Beth wrote to ask me where to find the city's best chicken wings (I have no idea) and wrote this parenthetically: "If you are into figs, Zoe's in Midtown is doing this amazing desert thing with black mission figs and vanilla custard. I had it last night and wanted to lick the bowl."
Beth did not know that I am addicted to figs and visit Jake's on North Highland routinely in hopes that its honey-fig ice cream, one of the city's most delectable treats, will be available. So I ran to Zoe's at Midtown Promenade (931 Monroe Drive, 404-817-0807) the very day I received her e-mail, visions of figgy pudding dancing in my head.
I had not visited Zoe's since its opening more than a year ago, when I found the cuisine a bit ambitious. That has changed, and the restaurant seems to have matured into a quite serious venue. A regular menu of somewhat complicated dishes and daily specials offers the opportunity to explore some
unusual flavors -- like a Moroccan-spiced crab cake with orange cilantro dressing and scallops skewered on rosemary, sauced with walnut-ginger butter.
I started with a salad of roasted onions over mixed greens with gorgonzola, walnuts and a balsamic vinaigrette ($6.25). I must complain that its other advertised ingredient, pancetta, was virtually nonexistent. I was literally on the verge of returning the salad to the kitchen when I found a few stray bits, diced into pieces no bigger than peppercorns.
Wayne started with a cucumber-dill soup ($4.50), a special that was perfect for a summer evening passed on the patio at Zoe's, which offers relative seclusion from the din of the shopping center's traffic.
Since figs had brought me to the restaurant, I ordered braised lamb chops served with figs in a balsamic reduction over truffled mashed potatoes with asparagus. Honestly, it was remarkable. The touch of sweet balsamic vinegar caused the figs to bloom. The lamb, more flavorful than any cow could ever hope to be, was tender and meaty. At $17.95, it is the regular menu's most expensive dish, with pastas (like linguine with fried capers and anchovy) costing around $10 or less, and fish and poultry (like lemon-ginger chicken with green olives and pine nuts) costing around $14.
Wayne ordered a special of grilled grouper contrasted with sweet onions and fennel, served over arugula with an herb coulis ($18). Putting cooked arugula and fennel in such close proximity worried me a bit, but the very adult flavors played nicely against the onions, making them, indeed, sweet tasting. The grouper itself couldn't have been better grilled.
We were happy. Fortunately, the dessert Beth had recommended was still being offered. She wasn't kidding. It was one of the best desserts I've eaten in a long time. It was a very rich vanilla custard, exactly the right consistency, swimming in Sambuca sauce, dotted with raspberries, blueberries and sliced figs. Baby food for adults. You'll hug yourself and tell yourself how sweet life is.
A few days later, I followed Joel Silverman's advice to try out L & M Deli, located in the rear of the market at 785 Argonne Ave. (404-876-0576), at Sixth Street. The attraction to the take-out counter, according to Joel, is its unusual offering of Korean specialties.
We've all become accustomed to taquerias located in the back of markets, but this was the first time I'd heard of anyone selling bulgogi or bi bim bap behind the corn nuts and fabric softener.
Alas, when I actually visited the store, I found it selling mainly American-style sandwiches and a few Chinese-like fried rice specialties.
"I thought you were selling Korean food here," I said.
"Sometimes, yes. You eat Korean food?" the woman behind the counter asked, looking at me rather suspiciously.
"Well, yeah," I said. "I was hoping to have some bi bim bap."
"We can make, no problem," the woman said. Then she prepared a complex version of the dish -- grilled beef, kimchee, pickles made of squash and cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, carrots, bean sprouts and a fried egg, with plenty of chili paste, all to be served over rice, which she handed me in a separate container. She also gave me a sweet, cool soup and some interesting fish to sample.
If you live in Midtown and want a delicious healthy lunch, I encourage you to try L&M's bi bim bap. I suggest you call ahead. The owner told me she will, with warning, make any Korean dish, including bulgogi, the classic barbecued beef. I asked her, by the way, which Korean restaurants in town she favors. She said her first choice is usually Seoul Garden but, like me, prefers Chosun Ok when she craves her native country's soup. The fiery kimchee soup at Chosun Ok is, I believe, capable of clearing the head in two spoonfuls. Both Seoul Garden and Chosun Ok are located on Buford Highway.
Here and there
I visited Tortillas on Ponce recently for my favorite burrito, the shrimp with green sauce, and was devastated to see that the restaurant now uses those electronic devices that light up to tell you to pick up your order. Gone are the headless Barbies and the sodomized Barneys, but the food is as wonderful as ever.
Here and there
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