Hotlanta made a scorch mark on television this morning. On ABCâs "The View," Two Urban Licks was featured as one of several restaurants serving some of the hottest foods in the U.S.
Food Network's "Unwrapped" host Marc Summers led the segment sampling Two Urban Licksâ baby back ribs that are apparently slathered in a barbecue sauce infused with a Tabasco sauce reduction â which is the source of all its heat.
View host Sherri Shepherd sampled most of dishes and originally didnât think the the ribs were too spicy, but the heat crept up on her as she soon downed a glass of milk to cool her palette. The list of all the restaurant dishes mentioned on todayâs show will be posted on The Viewâs web site later today. Two Urban Licks is located at 820 Ralph McGill Boulevard. Call for reservations.
I've always enjoyed the Vortex. Even when the food hasn't been perfect, it's given me pleasure to eat in a place that calls itself an "idiot-free zone." Oh sure, the employees often seem to be a bit tipsy â apparently they are allowed to drink on the job â but you gotta love a restaurant that issues warnings like this to customers:
News Flash for Tight-Asses: The Vortex is what it is. If you find our policies, our decor or any other aspect of our operation offensive, you're free to take your business elsewhere. Just don't expect us to beg you to stay, or vow to change our evil ways. Wise up. We really don't care if we offend you. If you think that's awful, be sure to tell all your tight-ass friends how terrible we are because we don't want them spoiling our fun either.
Imagine my surprise, then, when our favorite server was recently fired for telling some late diners that the restaurant was closing and she wasn't sure where to tell them to go to eat.
I think she put it perfectly: "I'm too rude to work in the restaurant where you're supposed to be rude."
This is cool. When I was a teenager, I wrote a column for my school paper, but it wasn't about food. In fact, I don't think it ever crossed my mind to write a dining review. I don't even remember any discussion about the idea.
How things change. The following review of the new Peasant Bistro is by Arielle D'Avanzo, a member of the class of 2008 at Grady High School. She wrote the review for the school paper and graciously agreed to let us reprint it here:
Peasant Bistro, the newest culinary creation developed by Maureen Kalmanson and Pamela Fur, opened its doors on Feb. 28. Kalmanson, who along with Fur owns Mickâs downtown and Pleasant Peasant, both on Peachtree Street, worked as a manager for the original Peasant Restaurants in its heyday and was inspired by the companyâs philosophy.
âWhen I found out that Pleasant Peasant was on the market I knew thatâs what I would do, so I bought it out,â said Kalmanson. âEveryone has a story about Peasant. It has a great sense of community about it. For it to change would destroy that.â
The new restaurant, located in downtown Atlanta, features a variety of bistro-oriented dishes with Executive Chef Shane Devereux incorporating country French and Mediterranean influences into the seasonal dishes.
âWhat I really wanted to do with this restaurant was create a type of restaurant found in Lyon, one that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, such as sausages, duck pÃ¢tÃ©, roast pork, and is done really well,â Kalmanson said. âThis is exactly what Shane had been doing in Philadelphia and where he also wanted to go. He applied here to be our sous chef, and at the time I was going to hire an executive chef as well, but I decided not to do that because I wanted to see what he could do. It turns out that he has risen to the occasion and done a tremendous job.â
How can you not love Arthur Rimbaud (1855-1891), the French poet who wrote this line: "Finally I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind." Rimbaud was the, um, protÃ©gÃ© of poet Paul Marie Verlaine (1844-1896). The two were famous for their consumption of absinthe, the so-called "green fairy" liquor that contains wormwood and fuels artistic inspiration.
Alas, like any booze, absinthe can also make you nuts. During their final argument, Verlaine shot Rimbaud, who survived and gave up absinthe. In fact, he gave up poetry and disappeared after joining the Dutch army. Verlaine outlived him, remaining addicted to the green fairy which he is said to have cursed on his death bed. (You can get the whole story in the 1995 movie "Total Eclipse," a surprisingly good movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio).
Absinthe was illegal in France, most of Europe and the U.S. for about 100 years. The ban was lifted about 10 years ago and the supposedly hallucinogenic stuff has been available again. However, most of the absinthe that's been in production has not been made with Grande Wormwood, which contains the supposedly potent chemical, thujone.
But that has changed with the introduction of the ironically named Lucid absinthe, made with Grande Wormwood. Its French maker argues that the amount of thujone in traditionally made absinthe has never been adequate to produce the hallucinations for which it became famous. It got its bad rep from prohibitionists who exaggerated its dangers, according to Lucid's makers. The problems the drink caused Verlaine and his contemporaries had more to do with alcohol addiction than tripping on thujone, they say.
You can be the judge. Lucid will be introduced to Atlantans at Halo Lounge next Thursday, March 27, after 8 p.m., following a press tasting.
Please leave me email if you shoot anyone or feel a strong need to join the Dutch army after tasting the new absinthe.
(Painting of Verlaine, left, and Rimbaud by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1872.)
