremely sweet dish verging into the dessert category. My grandmother's recipe has just the right amount of sweetness, along with a satisfying crunch of cornflakes on top.

Sweet potato souffle' keeps for about a week, but it is best enjoyed within an hour of removal from the oven. Why? Because the cornflakes are crisp and the pecans are fragrant at that point. Once you refrigerate the souffle' and microwave it, you'll have mushy cornflakes and reheated, tired nuts.

For those of you who want a more home-made treat, you may substitute fresh sweet potatoes for the canned ones. My friend Danielle's wonderful mom Alice recently gave us a bag of just-dug-up-on-the-farm sweet potatoes from south Georgia, which inspired me to make the souffle' last night. If you use fresh sweet potatoes, peel then boil them for about 20 minutes, until they are soft. If they are too hard, you'll have chunky potatoes that won't properly blend into a luscious souffle' consistency.

This recipe makes approximately 10 side dishes. When Kyle and I made it last night, we used 7 medium sized sweet potatoes, which made enough for about 8 side dishes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Iberian Pig




121 Sycamore St., Decatur, GA www.iberianpigatl.com

Last Thursday night my friend John treated me and Kyle to dinner at Iberian Pig. He's been raving about it for months, so I was excited to try it out.

Wow, what an awesome place! One thing about dining with John is that he typically orders anything and everything on the menu that looks even remotely interesting, so we got to sample a ton of dishes. This is especially fun when we're having tapas, and the Pig is a tapas/wine bar.

If you're now rolling your eyes, muttering that you're sick of the ho-hum, overpriced and underwhelming little dishes often found in Atlanta's tapas restaurants, you can rest assured that you won't have that experience here. The tapas are pricey, but they are really, really tasty and unique. You won't find that cross cultural, mix of Asian/Spanish/American/Italian tapas you'll find elsewhere. Iberian Pig seeks to replicate the original, authentic Spanish tapas experience - the menu offerings are comprised of traditional ingredients and combinations. No sushi, no sliders. Instead you'll find lots of cured meats, Spanish cheeses and flatbreads.

We started with the charcuterie, which, in hindsight, was my favorite part of the meal. We chose 3 types of cured pork, all in the Iberico category. The menu tells you the pigs dine on acorns, and you'll detect a distinct nuttiness when you chew these wafer-thin slices of goodness. We also got 3 cheeses, my favorite being the Valdeon, which is a pungeant blue cheese made from both sheep and goat's milk. Stronger than grocery store blue, but not as ripe as gorgonzola. Fantastic.

Next we moved on to the regular tapas. We liked the Albondigas ($7), wild boar meatballs stuffed with dates, peppers, and roasted tomatoes, finished with a pimenton creme and oyster mushrooms. You can't go wrong with oyster mushrooms in my book. I've noticed they've become increasingly popular on the menus of upscale Atlanta restaurants, and I'm happy about it. If you haven't had wild boar, I can tell you it tastes more like beef than pork. Good, but not excellent.

Here's something that was excellent - the braised veal shank ravioli ($9). Each lovely ravioli burst with flavor, and the topping - rioja cream sauce, black truffle creme fraiche, white truffle oil, roasted shitake mushrooms and fresh thyme - could you just die hearing that, much less eating it? Iberian Pig needs to convert this into a main dish, so the gluttons among us can eat unto our heart's content (or until our stomachs explode, whichever comes first).

We also loved the Pulp a la Parilla ($14), grilled Mediterranean octopus with roasted fingerling potatoes, garlic, watercress pistou and little bits of bacon. As all of you know, bacon is always a welcome addition to any dish. However, it's the watercress pistou atop the perfectly grilled, firm but not chewy octopus that makes this dish.

Cheese lovers should definitely order the Croquetas de Queso ($8), chevre with honey-citrus yogurt, and lavendar honey. Goat cheese with honey is an excellent combination, and the citrus lightens up this heavy, fragrant dish.

And by the way, the Spanish olives are in some kind of divine olive oil with sherry vinegar, which Kyle compared to tasty plastic. I know that sounds odd, but it just tastes like it's been processed a little differently. If plastic could be appetizing, this is how it would taste.

It's a little dark in the dining room for my taste, but if you like a happening scene, Iberian Pig is for you. It was packed both inside and out last Thursday, and that's apparently the norm.

Now for the service - some of the best I've received this year. Patrick was a true gem, a sommelier with good suggestions who is also extremely knowledgeable about every dish on the menu. He's so attentive and pleasant that you'll want him to pull up a chair and join your feast - although you don't want him to actually eat any of your food, because you'll want it all for yourself.

Verdict: Perhaps Decatur's best restaurant.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Road Trip: Savannah - Cobblestone Cafe



130 W Lower Factors Walk, Savannah, GA 912/231-0701

Before we left Savannah, we had breakfast at Cobblestone Cafe. See how cool it looks from the outside? The interior doesn't live up to the exterior. It's a little dark, the furnishings are outdated, the staff appear less than fresh. I'm forgiving of this though, because the Cafe is located in downtown Savannah on the back side of River Street. If you've ever been to River Street, you know it's about old charm, not bright modernity. The Cafe sort of fits the area.

