First the bad news: Renowned chef Jeff Smedstad, who turned Sala into the best Mexican restaurant to ever operate in our city, has announced his departure after less than six months. He's going back to Arizona. No replacement has been announced.
Smedstad formerly owned Los Sombreros in Scottsdale with his wife. After they divorced, he sold his interest to his ex and moved to Atlanta.
We are really sorry to see him go but wish him well. Fifth Group Restaurants, owners of Sala, will have a helluva time finding anyone up to Smedstad's quality.
Now the good news:
Red-meat eaters are rejoicing. Kevin Rathbun Steak has opened at 112 Krog St. in Inman Park.
The new restaurant, designed by the Johnson Studio to have a "speakeasy feel," is chef Kevin Rathbun's third venture. Rathbun's and Krog Bar are both within a block of the new steakhouse.
From press materials:
"Introducing his version of the modernized steakhouse, Kevinâs menu includes U.S.D.A prime steaks, smaller half-steaks, and prime steaks for two, three or four that will be sliced and served tableside. The menu also has a mixture of Italian, Creole and Asian items along with fish, soups, salads and sashimi. He has blocks of fish that he calls âslabsâ and an extensive list of sides and hot and cold small plates. He also has classics like Steak Diane (his mother used to do this tableside), seafood gumbo, scallops Rockefeller, and crabmeat imperial.
"Keeping sustainability in mind, there are local organic ingredients on the menu that include Georgia lettuces, beets, onions and radishes. Alternative entrÃ©e selections include braised short rib, a ribeye burger, roasted chicken, vegetarian dishes and a pork porterhouse. For the worldwide wine selection, there are 28 by the glass; 85 percent of the wine list is available for under $100."
Check out the website, www.kevinrathbunsteak.com, for more information.
I extend my condolences to the friends, family and co-workers of Katheryn "Kat" Mills Wallace, a longtime server at Grant Central Pizza in Grant Park. Kat died in an automobile accident Friday, May 25.
Besides working at Grant Central, where my partner and I frequently dine, Kat was an intern at Atlanta magazine and a student at ITT. She was beautiful, smart and hard-working.
Her obituary, accompanied by a photo, may be read here.
I've confirmed with my own palate Besha Rodell's report that Richard Blais has indeed returned to Atlanta and is cooking at Element, in the old Cherry location on West Peachtree Street. I'll be reporting in next week's paper about my experience. I reviewed Element about a month ago, before Blais arrived. It's the first time in more than 20 years of writing Grazing that I've returned to the same restaurant within a month. (At right is James Camp's photo of Blais for a column I wrote in 2005.)
Blais, in case you have been living under a mushroom somewhere, is famous for his practice of molecular gastronomy, an investigation of the science of cooking that, in practical application, often changes the forms of ingredients and distills flavors in almost unbearable intensity. The most famous molecular gastronomist, although he eschews the term, is Ferran AdriÃ of El Bulli in Spain.
While it's easy to dismiss molecular gastronomy as novelty for its own sake, I think it is one expression of the way we are questioning the aesthetics of cooking and dining. The definitive text on the subject is French chemist HervÃ© This' book Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor. This' new book, Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Food, is due out this fall. It's difficult not to regard molecular gastronomy as a postmodern phenomenon, since it is in many ways a re-ordering of culinary history in a sometimes futuristic way.
Blais was in Miami the last few months, mainly engaged in product development, which he did not enjoy as much as cooking. He previously cooked at a number of Atlanta restaurants, from one bearing his own name to, most recently, One Midtown Kitchen. Considering his, um, short shelf life, I suggest you jet-propel yourself to Element now.
Friday night, I ate again at Cenci, the new vegan/vegetarian restaurant in East Atlanta Village that I reviewed recently. During our meal, a couple wheeled in twin infants and I worried aloud about the New York Times editorial piece alleging that a vegan diet is unwise for babies.
I did some further research when I got home and found a post on New York vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz's LiveJournal page that disputes the Times piece (and rightly questions the author's credentials). Indeed, the comments section includes pictures of readers' vibrant vegan children.
Check out Isa's post here. But also check out the website for her cooking show, "Post Punk Kitchen." You can watch videos of the show, which is unique, to say the least. Also take a look at the info about her new cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Rule the World.
You can also see more thriving vegan kids here.
Dinner at Cenci was great, by the way. We played a poor game of chess, listened to exceptionally good music and ate killer faux-fish tacos and a veggie burger. If you go, don't miss the spring rolls filled with collard greens.
Eating cheap and well is not difficult in our city. Here are some recent spots I've hit. Some pictures are better than others, but you'll get a reasonable impression.
