Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paradise Grill




3605 Sandy Plains Rd., Marietta, GA www.paradisegrillmarietta.com

A couple of weeks ago my friend Megan accompanied me to Paradise Grill in east Cobb. It's located in a nice shopping center with a Hallmark nearby and Publix as the anchor.

This wasn't the first time I've patronized Paradise Grill. Several years ago I used to eat here at least every other month, and had an opportunity to try many of the dishes. I was pleased to see that one in particular is still on the menu.

The prime and cheddar ($8.99) is an excellent sandwich. This consists of slow cooked prime rib (thin-sliced, slightly shredded) and good quality cheddar cheese with a side of au jus. I must admit - I'm a sucker for au jus, and Paradise Grill provides a tasty version. You'll have a choice of breads, and you should definitely get the marble rye. For sides, your best bests are the house chips or the pasta salad. The pasta salad is light, chewy, and perky, and the chips are home-made, thin, slightly dark but not too greasy.

The Grill also offers plenty of typical bar food - wings, club sandwiches, chicken fingers, nachos, quesadillas and burgers. None of it is particularly noteworthy, but none of it is actually bad, either. If you've got kids, they'll probably eat almost anything on the menu. Parents have obviously already figured this out: Paradise Grill is usually packed, with about 3/4 of its customers being families with young or preteen children. What kid doesn't like a chocolate brownie a la mode? There's also an actual kids' menu.

If you're not in the mood for any of the above, Paradise Grill has a page of seafood items you might enjoy. I recently had the shrimp tavern basket, which at $8.99 was basically a rip-off. For this price you get a whopping total of 9 fried shrimp, along with a serving of fries or house chips. 9 shrimp? I don't know what I was thinking - this was clearly stated on the menu - but this isn't enough food for anyone who weighs over 90 pounds. If you want to fill up on fries then you can get out a lot cheaper at McDonald's.

On the subject of seafood, there's also mahi mahi, salmon, fish and chips, fish tacos or pasta with scallops, etc. added. These are all more expensive than the baskets, but they're probably worth the extra money because you'll actually receive more than 5 mouthfuls of seafood. I seem to recall enjoying the blackened fish wrap ($7.99) or some version of this in previous years..

My biggest problem with this place is the service. When I used to frequent this place about 5 years ago the service was consistently good, but now the entire staff appears to be between the ages of 17 and 20. Lots of cute young girls, but also lots of mixups on your orders, bone dry water glasses and apathetic servers who are M.I.A. whenever you need them. Notice to restaurants: I'll take an older, unattractive but conscientious server over a young, hot clueless one any day.

Verdict: Not as good as it used to be, but the prime and cheddar is still worth a visit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Recipe: Sicilian Meatballs


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sicilian-style-meatballs

This recipe is from Food & Wine, and it's unbelievable - the best meatballs you've ever eaten, either at home or in a restaurant. As a matter of fact, ever since Kyle and I started making this recipe, I won't order meatballs at any restaurant, ever. The competition simply doesn't measure up. What makes them so great?

1. The inclusion of currants. Just enough chewy texture, little bursts of fruit within a rich meatball.

2. The presence of the pine nuts. Crunchy, and they add depth.

3. The sauce - put the olive oil and crushed tomatoes (the best quality you can find) on the stove and allow them to simmer together while you're rolling and cooking the meatballs. You'll be glad you gave it some extra time, and this requires no extra effort.

This recipe makes enough meatballs for about 4 people for dinner. Kyle and I love it because we get an excellent dinner (great with some Italian red wine) and an equally wonderful lunch the next, or even several days later. It keeps well, and almost tastes better later after the meatballs have had time to soak up the sauce for a few days.

We like to cook the meatballs until they're dark brown on all sides, which means someone has to stand over the stove turning them frequently. Take my advice - relax and enjoy the experience. Inhale the wonderful aroma of beef, freshly grated or shredded Parmesan, fresh sprigs of parsley, nuts and berries. If you broil some thick slices of buttery garlic bread during the last 3 minutes, you'll get another layer of fragrance.

Verdict: A little more labor intensive than most of the recipes I highlight on this blog, but worth the effort.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Capozzi's



1355 Clairmont Rd. Decatur, GA www.capozzisdecatur.com

So you've probably noticed I've been spending a lot of time eating in Decatur lately. Well, that's because Decatur has lots of good restaurants. Capozzi's is no exception. It's located in a nondescript shopping center near the intersection of Clairmont and N. Decatur roads, along with Thai, Greek and Indian restaurants.