The menu is basically pleasing - oatmeal, cereal, French toast, eggs Benedict, corned beef hash, omelets, juices and lots of flavored coffees and cappuccinos. Most choices are between $10 and $15, which seemed a little steep considering the quality. I would assume the prices are marked up because of the high rent in this part of town, but I don't like making excuses for inflated prices.

A few of us got omelets and thought they were pretty good. Eggs were fluffy enough, veggies seemed okay. My side of bacon was paper thin, nearly translucent, but the flavor was right on target.

The booths were very cramped - think coach-class airplane seats. The service was initially fine, and midway through our meal our waitress must have finished her shift because we never saw her again.

Before I posted this review I noticed a lot of bad reviews of this restaurant on other websites. I want to make it clear that we didn't have a bad experience. I think as long as your expectation is that you're going to get average service and adequate food, you'll be fine here. If you go in expecting something really impressive, you're going to be disappointed.

Verdict: A little better than IHOP.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Road Trip: Savannah - Vinnie Van GoGo's



317 W. Bryan St., Savannah, GA www.vinnievangogo.com

You didn't think I was going to take you all the way to Savannah and just leave you with one post, did you?

Kyle, Ben, Danielle and I also had dinner at Vinnie Van GoGo's. This place has been in City Market for a while, and is a favorite of the locals. If you aren't familiar with Savannah, City Market is a very central area full of arts and crafts galleries, stores carrying Southern-made jams, wines, handmade quilts, and an excellent candy shop that I can't blog about because it's a chain - but I'd definitely recommend picking up some fudge there once you've had dinner at Vinnie's.

Vinnie's was my sister's favorite restaurant in-town back when she was a SCAD student living in Savannah, and Danielle and Ben like it a lot, too. I really wish I could get on the bandwagon and become a big fan of Vinnie's, but I just can't. I've eaten there at least 3 times over the past 7 years and I've never left feeling super impressed.

That doesn't mean the pizza is bad. It's not. In fact, it's probably above average. A little above average. There just isn't anything that stands out as fantastic about the pizza. When I see my pie coming to the table, I perk up my nose, but I don't close my eyes in near ecstasy when I smell the aroma the way I do at Blue Moon in Marietta. The restaurant doesn't offer particularly interesting or premium ingredients, the service is so-so, the dining areas (both indoor and out) are crowded, the chairs are somewhat uncomfortable, and I've always waited a decent period of time before receiving my order.

Part of the reason for that last comment is because Vinnie Van GoGo's is always packed - always. As I said, it's in a great location, a very pleasant area of town with a nice view of one of the squares. And the pizza IS notably better than the chains (e.g. Domino's, Pizza Hut). The ingredients, while not particularly exciting, are fresh, and the thin crust tastes like it's made from scratch. Which the website claims it is, so there you go.

Also, Vinnie Van GoGo's is a cash only establishment. No cash only restaurant is every going to get a perfect 10 review on my blog. Most of us under the age of 55 just don't carry a wad of cash around nowadays. I'll give Vinnie's this much - they've posted Cash Only notices on both the inside and outside of the restaurant, as well as on the website, so anyone who approaches the host stand (which is inevitable, considering you've got a snowball's chance in hell of waiting for less than half an hour for a table here) has any excuse when they receive their check, which also proclaims CASH ONLY!!!!! at the bottom.

On a positive note, the pizza isn't overpriced. $2.50/slice for most of it. $.50 extra for toppings, and $.75 for the better ones like pesto, artichoke hearts or spicy Italian sausage. For some reason basic tomatoes and mushrooms are considered premium toppings. See what I mean?

The restaurant also serves calzones and salads.

Verdict: An apparent old favorite of the locals, but not on my hot list of places to dine in downtown Savannah.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Road Trip: Savannah - Green Truck Pub




2430 Habersham St., Savannah, GA www.greentruckpub.com

On Saturday Kyle and I visited our friends Ben and Danielle in Savannah, and had lunch at Green Truck Pub. It's a square, smallish, stand-alone white building on Habersham. We waited for about 20 minutes for a table, and were seated at a slightly cramped booth. The restaurant is a little dark inside (which is indicative of pubs), and the decor is a little trendy without being intimidating.

That description goes for everything about the restaurant, from the waitstaff to the menu. You'll see some locally produced ingredients on the menu, including grassfed beef from Hunter Cattle Company in Brooklet, GA and Perc Coffee Roasters coffees from within Savannah. The beer list features a few Savannah brews, and there's a "Little truckers menu" for your kids. Not that this place was full of kids, or anything.

Adults have their choice of burgers, a chili, soup du jour, a few salads and sandwiches. So the menu isn't huge, but it contains humorous commentary. And while there may not be a ton of choices, what Green Truck Pub does it does right.

