Monday, June 27, 2011

Sip




4403 Northside Pkwy, Atlanta, GA www.siprestaurants.com

On Friday night Kyle and I had dinner at Sip's Riverside location, just off of where Cobb Pkwy turns into Northside Drive. Once on Northside, you'll see a clock tower and big signs for a Post apartment complex, along with a smaller sign for Sip. Follow the road up the hill and you'll find a quaint little live/play community with about a dozen shops and Sip. The restaurant occupies the old River Room space.

So what makes Sip different from other Atlanta tapas restaurants or wine bars? Like The Grape (located in Vinings), Sip offers their wine by the bottle, the glass and the half glass. They also go one step further, offering sips for sale. According to our server, a glass is 6 ozs, half glass is 3 ozs, and a sip is 1 oz. One ounce? How anyone can decide whether they like a wine or not after having only one ounce is beyond me, but if you're afraid of committing to even half a glass of wine, this is the place for you.

To make things more interesting, you can opt to get your glasses or sips yourself - from these things on the wall that look like slot machines, but are basically wine vending machines. Each bottle is displayed in its own spot, and there are buttons above them. Push one and you'll get your glass full, two will give you the half glass, and three will spit out your tiny sip.

How do they keep up with this? They give you a wine credit card, uniquely programmed to tally up your tables wine totals. It's ingenious, really, because who doesn't like the idea of hanging around a bunch of wine machines, trying as many of their 30ish selections as you can handle? If you've ever been on a cruise, you understand how a person can simply swipe the card with abandon, never bothering to total up exactly how much he/she is spending to taste and sample.

And you will spend a decent chunk of change, whether you use the wine card or simply order the wine through your server and have him deliver it. I think the cheapest sip was over $2. The half glasses averaged about $7, and the full glasses about $14.

But the wine isn't the only thing that's pricey - there's the tapas, too. Compared to Eclipse di Luna, Sip has a smaller tapas menu (including a much more limited selection of vegetarian tapas), and the prices are significantly higher.

Here's a quick rundown of the tapas we ordered:

The artisan cheese plate ($9) was very good. I got a slice of thick, earthy goat cheese, a just-runny-enough camembert, and a ho-hum blue, along with some french bread and a fig relish. The relish was like the inside of a Fig Newton, only a little chunkier, and was a great sweet touch alongside the cheeses.

Kyle ordered the smoked chicken stuffed poblano ($9), which came with smoked gouda and a roasted tomato cream sauce. Lots of gouda for those who love it, inside a large, mild pepper with plenty of chicken. I tasted it and couldn't discern the tomato in the sauce, but it was definitely creamy. This was probably the best value of anything we ordered off the menu - the portion was substantial, and the concept is interesting.

Kyle also ordered the Kobe beef sliders ($10). This came with a red onion marmalade and cheese, and was topped with a single Spanish olive speared in the center of each. Kyle and I have tried to avoid jumping into the sliders craze, because we seem to always be disappointed by what comes out - beef and bun and little else. More cheese would've helped in this case.

We also shared a meze platter, which in this case was toasted pita bread with 3 dips - eggplant "caviar", hummus and red pepper relish with artichoke ($6). This was very nice. All 3 dips were tasty, and differed enough from one another that we felt we were getting a nice selection.

The tuna tartare napoleon ($10) was the downfall of the evening. It was covered, absolutely smothered, in a wasabi aioli. I normally love tuna tartare. The glory of the dish is the delicious tuna, which should be accented, complemented, by a few other flavors such as a bright citrus or a fresh herb. In this case, the avocado and maybe a minute amount of diced red onion would've been fine companions. Instead, the tuna's distinctly wonderful flavor was completely masked by all these other ingredients, in large quantities. I'm not sure if this is because the quality of the restaurant's tuna is very poor (and they need to mask the flavor, assuming it has any), or if the chef just went nuts when creating this dish and threw too many things onto the plate.

