Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Road Trip: Dahlonega - Roosters


89 Long Branch Rd # 9, Dahlonega, GA http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=251546721351

On Saturday night Kyle and I had dinner with my dad and stepmom at Roosters Cafe in Dahlonega. My dad and sister have been raving about it forever, and despite my general apathy towards hot wings, they finally got me inside this restaurant just off of north Georgia 400.

Did it live up to the hype? Not really.

What I liked about it: The fries are fantastic. Somewhere between thinly and thickly sliced, hand-cut, very salty and hot to the touch. Just greasy enough. You're going to love them. Get a basket for every person at your table. I also really liked the flavor of the sauce on the wings. Kyle and I ordered them mild, which were spicy enough to be labeled medium in any other wing joint I know. My dad advised us in advance that we should order them "wet", meaning dripping with the sauce. Apparently if you don't do this you'll hardly get any sauce at all. The wings are spicy, more on the tangy side than the sweet side.

What I didn't like about it: The drumsticks were pitifully lacking in meat, almost all bone. My dad ordered 10 wings and convinced the nice waitress to bring him all flats - no drumsticks. This is definitely the way to go. The flats were great - plenty of meat to enjoy. The drumsticks were tiny and almost entirely comprised of bone and sauce. They seemed to come from a half starved chicken. You'll barely get two bites out of each, and that's if you're especially good at working your teeth around the stiff bones. I don't like to have to work that much to get such a small amount of food.

The service was good. There's a small patio along with a good sized indoor dining room and somewhat dive-y looking bar area. This isn't a snobby place - which is good, because a wings place should never, ever be high falutin'. Don't come to Roosters if you're going to be offended by a bunch of bearded rednecks in dirty jeans and waitresses who gather around and smoke with the customers on the patio during their breaks. You'll be happy that roll of cheap paper towels is on your table once you get your hands on those wet wings.

I couldn't find a website for Roosters, so I've referenced their Facebook page above.

Roosters has a second location in Cumming, GA.

BTW - sorry I neglected to get a pic of the actual food. You all know what wings look like anyway, right?

Verdict: When I return, I'm requesting all flats for my wings order.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Foodie Reading: Medium Raw


Several months ago I happily blogged about attending Anthony Bourdain's life show/talk/Q&A at the Cobb Performing Arts Center. While there, I learned Bourdain had recently published a new book entitled Medium Raw, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.

My first disappointment won't come as a surprise to some of you - Bourdain regaled his live audience at the Center with many of the stories contained in the book. If you've ever seen a famous comedian perform live in a comedy club and then went out to buy his book, only to discover you've heard all the material already, you're familiar with this experience. Anthony Bourdain is a very talented writer, but the written word can't compare to his enchanting live delivery. I'm sure he had the same routine going at all his tour's stops; if you've attended one of his shows, you may not want to bother with purchasing a copy of Medium Raw. Hair-raising confrontation with creepy Sandra Lee? Check. Advice to travelers? Check. Efforts to turn his daughter against the evil Ronald McDonald? Check.

The most disappointing things about Medium Raw are its disjointed content and its style in certain chapters - sounding very un-Bourdain like, forced and nearly insincere. I loved both Kitchen Confidential, the book that made Bourdain famous, and A Cook's Tour, written in conjunction with a show he used to star in on the Cooking Network (back before he understandably came to loathe it). I read them both with relish, and will happily reread them during the next couple of years. Medium Raw just wasn't up to the standard I've come to expect from Bourdain. The chapter layout has no flow, almost no relation to each other. There is almost no natural progression - instead it's a bumpy ride. The final chapter revisits some of the well-loved or much despised characters from Kitchen Confidential, which is good, but it feels like it was slapped on as an afterthought following Bourdain's completion of the number of pages required by his editor/publisher.

I realize this makes it sound like I disliked the book. I really didn't.

