Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Coolest place I've visited in weeks

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2007 at 6:37 PM

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Meet David Sweeney, proprietor of the new Dynamic Dish (427 Edgewood Ave., 404-688-4344) in the Sweet Auburn District. Sweeney, an Army brat, has spent most of his life in Germany, returning to the United States just three months ago. "Yes, I feel like a foreigner," he says. "I know nothing."

Sweeney's shop is about the coolest place I've hit since Zennubian opened in Castleberry Hill. He prepares one entree daily and three or four sandwiches. Everything is made with organic produce, like this tagine (above) featuring pumpkin, peppers, fennel and chickpeas over cous cous. That's a glass of pomegranate tea, sweetened with agave syrup (safe for diabetics), with the tagine.

Sandwiches today included a tofu club with tempeh bacon, tomatoes and lettuce on whole wheat with Russian dressing and a rosemary-roasted tofu wrap with roasted carrots and onions with pine-nut pesto. Sweeney says he's "meat-friendly," even though none of the dishes today included a meat.

Continue reading »

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Washington state Fuji apples are here!

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2007 at 2:44 PM

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Back in July, I complained about my experience shopping for Fuji apples, which I eat almost daily. I'd go to Whole Foods and pay a small fortune for organic Fujis, take them home and find them not nearly as crisp and sweet as the conventionally grown, cheaper ones at Publix.

This remained true throughout the summer, although Publix's apples decreased in quality too, most of them coming from South America. This month, the Washington state Fujis have been harvested and primo quality has returned to the Publix apples. They are rosy red, sweet, crisp and perfect with Drunken Goat cheese, a Spanish cheese soaked in Doble Pasta wine that I've been addicted to for nearly a year. (Tip: Drunken Goat, mild and fruity for a goat cheese, is comparatively inexpensive -- especially at Whole Foods, where it costs $2 less per pound than at Alon's, my other regular source for it.)

So, I was in Whole Foods yesterday and decided to buy a few of the store's organic Fujis, fresh from Washington. Surprise, surprise. Once again, even at the peak of the season, they didn't hold a candle to Publix's apples -- from coloration to sweetness to texture. But, hey, they sure looked good in the store display.

I do not get it. The Fuji, an apple developed by the Japanese in the 1930s but not exported to the United States until the '80s, has a long shelf life, compared with other apples. What to do? As the New York Times reported recently, apples are a fruit that is particularly vulnerable to pesticide absorption, so there's plenty of incentive to go organic, even if taste isn't part of it.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Is obesity the new American dream?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2007 at 5:01 PM

Check out this amazing animated map from CNN. It tracks the skyrocketing increase in obesity in the United States over the last 20 years. Hey, we Georgians didn't get super-fat until last year:

"Fit Nation: The Obesity Fight."

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It's not your fault you are a chocolate glutton

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2007 at 4:00 PM

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The season to be a pig is coming up fast. Everywhere you turn, some kindhearted soul will be shoving a sugary, fatty snack at you. My mother's principal holiday indulgence was chocolate.

She detested fruitcake and we mailed the same one back to one another for years. But, long after I left home, she was also mailing me an annual trove of Godiva chocolate. I'm talking 20 pounds of the stuff some years. While my mother was dying last year, I took her Godiva and she regained her appetite long enough to polish it off.

Of course, Godiva long ago lost its cachet when it became a subsidiary of the Campbell Soup Company. But I still crave it and all other chocolate. I used to blame my mother's chocolate nurturance for this, but you know what? It's not her fault. Hey, it's not even my fault! It's the fault of my metabolism and "gut microbes."

So says a new study by British and Swiss scientists published in the Nov. 2 issue of the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research. An article at PhysOrg.com reports this:

Sunil Kochhar and colleagues studied 11 volunteers who classified themselves as "chocolate desiring" and 11 volunteers who were "chocolate indifferent." In a controlled clinical study, each subject — all men — ate chocolate or placebo over a five day period while their blood and urine samples were analyzed. The chocolate lovers had a hallmark metabolic profile that involved low levels of LDL-cholesterol (so-called "bad" cholesterol) and marginally elevated levels of albumin, a beneficial protein, the scientists say.

The chocolate lovers expressed this profile even when they ate no chocolate, the researchers note. The activity of the gut microbes in the chocolate lovers was also distinctively different from the other subjects, they add.

“Our study shows that food preferences, including chocolate, might be programmed or imprinted into our metabolic system in such a way that the body becomes attuned to a particular diet,” says Kochhar, a scientist with Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland.