For example, my Trailer Park burger ($10.50). It was a 1/3 pd beef patty (I could also have opted for organic grilled chicken or a homemade veggie patty), topped with pimento cheese, bacon, tomato and onion. The bacon was delish. The pimento cheese was chunky and the cheese tasted much better than the typical Kraft shredded. It wasn't a super fancy burger like you'd find at Flip in Atlanta, but it wasn't trying to be. It was just an honest, sizzling burger with real beefy aroma, prepared with the toppings (probably intentionally) a little sloppy on beneath the fat bun. Flip wants its burgers to be works of art. Green Truck Pub just wants to make a good burger. Would you have expected something different from a place called Green Truck Pub? The very name eschews pretension.

My burger came with the house made French fries, which were a little too browned and greasy for my taste, and the homemade ketchup. Kyle wasn't fond of the ketchup, likening it to marinara sauce. Not that there's anything wrong with marinara sauce . . . it just tastes odd with fries.

Danielle ordered the El Jefe burger ($10), one of the more creative combos. It has cheddar, black bean and corn salsa, avocado and jalapenos. It was so big she could barely get her teeth around it. I gave up on grasping my own burger almost immediately and cut it up like a yuppie. Oh well.

Service was good, not too pushy, zany or inattentive.

Verdict: Not the best burger I've ever had in my life, but the best burger I've ever had in Savannah.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blackstone




4686 S. Atlanta Rd. Smyrna, GA www.blackstoneatlanta.com

Last week Kyle and I had dinner at Blackstone. I'd been curious about the restaurant for some time, interested to see this place that had been awarded a few good reviews several years ago in various papers, all of which claimed Blackstone was Smyrna's answer to fine steak and seafood dining. No need to go all the way (meaning a 15 minute drive) to Buckhead, midtown, or downtown Atlanta when you have Blackstone, that sort of thing.

Boy, was I ever disillusioned from that theory. Upon entry, we had to wait for several minutes for the hostess to show up from some back room. We weren't the only ones waiting. And once she came out, we had to wait for a table despite our reservation. Not for a long time, but long enough to give me a sense of foreboding.

Unfortunately that sense was correct. Here's what was wrong:

1. The atmosphere. Too casual, with an overly dark dining room that seemed to be geared towards covering up the dingy furniture and ugly carpet. Adults wearing inappropriate clothing. Noisy children. If all of this recent fervor about not allowing babies or small children in nice restaurants has escaped you, I ask that you visit Blackstone for dinner. You'll know why so many people are cheering this idea.

Maybe this is Smyrna's citizens fault and not Blackstone's, but I couldn't help but think they're geared towards a mediocre dining experience when I saw that overly casual bar and cramped seating.

2. The bread. Kroger has better bread in their bakery, and I'm referring to the house baked kind. Plain, boring, nothing but filler. Why bother?

3. The wait for our entrees. Yes, the restaurant was almost full. However, it was a weeknight, and we had reservations. Upon ordering it took about 40 minutes for us to receive our entrees. Why?

4. Here's a guess: because they were burning Kyle's steak to a crisp. It was a 14 oz ribeye for $37, and was supposedly marinated in soy sauce, garlic and herbs and seared on a flat iron skillet. This steak was a long, long way from being simply seared. Take a gander at the photo above if you don't believe me. He ordered it medium rare. The inside was probably medium or medium well, and the outside was black and charred. What did they do to that poor thing, anyway? Cook it to the requested temperature and then stick it under the broiler for 15 minutes, just for kicks? It was nearly inedible, but we were so hungry by this time that Kyle ate it. Why didn't we complain? Because if you've ever worked in a restaurant or known anyone who has you know that this will almost guarantee you some type of revenge from the kitchen. Not worth it.

5. My fish entree. It was the special, a baked salmon stuffed with crab meat in a citrus buerre blanc sauce ($22). Sounds outstanding, right? No. The fish itself was fine. The crab tasted old. The sauce was lackluster, the orange slices looked as if they'd been sitting out a while.

For dessert - creme' brulee. Kyle assures me that at least they didn't screw that up. I didn't even order dessert, if that gives you any idea of how disgusted with the meal I was.

The only redeeming quality I found at Blackstone was the service. Our waitress, a dead ringer for Maggie Gyllenhall, was perky and bright. She apologized when our food was late in getting to the table, she refilled our water glasses at appropriate intervals and offered us more wine. Blackstone's management needs to do its best to keep her.

The website says Blackstone is an upscale establishment. About the only thing that's upscale about this place is the prices. You'll be paying as much to eat here as you would at Ruth's Chris, where the steak is about a million times better, the staff is more polished and and environment is more spacious and in better repair.