I lunched today at Anis with my friend Brad, as we do just about every week. Brad just returned from a two-week visit with his mother in Los Angeles. He ended up spending a great deal of time there in the bed with a bad case of the flu. Brad, a serious foodie and heart attack survivor, tends to be the optimistic sort and he was quick to identify the flu's silver lining: "I lost seven pounds!"
So now, he says, he's on a "serious diet." He ate a salmon salad while I ate roasted chicken and devoured the basket of bread. "It's the carbs that can make you fat," he said. "Thank you, Dr. Atkins," I muttered to myself.
Brad is reading the latest anti-carb text, Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories (reviewed in the New York Times here). Taubes maintains that the widely held beliefs about the relationship between eating and health, including obesity, are mainly based on very flimsy science. He aims to correct it, but he's ended up being accused of some scientific hocus-pocus himself because of some significant studies he's ignored.
Brad is also reading Michael Pollan's new book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Pollan, whom I regard as the most important food writer in the country, is well known for his articles in the New York Times and his first book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Like Taubes, he exposes the weakness of nutritional science â including our obsession with healthy eating while we get fatter and fatter. He's also well known for exposing the politics of food production and regulation.
The reality of how unhealthy our diet has become was anecdotally well documented in a recent article in the Times about obesity among food bloggers, food journalists and chefs, whom author Kim Severson has nicknamed the "Fat Pack." She writes:
âI do find it irresponsible that they have done nothing to address health issues,â [Jason Perlow] said of eGullet, which he left in 2006 after a dispute with another of the siteâs founders, Steven Shaw.
âThe whole foodie lifestyle and diet I used to participate in â Iâm not going to say it is unhealthy, but it is excessive,â he said. âI think you can still keep the food very interesting, but do it in moderation. Thatâs what the food community of the future is going to have to be.â
To which many members of the Fat Pack say: Shut up and pass the pork butt. Among a certain slice of the food-possessed, to suggest that indulgence might put oneâs health in peril is to invite ridicule.
Without using the word, Severson documents the widespread denial among foodies, who can get enormously fat and blame their genetics rather than their diets. For example:
Mr. Shaw said he believes the genetic component of weight and health matter more than moderation and exercise. Although his father died from heart disease, he thinks that the state of medical knowledge on the relationship of diet to health changes so frequently that it canât be trusted.
Some of his views about diet and health border on the extreme. âI think the whole diabetes thing is a major hoax,â he said. âThey are overdiagnosing it.â
As denial implodes with the diagnosis of diabetes and heart disease, more foodies are taking up the subject of health in their blogs, according to Severson, which undoubtedly helps explain, too, the growing prominence of writers like Taubes and Pollan.
As for my own experience with this, it's been unpleasant. Years ago, besides writing the Grazing column, I also wrote a monthly column for Georgia Trend that required me to eat all over the state, do a (detestable) weekly gig on WGST Radio and write occasional dining features for other magazines. Even though I continued to go to the gym daily, I gained about 30 lbs. Believe me, there's a point where no matter how much weight you lift in the gym, it won't counteract lifting a fork constantly. Nor will cardio do any good without a change in diet.
By cutting out the other gigs and paying more attention to my diet, I took off most of the extra weight, but it remains a battle. A huge meal like the one I ate Wednesday night at the Glenwood demands extra cardio and significant calorie restriction the following day. So tonight, it will be salad. Or maybe I'll get the flu.
VAGUELY RELATED: Speaking of Anis, the restaurant's owner, Arnaud Michel, and his wife Dawn are the parents of a third child, born last Sunday. Theo Philippe Michel weighed in at 8 lbs. 13 oz.
Need a night off? Here's a cool offer for parents in need of some kid-free fun.
Food 101 and Meehan's Public House (the Sandy Springs locations) have joined the Chastain School for "Parent's Night Out" on Friday March 28. This offer extends to anyone in the community looking for experienced child care and a night out.
Parents drop the kids off at the Chastain School (an early childhood development program and preschool) for "engaging activities" such as arts and crafts, games, a pizza dinner (with no soft drinks of course) and an "age appropriate" movie for the kids to fall asleep to. Parents can bring pajamas, toothbrush and sleeping bag so all you have to do is tuck them into bed once you get them home.
Time: 6:15-10:15 p.m. (11 p.m. for an extra $10 per child)
Ages: 6 weeks -12 years old
Costs: $30 per child, $50 for two, $65 for three (children from the same family) Parents can sign up at the front desk. Or call 404.851.0001 to put your name on the list. Visit www.thechastainschool.com for more information. Dinner reservations can be made at either Food 101 or Meehan's Public House. The restaurants will donate 15% of the evening's proceeds to the Chastain School.
Twenty years ago, you couldn't get a decent chile relleno in our city. When you found it on a menu, it was invariably made with a bell pepper, instead of a poblano pepper. We won't even discuss the Velveeta-esque cheese typically used. That has changed and now the usually mild, slightly stinging poblano is ubiquitous.
