Thursday, August 21, 2008

Farm-to-table dessert

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2008 at 2:06 AM

It takes months to make this fabulous farm-to-table dessert at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.  I predict that this will become a trend that sweeps the nation's restaurants. Click here.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One good, one not so good

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2008 at 11:53 PM


This is from Doug Rosenbloom:

Cliff: To borrow a phrase from one of your recent posts, I ventured from my "usual

intown dining zone" to Buckhead last night for a co-worker's birthday dinner at Nava. The hostess did not disappoint with Buckhead snobbery, and the kitchen thrice-destroyed my friend's lamb rack. The third time they brought it out well-done instead of medium-rare as requested, my friend just gave upand ate the overpriced gyro meat. Our hapless server (think Steinbeck's Lennie) was harmless, but entertainingly aloof.

My first visit to Shaun's however, exceeded all expectations (except dessert, which was above average). The friendly service, wine selection, and food was so fantastic we overlooked the slow kitchen. I'll be going back to Shaun's, which is comfortably in my "usual intown dining zone."

Oh my! I haven't thought about the over-sized, foot-dragging Lennie Small of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men since high school. Lennie, mentally disabled, has a bad habit of killing soft, cuddly things, including women, by stroking them just a wee bit too enthusiastically. His heart's desire is to tend a flock of bunnies but he ends up taking a bullet instead.

Buckhead is full of such people, of course. Y'all carry your guns.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

How to perk up a root canal

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 11:08 PM



What a wonderful errand I had this afternoon. I drove to an endodontist near the intersection of Powers Ferry and Windy Hill roads in East Cobb County to get a root canal.

I arrived at 1:30 but was informed my torture would not begin until 3 p.m., after all. Disinclined to spend 90 minutes in the waiting room, listening to the shrill whine of drills, I took the advice of the dental assistants and went looking for a "gentle lunch."

"You better fill up your belly now," one of the girls shouted as I left, "because you sure aren't going to feel like eating when this is over."

I had not been out this way in a few years. Not long after I left home for college, my parents moved not far from this area to be among the original settlers of Atlanta Country Club. It seemed like the middle of nowhere to me then. Now, of course, East Cobb, which was once the fasting growing area in America, is like a gigantic traffic exchange that makes driving in Los Angeles idyllic.

Driving around, with my tooth throbbing only mildly, I came across Vatica (1475 Terrell Mill Rd., 770-955-3740), an Indian vegetarian restaurant whose window included a sign that offered all-you-can-eat thali for $8.99.

The last lunch table was leaving when I entered. I asked the man whom I assumed was the owner if he was still serving. "Perhaps," he said. "Yes, sure....I will find you something."

He showed me to a booth overseen, as is every booth, by a picture of a beautiful Indian woman. Under the glass atop the table was a rather depressing rant about the good old days when you could tell the sexes apart and Coke was a drink and grass was something you mowed and so forth. Who expects 1970s Borscht Belt comedy in an Indian restaurant?

My host returned to the table with a glass of water. "May I see a menu?" I asked.

"No," he said, laughing. "There is no menu. You must settle for what I choose to give you."

In short, whether you eat here at dinner or lunch, you will be served the day's thali (above, left), a platter of bread and rice with small containers of stews and soups. Vatica's website explains that its cooking style is from the state of Gujarati in northwest India, but the thali style is popular throughout the country.

In all honesty, when my thali arrived, my first thought was, "This is no bargain at $8.99," but I felt better when an employee wheeled out a cart to refill my tiny bowls. Everything was familiar — lentil soup, spicy potatoes, a stew of cauliflower and broccoli, a dal of yellow lentils, raita. The only really disappointing thing on the plate was the puri — chewy and cold. But that may be the result of my late arrival for lunch.

I asked the owner what "Vatica" means and he said it means "hot."

"But this food is very mild," I said.

"Yes it is," he said. "Would you like me to bring you some chilies?"

On the way out of the restaurant, I noticed a review that said "Vatica" refers to a peaceful garden. So, I have no idea. But the food, while not as exotic as you'll find at southern Indian restaurants like Udipi, is quite satisfying.

A few doors down from Vatica, I found myself at a grocery named Goianao (770-618-2710). A beautiful young woman was sitting at the lone cash register eating some kind of frozen confection.

