Friday, February 25, 2011

Ceviche Taqueria

963 Canton St., Roswell, GA

Seems like all I eat these days is tacos, right? Well, I haven't reviewed anything in Roswell in at least 6 months, so here you go.

Last night Heidi, her friend Nikki and I had dinner at this smallish place in historic Roswell. As soon as we were seated we received the old Mexican standby, a basket of tortilla chips and some bland red salsa. We ordered the guacamole appetizer, which I liked although I Heidi and I agree it could have been chunkier, less smooth. I love guacamole, but this was not a large portion and it cost $5.95. We definitely paid too much.

Sticking with the restaurant's theme, I chose the Peruvian corvina ceviche ($10.95). Unlike the guacamole, I got a lot of this - a whole plate of fish, lemon and orange juices, cilantro, garlic, onion, jalapenos, parsley and cayenne with two wedges of lime and some saltines on the side. Since the dish contains both jalapenos and cayenne, you shouldn't be surprised that it's on the spicy side, but it didn't come with that long-term burning-mouth sensation most of us dread.

Heidi got the shredded chicken tostados (also available in ground beef) for $8.15. She really enjoyed the quite crisp, fried tostadas, along with the generous portions of sour cream, lettuce, tomato, cheese and avocado. As you can see from the pic, it's quite presentable.

I also ordered a Texas Margarita with El Jimador Silver Tequila. Not too much sweet and sour, and a good balance between the tequila and Grand Marnier. I thought it was worth my $7.77 (the prices are random here, right?). Heidi and Nikki both had glasses of the the white sangria, and commented on how smooth it was. Heidi liked it even better than the white sangria at at previously reviewed Kiosco in the Marietta Square, and would happily order it again.

On the home page of the website you'll find pictures of both little kids with stuffed animals and cute waitresses downing taquila. Strange combination, right? When I first arrived there at 6pm, the place was full of small children, but by the time I left at 7:30 the crowd had gotten older and a little trendier. Plan your excursion accordingly.

The service was good, our waitress friendly. You can eat inside or dine out on the patio, but if you get there during prime hours you'll likely wait a while, due to the size of the place. There's street parking and a few lots within walking distance.

I liked this place, enough to eat there again if I was in the area, but not enough to go out of my way for a meal or to put it on my regular rotation.

Verdict: A slightly above average restaurant in a cute location. Thumbs up for the white sangria.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara with Green Peas

For all of you followers who are eagerly awaiting another restaurant review, I'll have one on Friday and a couple more next week. I thought I had one for you yesterday, but then I discovered the Indian restaurant in question was part of a chain, so today you've got another recipe instead.

It's a good one, though.

I've made this recipe from Food & Wine's December 2006 issue 3 times now, and I think I love it more with each bite. It's pretty simple and it's delicious.

Unfortunately it's not particularly healthy. You've got lots of cream, cheese, more cheese, egg yolks, pasta and pancetta, which is probably the world's fattiest bacon. I'm not recommending you make this everyday, but every once in a while won't kill you. I know it would give cardiologists nightmares, but including those two tablespoons of pancetta fat into the sauce sure does make a mouth-watering mix.

If you follow the directions, you shouldn't have any trouble making this correctly the first time around. Food & Wine estimates a half hour cook time start to finish, and I think that's about right, as long as you remember to start boiling the water right away. It can be easily halved, or doubled as needed.

As my friend Danielle pointed out to me, there are lots of recipes for spaghetti carbonara, but not many include peas. I think the peas are a great ingredient here, because the lighten up an otherwise very heavy, starchy dish.

The only thing I would potentially change about this recipe is the amount of cheese. It's a good idea to start with less mixed into the sauce - maybe 1/2 cup as opposed to 3/4 cup - then taste the finished entree and sprinkle more on top if desired. Remember, once all the cheese is mixed into the sauce, there's no going back. Also, if you use cheap parmesan (you know what I mean, the green container rather than the real parmesan-reggiano), you probably won't need to add any salt. Again, hold back until you taste.

Verdict: A great pasta dish, sure to impress.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Recipe: Apricot Chicken

Several years ago "The Turban Ladies" in the Seeker's class at Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Decatur, GA, published a cookbook entitled Servings From the Heart. Like all church cookbooks, it's comprised of every mother and grandmother's most prized recipes, their "best stuff", which is what makes church cookbooks so great. However, this cookbook is extra special, because the proceeds from the sale of it went to The Turban Ladies' work making colorful silk turbans for cancer patients who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy. Between the awesome recipes an the wonderful benefit to the community in need, this cookbook is a winner.