What did I like? His chapter on Alice Waters, the self-proclaimed mother of the slow food movement, co-founder of Chez Panisse and general kook, is hilarious and his its target smack in the center. His no-holds-barred attack on the GQ writer entitled "Alan Richman Is a Douchebag" is stupendous. His in depth look at chef and mega restaurant owner David Change is well-rounded and thought provoking. Chapter 3 chronicles his hellish experience with a coke-addicted heiress in the Caribbean, and every sentence is a gem.

Bourdain is, of course, at his best when he's writing about food (as opposed to eviscerating/praising other chefs, crowing his love for his toddler daughter, or doling out advice to prospective cooks). While Bourdain can make any of the other aforementioned subjects interesting, his food writing (he calls it food porn) is absolutely fascinating. You'll get some of that in Medium Raw - enough to make the book worth purchasing. If the paragraph on page 83 (of the hardback) about eating pho in Hanoi doesn't make your mouth water, you're not a foodie.

Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Anthony Bourdain - he's probably my biggest foodie hero. He's witty, forthright, and bases his love for a dish on its flavor, creativity, texture, presentation, aroma - all the important factors, not its price. It pains me to say that I dislike a single word he's written. Maybe the best way to sum up how I feel about this book is to say that I'm happy I read it . . . but unlike his previous nonfiction books, I probably wouldn't read it again.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Ivy




3717 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, GA www.theivybuckhead.com

On Friday night Erin and I had dinner at The Ivy. She had a Scoutmob coupon, I had a new job to celebrate, and this place seemed to fit the bill.

We started with the spinach and artichoke dip, which comes with house chips. It was good, very creamy. Lots of parmesan, not too much garlic. A little overpriced at $10.

Erin ordered the Dublin chicken sandwich ($11). She loved it. It's rosemary and garlic marinated chicken with portobello mushrooms, melted provolone and pesto aioli on grilled ciabatta. If you like the sound of it, you'll like the way it tastes.

I had the club sandwich, a monstrous thing that came with a nice portion of rosemary spiced fries. Loved the fries - a great spin on a classic. The sandwich was double-decker, and so large I took half of it home for lunch the next day. For $9, this was a deal. It was above average for a club - the ham tasted distinctively honeyed, the bacon was thick and not overcooked, and the dijon 3 pepper mustard was a bright spot.

One of the owners, a casually preppy guy who appeared to be about 30, came over and asked about our experience. He was very solicitous and seemed to be concerned about only getting the "coupon crowd" instead of creating repeat customers. Would Erin and I be back? I told him we would, and we might, because our food was good and the restaurant is in a convenient location. However, the food wasn't outstanding, and the parking is (complimentary) valet, a turn-off for me.

I'm not exactly sure what type of atmosphere the owners are attempting to create here. There's a large outdoor dining area, including a round beach style bar. Inside, there's another large, dark bar, a regular dining area with tables, and beyond that a large lounge area. None of it was particularly crowded on Friday night at 8, which is a prime dinner hour. The people there ranged from retirees to businessmen with their ties loosened to college girls. I know the restaurant is fairly new, so it hasn't come into it's identity yet, but obviously the end result won't possibly be appealing to all those different people. Hopefully for the owners it will gather a good following from one of these dynamics.

The owner also mentioned that soon they'll be simplifying the menu, which I think is unfortunate but will probably steer this place in the lounge direction, never good for foodies.

Verdict: Pretty good, just not completely there yet.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Desta




3086 Briarcliff Rd., Atlanta, GA www.destaethiopiankitchen.com

Last night Heidi, Ilya and I had dinner at Desta, an Ethiopian restaurant at the intersection of Clairmont and Briarcliff roads. This area boasts several Ethiopian restaurants - in fact, previously reviewed Bahel is right across the street. I hadn't been to Bahel in a while, and had been missing Ethiopian cuisine.