Our service was less than memorable. When we had questions about the menu (both food and wine) we had to drag the answers out of him, and he kept showing up at our table at all the wrong times. Maybe this was an "off" night for him, or he's just the worst server they've got. The restaurant has only been open for about 7 months, so maybe they haven't built their core staff yet. Ambiance: lighting was a little too low (unfortunately typical of wine bars), and the music was a little too loud (live music - same as at Eclipse di Luna). The acoustics make it sound like everyone is yelling, when this isn't the case. If you like places that sound crowded and "happening" even when they aren't, go to Sip.

I liked most of the food here very much, and I think the wine menu is sufficient, but there's no way 2 people are going to get out of here for less than $60 (before tip/tax) - and that's with one glass of wine per person. If you want the equivalent of a bottle, you'll definitely drop over $100, and I just don't think the quality of the food is quite up to triple digit quality yet. We could have eaten as good or better offerings at Eclipse di Luna for 2/3rds of the price. If the cost isn't a factor for you, you should add this to your list of places to try in the near future.

Sip has another location (Crabapple) in Milton, GA.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Recipe: Lemon Pork Chops


From: Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Best Loved Recipes.

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; 4 boneless pork chops; 3 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce; 1 large onion, quartered and sliced (optional); 1 large green pepper, cut into strips; 1 tablespoon lemon-pepper seasoning; 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce; 1 large lemon, quartered; lemon wedges (optional)

Directions: 1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-low heat until hot. Brown pork chops on both sides. Drain excess fat and discard. Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Combine tomato sauce, onion, if desired, bell pepper, lemon-pepper seasoning and Worcestershire. Add to slow cooker.

3. Squeeze juice from lemon quarters over mixture; drop squeezed peels into slow cooker. Cover; cook on low 6 to 8 hour or until pork is tender. Remove lemon wedges before serving. Garnish with additional lemon wedges, if desired.

What you need to know:

First off, I don't think the inclusion of the onion should be optional. The onion adds another layer of flavor, and if you throw in enough onion and bell pepper you won't need a side dish. The photo in the cookbook shows the chops atop a bed of rice, but this works great as a one pot meal.

Second, 3 cans of tomato sauce is way, way too much. Even with 2 cans you'll be left with 3 inches of veritable lemon-pepper soup after extracting the chops and covering them with sauce. 2 cans is plenty.

The first time you make this recipe, you might want to leave the squeezed and quartered lemon out of the pot. Between the whole tablespoon of lemon-pepper and the fresh squeezed juice, you'll have a heap of lemon flavor. If you aren't a true lemon lover, cooking the wedges all those hours along with the rest might be overkill for you. You won't need the additional lemon wedges unless you just want to decorate the plate.

My favorite slow cooker recipes are usually those that only require me to chuck all the ingredients into the pot and let it cook them itself, but browning the pork chops is a good first step. As the recipe points out, it will reduce the fat content and make your dinner more healthful.

Kyle and I have substituted the thin-sliced breakfast chops (Kroger sells them in a package of 6-7) for the 4 regular sliced chops several times, and we haven't had to change anything else about the recipe. As a matter of fact, other than setting the cooker at the wrong time or temperature, it's pretty difficult to screw this up. Even a novice cook can make this meal come out delicious the first time (and every time), and most of the ingredients are cabinet staples.

This is a fantastic recipe. The tomato sauce makes it rich and satisfying, and the fresh lemon keeps it bright and perfect for spring or summer. They are wonderful complements. The pork will literally be falling apart when you serve it up. It tastes like something that has been cooking for hours, and the Crock Pot won't heat up your kitchen the same way an oven would - a great relief during these hot months in the South. That being said, I'd recommend this recipe for any season.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alison's Restaurant




5500 Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd., Dunwoody, GA www.alisonsrestaurant.com

Last Sunday night Kyle, my grandmother and I had dinner at Alison's restaurant in Dunwoody. The first thing you need to know about this place is that if you want to eat there, you better be looking for it - it's practically hidden back in a shopping center with only a small sign indicating it's presence. Once you get there, you'll find ample parking, a moderately sized patio and an indoors dining area. The second thing you need to know is that this is a relatively new place - it was opened last November by an English woman (Alison, of course), who was actively managing the restaurant on Sunday night. When she came by our table to inquire about our dinners, I was pleased to give her a positive response.

