Monday, July 30, 2007

Question of the Week: Cereal killer

Posted by on Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 6:43 PM

Question of the Week usually doesn't appear on this blog, but these days I find that my breakfast cereal needs are not being met. I don't actually eat my breakfast cereal at breakfast, mind you, but I have a ritual to enjoy a bowl shortly before bedtime, mostly because I can’t stand waking up hungry in the dead of night.

For a long time Cinnamon-Raisin Kashi was my cereal of choice, but lately I’ve been hankering for something that’s not so deafeningly crunchy, and perhaps a little sweeter. I’ve been sampling varieties that tend to be more “flake-based,” ideally involving some combination of honey, granola and/or oats, enhanced with nuts, raisins and/or some other dried fruit. I’m not the hugest fans of heavily sugared “kiddie” cereals, but I’m open-minded in my question: What kind of breakfast cereal tastes the best?

Speaking of cereal, probably the best writing I can think of on the subject of is Cryptonomicon author Neal Stephenson’s observations on Cap’n Crunch.

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Update on Ecco's family dinners

Posted by on Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 6:00 PM

This is from Ecco (40 Seventh St.) and it's kind of cool: Each Sunday at 6:30 p.m., Ecco is hosting “The Sunday Share” for a limited amount of guests to enjoy an evening of family-style dining around a communal table for $25 per person. Every week presents a new theme and menu to celebrate different regions of the world.

Upcoming suppers include:

Aug. 5: “A Stroll Through Europe," street foods from across the pond.

Aug. 12: “Quintessential English Pub Grub," fish ‘n’ chips and beyond.

Aug. 19: “La Tomatinia," in honor of Spain’s tomato-throwing street festival.

Aug. 26: “Beyond the Bounty of Summer," a feast spotlighting local foods.

Sept. 2: “Il Palio," dishes from the heart of Tuscany

Sept. 9: “Octoberfest in September," the classic German celebration a month early.

The Sunday Share gatherings are available in addition to the restaurant’s regular menu. Reservations are required. Drink specials will also be available, but are not included in the $25 meal cost. To reserve a spot, call 404-347-9555.

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Tap that ...

Posted by on Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 5:09 PM

This is from Tap (1180 Peachtree St.): "Beer lovers unite! Atlanta’s latest Midtown gastropub has created the ultimate beer club.... By visiting TAP to sign up, beer enthusiasts can become a member of Tap Taster’s Society and will have access to 42 beers from around the world in addition to receiving Tap memorabilia and information on happenings and Tap’s newest brews."...

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PR news you can eat

Posted by on Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 4:01 PM

Here are some notable food happenings from the city's PR folks:

Taqueria del Sol's specials this week include one of my favorites — a burrito filled with brisket under a tomatillo sauce. There's also a taco featuring shrimp fried in a nut crust, served with honey-habanero mayo....

On Thursday, Aug. 9, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Whole Foods Market at 2111 Briarcliff Road is celebrating the arrival of EARTH University bananas and pineapples. The event will feature live music, samples and cooking demonstrations with the fruits that are now available in all Whole Foods stores in Atlanta.

EARTH University is a sustainable agriculture school in Costa Rica dedicated to educating students throughout Latin America holistically in the areas of entrepreneurship, sustainable agriculture, ethics and human relations. For more information, visit www.earth-usa.org....

Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week, Aug. 13-19, is coming up soon. The participating restaurants will be featuring three-course meals for just $25. Among the participants are newbies French American Brasserie and Luckie Food Lounge, as well as great old-timers like Trader Vic's. It's best to make reservations now!...

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Las Margaritas upgrades

Posted by on Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 3:55 PM

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When I lived in Houston, a highlight of every week was going to a Mexican hole-in-the-wall that served killer huevos rancheros with the best green sauce I've ever tasted. Twenty years later, I'm still craving that dish but long ago gave up finding a decent version in any area of town except Buford Highway, where it's not that easy, either, actually.

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Sunday, I happened to pass Las Margaritas (1842 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-873-4464). The restaurant, which has been around more than 15 years, was festooned with banners announcing brunch and a tapas menu. Dance music was blaring from the enclosed front patio. So, I decided to stop in.

Inside, the restaurant was playing recorded salsa. I sat next to a window and watched a DJ playing a Cindy Lauper remix on the patio (top photo). If you're ADD, you might find the aural ambiance a bit confusing, but you'll otherwise enjoy the festive interior. It's kind of campy but avoids the usual excesses.

The huevos rancheros (above) were primo quality. The menu said to expect two fried eggs but I got three, floating in a pool of red sauce with green sauce coating the yolks. The eggs were served with the usual refried beans and rice. The only oddity: The eggs were served atop a corn tortilla. I have no idea why.

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I also sampled one item from the tapas menu — yuca rellena (left). The flash-fried yucca was filled with ground meat, topped with some purple onions and served with a relish of black beans and corn. This dish is popular in Peru, as well as Cuba, and its appearance on the menu is indicative of the broad range of cuisines represented here. There are dishes from Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba and Argentina.

