Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grace 17:20




5155 Peachtree Pkwy, Ste 320, Norcross, GA www.grace1720.com

About a week and a half ago Kyle and I had dinner at Grace 17:20 in Norcross. While we live on the total opposite side of Atlanta from this restaurant, I remembered dining there about 6 years ago and enjoying it immensely, so we made the trek out to The Forum shopping center off of Peachtree Parkway in northeast Atlanta.

And it was so worth the drive!

I ordered the market fish, which is oven roasted and citrus encrusted ($26). This came with smoked salmon mashed potatoes, wilted spinach, and citrus vanilla buerre blanc. First, I have to say that I didn't taste any salmon in the potatoes, nor even a hint of vanilla in the buerre blanc. Despite these omissions, this fish still rocked. Perfectly cooked, falling apart before I could get it in my mouth, it was a mild white fish (so sorry, can't remember the exact type - it was something I don't have or see on Atlanta menus very often). The citrus bread crumbs were lively without being zingy, the potatoes creamy, the wilted spinach fantastic. I haven't gotten quite this excited about spinach in a while.

Kyle ordered the black Angus New York strip, which normally comes with horseradish mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and red wine veal jus ($28). Kyle asked our waiter to substitute plain mashed potatoes instead, and he gladly complied. The potatoes were fine, and asparagus was cooked correctly, and the steak was a decent size. Not an enormous cut of beef, but enough. It would've been perfect if it had come out cooked as ordered: Kyle ordered it medium rare, and it was probably more along the lines of medium or medium well. Other than being overcooked, I think the price for this lux meat and 2 veggies was appropriate.

We opted to forgo an appetizer in favor of eating a dessert later, and that was the right move - we ordered the bananas foster turnover. This comes with drizzled white chocolate and a small scoop of chocolate ice cream, and it's a dream. The pastry comes out hot and slightly crisp, while the center is ooey gooey caramelized bananas and brown sugar. Rich without being overpowering. My only complaint about the dessert is that all selections are $9 each. $9?!? This is probably the most expensive dessert I've ordered in the Atlanta area within the past year. As much as I enjoyed it, I think the price should've been more around $7 or $7.50.

I was disappointed that this restaurant's menu no longer features what I previously would have proclaimed as the best appetizer in Atlanta restaurants - mussels grits. Maybe they'll bring that heavenly dish back.

Our service was above average, non-intrusive. I wish I could say I was impressed with the wine list, but I thought it was a little lacking. Not enough interesting reds or unique white blends. We ordered a cabernet for $36 (One Hope) that was only so-so. However, with food this good, I can overlook a sub-par wine list on occasion.

Verdict: The best food I've had yet in Norcross.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mykonos Taverna



2901 Clairmont Rd., Atlanta, GA www.mykonostaverna.com

A couple of weeks ago my friend Kevin and I had dinner at Mykonos Tavern. Kevin is a Turkish and Greek food lover, so I was eagerly anticipating this excursion. Mykonos Tavern is located right on Clairmont Rd. just past the I-85 exit, in the Sam's Club parking lot. You can't miss it - its painted a startlingly bright royal blue with white trim.

The first thing that comes to mind when I recall our dinner was the enormous amount of food we were served. (If you read my post on Colonnade, you'll see this has been a recent although unintentional theme.) With our entrees, which were huge, we also got big Greek salads and a large, round, fat bread absolutely covered with minced garlic. The bread itself would have made a meal for most people. Wish I could comment on it, but I have a strong aversion to that much garlic, so I didn't taste it.

For the salads - romaine, tomatoes, feta, black olives, chopped green bell peppers and the occasional pepperoncini with Greek vinaigrette dressing. It was fine, nothing special. We could have alternately ordered soup.

Since I wasn't prepared for us to get this much food, Kevin also ordered a mezze platter. This came with triangular slices of pita and 3 different dips - I think one was hummus, one baba ganoush, and one a spicy red pepper/cream cheese blend. The latter was my favorite. A pretty good start to the meal.

