Thursday, March 31, 2011

Le Giverny



1641 Clifton Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA www.legiverny.com

Last night Sabrina, my Grandmother and I had dinner at Le Giverny, a French restaurant that has been around for over 15 years. I mistakenly told a friend that it was located in Decatur - which is because it used to be years ago, before it moved to the Emory Inn near the CDC.

And the fact that it's now part of the Inn is what should have made me stay away from Le Giverny. If there's anything I should know by now with all my experiences dining out, it's that people should avoid restaurants attached to hotels of any type. They are almost universally overpriced and famous for serving below average food. (One notable exception: I have seen a few Ruth's Chris steakhouses attached to hotels, although they are usually stand-alones, and always excellent.) My experience at Le Giverny did nothing to dispel this negative impression.

My grandmother had the blue crab and caramelized onion cake appetizer ($10) with capers and brown butter. She liked it, but thought it came with far too many sliced red onions (which, upon inspection, didn't really appear caramelized). She also ordered the iceberg and blue cheese salad ($7), which is exactly what you'd expect - a large wedge of iceberg (my least favorite lettuce) topped with runny blue cheese (why runny? why not big fat chunks?), crumbled bacon and more red onions. I'm not sure why a person would even bother ordering this, but whatever.

My sister ordered the truite grenobloise, fresh mountain trout, toasted cracked almonds, capers and hazelnut butter ($19). Sabrina said it best - it's basically a trout picatta, lacking sufficient flavor. More butter might help. I tried it, and neither of us could taste even a hint of hazelnut. Since that was the selling point with my sister, this dish doesn't rate highly.

I had the risotto aux fruits de mer ($24) - aka seafood risotto. The shrimp was good, although I can never understand why cooks don't remove the tails from shrimp before mixing them into a dish. The mussels were fine, as was the salmon. Supposedly this dish also included scallops. Really? You could have fooled me. If they were present, they must have been chopped into oblivion. This dish included mushrooms (about 3 total), and tomatoes, which were practically tasteless. I ate the whole thing, because I was starving, but finished very dissatisfied. This dish is far, far overpriced for the quality and serving size.

Finally we all had dessert (all desserts, $7). Grandmother and Sabrina each ordered creme brulee, which was good. I attempted to order the Georgia pecan tart with vanilla ice cream, but they were out of it, so I switched to the chocolate ganache pie. This was unfortunate. The ganache itself was OK, but the crust was absolutely filled with cinnamon, enough, as my dad says, to choke a mule. Why, oh why, did the chef do this? I'm not a fan of cinnamon and chocolate combined, the "Mexican chocolate" experience. Maybe a hint of cinnamon would have been alright, but this was like someone dropped a spice container into the pie dough and just went with it.

Service was fine. And the herb butter that came with the bread (which was too hard) was good.

A rule of thumb for this restaurant: All the food looks better on the website than it does it does in reality, and it looks better on your plate than it will taste in your mouth. I actually recall liking this place very much back in the late nineties when I was a teenager, but that was so long ago - I weighed 97 pounds at that point and couldn't have been less interested in food with the exception of chocolate. Has the quality of the cuisine at Le Giverny declined since then, or am I just a more discerning eater? Probably both, but I'm not going to waste any more time contemplating it.

Verdict: Very disappointing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Pie Hole



1025 Canton St., Roswell, GA www.facebook.com/thepiehole

After hearing my friend Eric rave about this place months ago, I finally got to drop in and sample the goods last Saturday. It's housed a little off the road in barn-like structure in "Old Roswell". If you've never been to that area, it's a great place to walk around and browse eclectic clothing, art and antique shops. While you're at it, you'll want to treat yourself to at least one slice of pie from The Pie Hole. Hey, you can always walk it off afterwards.

Pie Hole sells pies, tea, pimento cheese, a few non-edible items like t-shirts, and more pies. You can purchase whole pies or any available pies by the slice. I picked up four different slices, and an hour later my Grandmother gave the apple with walnut crumb topping her seal of approval. If your Grandmother likes it (and my Grandmother is famous for both her chocolate and her pecan pies), then you know it must be good.

Of the remaining 3, I tried the pear cranberry first. This was pretty good, with thick slices of pear and lots of baked cranberries, but it contained a little too much nutmeg. My friend Brian commented that he thought it would be better off with no nutmeg at all, and I tend to agree. Still, a nice fruit pie.