It's been years since I visited this restaurant, which used to be popular mainly for swilling margaritas and mediocre Mexican food. It seems to have improved dramatically.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Peaches that suck

Posted by on Fri, Jul 27, 2007 at 10:17 PM

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I'm pissed yet again. I just returned from dropping the usual fortune at Whole Foods. Once again, I allowed myself to be suckered by the beautiful displays of mainly organic fruit. "Oh," I said to myself, as usual, "what's an extra dollar a pound for extra-delicious, healthy peaches? Here, take my $11 for a handful of peaches. Please!"

Then I decided, on the way home, to eat one of the peaches. Just like last week's purchase here, it was mealy, tasteless and watery. Meanwhile, the much less expensive peaches at Publix taste a zillion times better.

What is the deal?

Whoops: I just read Adina's piece below. I guess I should have gotten the book before I went to Whole Foods.

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On picking better produce

Posted by on Fri, Jul 27, 2007 at 8:08 PM

In his most recent Grazing column, Cliff Bostock puzzles over why his expensive nectarines are often inedible, or why the lovely Fuji apples at Whole Foods end up being mushy and mealy.

If you, too, have experienced the disappointment of purchasing aesthetically pleasing produce only to be met by dismal taste, check out Russ Parsons' latest book, How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor From Farm to Table. The Los Angeles Times food and wine columnist writes about how to choose the best ingredients for good cooking, specifically produce. Parsons documents how agribusiness has taken the priority of taste out of our food as he writes about the long-standing agricultural conundrum: how to grow fruits and vegetables that look good, taste good, and remain that way after the long, bumpy trip from a far-away farm to your supermarket.

Part cookbook and produce guide, Parsons gives instructions on how to store and prepare different produce items. He discusses food chemistry and the chemical makeup of flavors, also exploring organic farming and its effect on flavors.

Foodie or not, if you're tired of mouthfuls of mushy apples, tasteless melons, or just want to know why cucumbers make some people burp, this book is for you.

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A reason to charter a bus to Norcross

Posted by on Fri, Jul 27, 2007 at 3:01 PM

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I've been eating Cuban all week, starting Monday with Palomilla's Cuban Grill House (6470 Spalding Drive, 770-242-0078) in Norcross. Yes, Norcross. I get teased a lot for not liking to travel beyond the Perimeter to dine, but I'll happily do it ... when a friend drives.

Excursus: So, my friend Gregg drove us there and, of course, we got lost. Gregg owns one of those zillion dollar BMWs with a race-car engine, and one of those satellite systems that features a map screen and a voice that is a female version of HAL 9000 in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hallie began barking directions so rapidly that we couldn't follow them -- kind of like HAL's nervous breakdown in the movie. But, here's the weird part. When she realized we had not followed her commands explicitly, she spontaneously began issuing directions to get us back on course. The next thing we knew, there we were at Palomilla's. (End of excursus.)

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You can read my full review in next week's paper, but here's a clue: It's the best Cuban food I've ever tasted in a restaurant. Here's some weirdness: The chef is Peruvian. Here's some really good news: It's incredibly cheap, especially at lunch, when I enjoyed a Creole chicken fricassee with olives and potatoes (top photo) for $5.95. It was half a chicken. Papa rellena -- an appetizer of fried mashed potatoes -- takes huge form here and is filled with picadillo that erupts from the creamy potatoes (above).

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The staff (our server at left) is terrific, enthusiastic and really helpful making recommendations. You are going to see marvelous plates traveling to people's tables, and they will provoke lots of questions.

A final note: Order the mango pie. It is the best use of a mango I have ever encountered.

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Russian deli in Norcross

Posted by on Fri, Jul 27, 2007 at 2:45 PM

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During my visit to Palomilla's Cuban Grill House in Norcross, I popped in a shop next door. Arbat Food Store LLC (6470 Spalding Drive, 770-368-9030), presumably named after the famous street in Moscow, calls itself a "European deli," but the accent is definitely Russian here.

The shop carries a large selection of imported prepared foods, as well as cured fish and deli meats, including extra-long sausages like those pictured here.

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My friend Gregg and I laughed after our visit because of the manager's perfunctory responses -- always just a "yes" or a "no" -- to our questions.

I have no idea why a Russian deli would be located in Norcross.

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Fat friends make you fat!

Posted by on Fri, Jul 27, 2007 at 2:17 PM

If you saw The Secret, the New Agey movie that Oprah raves about, you probably recall one piece of advice in it that detractors always cite: If you don't want to be fat, don't look at fat people.

Well, according to an article in the New York Times, that may have more than a grain of truth to it:

Obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus, researchers are reporting today. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too.

Their study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, involved a detailed analysis of a large social network of 12,067 people who had been closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 to 2003.

The investigators knew who was friends with whom as well as who was a spouse or sibling or neighbor, and they knew how much each person weighed at various times over three decades. That let them reconstruct what happened over the years as individuals became obese. Did their friends also become obese? Did family members? Or neighbors?

The answer, the researchers report, was that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person’s chances of becoming obese by 57 percent. There was no effect when a neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less influence than friends.

Continue reading »

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