Grandmother and I both ordered one of the evenings specials, a penne pasta with scallops and shrimp in a Cajun sauce. This was outstanding. The penne was cooked al dente, the sauce was was great - strong flavors of sherry and heavy cream. There were plenty of scallops, but only 2 shrimp (same for both me and Grandmother). Normally restaurants will skimp on the scallops instead, so I'm not sure if Alison's was having a shrimp shortage or what. Nevertheless, the scallops were not overcooked (a common mistake at somewhat inexpensive seafood restaurants), the sliced mushrooms were plentiful, and the sun-dried tomatoes were pungent notes. Normally I steer clear of entrees with sun-dried tomatoes, because they often overpower all other flavors, but there were just enough in this case. I finished most of mine, and took half of Grandmother's home. When I ate it 2 days later it was just as good, a near miracle with delicate seafood. The dish far exceeded my expectations, and only cost around $13.50.

Price is one of the good traits about Alison's. No dish on the menu is priced to empty your wallet. It's not super cheap like Buford Hwy or anything, but it's definitely reasonable.

Another plus - a Georgia winery, Blackstock, has several offerings on the wine menu. Blackstock's good reputation is growing, and I'm happy to see that Alison's is getting in on the local action.

If only Kyle's filet mignon would've been as great as the pasta. The meat itself is about the same quality as you'd find at Longhorn - not as good as Ruth's Chris or Stoney River, but priced less at $18.69. It was cooked as ordered. The main issue we had with it is the size - it's only 6 ozs. Now, unless you're a 14 year old girl, this probably won't be enough meat for you. Fortunately it comes with two sides, which will prevent your stomach from growling after you've cleaned your plate. Kyle thought the mashed potatoes were very creamy, but when you order steak, you're hoping the main course will be a little more substantial. (Alison's does offer a 12 oz Ribeye for $16.99, but once you've got filet in your mind, ribeye just won't cut it.) The other side he chose was the spaghetti with marinara sauce, which wasn't anything special, but wasn't bad either.

Another negative is the decor. It's sort of 1980's - the colors, the booths, the carpet, and those God-awful vinyl table covers. Some plain white linen tablecloths would go a long way towards improving the appearance of this place.

That being said, I never value decor over quality of food, and I'll sit in that crappy booth in front of that sticky table cover any day for that seafood pasta.

Verdict: Better than expected. Give it a try next time you're in the neighborhood.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pho Dai Loi 2



4186 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30345 404/633-2111

On Thursday night my friends Kelly, Joanie and Molly (whom I haven't seen in forever and is a radiant newlywed!) had dinner at Pho Dai Loi 2. Has it really been 6 months since I blogged about a restaurant on Buford Hwy? If you love the road's great ethnic cuisine as much as I do, here's your spring fix.

If you've never had Vietnamese pho, you're missing out on an excellent meal. At Pho Dai Loi 2, you can choose from about 30 combinations of meat and vegetables, which will accompany noodles and a hearty chicken stock. Most selections include beef, although a few have seafood like shrimp. The meat will basically cook itself in your bowl as you wait a minute or so for it to cool off.

Regarding the meat, the beef is the key - you can get tendon, tripe, flank steak, etc. I got the # 9, which is pho with eye rimmed steak and well done flank. The flank was much better than the eye rimmed steak, which was rather stringy. Still, the broth was good. On the side, we were served a typical, large plate of fresh bean sprouts and basil. At some pho restaurants you also get fresh mint. I rather missed the mint . . .

Of course, the most important part of pho is the broth. It should be a rich, hearty thing of beauty. It's good here, but I think Pho Bac does it just a little bit better.

Another great thing about pho is that most restaurants, Pho Dai Loi 2 included, give you quite the bang for your buck: a small bowl will cost $5, a medium $5.95, and a large (which is truly massive) is a ridiculously cheap $6.50. I can never finish more than a small bowl, and I make a habit of eating everything anyone puts in front of me.