The two restaurants have similar menus, but not everything is the same. Both have kitfo, the raw beef dish I so enjoyed at Bahel. Both have collard greens and other vegetables, and the ubiquitous spongy bread you'll use as a utensil, folding it up and grabbing the rest of your food. However, there are a few differences.

One difference seems to be in the intensity of the spiciness. At Bahel, the server will give you a separate, small bowl of the famously hot mitmita on the side, whereas it was liberally mixed into each of our dishes at Desta. If you're sensitive to the heat, you'll want to either ask for your meal to be prepared minus the spice, or eat at Bahel instead.

For example, I had the fish tibs ($11). This is shredded (the menu says cubed) tilapia, marinated in "house spices" (read hot), olive oil, peppers, tomato and onion. This is a very rich but delicious dish. Who can resist fish in olive oil? The red onion and green peppers provide excellent flavor notes, and the portion is probably just right . . . assuming you can stand the hot, hot spices, which I couldn't. I wanted to eat more, but I could only get about halfway through before giving up and allowing my mouth to burn on its own. The tilapia is also accompanied by bread and a nice, semi-cooling diced tomato and lettuce (I think iceberg) salad.

Desta also doesn't offer chicken kitfo, as Bahel does. I think kitfo is technically supposed to be raw. Let me assure you that Bahel doesn't serve raw chicken. It's cooked, and it's devine. Desta only had one or two chicken options on the menu.

Another difference is the desserts. Desta offers at least five desserts, with only one of them making sense given the theme - an Ethiopian hot cake for $5.99. The other options are tiramisu (Italian), Napoleon (French), chocolate cake and baklava (Greek). Ilya loves the tiramisu here.

Desta has plenty of meat options, including ground beef, ribeye, liver and tripe. You won't lack for meat or bread here.

I won't say that I like it better than Bahel, but I didn't like it less either. I think the two are probably just about equal, as are their prices and indoor atmospheres. The deciding factor for where you might want to dine could be the covered outdoor seating at Desta.

I'd love to hear from followers who've tried both restaurants and have a clear preference.

Verdict: Great stuff.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bambinelli's



3202 Northlake Parkway NE, Atlanta, GA 30345 www.bambinellispizza.com

The website says it's Italian food by way of the Bronx. If this sounds discouraging to you, you're on the right track. Bambinelli's serves every single old and (in this case) boring Italian-American dish imaginable: lasagna, fettucine alfredo with chicken or shrimp, calzones, chicken marsala, antipasta salad and baked ziti, and pizza, of course. All the things your middle school cafeteria ladies used to half-heartedly dish out onto your plastic lunch trays back before you had a choice about what and where you ate. The food at Bambinelli's is about that exciting, and near the same quality.

Now you're really discouraged, right?

And the thing is, I HATE to have to discourage you in this case. Bambinelli's is family run restaurant, an establishment that has been in the Northlake area for over 30 years. It's outlasted almost every other restaurant within five miles of Northlake Mall. The entrance and cash register areas are covered in framed pictures of the owner's family, covering weddings, births, high school graduations, etc. It's not cold and overly modern, and the waiters are nice, not aloof and overdressed like they are at some restaurants in Buckhead or downtown. It's homey. It makes you want to like it.

But I don't like it. And I have intentionally held off from reviewing it for at least a year because I kept giving it another chance, and another . . .

Since my grandmother likes and lives near this place, I've dined here at least 4 times during the past year. Once I had the linguine with white clam sauce. I've mentioned in a previous review how much I normally love this dish. Some Italian restaurants make it great (such as Veni Vedi Vici in midtown), and some do a poor job (such as previously reviewed Il Bacio, whose aforementioned dish is like clam soup). Bambinelli's dish gets about a 3 on my scale of 1-10. The clams don't seem fresh, the pasta is overcooked, and there's way too much garlic.