“We know that some people can eat a diet that is high in steak and carbs and generally remain healthy, while the same food in others is unhealthy,” he explains. “Knowing one’s metabolic profile could open-the-door to dietary or nutritional interventions that are customized to your type so that your metabolism can be nudged to a healthier status.”

Honestly, this isn't very convincing on the surface. The study was only five days and this preliminary report doesn't indicate how the scientists ruled out the possibility that the chocolate affected gut bacteria rather than the reverse. Still, it's an interesting step toward a more general understanding of why some people seem unaffected by food that negatively affects others or causes cravings.

(Photo from http://paper5.client.logicworks.net/.)

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Mud: It's not just a beauty treatment

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2007 at 2:54 PM

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Have you eaten your daily bowl of dirt? Southerners along the Mississippi River have long been stereotyped as clay eaters and, in truth, some clays can supply vital nutrients and help relieve gastrointestinal problems. I was surprised not too long ago to find a restaurant with a retail area selling clay.

Europeans have for some time used a drug called Smecta, a powder that performs like clay in treatment of GI problems. Now, researchers in the U.K. have made the startling discovery that French muck may cure some antibody-resistant infections including a variety of staph that kills 19,000 Americans and is usually picked up in hospitals. The U.K. is having the same problem.

The Independent says:

Scientists have discovered a new and highly effective weapon against deadly superbugs like the MRSA sweeping through Britain's dirty hospital wards – green French muck.

The dramatic antibiotic success of agricur, a clay made from ancient volcanic ash found near the Massif Central, marks it out as a potential rival to penicillin, the wonder drug of the 20th century. In experiments, the clay killed up to 99 per cent of superbug colonies within 24 hours. Control samples of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) grew 45-fold in the same period.

The clay has a similar effect on other deadly bacteria tested, including salmonella, E. coli, and a flesh-eating disease called buruli, a relative of leprosy which disfigures children across central and western Africa. It has been classed as "an emerging public health threat" by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Check out the whole story here.

(Photo from aboutclay.com. Check out the link for a recipe for dirt brownies. Yes, dirt brownies.)

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Of chefs and owners

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2007 at 2:16 PM

Wow, here's a roundabout communication. Over the weekend, one of our interns came across an open letter to me, posted on Atlanta Cuisine's site, in a thread about this blog. Phew!

But the nature of the letter was quite interesting, and I'd like a chance to respond. The post read:

Besha- I read your review of Beleza in CL this weekend, and loved it for all of it's insight into the challenges of the menu. What I find interesting though is the continued classification of Riccardo Ullio as the "chef" of his restaurants Sotto Sotto and Fritti; however you do in you article name Michelle McKenzie as the chef at Beleza. As an employee of Mr. Ullio for over a year, I have yet to see him actually work in one of his kitchens, or plan one of his seasonal menus. When I am working, and a guest asks to speak to Chef Ullio, we are told to reply that "the Chef has the day off, and to please look for him in his kitchen tomorrow". I would think that Riccardo Ullio would be more befitting of the description of a restaurant visionary here in Atlanta, finding great themes and concepts, and bringing them to life in his great restaurants. However, in my time working in his restaurants, it would be a dishonor to credit the great food of Sotto Sotto and Fritti to Riccardo Ullio. The real credit goes to the talented daily management, as well as the kitchen staff (many of whom have been working for Riccardo for 7+ years).

Having worked in restaurants myself for many years with "executive chefs" who are never around, I understand the letter writer's frustration. Believe me, I know how valuable the team of cooks, sous chefs and chefs de cuisine are, which is partly why I did my Food Issue this year focusing on cooks rather than chefs. But I think in the restaurant industry, it is somewhat understood that owners who are chefs by trade are often going to get that executive chef title, whether or not it's deserved. It's something that comes up a lot, and even more so when the supposed chefs don't even live in the same city as their restaurants. Should we assume that the flurry of celebrity chefs who are about to open restaurants in Atlanta are not actually the chefs, or should not be credited as such? I suppose that remains to be seen, as some chefs are very involved in all their projects (I recently met Jean Georges on site at his Minneapolis restaurant, Chambers Kitchen, despite that he most certainly does not live in Minnesota), while some are not (Emeril's anyone?).

As far as Riccardo Ullio and Beleza go, I know that Michelle McKenzie is the chef and is credited as such, that Ullio is the owner, and that's how I defined him in the article as well as how he defines himself, and that he is incredibly involved in the project. Every time I visited for the review he was there, acting as owner, not as chef. When I spoke with him on the phone, it was obvious that the overall direction of the restaurant, menu included, would eventually be his call.