Then I tried the buttermilk, a completely new flavor for me. I was initially a little hesitant about it, but it turned out to be incredibly good. Both sweet and slightly sour, with a thick custard texture, this pie was a real winner.

So I thought the buttermilk would be my favorite . . . and then I had a slice of the chocolate derby.

The chocolate derby is out of sight! It's a chocolate chip pecan pie, and is a gooey, wonderful treat. If you microwave a slice for about 45 seconds, it halfway melts into a thick, cookie-like piece which no chocolate chip cookie lover could refuse.

One great thing about The Pie Hole is that the pies actually look (as well as taste) home-made, from scratch. The crusts aren't the picture-perfect kind you might see on a French tart tatin - they are often crooked around the edges, unevenly browned, and sometimes the pie plate seems to be overflowing with the filling. I consider all of these things to be good traits.

Among other flavors, they also sometimes make an almond joy pie (coconut. almonds, chocolate chip,), a sweet potato with caramel nut topping pie, and an eggnog pie. Can't wait to try those!

Each day you can access The Hole's Facebook site and see which pies will be available. The Pie Hole is closed on Sunday and Monday. Whole pies are $12.50, and individual slices range from $2.50 to $3.50. The custard styles are cheaper than the fruits, which makes sense to you if you've ever bought enough fresh cherries, etc. to fill a deep dish pie - you know it's expensive.

The staff is also extremely nice. You can't go wrong with good Southern pie-bakers.

Verdict: Best pie I've had in a long, long time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Niramish



1138 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA www.niramish.com

On Friday night Heidi and I had dinner at Nirimish Indian restaurant in Little Five Points.

We started with an order of samosas. These were the best part of the meal. They were fried up crisp, with a wonderful mix of vegetables (primarily potato) inside. Two big pieces for $3.49. Not the cheapest samosas in town, but very good and just the right amount for 2 diners.

Next we ordered the naan. I love naan's billowy shape and light deliciousness, but this naan was mediocre, almost bland. Nowhere nearly as good as what's served at Himalayas on Peachtree Industrial Blvd. Same for the rice.

For my entree, I had the balti bindhir johl (#41 - $10.99), a dish I've never tried before. According to the menu, balti is cooked with the chef's "secret" recipe of yogurt, coriander, gorom (garam) masala, tomatoes, onion, green chili and cilantro. (Not much of a secret when they tell you exactly what's comprises it, but whatever.) The bindhir johl contains okra, but you can get different versions with other vegetables. This was supposed to be moderately spicy, but I would say it's pretty hot. I had to request a small cup of raita to cool it down, and I usually like moderately spiced food. Unfortunately the raita deadened the flavor. On the bright side, the okra and thinly sliced onions were cooked appropriately, no vegetables were mushy.

Heidi ordered the chicken passanda (#87 - $11.99), but we don't think this is what the waiter brought out. For one thing, chicken passanda is listed on the menu as containing pineapple. We couldn't detect any pineapple in this dish. For another thing, it doesn't list coconut milk as an ingredient, but it was the predominant flavor in this mild dish. Whatever it was, it was okay, better than my entree but too heavy on the coconut (and I usually like coconut). Reviewing the menu as posted on the website, I can't tell what Heidi actually ate. Maybe the chicken ceylon, which has shredded coconut? But no, that dish is "mildly hot spicy," and what Heidi had wasn't.

Guess it will have to remain a mystery.

The menu is large, so there are lots of options, including many vegetarian choices. There's tandoori of course, along with dosas, makhni, tikkas, vindaloo and curries. Lots of lamb specialties, if you're so inclined.

So nothing was wrong with the food or service, but nothing was excellent either. The meal was fine, but I don't have any desire to return and try more dishes, or re-order the ones I ate on Friday.

Verdict: Average.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lime Taqueria




4600 West Village Place, Smyrna, GA www.limetaqueria.com

Last night Kyle and I had dinner at Lime in West Village Place in the same live/work/play center as previously reviewed Crepe Revolution. A taqueria and tequila bar may seem like an odd pick for St. Patrick's day, but with a name like that, you can count on all the decor being green, green, green. There's a patio, and the interior is playful, with bright paint, paper lamps hanging from high ceilings, faux lime trees in pots, and big stuffed limes lining one wall. It's cute for sure.