Kyle and I have made at least a dozen recipes from Servings From the Heart so far, but one of our favorites is Apricot Chicken Breasts by Ms. Dale Smith.

8 chicken breasts, boned and halved
1 bottle Catalina French dressing
1 medium jar apricot preserves
1 package dry onion soup mix

Combine dressing, preserves and soup in container. Chill several hours or overnight. Bake chicken breasts 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Add chilled mixture and continue baking for 30 minutes or until chicken is tender.

You gotta love a recipe with only 4 ingredients.

Especially one that's tangy, sweet and earthy all at the same time. If you like Chinese sweet and sour sauce, you'll like this recipe. Despite the name, you'll taste more of the Catalina dressing than you will the apricot.

The first time we made this, I forgot to chill the last 3 ingredients overnight. We mixed them together and just allowed them to refrigerate while the chicken was in the oven for the first half hour, then put them on the chicken for the final half hour, and I don't think we sacrificed one smidgen of flavor.

I've also noticed it converts well if, instead of buying breasts, you use chicken tenders. Using tenders means you can cut the cook time down to 15-20 minutes before the sauce, and 20 minutes after. I prefer to go this route because I don't always like to wait a full hour for my dinner.

In this case (using the tenders instead of breasts), your bottle of dressing, jar of preserves and box of dry onion soup mix (usually contains 2 packages) will provide you with at least 2 separate dinners if you're only feeding 2 people. One reason I love this recipe is because after I've made it once, I have all the ingredients on hand in case I need to make dinner without having planned to do so in advance.

To complete your super-easy dinner, serve with a can of Glory Foods' lima beans or butter beans. They're preseasoned to perfection, so you just have to heat and eat.

Good luck obtaining a copy of this cookbook if you don't already have one. It's my understanding that the church has issued two printings and they've both sold out. My grandmother, Nell Braxton, one of The Turban Ladies, is pretty proud.

Verdict: An easy, pleasing chicken entree.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hankook Taqueria

1341 Collier Rd., Atlanta, GA

Kyle, Heidi and I had dinner at this hole-in-the-wall Korean taco joint last week, but I've been under the weather ever since, so I'm just now getting to tell you about it. Sorry for the delay in posting.

Yes, Hankook is a Korean BBQ taco restaurant. They also serve burritos and "street snacks," or interesting sides. The tacos range from $2.25 to $3.50 (the higher price is for seafood), the burritos are $6.25 or $7.50 (for shrimp), and the sides are between $2 and $6 each.

Hankook Taqueria may not look like much from the outside, but in the grand tradition of Buford Hwy, it packs a wallop inside. Ignore the hard wooden booths and wobbly tables and chow down.

When I was there last week I ordered the chicken taco, which comes marinated in spicy Korean sauce. I also got the shrimp taco, fried shrimp in a Hoisin tarter sauce. Both were very good, full of fresh lettuce, shredded mozzarella cheese and good meat. I liked the tarter sauce on the shrimp, but would have preferred the shrimp to be grilled or broiled rather than crispy. Still, I enjoyed it.

Next the three of us split an order of the sesame fries ($2) and an order of the Man-Doo ($4), fried pork dumplings with a ginger scallion dipping sauce. These were both incredible. Now regular fries will probably always seem boring to me, and the dumplings were plump and a great deal - 6 of them for $4. You can't beat that.

There are 2 things that are great about this place. The first is that it's different. Korean taco carts and mobile restaurants may be a regular thing in California, but not here in Atlanta. Hankook Taqueria gives southerners a wonderful new combination of flavors to sample. The second great quality is the prices. You can easily get a full dinner for less than $10 here.

Verdict: An excellent find for diners looking for a unique and cheap meal.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Special Feature: Cafe Du Monde's Beignet Mix

Nearly a decade ago I visited New Orleans, which is a foodie trip if ever there was one. One of the city's best and most unique offerings is the beignet, a deep fried pastry/donut that, according to, comes from the French word for bump or lump. Beignets are usually squarish in shape, and lumpy, so this is appropriate. They are usually topped with a hefty sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Anyone who has been to New Orleans will probably agree that no one does beignets better than the famous Cafe Du Monde on Decatur St. They've been serving up beignets and chicory coffee since 1862.