As for his other restaurants, I have done no direct reporting on them. But I know that chefs come and go at Sotto Sotto (Jose Rego recently left to become chef at Allegro), but the menu does not change in any significant way. I can only conclude that Ullio is behind the overriding direction of the menu, thus making him deserving of the title "executive chef." If I was a staff member who had been directed to tell white lies to customers about an owner's involvement, it would annoy me as well. But then again, working for chef/owners who spend every waking moment of their lives in their own kitchens can be difficult, too. I think most chefs hope one day to set their kitchens on a steady course, step away from the stove, and put their faith in a well-chosen staff. Should that mean they have to give up their title as chef? I'm not so sure.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

When you can't read the menu

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2007 at 9:30 PM

Nelu wrote the following after a visit to El Veneno, which I reviewed briefly here Oct. 8.

I took my family yesterday at El Veneno to try the new Mexican place you wrote about. It is truly very good. hope that they will succeed with it.

However it puzzles me that their menu is exclusively in Spanish. I often dine-in at ethnic restaurants and am all for authenticity. But, at least for me, the dishes were not easily recognizable besides a couple such as ceviche, tacos, etc. Many of them looked interesting but I could not tell what they were. This leads to confusion, and it turned out to be costly for us especially since the staff knows so little English.

My wife wanted some grilled fish and the waitress mentioned that she can make one similar to a fried fish dish priced at about $12-13. Turned out that the grilled one was in fact quite different, priced at market price, which was $30!

Leaving this small inconvenience aside, the food was indeed great. But how can they make money when most dishes are over $10 and some over $20, and they have only a Spanish menu? They seem to be leaving out a good segment of potential customers who can afford their dishes. This seems naive to me. My wife was adamant that she won't return, and now I will have to convince her to try it again. Will it be so bad to have an English version of the menu?

I eat in a lot of Mexican restaurants, and I think El Veneno is a rarity in that it doesn't have an English menu translation. I speak pretty good Spanish, but I had difficulty with the menu myself and then had to interview two servers to get clear about what was what.

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Omnivorous online reading about eating

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2007 at 8:07 PM

If you’re a “locavore” or are otherwise interested in the slow, simple, locally produced food movement, you should definitely read Salon.com’s interview with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif. It strikes a good balance between advocating for organic, locally produced, cruelty-free, nonprocessed shopping and cooking, and acknowledging that such an approach can require more time and money than many people have -- or, Waters would probably counter, think they have.

For reading enjoyment that won’t make you feel guilty, Cracked.com has an article on "The Six Most Terrifying Foods in the World." The writer emphasizes snarky attitude more than culinary information, but the faux ads meant to sell the products for trendy American consumers are hilarious. (Ex.: packaging “Pacha,” or Iraqi goat head, as an energy drink called “Ahead.”)

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Looking at other local food blogs

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2007 at 7:30 PM

Here's a roundup of what's new on some other Atlanta cuisine blogs:

Blissful Glutton, probably my favorite, features a review of Asam House Thai and Malaysian Restaurant on Buford Highway in Pinetree Plaza. The blog's writer, "Jennifer," also reports on local restaurants offering specials that feature in-season white truffles.

I also dig Steakhead's Atlanta Eats, although he doesn't post terribly often. His down-to-earth style is a relief in a field that spends a lot of time stringing adjectives together. His most recent post explains why Two Urban Licks is one of his favorite restaurants. He compares the menu to a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Chow Down Atlanta features a great review and pictures of the Marietta Street tapas lounge, Utopia. There's also a lunchtime review of Cameli's Pizza on Ponce that inspired me to plan a visit.

AtlantaCuisine.com remains the city's biggest online gathering place for foodies. Owner Tom Maicon's most recent "pick of the week" is Voila in Decatur, where he found impressive beignets. Most of the action here is on the forums, where you will find, for example, 30 pages of commentary on Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q and a discussion of the city's best fried chicken.

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Please don't eat the pesticides

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2007 at 5:43 PM

The most e-mailed article on the New York Times site the last few days has been one titled "Five Easy Ways to Go Organic." It's featured on the newspaper's health blog, Well.

The article, which is addressed to parents, makes the point that some conventionally grown produce is safer than others, depending on its tendency to absorb pesticides. Thus, you should try to buy organic apples, but not worry so much about bananas. I found this interesting:

Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the [sic] highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Read the entire post here.

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