They started us out with chips and salsa. Kyle liked the salsa better than I did, but I'm hard to impress when it comes to salsa. The small container had a huge piece of tomato in it which took up about half the space inside, and the flavor was average. The chips were thin and bland.

Kyle ordered the enchilada de pollo (chicken enchiladas - $11). This is a dish of marinated chicken, queso fresco and salsa verde topped with lettuce, tomato and sour cream. He thought it tasted great, but the portion size was a little small. It's a good idea to pair an appetizer with this dish. You may select from the typical Mexican offerings like quacamole dip, quesadillas or nachos, or go with something like the mejillones - mussels sauteed in white wine chipotle cream sauce with toast points ($9). I didn't order this, because Kyle hates shellfish, but it sounds pretty good.

I ordered the agave tuna ($12). It's hard for me to resist pan-seared tuna, especially when it's done up "special", like covered in sesame seeds and tossed with agave nectar and tequila vinaigrette (atop a bed of mixed greens, tomatoes, mango and avocado). The sesame seeds were there in full force, but I couldn't taste anything like agave or tequila. My tuna was also overcooked. This is really a salad - there were more greens than anything, but at least the greens were fresh. The tomato and mango are served in thin slivers, so if you're expecting a lot of those, you'll be disappointed. The avocado is cut up in big chunks, a definite plus. This entree wasn't what I expected, but it was still pretty good.

The coolest thing about this restaurant is the tequila - they have a good selection of brands which you can order by the shot. Depending on how many shots you do, this could get expensive, as the shots range from $8-$12 each. It's a unique idea, though. You can even do a tequila flight for $12, where you get 3 half-shots of any brand, one blanco, one agave and one aged. Kyle ordered this and was finally able to try Don Julio, a brand that's normally out of our liquor budget. I tried the house made pineapple infused tequila (available as a shot or on the rocks for $6). It was nice and sweet, but a little weak. If you want to stick with the tequila theme but are a little afraid of the results, this is the drink for you.

Service was fine.

I don't know what's going on with this restaurant's website. The icons are all out of place, and the main page mentions mojitos, but we didn't see any mojitos on the drink menu last night. Weird.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ritz-Carlton Buckhead (high tea)



3434 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA www.ritzcarlton.com

Last Sunday my sister and I took my grandmother to high tea at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. Tea reservations are available at 2:30pm and 3pm. If you plan to eat dinner that day before 9pm, you should probably opt for the earlier reservation.

I'm saying this because you will completely stuff yourself at high tea.

Each guests gets to order his/her own flavor of tea, with options ranging from classic Earl Grey to green tea passion and African amber. Grandmother and I ordered the vanilla bean, and Sabrina ordered the orange jasmine, both black teas. There aren't as many tea options as you'd find at Dr. Bombay's (previously reviewed) in Candler Park, but there are enough. And unlike at Dr. Bombay's, your personal teapot at the Ritz will seem bottomless. A smiling, unobtrusive server will refill your tea every time you run low.

Along with your tea, you'll get a plate of finger sandwiches in various flavors. All of them were good, none of them excellent. My favorite would probably be the smoked salmon on light rye topped with caviar. Sabrina enjoyed the little cornbread style one. There's also a chicken salad, pimento cheese and (of course) cucumber. I found the latter to be slightly bland. They are lovely things to behold, at any rate.

Please don't fill up on the sandwiches, because you'll next be receiving a multi-tiered silver tray of sweets, and all of these are awesome. On the pic you'll see the uppermost item is glazed lemon poppyseed cake, below which are chocolate financiers sprinkled with powdered sugar, and on the bottom level are scones. And yes, the Ritz provides you with tiny jars of Double Devon (clotted) cream and strawberry jam for your scones. These 2 items are super yummy.

But that's not all. (Yes, I'm serious.) You'll get a second plate with tiny, sweet extras, such as the macaroons in various flavors, a miniature cheesecake topped with a blackberry, and an apple cobbler-like mix topped with cream and a white chocolate stick (all in a square shotglass). Cute, cute, cute!

And if that's not enough, each guest also receives one of the Ritz' "famous" chocolate chip cookies, wrapped in plastic and sealed with a large gold Ritz-Carlton lion sticker. Their intent is for you to take this home, so you can extend the experience with more sugar.