This came with a side of oven roasted potatoes, which were absolutely delicious. At first I didn't realize they were potatoes - they have such an acidic flavor (lots of fresh lemon juice), I thought they might be cassava, served similarly to the Cuban style available at Marietta's Cuban diner. If you read my review of that place, you know I loved it.

The moussaka didn't impress me as much. I think my main problem with it was the overabundance of nutmeg. I tasted nutmeg over every other flavor, and that's just not my idea of good moussaka. The pasta was cooked properly and the eggplant was sufficiently soft, but the ground beef was a little mushy from too much bechamel sauce. Again, why all the nutmeg? Kevin's wife Sue has also voiced her disapproval of the moussaka, although I'm not sure if she dislikes it for the same reason.

Service was fine, and I appreciated that a manager came over to check on us at one point. The restaurant was about 2/3rds full when we left, primarily with families. Along with about a dozen varied desserts (carrot cake, eclairs, rice pudding, etc.), there's also a children's menu at Mykonos Taverna, so your kids will probably be happy here. I don't know how anyone ever makes it to dessert here - after the mezze and salad I could only eat about half my moussaka and potatoes.

I'd be willing to return, maybe for one of the dinner sautees and a dessert - but not if I had the option of dining at Al's Agora Cafe in Buckhead instead. It's hand over fist better than Mykonos Taverna.

Verdict: Al's Agora Cafe is still my pick for best Greek in the metro Atlanta area.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Colonnade



1879 Cheshire Bridge Rd. Atlanta, GA www.colonnadeatl.com

Last Saturday afternoon my grandmother and I had lunch at the Colonnade, an Atlanta institution since 1927. If you're unfamiliar with the Colonnade, you probably don't know that it's commonly called the restaurant for "gays and grays" - seniors and gay men seem to adore it. I can tell you that the average age of those present last week was probably 70, and it was only that low because 2 families brought babies.

If you haven't been to Colonnade but you've been to Piccadilly, you already know just about everything you need to know regarding the menu. Chopped steak with gravy, livers, vegetable plate, pork chops. Several different varieties of fried fish, along with country fried steak or country fried chicken. Vegetable sides include sweet potato souffle', green beans, fried okra, collards - the usual fried or boiled-to-death Southern fare.

I ordered the chopped sirloin with crispy onions and mushroom gravy ($11). You can see right off the bat that the entrees at Colonnade cost about twice as much as they do at Piccadilly . . . but you'll also get twice as much food. If you like large portions, this is the place to go. My crispy onions were slim and fried without being greasy (surprisingly), and the mushroom gravy was quite tasty. My chopped steak was a notch above that commonly available in the frozen food aisle of your grocery store - it actually had a little taste of the grill or broiler. My turnip greens were slimy and nearly tasteless, but my okra was good, only needed a very little bit of salt.

According to a recent PBS special, the current chef at the Colonnade has plans to revamp the menu, keeping some of the popular old standbys but adding a fewer newer, more interesting dishes in an attempt to attract a younger crowd who may have given up on the Colonnade. Guess we'll have to wait and see. The menu last Saturday could have come from the 70's, 80's, or whenever. There was nothing on it that any Southerner hasn't eaten a hundred times by age 10.

The decor? Exactly what you'd think - dark carpet with an unfortunate pattern, lots of unstable wood tables with a few booths, big windows allowing light inside so their customers' old eyes can read the menus. As a matter of fact, it looks like a lower grade version of the dining room at my grandmother's retirement home.

Service was average, a little subdued. Maybe our waitress didn't have enough time to show us her charm and personality. The place was rockin' busy from the time we set foot inside to the minute we left. One thing is for sure - if I never return to the Colonnade, they sure have a ton of other people who probably will.

A major word of warning here - Colonnade does not accept any credit or debit cards. They have an ATM just inside the entrance, if you're interested in paying the fee (in addition to your own bank's fee) to get cash at the last minute.