While the outside might be boring, you'll be more impressed with the interior. Once inside, you'll be greeted by a smiling host, who will take you past a singing piano man (Asian, and can sing just like Tony Bennett) to a nice booth. The walls are brick and the chandeliers are varied - nice, but a little eccentric and definitely not intimidating.

Torn between the pasta with clam sauce (your choice of red or white) and the basil pine nut pesto, I took our very friendly and solicitous waiter's suggestion and got the pesto ($14 for a full plate, although the lunch portion is cheaper and will allow room for dessert). It was great - a bright green, truly basil pesto with lots of salty Parmesan and plenty of pine nuts. I had this with penne, and was very happy with my choice. If I have a complaint here, it's that I was actually served too much sauce - so much I couldn't determine the quality of the pasta. That being said, it's not the worst of problems.

The menu includes all the usual Italian-American suspects - those dishes like veal parmegiana and manicotta that I never consider when dining out. However, Capozzi's also has a few potential winners: homemade focaccia, eggplant napoleon (an appetizer with grilled portabello mushrooms, marinated tomato and goat cheese), saltimbocco, and a forte sauce for pasta that includes fresh mushrooms and onions with a "dab of jalapeno puree". Nothing on the menu will scare your kids or anything, but there are options for those who are tired of plain ole' spaghetti with meatballs.

And the desserts! I haven't gotten this excited about a dessert menu in quite a while. The night we were there we had our choice of chocolate chips filled mini cannollis, cheesecake, limoncello cheesecake, chocolate layer cake, coconut cake, chocolate coconut cake (like a big Mounds bar), tiramisu and gelato. What doesn't sound good here?My brother had the cannollis, which I liked but I thought were short on chocolate chips (the best cannollis I've had yet in Atlanta are the ones at Mulberry Street Pizza in Marietta), and I selected the limoncello cheesecake. This was awesome, and I'm not even a cheesecake lover. The limoncello was best detected within the graham cracker crust - I think it must have soaked through - and was excellent, a tart contrast to the sweet, creamy cheesecake. The desserts alone are reason to come back to Capozzi's.

Our service was great from the time we entered the restaurant to the time the pianist waved good-bye and thanked us for coming in, despite the fact that the restaurant was consistently busy. (Note for L.S. - they were all men, so I doubt you're concerned in this case about their level of attractiveness).

Capozzi's isn't as quite as good as the chain Maggiano's, but better than previously reviewed Nino's Italian Kitchen and far above Bambinelli's near Northlake Mall.

Verdict: The best moderately priced Italian food I've had in the past couple of years.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Re-review: Restaurant Eugene



2277 Peachtree Rd., Atlanta, GA www.restauranteugene.com

To my blog followers - you're in for a treat today, my first re-review ever posted on Southern Foodie. The last time I reviewed Restaurant Eugene was just over 2 years ago, and I haven't been back since. Last week my friend Kelly and I made a return visit to decide it we still thought it was the best restaurant in Atlanta.

We ordered the 5 course tasting menu ($70), with the optional foie gras dish, an additional $15. Here's a basic idea of what we were served:

First course - fresh field peas, heirloom tomatoes, basil leaves, chunks of thick bacon, a high quality olive oil and small, delicate pillows of pasta filled with a light lemon zest. This was my favorite course of the meal - I thought the combination was perfect, the presentation beautiful, with each unique flavor simultaneously standing out and complementing the others. Amazing.

Second course - a light, mild white fish (I don't know why I can't seem to remember the exact names of any fish lately - forgive me), with micro greens and other goodies. Sublime.

Third course - This was the "mixed course", which on that night consisted of about 5 slices of nearly rare pork tenderloin, and baked eggplant, red bell peppers, onions, etc. This was my least favorite course, primarily because I like my pork more on the done side. A positive note was a slice of baked polenta, which was heavenly alongside the eggplant and peppers. I'd love to see this combination more often in Atlanta's restaurants.

Next we got the foie gras. Fans of this guilty pleasure know that when done correctly, it's the most succulent thing on Earth. It was done correctly at Restaurant Eugene. It lay, cool as a meaty cucumber, on one end of a long white plate, while the other end held a small scoop of bellini sorbet. Yes, bellini sorbet. This is something I loved so much I'm now determined to make it for myself at home in my ice cream maker (I'll let you know if my attempts are successful.) How did I ever live 33 years without foie gras topped with diced roasted peaches and bellini sorbet? It probably shortened my life to eat it, but I enjoyed every second of it.