Verdict: No way, no how. A waste of nearly $100 for a dinner for 2.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Highlander



931 Monroe Dr. Atlanta, GA www.thehighlanderatlanta.com

A couple of weeks ago Kyle and I met our friends John and Jennifer at The Highlander, located on Monroe in the same shopping center as the Landmark Midtown theatre, Trader Joe's, Bruster's, etc. We were there to play trivia, which The Highlander offers on Sunday nights.

There are lots of typical bar items on the menu, but there are a few that stand out for their novelty in either title or presentation, such as the Pitcher of Tater Tots or French Fries ($4.95) or crab au gratin ($8.95 - served with pita). We were intrigued by the pasta-rella sticks ($7.95). This is 5 sticks of mozzarella sticks wrapped in pasta and deep fried, with a side of marinara. Yes, someone thought that all cheese sticks needed to transform themselves into fantastic was some fried pasta. If you're adding that many carbs and calories unnecessarily to your diet, the result OUGHT to be stupendous. It wasn't. They really tasted like regular cheese sticks with more bread coating. Not that they were bad, just that the pasta didn't improve anything.

I was determined to try the chili, apparently a claim to fame for The Highlander as it's been featured on The Food Network's Diners, Drive-In's and Dives. It's Jamaican Jerk chili, complete with jerk seasoning, shredded cheddar, sliced green onions, and plenty of good ground beef. A pretty good sized bowl is just under $7. While I liked the flavor, it was way too hot for me. I realize that plenty of people judge chili based solely on it's ability to scorch the mouth (meaning they think this is a good thing), but I'm not one of that tribe. I would have liked to eat more, but I just couldn't handle more than half the bowl.

There's a half decent beer selection. Nothing to get excited about, but several premium choices on tap.

The absolute downfall of The Highlander was its service. It was just awful. When we entered the restaurant, at least 3 servers were hanging out around the server's station. We seated ourselves and were there for nearly 10 minutes before any of them acknowledged us. In the meantime, at least 2 other groups came in and were attended to right away. Judging by the clientele, I'm guessing we were ignored because we were way too average for that scene. And I don't mean we aren't good looking people - I mean that we aren't marred by sleeve tattoos, weren't wearing hipster or Rockabilly clothing and didn't sport huge holes from gauge earrings. Anyone fitting that description appeared to get great service, so if that sounds like you, The Highlander should probably become your new hangout.

Besides getting ignored, our waitress was generally snide. She kept calling us "kids", and I mean every time she came to the table. Since the youngest person in our party was 27, I have to assume this was her "thing." Not that she came to the table all that often. Jennifer mentioned something about the restaurant being written up in Playboy, and I agree that the waitresses seemed to have been selected for their jobs more for their cup sizes than their level of interest in actual service. Had I seen the cartoon on the website before dining here, I wouldn't have actually thought this was an accurate depiction of the employees. But I would have been wrong.

Verdict: Some of the menu options are interesting, but the service was enough to keep me from returning.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Empire State South




999 Peachtree St. Atlanta, GA www.empirestatesouth.com

Empire State South - why do I love thee? Let me list a few of the reasons:

1. Your convenience: You are located on the corner of 10th and Peachtree, and you have a parking deck where you validate the parking for up to 3 hours. No unnecessary valet, no metered street-side parking or expensive lots.

2. The Southern inspired menu: It's not just the once-new-but-now-ubiquitous shrimp and grits. This menu boasts really inspired combinations of local and otherwise delicious ingredients. Take one of the dinner "beginnings" for example: grilled Tybee shrimp (as in Tybee Island, just off of Savannah's coast), Wong's melon, ESS bacon, radish, and ESS yogurt. Playful and smart. The menu changes regularly. I see they now have a dish I would have jumped on had it been available when I dined here a few weeks ago: monkfish (possibly my favorite sea creature) crepinette with country ham broth, arugula, oyster mushrooms, sweet onion and dressed cucumber ($28). Be still my beating heart!

3. An in-house bakery. Sweet and tart treats like zesty lemon loaf, scones, muffins and donuts for only a couple dollars each.

4. Little cast iron skillets. My unbelievably good fish with oyster mushrooms, thick, fragrant bacon and tomato risotto cooked just right was perfectly presented in this

5. Atmosphere: NOT stuffy. It's hard to find a restaurant with the caliber and price of the food served here (meaning $20+ per entrees) with a farm house appeal. (And I generally don't find farm houses appealing, but somehow the interior designers have made it so.) Guys who hate to dress up and worry about what utensils to use with which course will love this place. Not sure why they bothered with the bocce ball court outside. When you're eating a meal this good, you don't need any other form of entertainment.

6. The wine: Wine Director Steven Grubbs was recently featured in Food & Wine as one of the best new sommeliers of the year. When we had dinner at ESS, Sabrina and I asked for wine recommendations and our sommelier found something great for each of our palettes. Lots of good choices here.