"Is this a Brazilian grocery?" I asked.

"Yes it is," she said.

"Why are there so many Brazilian businesses around here?" I asked, having seen several nearby. I knew, too, that Sal Grosso, a Brazilian steak house, or churrascaria, was also nearby on Powers Ferry.

"I have no idea," she said, "but it's really weird, isn't it?"

The main point of interest here is the butcher shop in the back (above, right). If you've visited any of the city's churrascarias, you'll recognize some of the cuts and sausages. Perhaps you could prepare your own 10-course, all-meat meal at home.

I returned to the dentist's office for my session of torture, but, for various reasons, it was not to happen today. Oh well, I enjoyed lunch and sightseeing.

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Beer pick of the week: Hugh Malone Ale

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 7:27 PM


Hugh Malone Ale

Allagash Brewing Company

Portland, ME

8.5% ABV

This Belgian-style IPA from Allagash is named for the Irish immigrant who pioneered hopping techniques in the early twentieth century in Portland. Allagash contributes $1 from the sales of its tribute series to charitable causes, in this case the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the country’s oldest and largest state organic farmer coalition. The Hugh Malone pours a glowing, deep orange with a dense, persistent head. Allagash adds Simcoe hops at three points in the brewing process, including the “first wort hopping” developed by the beer’s namesake. The result is a solid citrus oil bitterness from beginning to end, with some piney and herbal notes as well. But this is no hop bomb. Crystal malts contribute to a medium body and subtle caramel sweetness, and Belgian yeast adds a tanginess mid palate. Drying alcohol and a lingering hop bite characterize the dry finish. Heed the recommended serving temperature of 45-50o F, as the character really shines as the beer warms. Allagash’s Rob Tod has balanced beautifully the bready goodness of a Belgian strong pale ale with the crispness of an American IPA. Nicely done!

(photo by Jeff Holland)

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Guest blogger: An ode to ketchup

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 3:58 PM

Playing ketchup

By Russ Marshalek

I first discovered ketchup as a weight-loss tool when I was in my early teens. My Marietta trailer-park youth contributed to some serious adolescent obesity in terms of me shopping the husky section of Wal-Mart for cheap jeans (which my family called “dungarees”). Around the age of thirteen, three major turning points happened in my life. First, I got really, really physically ill, as a result of weighing somewhere close to a billion pounds. Second, I became a vegetarian as a direct result of said illness. Third, I realized that (and this only applies to then, not now) I really, really hated most vegetarian options available to me.

Growing up on fast food, my new-found attempts at healthier eating and vegetarianism found me alienated from my family in regards to food. It was possibly a cool, crisp autumn day, or maybe a stinking hot mid-summer afternoon, or all/none of the above, when I was standing in line at a Wendy’s with my folks and suddenly realized that a plain baked potato, with no butter or sour cream, would, in fact, be the healthiest option on the menu.

Upon ordering and digging into the foil-wrapped bundle steaming with the blandness of a tennis ball covered in a sneaker, I realized that baked potato ordered from a fast-food establishment and eaten entirely plain was way better in theory than in actuality. I frantically scoured the restaurant for something, anything, to make the potato better: salt? My minimal knowledge of health and food was enough to know that “salt=bad”. Pepper? My limited taste palette had yet to experiment with it. Ditto with mustard (thank god — a plain baked potato covered in yellow fast-food mustard? Ugh). Ketchup? Ketchup … my still-acclimating-to-healthy-eating-choices brain raced: Ketchup works on French fries. French fries are potatoes+death. Remove death and you still have potatoes. Ketchup!

And thus, it began.

Continue reading »

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Obligatory summertime post

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 1:20 PM

I hope you didn't think we were going to get through the summer without the inevitable discussion of sweet tea. Actually, I'm not going to discuss it, but instead refer you to a conversation on the Washington Post site:

This week's Random Friday Query is a burning question....At what point as you travel down the Eastern Seaboard do you cross the International Sweet Tea Line? When do you enter sweet-tea territory, where genuine sugar-added-during-steeping tea is available at every restaurant?

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Frank Ma lands again

Posted By on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 1:06 PM


Frank Ma, probably the city's most popular Chinese chef and restaurant operator, has landed at another venue. It's called Frank Ma's South (2088 Briarcliff Rd., 404-417-9990).