Last night we had the pizza. If you're going to eat here, that's what you should order. I've had plain pepperoni, which was fine, and last night we had the Bada Bing Pizza. The toppings are ham, salami, pepperoni, smoked provolone and mozzarella. The medium was $17.95. It was OK. Just OK. No one flavor stood out, no one ingredient seemed particularly fresh. Biting into a hot slice of pizza should leave you with that satisfied feeling, the kind where you close your eyes in appreciation and kind of slump back into your seat. That didn't happen for me here. If I wouldn't have had a hungry husband at home, I wouldn't have bothered getting a to-go box.

On the bright side, the crust was pretty good. It was somewhere between thick and think, of a hand-tossed consistency. And the pizza came with a small bowl of marinara sauce. I spooned this directly onto my slices. Their flavor was moderately improved.

It's nowhere near the quality of pizza served at Blue Moon Pizza or Mulberry Street Pizza in Cobb. Still, it's the best thing I've had at Bambinelli's.

So why has Bambinelli's been around for so long? (Not only is it still in business, it's always busy.) Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. # 1 - it's not just family owned, it's family friendly. Need a high chair? Have a screaming kid (or two) and still want to go out to eat tonight? Bambinelli's is your place. # 2 - it's reasonably priced. You'll spend the same amount you would at Applebee's, so most people can afford it. # 3 - it's consistent. I mean, if you like their food the first time you dine there, you'll always like it.

There is a second location on Lawrenceville Hwy in Lilburn.

Verdict: Wish I could give Bambinelli's my seal of approval, but I can't.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Recipe: Lombardi chicken


I got this recipe out of Better Homes and Gardens' Our Best Recipes cookbook.

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
3-4 tbsp a/p flour
3 tbsp butter or margarine
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella or fontina cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions.

1. Preheat oven to 375. Cut each breast half in half lengthwise. Place each between 2 pieces of heavy plastic wrap; working from center to edges, pound with flat side of a meat mallet to 1/8 inch thickness. Remove plastic wrap. Coat chicken lightly with flour.

2. In a 12-inch skillet, melt 1 tbsp of the butter over medium heat; add half the chicken pieces, cook for 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer to a 2 quart rectangular baking dish. Repeat with another 1 tbsp of the butter and remaining chicken pieces; transfer to the baking dish.

3. Melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter in the skillet. Add mushrooms. Cook and stir until tender; add wine, broth, dash of salt & a dash of pepper. Bring to boiling; boil gently about 5 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 1/2 cup including mushrooms. Pour over the chicken.

4. In a small bowl, combine mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and green onions; sprinkle over the chicken. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Serves 4.

What you need to know:
I think 20 minutes is insufficient for baking this recipe. I like the cheeses on my Lombardi chicken to get browned and a little crispy around the edge of the baking dish. To get this texture, you'll need to bake it for at least 25 minutes.

The ingredients call for 3 tablespoons of butter or margarine. Kyle and I always end up using twice this much. Once you flour the chicken, it seems to drink up the butter very quickly. When faced with adding more fatty butter or burning my dinner, I always have my spoon at the ready.

The quality of marsala wine that you use in this recipe will really impact the saltiness of the finished dish. If you buy the $2-$3 cooking wine from the baking aisle of your grocery store, you better not put any additional salt into this dish.

The ratio of parmesan to mozzarella cheese can be reversed according to your liking. Keep in mind that the mozzarella will make the dish gooey - and too gooey can be a bad thing. You don't want to have to pry it out of the pan.

The dish is pictured in the cookbook as being served with fresh tomatoes, and I always serve it with this simple side-dish. Lombardi chicken is a rich main course. You don't want to put something fancy or with a vegetable with a sauce alongside it (God forbid).

Instead of using a 12" skillet, I use my large saute' pan. Most of the time I can't fit all the chicken in a 12" skillet, and end up having to brown several batches of chicken before moving on to the next steps. This recipe takes about 40 minutes to make, so I prefer to streamline the initial cooking as much as possible.

Verdict: Thanks to the Wisconsin BH&G reader who submitted this. It truly belongs in their Best Recipes cookbook.