I like most pho places, especially these restaurants in nondescript, predominately Asian owned shopping centers. I like the pho places that concentrate on making good soup, rather than fancy websites or late night party atmospheres. Pho Dai Loi 2 fits the bill.

If you don't want pho, you can also order vermicelli dishes, rice dishes, spring rolls, etc. Plenty of shakes and tea to go around too.

Verdict: Good stuff, but not quite as great as nearby Pho Bac.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Brooklyn Cafe



220 Sandy Springs Cir., Sandy Springs, GA www.brooklyncafe.com

On Saturday my grandmother and I had lunch at The Brooklyn Cafe. This place is just off of busy Roswell Rd., in the same shopping center as a Thai restaurant, a large fresh produce stand, and Van Michaels salon. They serve American fare, such as Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Creole BBQ Chicken and Sausage, crab cakes and Reuben sandwiches. Everything is moderately priced.

I ordered the Awesome Fish Sandwich ($10), which that day was broiled mahi mahi with tomato, lettuce, red onion and a dill sauce. This was excellent. The bun was lightly broiled and very buttery, and fish was tasty, and the sliced pickles on top made the sandwich lively. I had a choice of sides, and went with our server's suggestion of tomatoes. They came out nicely ripened with a little crumbled blue cheese and parsley on top. If you're like me and can't get enough fresh tomatoes in the spring and summer, this is the side dish for you. My only criticism is with the sauce on the fish. Dill is my favorite herb, and it's a natural compliment to most fish. However, this sauce tasted more of garlic than of dill. It was almost like an aioli, which wasn't what I had in mind.

Grandmother had the classic Caesar salad with gulf shrimp ($10). The plate of romaine was huge. I tried a bite, which is all I needed to determine it was terrible. Yes, terrible. The shrimp was fine - not overcooked, plump and pink - but the salad itself was awful, nearly inedible. Why? Anchovies overload. It was like eating anchovies straight out of the jar. I'm fine with a hint on anchovy flavor; I like the little fish in pasta sauces, and it's an essential ingredient in Caesar salads done right. But this was just way, way too much. Thank God my grandmother, who at 87 has lost much of her sense of taste, ordered this. I can honestly say it was so bad that if they would've served it to me, I would've sent it back to the kitchen.

The wine list is decent, and there's a bar that appeared to be a hangout for middle aged women with fake tans in tennis wear. Not sure if this is indicative of Sandy Springs, or the restaurant itself. When it's not so hot as it was this weekend, you'll probably enjoy the nice patio seating.

Our service was very good. The cheerful female server seemed down to earth without being too gabby.

Overall, I was pleased with Brooklyn Cafe. I'd like to think the bad salad was an isolated negative on the menu.

Verdict: If you stay away from the Caesar salad, you'll probably leave happy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Porter Beer Bar



1156 Euclid Ave., Atlanta, GA www.theporterbeerbar.com

Last Saturday night Kyle, April and I ate at The Porter Beer Bar in Little Five. My friend Kathy has been urging me to this gastropub for a while now, and somehow we haven't gotten there until now. Kathy is one smart lady - this place is awesome.

We started with the Sweetwater Spent Grain Bread ($3), which comes with salty butter. I didn't find the butter particularly salty, and the only indication that the bread contained Sweetwater IPA (an excellent Atlanta brew) was the slightly tangy flavor. However, it was a decent, not-too-thick and not-overly-thin bread, good for helping to pad your stomach for the beer to come.

April, who seems to always order appetizers as an entree, got the Goat Cheese Fritters ($6.75). This comes with clover honey, and April made a mistake in having it as an entree. It's extremely rich. Between the thick, syrupy honey and the dense, decadent fried goat cheese you'll only be able to stomach one, two at the most. I liked it, but you've got to have something else besides this if you want to make it through the night.