Verdict: Nothing new here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Recipe: Wheat Berry Salad w/Dried Apricots


My friend Joanie and I recently had a discussion about working wheat berries into our diets. I think this Better Homes and Gardens recipe uses wheat berries to their best advantage.

http://www.bhg.com/recipe/salads/wheat-berry-salad-with-dried-apricots/

If you aren't in the know about wheat berries, they have excellent nutritional value. They're high in fiber, manganese and magnesium and are low in calories. (While I haven't seen them at Kroger or Publix, you can get them at farmer's markets, Harry's and health food stores, usually at about $4 for half a pound. They are really dense, so this quantity goes a long way.)

What I love about it: You've got a great variety of ingredients here - fresh green peas, protein-packed chickpeas, luscious dried apricots and tart dried cranberries, a little nutty flavor from the walnut oil, green onions and of course the wheat berries. The lemon juice makes it bright without making your mouth pucker, the snow peas give it a light, "spring" quality, and the wheat berries and walnut oil make it rich. This dish will sufficiently fill you up without giving you that overly stuffed feeling. It makes a fantastic lunch, because it won't give you a carb crash and you won't be searching for an unhealthful snack two hours later.

I also love that it's easy to make. Besides cooking the wheat berries, the only other thing you have to do is mix the other ingredients together. It's good to go immediately, or a day or two later if you refrigerate it.

What I would change: It's totally unnecessary to soak the wheat berries overnight. Seriously, don't bother. Just be sure to simmer them for at least an hour on the stove. Otherwise they'll be hard and too chewy. Also, if you aren't crazy about snow peas, sugar snap peas will work as a substitute, but in that case you might want to add a little more lemon juice to prevent this from being too sweet.

Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Isabella's Cafe



910 West College Ave., Decatur, GA www.isabellascafe.com

Last Thursday night Sabrina, my grandmother and I had dinner at Isabella's Cafe near Agnes Scott College. It's in a shopping center with a craft beer store (which I'll definitely visit later), among other establishments. The menu can be described as global, with a heavy emphasis on African dishes (South African, Kenyan, etc.)

We started with an order of the samosas ($7.95). There are 3 to an order, and you can choose between vegetarian, ground turkey or tilapia fillings. We got all veggie, and they were very good. The peas and potatoes were soft, the breading was crisp, and the dipping sauce was tasty.

My grandmother ordered the Cajun Alfredo Shrimp with Andouille Sausage on toasted ciabatta ($9.95). This seemed like a hearty mouthful of good flavors. She selected a side of sweet potato tater tots. We all rather liked these. A nice change from regular white tater tots, and not greasy like you might expect.

I chose the Swahili shrimp curry with mango served over basmati rice ($13.95). The curry itself was very slightly spicy, and the flavor was average, maybe a little better. There were about 8 shrimp total - a moderate number. According to the menu, this is their "signature dish." Really? There was more rice to this than anything.

Which brings me to my sister's entree, the chipotle-maple black beans served over basmati rice ($10.95). This tasted . . . strange. I think including the maple was an attempt at a sweet/spicy effect, but it really just didn't work. Just chipotle might have been a better idea. Again, there was far, far more rice than beans, etc. Come on, chef - beans are cheap! Toss another cup of them into the pot next time.

Our service wasn't all that great, either. When I mentioned to our male server that I'd noticed lots of South African options on both the dinner and wine menus, and said that I hadn't seen anything about the owner's potential connection to South Africa on the restaurant's website, he sort of sneered at me that it was on there, I must have just missed it. Well, excuse me Mr. Nasty. How about just filling me in a little bit yourself, since I'm clearly an interested customer who you'd supposedly like to return. When I asked him for a wine pairing with my entree, he recommended something that, upon tasting it, I felt didn't go with my curry at all. He looked young - maybe a college kid? - and he needs to get rid of the attitude if he wants to earn a living off of tips.

I chose the Swahili shrimp curry with mango served over basmati rice ($13.95). The curry itself was very slightly spicy, and the flavor was average, maybe a little better. There were about 8 shrimp total - a moderate number. There was more rice to this than anything.