And finally -

7. The jars. The jars, the jars, the jars! Hot diggity! I know they're an $18 appetizer, but I'm telling you they're the best appetizer I've had in at least a year, and you'll get enough for 4 people to share. If there was any way I could've absconded with the jars, I would have, but there was no way they were fitting under my blouse without attracting a lot of unwanted notice (and possibly security in the parking deck). Our jars contained pork rilette, trout mousse, homemade pickled vegetables, pimento cheese with bacon marmalade, and boiled peanuts. The mousse was my favorite, the marmalade Sabrina's. And by the way - thanks to Sabrina for this awesome belated birthday dinner.

I can't wait to have another meal here!

Verdict: The best new restaurant in Atlanta.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Recipe: Marinated Pork Chops w/Herb Salsa


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/marinated-pork-chops-with-herb-salsa

I know you just got a recipe from me a few weeks ago, but I made this last week and knew I had to share it with all my followers. I live in an apartment complex in Cobb county, and therefore am not legally allowed to have a grill, so I get few opportunities to put my grilling recipes to good use. Fortunately I've been dogsitting for the past couple of weeks at a house with a great new gas grill, and this has been the best thing Kyle and I have made so far.

I've actually made this recipe about 3 times, and unless you burn the pork chops (which you have no excuse to do if you're watching them while they grill) then you can't screw it up. It's a fantastic summer dish because you can use some of that fresh basil, mint and parsley from your garden. My friends Kathy and Amy sometimes grow lemon basil, which would make a fine, lively substitute for the regular basil. In that case you could probably use only half the lemon juice, or none at all. This is also a great recipe because it's simple and requires only a few ingredients. If you have to buy the fresh herbs in the little plastic packages, you should have enough to double or triple the recipe, or enough left over for other meals later in the week.

Capers, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar - all zingy, potent ingredients - offset by the fresh parsley, basil and mint. You'll love it. We use the thin breakfast chops for this recipe, which cook in about 7 minutes or so. In my mind, pork is always better seared, broiled, falling apart after hours in the slow cooker or grilled as opposed to baked. It's wonderful juices should either be tightly retained (such as when searing), ready to flow into your mouth upon entry, or should be bubbling slightly after broiling or grilling. Getting the edges of the chops just singed from the broiler is my specialty.

Kyle and I like to pair this with a simple side such as buttered corn on the cob or sliced carrots. Enjoy!

And yes, I'll be sure to post a new restaurant review for you by week's end.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paradise Grill




3605 Sandy Plains Rd., Marietta, GA www.paradisegrillmarietta.com

A couple of weeks ago my friend Megan accompanied me to Paradise Grill in east Cobb. It's located in a nice shopping center with a Hallmark nearby and Publix as the anchor.

This wasn't the first time I've patronized Paradise Grill. Several years ago I used to eat here at least every other month, and had an opportunity to try many of the dishes. I was pleased to see that one in particular is still on the menu.

The prime and cheddar ($8.99) is an excellent sandwich. This consists of slow cooked prime rib (thin-sliced, slightly shredded) and good quality cheddar cheese with a side of au jus. I must admit - I'm a sucker for au jus, and Paradise Grill provides a tasty version. You'll have a choice of breads, and you should definitely get the marble rye. For sides, your best bests are the house chips or the pasta salad. The pasta salad is light, chewy, and perky, and the chips are home-made, thin, slightly dark but not too greasy.

The Grill also offers plenty of typical bar food - wings, club sandwiches, chicken fingers, nachos, quesadillas and burgers. None of it is particularly noteworthy, but none of it is actually bad, either. If you've got kids, they'll probably eat almost anything on the menu. Parents have obviously already figured this out: Paradise Grill is usually packed, with about 3/4 of its customers being families with young or preteen children. What kid doesn't like a chocolate brownie a la mode? There's also an actual kids' menu.

If you're not in the mood for any of the above, Paradise Grill has a page of seafood items you might enjoy. I recently had the shrimp tavern basket, which at $8.99 was basically a rip-off. For this price you get a whopping total of 9 fried shrimp, along with a serving of fries or house chips. 9 shrimp? I don't know what I was thinking - this was clearly stated on the menu - but this isn't enough food for anyone who weighs over 90 pounds. If you want to fill up on fries then you can get out a lot cheaper at McDonald's.

On the subject of seafood, there's also mahi mahi, salmon, fish and chips, fish tacos or pasta with scallops, etc. added. These are all more expensive than the baskets, but they're probably worth the extra money because you'll actually receive more than 5 mouthfuls of seafood. I seem to recall enjoying the blackened fish wrap ($7.99) or some version of this in previous years..

My biggest problem with this place is the service. When I used to frequent this place about 5 years ago the service was consistently good, but now the entire staff appears to be between the ages of 17 and 20. Lots of cute young girls, but also lots of mixups on your orders, bone dry water glasses and apathetic servers who are M.I.A. whenever you need them. Notice to restaurants: I'll take an older, unattractive but conscientious server over a young, hot clueless one any day.