First up is Via Elisa (1750 Howell Mill Road, 404-605-0668), which sells the best pasta in our city. You can buy it directly from Elisa Gambino's shop or at Whole Foods -- or you can go to restaurants like Shaun's to taste it. Although you can't eat her pasta on the premises, Elisa (shown here) is now selling panini at lunchtime, but call ahead to make sure she hasn't run out.
There is also a counter of excellent cheeses in the shop, along with Elisa's sauces and various gourmet items. Do not leave without some ravioli.
I have never been to Nuevo Laredo Cantina (1495 Chattahoochee Ave., 404-352-9009) when I didn't have to wait for a table. The wildly popular spot, decorated with enough kitsch to stock the inventory of a Tijuana souvenir shop, serves fantastic Mexican/border cuisine.
I lunched there recently with my friend Gregg, who ordered lobster tacos, while I feasted on the chicken mole, the city's best. Here's a picture of the bar. The place was so crowded I couldn't get a good shot inside the main dining room. Even Our Lady of Guadalupe would not answer my prayers for a decent camera angle.
A favorite dirt-cheap restaurant is Eats (600 Ponce de Leon Ave.,404-888-9149). There are two features here -- pasta and chicken. (The pasta bar is shown here.)
My favorite, though, is the jerk chicken with collards and corn on the cob. The lima beans aren't bad, either. If the jerk seasonings are too much for your delicate mouth, you can order the chicken with lemon-pepper seasonings.
Finally, there's Zocalo (465 Boulevard, 404-635-9930). Although there are full-service restaurants of the same name in Midtown and Decatur, the Grant Park location is a taqueria. In this (backlit) picture, you see the al pastor rotisserie and you should definitely order at least a taco made with the succulent pork flavored with pineapple and various spices.
I usually order "la gringa," al pastor meat between two flour tortillas, almost like a quesadilla. My favorite taco is the one made with strips of chile relleno.
U.S. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana has written letters to President Bush and the head of the FDA demanding a crackdown on food and medicine imports, particularly from China. Currently, the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of all imports, creating a gap through which terrorists could slip deadly poisons. Ezra Klein's website has the details, plus more updates about food safety.
The New York Times (subscription-only) has created a game, "Food Import Folly," that allows you, the imperiled consumer, "to protect the country from contaminants in foreign food imports using extremely limited resources."
Â¿QuiÃ©n es mÃ¡s
macho gordo? Los Estadounidenses son mÃ¡s gordos.
LAVAZZA UPDATE: Our espresso nightmare is over. Whole Foods on Ponce de Leon is stocking Lavazza's Qualita Oro again, but you really are not going to find any of the Italian company's blends of robusta and arabica beans. I received this e-mail of explanation from Darrah Horgan of Whole Foods' PR team:
"Whole Foods Market has specific quality standards for everything we carry, and our coffee is no different. We will continue to carry other Lavazza coffees, just not the ones containing the robusta beans. As our coffee coordinator explains it, arabica species is widely accepted as the best bean, and yields the best fruit.
Robusta beans are seen as an inferior bean, often used to mask certain flavors in other coffees. The bean is typically more harsh and bitter, and there is little accountability for the quality and source of these beans. It is grown predominantly in Vietnam, is often used for ground cover because it grows much like a weed, and is over-harvested, which, as Iâm sure you know, is terrible for the land.
The robusta does generate more of a crema, or frothiness, produced in brewing, but our brand, Allegro, blends different types of Arabica beans to achieve this same quality crema."
OK, well, far be it from me to recommend that anyone drink coffee that is like fruit of the kudzu vine. I wonder if Mrs. Olson (pictured above) knew her robusta-tainted Folgers was contributing to erosion in Vietnam. I'm just glad I can resume buying my coffee in the same place I feel guilty when I ask for plastic bags.
A few weeks back, our departing Assistant A&E Editor Casey McIntyre told me about 5th Earl Market, the new spot near Agnes Scott on College Avenue in Decatur. So I swindled her into writing a Cheap Eats article about it. This week I tried it myself, with delicious results. For you salt and Spanish fiends, the chorizo sandwich is a must-have. But man, it's salty! I also loved the grilled veggie sandwich. It's not fair that Decatur gets both 5th Earl and Duck's Cosmic Kitchen! The rest of Atlanta deserves sandwiches this good!
What do cops do in their spare time? They impersonate Alice B. Toklas by making delicious brownies with a secret herb flavoring. Then they die. While dead, they call 911. Just in case you missed this cautionary tale of high-risk home baking, check out the video.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/mzdARHcSqWk" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
KILL IT!! Love you guys!
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