Which brings me to my sister's entree, the chipotle-maple black beans served over basmati rice ($10.95). This tasted . . . strange. I think including the maple was an attempt at a sweet/spicy effect, but it really just didn't work. Just chipotle might have been a better idea. Again, there was far, far more rice than beans, etc. Come on, chef - beans are cheap! Toss another cup of them into the pot next time.

Our service wasn't all that great, either. When I mentioned to our male server that I'd noticed lots of South African options on both the dinner and wine menus, and said that I hadn't seen anything about the owner's potential connection to South Africa on the restaurant's website, he sort of sneered at me that it was on there, I must have just missed it. Well, excuse me Mr. Nasty. How about just filling me in a little bit yourself, since I'm clearly an interested customer who you'd supposedly like to return. When I asked him for a wine pairing with my entree, he recommended something that, upon tasting it, I felt didn't go with my curry at all. He looked young - maybe a college kid? - and he needs to get rid of the attitude if he wants to earn a living off of tips.

Verdict: Has potential, but needs improvement.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shilling's on the Square



19 North Park Sq. NE, Marietta, GA www.shillingsonthesquare.com

If you've been to the Marietta Square and haven't noticed Shillings, you haven't been paying attention. It's occupied a prime corner spot for the past umpteen years, and from the exterior appears to be the most upscale restaurant in the area. There's a few tables outside, and the interior is broken up between upstairs and downstairs dining rooms, with an average-sized bar right up front downstairs.

So let's talk about the food. Heidi and I had Sunday brunch here last week, and we were pretty happy with our meals. I chose the corned beef hash and eggs, which comes with a choice of a biscuit or wheat toast. I got the biscuit, and it was above average (but alas, no biscuit in Atlanta can compete with those at the chain restaurant Copeland's). This combo was only $8, and I got plenty of corned beef, which was just the right consistency (not mushy, but not undercooked either) that popped with great flavor, big chunks of home-style potatoes, a handful of fresh, sliced strawberries and a fat serving of creamy butter. It was really a great deal.

Heidi ordered the almond chicken salad on wheat from the lunch menu ($8). The liked it for several reasons. #1 - no one ingredient overpowered any of others, #2 - it wasn't ground up to mashed nothingness, and #3 - you can see from the pic that she got a heaping portion of it, along with a snappy dill pickle and some delicious pasta salad.

Along with the aforementioned, there are lots of other brunch/lunch options, including French toast, more sandwiches, salads, burgers, and some platters featuring things like Caribbean chicken or chop sirloin patty. Basic stuff, not especially creative, but they do a good job with it, and all of it is reasonably priced.

Dinner is more expensive. Downstairs you can have lamb shank, wasabi crusted tuna steak, filet mignon, or a big salad. The entrees come with your choice of mashed potatoes, roasted red potatoes, or wild rice. Plain meat and potatoes, nothing out of the ordinary. Anyone between the ages of 4 to 104 could find something they like here, which is probably the intent.

There's also an upstairs menu. (While I've never eaten upstairs, I've had lunch or dinner downstairs several times, and it was always predictable - slightly above average). Upstairs you can get some of the same selections as are offered downstairs, with the addition of shrimp cocktail, escargot, pastry wrapped brie, steak au poivre, honey glazed salmon, etc.

If you haven't gotten the idea already, here's the deal with Shillings: you'll get regular food without any novelties - no crazy pairings, no obscure ethnic dishes, no uncommon fish or offal, no use of liquid nitrogen, no inclusion of organic ingredients or mention of the currently trendy farm-to-table goals. The current menu at Shillings could've been issued in the mid 80's, for all of it's innovative quality.

However, that doesn't mean the food is bad here. People aren't always in the mood to go out on a culinary limb at dinner - maybe they just want some dill crusted salmon or a pork rib chop with escalloped apples. And there's nothing wrong with that. If that's what you want, Shillings will fit the bill.

The website says Shillings has a "pub-like atmosphere". This would be true if there weren't always so many kids there. Let's face it - Marietta is classic OTP, and the Square is a big draw for family outings. If you want a pub, go to the nearby McCracken's. If it's more important to you to get better quality food and a smoke-free dining room, go for Shillings.

Verdict: Unexciting, but good, basic American food.