Verdict: Not as good as it used to be, but the prime and cheddar is still worth a visit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Recipe: Sicilian Meatballs


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sicilian-style-meatballs

This recipe is from Food & Wine, and it's unbelievable - the best meatballs you've ever eaten, either at home or in a restaurant. As a matter of fact, ever since Kyle and I started making this recipe, I won't order meatballs at any restaurant, ever. The competition simply doesn't measure up. What makes them so great?

1. The inclusion of currants. Just enough chewy texture, little bursts of fruit within a rich meatball.

2. The presence of the pine nuts. Crunchy, and they add depth.

3. The sauce - put the olive oil and crushed tomatoes (the best quality you can find) on the stove and allow them to simmer together while you're rolling and cooking the meatballs. You'll be glad you gave it some extra time, and this requires no extra effort.

This recipe makes enough meatballs for about 4 people for dinner. Kyle and I love it because we get an excellent dinner (great with some Italian red wine) and an equally wonderful lunch the next, or even several days later. It keeps well, and almost tastes better later after the meatballs have had time to soak up the sauce for a few days.

We like to cook the meatballs until they're dark brown on all sides, which means someone has to stand over the stove turning them frequently. Take my advice - relax and enjoy the experience. Inhale the wonderful aroma of beef, freshly grated or shredded Parmesan, fresh sprigs of parsley, nuts and berries. If you broil some thick slices of buttery garlic bread during the last 3 minutes, you'll get another layer of fragrance.

Verdict: A little more labor intensive than most of the recipes I highlight on this blog, but worth the effort.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Capozzi's



1355 Clairmont Rd. Decatur, GA www.capozzisdecatur.com

So you've probably noticed I've been spending a lot of time eating in Decatur lately. Well, that's because Decatur has lots of good restaurants. Capozzi's is no exception. It's located in a nondescript shopping center near the intersection of Clairmont and N. Decatur roads, along with Thai, Greek and Indian restaurants.

While the outside might be boring, you'll be more impressed with the interior. Once inside, you'll be greeted by a smiling host, who will take you past a singing piano man (Asian, and can sing just like Tony Bennett) to a nice booth. The walls are brick and the chandeliers are varied - nice, but a little eccentric and definitely not intimidating.

Torn between the pasta with clam sauce (your choice of red or white) and the basil pine nut pesto, I took our very friendly and solicitous waiter's suggestion and got the pesto ($14 for a full plate, although the lunch portion is cheaper and will allow room for dessert). It was great - a bright green, truly basil pesto with lots of salty Parmesan and plenty of pine nuts. I had this with penne, and was very happy with my choice. If I have a complaint here, it's that I was actually served too much sauce - so much I couldn't determine the quality of the pasta. That being said, it's not the worst of problems.

The menu includes all the usual Italian-American suspects - those dishes like veal parmegiana and manicotta that I never consider when dining out. However, Capozzi's also has a few potential winners: homemade focaccia, eggplant napoleon (an appetizer with grilled portabello mushrooms, marinated tomato and goat cheese), saltimbocco, and a forte sauce for pasta that includes fresh mushrooms and onions with a "dab of jalapeno puree". Nothing on the menu will scare your kids or anything, but there are options for those who are tired of plain ole' spaghetti with meatballs.

And the desserts! I haven't gotten this excited about a dessert menu in quite a while. The night we were there we had our choice of chocolate chips filled mini cannollis, cheesecake, limoncello cheesecake, chocolate layer cake, coconut cake, chocolate coconut cake (like a big Mounds bar), tiramisu and gelato. What doesn't sound good here?My brother had the cannollis, which I liked but I thought were short on chocolate chips (the best cannollis I've had yet in Atlanta are the ones at Mulberry Street Pizza in Marietta), and I selected the limoncello cheesecake. This was awesome, and I'm not even a cheesecake lover. The limoncello was best detected within the graham cracker crust - I think it must have soaked through - and was excellent, a tart contrast to the sweet, creamy cheesecake. The desserts alone are reason to come back to Capozzi's.

Our service was great from the time we entered the restaurant to the time the pianist waved good-bye and thanked us for coming in, despite the fact that the restaurant was consistently busy. (Note for L.S. - they were all men, so I doubt you're concerned in this case about their level of attractiveness).

Capozzi's isn't as quite as good as the chain Maggiano's, but better than previously reviewed Nino's Italian Kitchen and far above Bambinelli's near Northlake Mall.

Verdict: The best moderately priced Italian food I've had in the past couple of years.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Re-review: Restaurant Eugene



2277 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA www.restauranteugene.com

To my blog followers - you're in for a treat today, my first re-review ever posted on Southern Foodie. The last time I reviewed Restaurant Eugene was just over 2 years ago, and I haven't been back since. Last week my friend Kelly and I made a return visit to decide it we still thought it was the best restaurant in Atlanta.

We ordered the 5 course tasting menu ($70), with the optional foie gras dish, an additional $15. Here's a basic idea of what we were served:

First course - fresh field peas, heirloom tomatoes, basil leaves, chunks of thick bacon, a high quality olive oil and small, delicate pillows of pasta filled with a light lemon zest. This was my favorite course of the meal - I thought the combination was perfect, the presentation beautiful, with each unique flavor simultaneously standing out and complementing the others. Amazing.