The absolute best thing about taking high tea at the Ritz is the atmosphere. The furnishings are sumptuous and beautiful, the dark woods offset by the cheerful light coming through the large windows. A pianist plays classical music in the background, and people lounge on plush sofas and leather chairs. With a neverending pot of good tea, a plethora of cakes and the soft laughter of happy people around (but not too close to) you, it's easy to forget all your troubles. The Ritz is a veritable oasis in the desert of life - a place where you can't possibly think about soaring gas prices, AIDS in Africa, Sarah Palin or any other tragic subject. There's no TV to remind you of the world's problems. The tea room at the Ritz Buckhead admits no unpleasantness in any form. Crazy mother calling you at all hours? Turn off your cell phone and enjoy the tranquility.

High tea as described above is $34/person, with a more expensive option available if you want fresh strawberries and champagne. How in the world anyone could eat more than I ate on Sunday, though, is beyond me.

It's not cheap, but it IS the Ritz. On the bright side, your server will validate your valet parking. Expect the valet to greet you by name when you leave the sanctuary that is the Ritz Carlton and pull out into Buckhead's not-so-pleasant traffic.

Verdict: A wonderful treat.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tap




1180 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA www.tapat1180.com

On Saturday night Kyle and I had dinner at Tap, located on the corner of Peachtree and 14th street in midtown. Tap has complimentary valet parking in a deck below.

Anyone who knows me has observed that I'm not a salad lover, but I was making an effort to eat healthfully enough to balance out the maltodextrin in the beer that night, so I broke down and decided to try the salmon salad ($12). If you have to order a salad, this one is impressive. The miso-soy marinade on the salmon is a knockout, a great complement to the grilled pears, red peppers (very small pieces), sliced almonds, and mixed greens dress with a pear vinaigrette. This salad also supposedly includes sliced red onion, but I ate the entire plate of food and never spotted a single piece. Oh well, I don't really think the salad suffered. It's an interesting twist on the typical, boring grilled salmon salads offered by most restaurants.

Kyle ordered the pub burger ($12), which comes with fries and (surprise!) a shotglass of chocolate frosty-style milkshake. For those of you who have furtively been dipping your fries into your shakes all these years, you're in luck at Tap, where you apparently have a kindred spirit in the chef. Fries were good (I think they taste like larger versions of the ones served a McDonald's - which is a compliment - but Kyle thought they were a cut above the fast food dish), and the burger itself was cooked to order. Kyle's only complaint was that the patty almost overwhelmed the little English muffin that held it in place.

The beer list was pretty good. Tap currently has 32 brews on draft, including 2 wines. They also offer beer from Red Brick, Terrapin, Sweetwater breweries (all local), along with their own Numbers Ale and a very dark selection called Ode to Mercy from Wild Heaven of Decatur, GA. Along with those, you'll find beer on the menu from across the U.S., England, Ireland, Italy and several choices from Belgium. It's nothing compared to the extensive lists of Summits Wayside Tavern and Brick Store (both previously reviewed), but you'll find something you'll like here.

You can also take advantage of one of the 3 flight offerings - flight school (wheat, lager, porter), South Bound (local brews) or Tour of Belgium (pictured above). It's a decent deal at $6.

Our server, Trevor, was excellent. Super friendly, right on time with refills and quick with the check when we requested it.

It was a good experience, made even better by a printed note at the end of our receipt that claims if you bring the receipt to any Concentrics group restaurant, you can save $11 off any purchase of $25 or more. Don't know if the amount you save is based on the amount you spend originally or not, but I'll happily try another Concentrics place.

Verdict: Very likeable. Above average beer list.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thaicoon & Sushi Bar



34 Mill St., Marietta, GA www.thaicoonmarietta.com

Last night Heidi, Kyle and I had dinner at Thaicoon in Marietta. It's located just off the square, and the interior is decorated with light-colored wood paneling (maple?), faux potted trees and decent looking drinks bar and sushi bar.

Heidi really enjoyed her appetizer, the basil rolls. For $4.95 you get several steamed rolls with lots of good things inside - shrimp, basil leaves, rice noodles and crap. She called them perfect.

Kyle ordered the pepper steak ($10.95), which was served in a brown sauce with scallions, carrots, onions and a little tomato. He liked it but didn't love it. He mentioned it was very mild.