I ordered the Foie Gras, which isn't on the regular menu. It was fantastic, and I have to admit I was a little wary of trying it here where the tables don't have white tablecloths and the price was under $15 per serving. I took a risk, and The Porter pleasantly surprised me. The foie gras was accompanied by micro arugula, thick ciabatta-like bread, duck powder, and two sides, one of which had a cranberry base. Really, you should try it.

Kyle ordered the half pound cheeseburger ($11.75), which was about what you would expect. It may be the plainest and most traditional item on their menu, but it was good. It came with a huge side of fries, which I think had way, way too much garlic. You could smell them coming from the time the waiter entered the dining room with his plate. They overpowered everything, including the beer.

And yes, I'm now going to talk about the beer.

No matter how much I may have liked the food here, there's no way I would have loved it more than the beer. The list is tremendous - 19 pages, I think. In fact, it appears to be almost identical to the list at Brick Store in Decatur (previously reviewed and highly rated). Pilsners, hefeweizens, porters (naturally), cask ales, barley wines - all ranging from about $5 to $23. I've tried at least 200 brews in my life, and I can say that the Porter has lots of beer I've never tasted, many I've never even heard of. If you're a beer hound, you'll love it.

The atmosphere . . . hmmm. First of all, you're in the heart of Little Five Points. If you've been there, you get the idea of the clientele. Inside the restaurant itself is shaped like a narrow "L", with a traditional bar in the front, and tables further back that keep going up, and up, and up. Be careful of this if you've downed a few! (No, I didn't break a leg, but you can see the potential.) It's a little dark, and there's 80's music like The Cure, Erasure and New Order playing. Or at least there was last Saturday night. Half the people inside are too young to remember any of it, but the other half range from old hippies to professor types (sometimes one in the same, I admit), to simple beer lovers like me, and I'm always a shockingly normal element in this part of town. I don't necessarily feel like I fit in here, but the problem was in my mind, not in the way I was treated. Our waiter was fantastic. He had a great sense of humor and was very knowledgeable when we had questions about the various beers. Everything would've been kosher is someone wouldn't have puked on the floor in the level below us - again, lots of under 25's here.

Despite the upchuck, I'll definitely be back.

Verdict: The best bar/pub in Little 5.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Road Trip: Dahlonega - Le Petite Cafe




259 Church St. Dahlonega, GA www.lepetitecafedahlonega.com

During our weekend in Dahlonega with my dad and stepmom, we had Sunday brunch at this small but cute little place in Dahlonega. It's run by two sisters - my dad has met them, says they're super nice and English. There are 5, maybe 6 tables total, all outdoors in front of a nice privately owned home. As a matter of fact, the tables themselves are basically in the home's front driveway.

The menu is short, but it's unique for the area. Breakfast items include low-fat yogurt with house made granola and morning fresh madeleines. Yes! Madeleines in Dahlonega! For lunch you can get simple but good dishes like a turkey and cranberry sandwich or homemade quiche. They actually serve French pate' with toast. Yes, pate' in Dahlonega. In the afternoon you can enjoy fresh cakes or hot chocolate with toast.

I tried the day's special, which was brie and bacon on a French baguette. This came with a simple Boston lettuce salad and cup of freshly sliced strawberries, a good combination of rich cheese, thick bread, greens and juicy fruit. Kyle had the French toast with fresh fruit (also strawberries). You won't believe how large a serving this is for the price. He also tried the warm chocolate tart. Unfortunately it wasn't warm, but it was flaky and the chocolate was melted and gooey. Yum.

It's not fancy, it's not overly ambitious, it's just simple, fresh cafe food, something that's very hard to find in north Georgia.

Possibly the best thing about this place is the price. Everything is very inexpensive, with the majority of the dishes being under $5. You can easily eat breakfast for $3/person, plus a beverage. I think the tart was $1. Even though it wasn't warm, I'm hard put to complain about a fresh baked tart that cost as much as a can of Coke does at the QT. Why not add some hot tea to your order while you're at it? The environment is perfect for hanging out with a newspaper, especially if you get there in the early morning, when the dew is still on the lawn.

The Cafe is open from 7am to 5pm every day.

Verdict: A pleasant little find in Dahlonega.