Second course - a light, mild white fish (I don't know why I can't seem to remember the exact names of any fish lately - forgive me), with micro greens and other goodies. Sublime.

Third course - This was the "mixed course", which on that night consisted of about 5 slices of nearly rare pork tenderloin, and baked eggplant, red bell peppers, onions, etc. This was my least favorite course, primarily because I like my pork more on the done side. A positive note was a slice of baked polenta, which was heavenly alongside the eggplant and peppers. I'd love to see this combination more often in Atlanta's restaurants.

Next we got the foie gras. Fans of this guilty pleasure know that when done correctly, it's the most succulent thing on Earth. It was done correctly at Restaurant Eugene. It lay, cool as a meaty cucumber, on one end of a long white plate, while the other end held a small scoop of bellini sorbet. Yes, bellini sorbet. This is something I loved so much I'm now determined to make it for myself at home in my ice cream maker (I'll let you know if my attempts are successful.) How did I ever live 33 years without foie gras topped with diced roasted peaches and bellini sorbet? It probably shortened my life to eat it, but I enjoyed every second of it.

Fourth course - the cheese plate. A semi-hard, light golden goat cheese with honey and roasted peanuts. I could've done without the peanuts, because I thought they were a little overpowering, but the cheese and honey were wonderful. The food of kings.

Fifth course - dessert, and an unusual one at that. About 3 tablespoons of corn ice cream atop grains of cocoa and espresso with a sweet tomato jam smeared along the side. Not an overly sweet dessert to say the least, but interesting, in a good way. The espresso granules gave me a little jolt, but they were tempered by the tomato jam. Tomato appeared in 3 of our 5 courses in this meal, and every time it was in a completely different and lovely way.

An outstanding job.

Restaurant Eugene is an experience, but an understated one. When it's crowded it's a little loud for my taste, but I still have a feeling of tranquility as I sit awaiting my next dish or amuse bouche. (Speaking of those, there was one with compressed watermelon and nearly liquified mascarpone cheese and another, much better one with raw trout, etc.) The staff is excellent, refilling drinks at appropriate times, sliding a small breadbasket onto the table almost unnoticed, explaining each course of the meal with as much detail as you desire. The hosts/hostesses are all eager to accommodate any special needs and all have smiles on their faces, just as you will as soon as you taste even one bite of Restaurant Eugene's incredible food.

And if you didn't already know, Chef Linton Hopkins has been nominated Best Chef: Southeast for the James Beard Awards, 2011. I believe the last Atlanta chef to win this was Scott Peacock from Watershed. While I think Chef Hopkins is certainly deserving of the title, it's my fervent hope that if he wins he won't move on to larger scale, national projects and semi-fame and finally disappear from the city the way Peacock has. It would be a great shame if Atlanta lost such a superior talent.

Review: Still the best.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Parker's On Ponce




116 E Ponce de Leon Ave. Decatur, GA www.parkersonponce.com

Last week I had dinner at Parker's On Ponce with Sabrina and my grandmother. It's located right in the heart of Decatur, at the intersection of Ponce and Church street. You'll find a few spaces of free parking marked for the restaurant directly behind the building, or you can park on the street or in a nearby deck.

I asked our server, who was very friendly but a little scattered (and this was on a Monday night when the restaurant wasn't busy), which cut of steak she recommended. She said she liked the New York strip or the ribeye best, because they had the least fat. I thought it was odd she didn't mention the filet . . . I'm usually not big on NY strip because it's generally pretty tough, especially in comparison with filet. However, I took a chance and ordered the 8 oz ($17, the 14 oz is $28) NY strip. All the steaks come with your choice of herb butter, bearnaise or blue cheese for an additional $3. Our server told me that she preferred the bearnaise, and advised me that it was mixed with a tarragon sauce. Again, I took a chance.

And the NY strip was excellent! Really, very tender, juicy and delicious. Maybe slightly overcooked, but only slightly. She did request that I cut into the meat and make sure it was cooked correctly before I began eating, and when I did this I noticed it was a little overdone, but what hungry, sane person is going to return steak and wait for the next one (from what is likely a perturbed cook) when the difference is minimal? Not I, I can assure you.

The bearnaise was absolutely chock full of tarragon. It was practically a tarragon cream sauce. Well, she did warn me. Maybe I'll go for the herb butter next time.

Because there will be a next time. In addition to being pleasantly surprised by the texture and quality of my steak, I also loved my side, a black truffle mac n' cheese. Once again, I chose something I would normally hate - I think I had too much of the neon orange Kraft macaroni and cheese as a child and now basically abhor the dish in any form, at any restaurant - but the addition of the truffles intrigued me. Hooray! It was very good. Creamy, creamy, creamy sauce with very tender pasta, and a hint of black truffle oil. Not quite as much truffle flavor as I'd like, but I like the pungent flavor more than most people, so it was probably just right for the general population.