Fourth course - the cheese plate. A semi-hard, light golden goat cheese with honey and roasted peanuts. I could've done without the peanuts, because I thought they were a little overpowering, but the cheese and honey were wonderful. The food of kings.

Fifth course - dessert, and an unusual one at that. About 3 tablespoons of corn ice cream atop grains of cocoa and espresso with a sweet tomato jam smeared along the side. Not an overly sweet dessert to say the least, but interesting, in a good way. The espresso granules gave me a little jolt, but they were tempered by the tomato jam. Tomato appeared in 3 of our 5 courses in this meal, and every time it was in a completely different and lovely way.

An outstanding job.

Restaurant Eugene is an experience, but an understated one. When it's crowded it's a little loud for my taste, but I still have a feeling of tranquility as I sit awaiting my next dish or amuse bouche. (Speaking of those, there was one with compressed watermelon and nearly liquified mascarpone cheese and another, much better one with raw trout, etc.) The staff is excellent, refilling drinks at appropriate times, sliding a small breadbasket onto the table almost unnoticed, explaining each course of the meal with as much detail as you desire. The hosts/hostesses are all eager to accommodate any special needs and all have smiles on their faces, just as you will as soon as you taste even one bite of Restaurant Eugene's incredible food.

And if you didn't already know, Chef Linton Hopkins has been nominated Best Chef: Southeast for the James Beard Awards, 2011. I believe the last Atlanta chef to win this was Scott Peacock from Watershed. While I think Chef Hopkins is certainly deserving of the title, it's my fervent hope that if he wins he won't move on to larger scale, national projects and semi-fame and finally disappear from the city the way Peacock has. It would be a great shame if Atlanta lost such a superior talent.

Review: Still the best.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Parker's On Ponce




116 E Ponce de Leon Ave. Decatur, GA www.parkersonponce.com

Last week I had dinner at Parker's On Ponce with Sabrina and my grandmother. It's located right in the heart of Decatur, at the intersection of Ponce and Church street. You'll find a few spaces of free parking marked for the restaurant directly behind the building, or you can park on the street or in a nearby deck.

I asked our server, who was very friendly but a little scattered (and this was on a Monday night when the restaurant wasn't busy), which cut of steak she recommended. She said she liked the New York strip or the ribeye best, because they had the least fat. I thought it was odd she didn't mention the filet . . . I'm usually not big on NY strip because it's generally pretty tough, especially in comparison with filet. However, I took a chance and ordered the 8 oz ($17, the 14 oz is $28) NY strip. All the steaks come with your choice of herb butter, bearnaise or blue cheese for an additional $3. Our server told me that she preferred the bearnaise, and advised me that it was mixed with a tarragon sauce. Again, I took a chance.

And the NY strip was excellent! Really, very tender, juicy and delicious. Maybe slightly overcooked, but only slightly. She did request that I cut into the meat and make sure it was cooked correctly before I began eating, and when I did this I noticed it was a little overdone, but what hungry, sane person is going to return steak and wait for the next one (from what is likely a perturbed cook) when the difference is minimal? Not I, I can assure you.

The bearnaise was absolutely chock full of tarragon. It was practically a tarragon cream sauce. Well, she did warn me. Maybe I'll go for the herb butter next time.

Because there will be a next time. In addition to being pleasantly surprised by the texture and quality of my steak, I also loved my side, a black truffle mac n' cheese. Once again, I chose something I would normally hate - I think I had too much of the neon orange Kraft macaroni and cheese as a child and now basically abhor the dish in any form, at any restaurant - but the addition of the truffles intrigued me. Hooray! It was very good. Creamy, creamy, creamy sauce with very tender pasta, and a hint of black truffle oil. Not quite as much truffle flavor as I'd like, but I like the pungent flavor more than most people, so it was probably just right for the general population.

My sister ordered the 6 oz filet ($24) and liked it. It didn't beat out her favorite filet from the chain Stoney River, but it merited praise. She also enjoyed her haricot verts, which were lightly sauteed and fragrant.

My grandmother ordered a salad - the Parker's House with mixed greens, peppered bacon, toasted pecans and dried cherries in a gorgonzola-vinaigrette dressing. This would work as an appetizer or a light main course, and the latter would make it a steal at $5. The kitchen didn't skimp on the "good stuff" - there were more pecans, cherries and bacon than greens, which gives the salad good marks in my book.