Heidi ordered the four friends ($10.95), another mild dish that allows you to choose from several meats (she selected shrimp) paired with a white sauce, baby corn, mushrooms, snow peas and carrots. If you've had moo goo gai pan at an Americanized Chinese restaurant, you've had four friends at Thaicoon. She liked it.

I ordered the tofu masaman curry ($10.95). It came in a little heated soup tureen (see above) with rice in its own bowl on the side. Unfortunately "soup" is the appropriate word. The sauce had a great flavor, but it was too watery. In fact, most of what was in the tureen was soupy sauce. There were about 3 pieces of carrot, a dozen cashews, two chunks of potatoes mixed in with a moderate portion of tofu. If you've got a big appetite, there's no way this will fill you up.

So - nothing was bad, but nobody raved about their entrees. The basil rolls seem to have been the big hit of the night.

A few months ago I posted on another Thai restaurant in Marietta, Lemongrass, which is only a few miles north of Thaicoon. Lemongrass trumps Thaicoon in every way except for service, and in that category there's a tie. Portion sizes are larger and flavors are better at Lemongrass.

Verdict: Average Thai food. I would be willing to return, but I wouldn't seek it out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cakes & Ale



254 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, GA www.cakesandalerestaurant.com

On Friday night Kyle and I had dinner at Cakes & Ale in Decatur, and boy are we glad we did!

We began our meal with an order of the gougeres ($5 for 4). If you've never had these wonderful things, they are very soft, eggy round rolls. We liked the little light hollow treats here, but not as much as at some other places, one example being the ones they serve at Fogo de Chao in Buckhead. They were too brown for me, maybe a trifle overbaked, and benefited from the application of butter. Good, just not the best.

Our entrees, though, were a total hit. Kyle ordered the tri-tip steak, fried artichokes & onion rings, little gem lettuce, horseradish sauce ($24). Kyle hates horseradish, so although the chef usually spreads a small amount underneath the steak (which comes in about 5 thin slices, maybe 4" long each), he put it in a small container on the side for Kyle. Kyle tasted it and actually liked it, which says a lot for the sauce. Our waitress didn't ask how he wanted his steak cooked, but it came out medium rare and was excellent. Kyle ate every bite.

We also ordered a side of the turnips and turnip greens ($4). The portion isn't huge, but it's enough to share, and it is incredible! Seriously, these may have been the best greens I've ever eaten. The chunks of turnips were soft (but not too soft), the greens divine. Our other side options were cardamon whipped sweet potatoes or braised cabbage and polenta, both of which sound awesome too. I'd love to go back and try them, but I probably won't get to do so before the menu changes. This officially happens every season, but it's really altered daily to some degree, depending on which ingredients the chef can get super fresh that morning.

I ordered the clams, smoked tomato, red peas, chorizo ($19). I received a decent sized bowl of clams in this wonderful red, smoky broth, full of robust, diced chorizo, dark red peas, and finely sliced onion. I can't tell you how awesome this broth tasted. When I finished off all the clams, they brought me some of their thick, farm-style bread to dip into the broth. I ate all the bread and considered turning up the bowl and drinking the rest of the broth. It's that good.

I only have two complaints about Cakes & Ale. The first is on our dessert, the Phatty Cakes. For $6, you get 3 cakes, which can also be enjoyed at the bar. Each cake is made of two gingerbread or spice cookies connected by mascarpone cheese. The problem wasn't the taste - the sweet-ish cookies are offset by the nice, neutral mascarpone, and make a good combination. Our issue was that the cookies are way too hard. We expected soft cookies, but these are difficult to bite through. They require too much work to eat in my opinion, and they aren't very big, maybe about 2" across at most.

My second issue is with the wait time. Our waitress, who looked like a young Ally Sheedy, was very nice and helpful when we asked questions about wine pairings and needed clarification on some of the entrees. We received our appetizer quickly after ordering, but then we waited a full half hour for our entrees, and the restaurant wasn't terribly crowded. During that time our waitress never reappeared at our table, either to top off our water or to apologize/explain the delay. I'm not sure what was going on with this. While we were thrilled when we finally got our entrees, I don't like feeling that I'm starving to death waiting for them.

Verdict: Excellent food, with a few small issues on the dessert and wait time.