Quality, on the other hand, ranges all over the place. Here's a case in point. The classic chile relleno (top photo) at the new, gringo-oriented Holy Taco (1314 Glenwood Ave., 404-230-6177) beats the chile relleno at the "authentic" El Rey del Taco (5288 Buford Hwy., 770-986-0032) by a mile (right).
In El Rey's version, the chile is over-cooked and stuffed with tasteless baby shrimp, then submerged in a tomatoey sauce. Holy Taco's version, lightly battered and filled with white cheese is just right.
Other experts with poblanos are Eddie Hernadez of the defunct Sundown Cafe and Lucero Martinez-Obregon of Zocalo. Both have on occasion served chiles en nogada â a stuffed poblano topped with white walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
Adam Roberts, the former Atlantan who writes a wonderful food blog, the Amateur Gourmet, has posted about Richard Blais' appearance on "Top Chef," and links to an archived post about his 31-course meal at Blais' short-lived eponymous restaurant. Check out the post here.
Adam has enjoyed great success since graduating from Emory law school and moving to New York to enroll in a creative writing program. He's now doing a terrific Web show, "The FN Dish," for the Food Network, and he's published a book of witty essays that's been very well-reviewed. Buy his book here.
I used to see Adam and his classmates studying at the Ansley Starbucks frequently. He told me at the time that he had no intention of practicing law but had agreed to please his parents by getting the law degree in exchange for their support of his going on to get an MFA in creative writing. It looks like we'll never know if he would have been as good a lawyer as food writer!
Today is the first day of Spring and chefs around town will be debuting their seasonal menus during the next few weeks. We checked out the new menu at the Glenwood (1263 Glenwood Ave., 404-622-6066) in East Atlanta Village last night.
Let's get the usual explanations out of the way. The gastro pub's chef, Ryan Stewart, is the husband of our cuisine editor, Besha Rodell. Also, I was recognized. One of the kitchen staff is Angel Sutor (bottom photo), whom I've known a zillion years, since she was chef at St. Agnes Tea Garden in Decatur. Angel has been on quite an adventure in recent years, including gigs in Jacksonville and Savannah. Her style and wit seem a good match for the Glenwood's staff and clientele.
Angel is expected to take a significant role in the Glenwood's expansion plans. Within the next two months, the restaurant will expand into the adjoining space. The new dining room will include a wine bar featuring charcuterie and cheeses. Stewart's regular menu will also be served in the new space. Here's extra good news: the new room will be smoke-free and the music will be turned down low enough to converse without screaming or using sign language.
Honestly, we had a wonderful meal, but by all means check it out for yourself. I've been eating a lot of decent but not very creative Mexican food in the last few weeks and I was especially impressed with Stewart's crispy quesadilla containing a soft-shell crab and fried tomatillo salsa, topped with some salad greens and radish slices (top photo). I also got a sample of the mole he makes (for a dish of duck chilaquiles with orange-braised chicory). I'm not kidding: I don't know a Mexican restaurant in the city serving dishes of equal quality.
Wayne ordered a bento box containing salmon cured in green tea, soba noodles, wakami (seaweed), dashi and creme fraiche with a bit of fish roe. (Stewart is playing with the classic of lox and cream cheese with this dish.)
For an entree, I had slices of grilled lamb arranged on a balsamic-streaked plate about a mound of ratatouille and a large dollop of sunchoke puree (above, right). The lamb, mildly seasoned and cooked medium rare, was delicious but I'd order the dish again just for the puree. In fact, I want a bowl of the stuff. The ratatouille, a dish that is usually overcooked and overwhelmed by tomatoes, was just as notable. You can actually taste the eggplant!
Wayne ordered a hunk of grilled salmon served over an interesting waffle made of white sweet potatoes and braised baby spinach (above left). Candied baby carrots were also on the plate. Everything was cooked perfectly, but I've got to admit the dish â from the glaze of the fish to the glaze of the carrots â was too sweet to our taste. But, hey, I like bitter flavors.
Speaking of sweetness, we shared an absurd dessert â a "smores sundae" made with housemade chocolate-malt ice cream, marshmallow fluff and "brulee bananas." This joins a dessert menu that also features fried Oreos with vanilla ice cream and rhubarb crisp.
The menu includes other additions like a braised rabbit papardelle with olives and spring vegetables, and parmesan-crusted halibut with artichoke barrigoule and tapenade bruschetta. Stewart uses local, organic produce and meats whenever possible.
If you have tips about spring menus at other restaurants, please email me or use the comments space.
Sean Brock, executive chef at McCrady's in Charleston, will cook up a 10-course tasting menu at Quinones Room with chef David A. Carson on March 28.
Brock cooks mainly from his own 2.5 acre farm outside of Charleston that is staffed by the McCrady's culinary team and supplies vegetables for the restaurant.
Quinones' chef Carson and Chef Brock will be serving southern cuisine for this intimate dinner, with only 42 seats available for $125 per person plus optional $70 wine pairing, tax and gratuity. The reception will begin at 6 p.m. with dinner seating at 7 p.m.
For reservations call 404-365-0410 or view the website at www.starprovisions.com.
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