In case you're finding it inconvenient to head on over to New Orleans for breakfast this week, Cafe Du Monde offers the next best thing - their own coffee and beignet mix available via internet and mail order. My great friend Heidi gave me some beignet mix, coffee from World Market and a French press as a wedding gift, and Kyle and I have been putting them to use. Yesterday we made beignets for the 3rd time and I think we have enough left over for one more serving each. Here's what we've determined about the mix:

#1 - It works. I was a little skeptical, especially since I don't have a lot of experience deep frying. It took a little time (maybe half an hour), but Kyle and I made beignets the first time out that looked exactly like those pictured on the box.

#2 - The instructions are fairly simple. Mix 2 cups of mix with 7 oz. of water. Roll out dough to 1/4" thickness on a floured surface and cut into squares. Fry in hot oil until appropriately browned and puffy. Top with powdered sugar and enjoy. And you will enjoy! This supposedly makes 2 dozen beignets. Maybe, if they are really small. I think it makes more like 20. However, if you don't need that many, you can easily cut the ingredients in half. This should be enough for 2 people.

# 3 - The mix is inexpensive. It cost less than $3 on any website I've seen, including the original Cafe Du Monde's.

Some tips on using the mix:

Before you roll out your dough, HEAVILY flour the surface. Otherwise, your dough will definitely stick to the surface and you'll have to start all over.

Also, err on the side of less water, more mix. If the dough is too liquidy, it will become glue-like and stick to your hands, the surface, etc. You'll end up wasting half of it. The best idea is to start with about half the water you think you'll end up using and add a little at a time.

Finally, I would roll the dough out to about 1/2" thick, no thinner. If your dough is too thin, your beignets won't puff up right. Nobody wants flat beignets, which is what I got when I rolled down to 1/4".

If you have a plain, square cookie cutter, you'll probably have the most success. However, Kyle wanted to get creative yesterday, so we used our star shaped cutters and the beignets were quite cute (see above).

Verdict: The best way to recreate a New Orleans breakfast at home, no matter where you live.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Barkers Red Hots

3000 Windy Hill Rd. SE, Ste. B6, Marietta, GA

I've been to the Varsity, I've been to Brandi's in Cartersville, and I've eaten countless hot dogs at Braves games over the years. None of these even come close to the dogs served at Barkers Red Hots on Windy Hill Rd. They aren't the world's cheapest hot dogs, but I can assure you they cost less than the dogs at Turner Field and taste far, far better.

On Saturday Kyle and I picked up an order of 1 original red hot ($2.79), 1 original cheese dog ($3.10), 1 jumbo cheese dog ($3.99), 1 large order of onion rings ($3.45 - enough for 2 people) and 1 cookie ($.65). I love the original red hots (pictured on the left). It's a normal hot dog, but it's actually grilled (!) right in front of you on a charcoal grill. Yum. I'm a traditional hot dog fan, so I think charcoal cooking is the only way to go.

The onion rings are phenomenal, and the chocolate chunk cookie was luscious. The cookies are like your mom makes - glistening with what I assume is butter, soft baked and not uniform, clearly homemade.

Barkers also serves sandwiches (including fish), sausages, crinkle cut fries, baked beans and coleslaw. The sandwiches look great in the pictures, but I've never tried them. Once I get inside and smell the hot dogs I can't bring myself to order anything else. There are several other dessert options, including real Moon Pies. If you like soft drinks, they've got something a little different: Crystal Beach Loganberry, available in large and small sizes. It's on the sweet side, but tasty. As for a sample, and you'll get a little cup of it to try before you buy.

Every time you go to Barkers you'll see the same 4-5 people working there. I like that about the place. The employees are cheerful and eager to help the customers. One of them told me that Barkers is in the process of opening up a second location in Roswell, so be on the lookout for that.

Kids will love Barkers. It's set up to look like the northeast sea shore, with extremely cute decorations, a length of high seaters along with regular tables, some outdoor seating with umbrellas, and a combination of "fun" music (think Beach Boys) and "shore noise" - sea gulls, the sound of the ocean hitting the sand. You can't help but like it.

My only complaint about Barkers is a serious one - the hours. You can only eat there from 11am - 3:30pm, Monday through Saturday. The owners say they tried to open for dinner and didn't get much business. Unfortunately it seems like Kyle and I always want a hot dog later in the day. The hours wouldn't be so bad if they were the same all the time. Sometimes we've driven by and seen the restaurant was closed, mainly on Saturdays, for no discernible reason. They are also closed most holidays. It's best to call in advance and make sure Barkers is open before you head in that direction, salivating for a red hot.

Verdict: Best hot dogs in Atlanta.