It's a bit confusing. Ma is sharing the space with Wingnuts, whose sign you will see in front of the location inside a tiny strip mall.

While a group of wide-eyed adolescent boys chomped on wings, we dined on classics, shown above -- homestyle tofu, 3-cup chicken and shrimp with snow pea vines. We also ate the usual starters of pan-fried dumplings and a scallion pancake. I like Frank Ma and his wife Amy very much but they do tend to recommend the same dishes to people over and over. The menu here is lengthy and I want to explore more of it.

Ma was last at Dinho, which hired him to re-create his classic menu and manage the dining room with Amy. I asked him why he left and he explained that the Dinho owner asked him to create a new, mainly Cantonese menu. Ma said "no way" and left. The man is giving the perpetually itinerant Richard Blais a run for the money.

We were entertained at dinner by Ma's charming granddaughter Angela (above, right).

More in Grazing, week after next.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The vegetarian experiment

Posted By on Sat, Aug 16, 2008 at 12:00 PM


It was Wayne's idea. After eating veal recently, I had my usual attack of guilt. As I told him, I didn't eat veal for ethical reasons for more than 10 years. He said he doesn't feel right about eating meat of any type much of the time.

"Why don't we experiment and not eat meat for a week?" he said.

"Well," I said, "I have decided to stop eating pasta and bread, so that would be difficult."

Boy howdy. We could have eaten every meal at Dynamic Dish and been quite happy. But part of the initial plan, besides staying within our usual intown dining zones, was to go to our regular haunts that serve meat. As I'm sure you've noticed, nearly every restaurant these days offers "vegetarian options." I never order these, unless it's a straightforward salad, so I thought this would be an opportunity to experiment.

Read the rest of this article here.

(Photo by James Camp)

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Vine: Fruit of their labor

Posted By on Sat, Aug 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Sometimes on "Project Runway," fashion guru Tim Gunn approaches one of the show's designers, and after a dramatic appraisal of his or her garment he says, "You know, I think you need to bring an editing eye to this." I'll admit, reality TV isn't the most reliable of cultural references, but I'm sure you get the idea. Frequently, when people undertake an artistic endeavor, the artistry runs rampant, and the artist is unable to see that none of his ideas are discernible among the clutter.

That's the experience I've had most recently at Vine, the Virginia-Highland restaurant that's changed ownership three times in the past four years. The current owner is Stephen McGuffin, the former chef de cuisine at Virginia-Highland's Dish. He left to work in Nashville, but returned to Atlanta with the intention of purchasing Dish when it went out of business. When that deal fell through, he turned his attention to Vine, and with some family backing, the restaurant became chef-owned.

Vine's always been something of a conundrum – it's a fantastic space, and it sits smack in the middle of Virginia-Highland. Parking is easy, the patio is sprawling, and the local residents live in million-dollar houses. A wine-focused New American bistro seems like the perfect concept for the location. But it's as if the kitchen has a curse on it – the food has never lived up to the setting. I ate at Vine once last year and it was so bad, so poorly executed, I decided not to write about it. Not because I'm squeamish about that kind of thing, but because I figured it would only be a matter of time before someone else took over.

Read the rest of this review here.

(Photo by James Camp)

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Shaun Doty going Mexican

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 7:08 PM

There's good news about the beleagured location of the defunct Sala:

The owners of Fifth Group Restaurants have joined forces with Executive Chef Shaun Doty, owner of Shaun’s, to create The Original El Taco in the former Sala space in Virginia-Highland. The new restaurant will open in mid-October. Doty is developing recipes for creative Mexican fare like tacos, tortas and salsas, and the Fifth Group Restaurants team is working with William Peace, Peace Design, to change the look and feel of the restaurant.

“The Original El Taco will be lively, bright, open, and - most of all - fun,” said Robby Kukler, co-owner of Fifth Group Restaurants. “We have known Shaun for years and when we found out he had been thinking about doing Mexican too, we knew it was a great partnership.”

“I love Mexican food and have wanted to do a restaurant like this for a while,” said Doty. “To have this opportunity to work with the pros at Fifth Group Restaurants is great.”

“We are going to create an easy, approachable destination for great Mexican food,” added Kukler.

Doty will work with a chef de cuisine at El Taco when the restaurant opens, while remaining executive chef at Shaun’s.

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