Finally we ended with dessert, the day's special, old-fashioned chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing. This was exactly what you'd want to eat if you're a chocolate cake lover. Rich without being bitter or too heavy, creamy icing, moist cake. Yum.

Verdict: Another great restaurant in Decatur. The best New York strip I've had in recent memory.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ghion Cultural Hall Ethiopian




2080 Cheshire Bridge Rd. Atlanta, GA

My friends Erin and Paul had dinner with me at this tiny, tiny place on Cheshire Bridge a couple of weeks ago. Look for the Blue Rat Smoke shop and a smaller sign for the California Food Mart, and you'll find it. Once parked, you'll go in a shady looking entrance, down a path to a second doorway, but don't be afraid - once inside, you'll find a very cute main dining room with a bar and a stage set up for musical acts.

I've posted more pics of the restaurant itself instead of the food this time because I'm really afraid you won't find this place without some help.

The menu is similar to other Ethiopian restaurants in the area - kitfo, lega tibs, awaze tibs, fish dulet - lots of lamb, spicy items and entrees that can be described as stews.

I'm going to cut to the chase on this review: everything we had was great. Everything. Meat, vegetables, beans - all fantastic. And almost everything is priced $10 or less. Whether you get "barely cooked" ground beef, fish in butter and olive oil, chickpeas and tomatoes, or a huge platter of beans and greens, you'll get your money's worth.

If you've ever dined at an Ethiopian restaurant you know you'll be served as much as you can possibly handle - which is the case at Ghion. If you're really hungry, pull up a chair and dig in.

We had excellent service from a lovely young woman who was full of info on the menu. When Erin asked for something NOT spicy, our server recommended a great beef and bell pepper dish that Erin gleefully consumed with some of the great, very slightly bitter injera bread. You'll get as much of this as you need to scoop up your meat and vegetables, and you'll enjoy all of it.

Seriously, I know it looks sketchy, but you'll be rewarded if you give it a try. Once you take a seat and smell the food cooking, you'll relax.

Verdict: I'll be happy to return to this great little restaurant for more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wild Ginger Thai




2201 Savoy Dr. Atlanta, GA www.wildginger-restaurant.com

A week or so ago my grandmother and I had dinner at Wild Ginger, which is located on the access road beside I-285 near the Chamblee-Dunwoody exit.

The menu is pretty extensive and contains lots of great options - soups, salads, tempura, fried rice, noodles, curries, chicken, shrimp, desserts, etc. There's an interesting section called "Thai with a Twist" which features entrees like ginger flounder and sweet herb talay. There is also a separate sushi menu.

Although I had a difficult time choosing between the many offerings, I finally went with the jungle curry, simply because I'd never heard of it. Jungle curry ($10.95) has chicken with bamboo shoots, basil leaves, carrots, green peas, green bell pepper and eggplant in a spicy herb "soup." I put soup in quotes because your rice will basically absorb the broth, but don't worry, this won't detract from the flavor one bit. This is a delicious, spicy (but not mouth-numbingly spicy) curry. You'll get lots of fresh basil, and the eggplant is a great inclusion. It's an interesting alternative to the usual green, red, yellow or masaman curries.

My grandmother ordered the pineapple fried rice ($9.95, contains chicken). This is exactly what you'd expect, with a little unexpected, tart fruit. The pineapple is cut into small chunks, so it's not overwhelming. You'll also taste yellow curry powder and enjoy some crunchy cashews. It's a tropical delight.

We ended with some green tea ice cream. If you're unfamiliar with this popular Thai flavor, green tea is a subtle, divine ice cream. It's not too sweet, not too anything but good. Our ice cream was served in a tall glass parfait dish with 2 spoons. Who doesn't like that?

The decor is actually kind of cool. There are random blue panels in the ceiling, bright red tableware and a small sushi bar. Tables aren't too close together for comfort, and plenty of room to put them together if you have a large group. And there were a couple of large groups, both Asian (always a great sign in an Asian restaurant), on the night when we dined at Wild Ginger.

Finally, the service is dynamite. Smiling and attentive waitstaff and a friendly manager who can and will fully answer any questions you have about the menu. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this place, especially the food.

Verdict: A nice surprise off of Chamblee-Dunwoody. I'll definitely return.