My sister ordered the 6 oz filet ($24) and liked it. It didn't beat out her favorite filet from the chain Stoney River, but it merited praise. She also enjoyed her haricot verts, which were lightly sauteed and fragrant.

My grandmother ordered a salad - the Parker's House with mixed greens, peppered bacon, toasted pecans and dried cherries in a gorgonzola-vinaigrette dressing. This would work as an appetizer or a light main course, and the latter would make it a steal at $5. The kitchen didn't skimp on the "good stuff" - there were more pecans, cherries and bacon than greens, which gives the salad good marks in my book.

Finally we ended with dessert, the day's special, old-fashioned chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing. This was exactly what you'd want to eat if you're a chocolate cake lover. Rich without being bitter or too heavy, creamy icing, moist cake. Yum.

Verdict: Another great restaurant in Decatur. The best New York strip I've had in recent memory.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ghion Cultural Hall Ethiopian




2080 Cheshire Bridge Rd. Atlanta, GA

My friends Erin and Paul had dinner with me at this tiny, tiny place on Cheshire Bridge a couple of weeks ago. Look for the Blue Rat Smoke shop and a smaller sign for the California Food Mart, and you'll find it. Once parked, you'll go in a shady looking entrance, down a path to a second doorway, but don't be afraid - once inside, you'll find a very cute main dining room with a bar and a stage set up for musical acts.

I've posted more pics of the restaurant itself instead of the food this time because I'm really afraid you won't find this place without some help.

The menu is similar to other Ethiopian restaurants in the area - kitfo, lega tibs, awaze tibs, fish dulet - lots of lamb, spicy items and entrees that can be described as stews.

I'm going to cut to the chase on this review: everything we had was great. Everything. Meat, vegetables, beans - all fantastic. And almost everything is priced $10 or less. Whether you get "barely cooked" ground beef, fish in butter and olive oil, chickpeas and tomatoes, or a huge platter of beans and greens, you'll get your money's worth.

If you've ever dined at an Ethiopian restaurant you know you'll be served as much as you can possibly handle - which is the case at Ghion. If you're really hungry, pull up a chair and dig in.

We had excellent service from a lovely young woman who was full of info on the menu. When Erin asked for something NOT spicy, our server recommended a great beef and bell pepper dish that Erin gleefully consumed with some of the great, very slightly bitter injera bread. You'll get as much of this as you need to scoop up your meat and vegetables, and you'll enjoy all of it.

Seriously, I know it looks sketchy, but you'll be rewarded if you give it a try. Once you take a seat and smell the food cooking, you'll relax.

Verdict: I'll be happy to return to this great little restaurant for more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wild Ginger Thai




2201 Savoy Dr. Atlanta, GA www.wildginger-restaurant.com

A week or so ago my grandmother and I had dinner at Wild Ginger, which is located on the access road beside I-285 near the Chamblee-Dunwoody exit.

The menu is pretty extensive and contains lots of great options - soups, salads, tempura, fried rice, noodles, curries, chicken, shrimp, desserts, etc. There's an interesting section called "Thai with a Twist" which features entrees like ginger flounder and sweet herb talay. There is also a separate sushi menu.

Although I had a difficult time choosing between the many offerings, I finally went with the jungle curry, simply because I'd never heard of it. Jungle curry ($10.95) has chicken with bamboo shoots, basil leaves, carrots, green peas, green bell pepper and eggplant in a spicy herb "soup." I put soup in quotes because your rice will basically absorb the broth, but don't worry, this won't detract from the flavor one bit. This is a delicious, spicy (but not mouth-numbingly spicy) curry. You'll get lots of fresh basil, and the eggplant is a great inclusion. It's an interesting alternative to the usual green, red, yellow or masaman curries.

My grandmother ordered the pineapple fried rice ($9.95, contains chicken). This is exactly what you'd expect, with a little unexpected, tart fruit. The pineapple is cut into small chunks, so it's not overwhelming. You'll also taste yellow curry powder and enjoy some crunchy cashews. It's a tropical delight.

We ended with some green tea ice cream. If you're unfamiliar with this popular Thai flavor, green tea is a subtle, divine ice cream. It's not too sweet, not too anything but good. Our ice cream was served in a tall glass parfait dish with 2 spoons. Who doesn't like that?

The decor is actually kind of cool. There are random blue panels in the ceiling, bright red tableware and a small sushi bar. Tables aren't too close together for comfort, and plenty of room to put them together if you have a large group. And there were a couple of large groups, both Asian (always a great sign in an Asian restaurant), on the night when we dined at Wild Ginger.

Finally, the service is dynamite. Smiling and attentive waitstaff and a friendly manager who can and will fully answer any questions you have about the menu. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this place, especially the food.

Verdict: A nice surprise off of Chamblee-Dunwoody. I'll definitely return.