Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cantina La Casita becomes So Ba

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:14 AM

Pho in East Atlanta! Could it be??? Yes, it appears it's true. The owners of Wasabi in Castleberry Hill have bought the building that used to house Cantina La Casita and are planning to open a Vietnamese noodle joint in the spot within the next two months. Pho, late night, and...wait for it...weekend dim sum are planned for the restaurant, which will be called So Ba (not for the Japanese noodle soba, but I'm told the name means "my third" in Vietnamese, for the owner's third restaurant and also the upcoming birth of his third child).

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Second Helpings: Survivor: Las Vegas

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 2:13 PM

You see it on "Top Chef" all the time. The hobbled, baby wildebeest limping around the kitchen. A chef barely hanging on in the competition. Scared and bleeding. On their last legs. With a few hyena snapping at their ankles. A lions pride, calmly in the brush, watching.

Figuratively, Robin is that wildebeest.

Literally, though, she’s a true survivor.

Eli’s unfortunate comments cast judgment on Robin’s inspiration and victory this week. It was the type of comment that probably had more than one person, including myself, saying “Oh no, he didn’t”.

He did.

I can’t defend his choice of words. Even though I can vouch for his character (he happens to be an extremely loyal and family-focused person).

But I can help you imagine his mindset.

When you’re a young chef, overly ambitious and obsessed with your craft, cancer doesn’t mean much.  When you work in a great restaurant and push hard every day, nothing else means as much.  A tight brunoise or turned vegetable are all that matters.  Life is barely a blip on the radar.

It reminds me of this quote from White Heat by Marco Pierre White.

“When boys don’t last the pace that makes me feel good because I can and I will”. - chef de partie at Harvey’s.

That is a ruthless yet accurate comment.

Change that to, “I love it when cooks can’t keep up, even if they’ve had cancer,” and you have a sampling of what I think Eli was getting at.

Continue reading »

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Cheap Eats: Ming's Bar B Q Duluth

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 2:00 PM

BIG FUN: The dry-fried beef chow fun at Ming's
  • BIG FUN: The dry-fried beef chow fun at Ming's

Ming’s Bar B Q holds a special place in the hearts and stomachs of many Cantonese barbecue-loving Atlantans. The cooking is consistent and the menu is rife with virtually every Cantonese dish imaginable. The Buford Highway location has little ambiance, however, which makes it a hard sell for less adventurous diners.

This past spring, a new location opened in the emerging Asian culinary paradise of Duluth. The new Ming’s Bar B Q (2131 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, 770-623-9996) is much larger and the decor is more modern than the original’s. The Duluth Ming’s features a glass-walled room dedicated to barbecue, where rows of Peking duck, Char Siu (honey barbecued pork), soy sauce chicken, and other items hang side by side. The menu has all the greatest hits, plus a new section inspired by the contemporary teahouses of Hong Kong. Look for items such as Chinese-style french toast covered in syrup and butter, baked fish on cream corn, congee, a bevy of tea-based drinks (including Hong Kong-style milk tea), hot grapefruit juice with honey, “French-style” coffee, and Ovaltine for the kiddies.

Continue reading "Cheap Eats: Ming's Bar B Q Duluth"

(Photo by Jennifer Zyman)

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DBA Barbecue has a new chef and new smokers

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 2:02 AM

Matt Coggin, the managing partner of DBA Barbecue in Virginia-Highland ,writes this good news:

We replaced the electric smokers with a Lang Smoker and an Ole Hickory Smoker. The BBQ has been improved dramatically. Also, Drew Kirkland is our new chef/pitmaster. Drew was the chef de cuisine for Kevin Rathbun for four years. Recently, he has been serving BBQ at the Albert. The Lang smoker is Drew's, and he is very passionate about his BBQ. We are very excited to have the kitchen in such capable hands.

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Waiter, there's a bird impersonating a frog on my plate

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 1:05 AM


In my Grazing column two weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the ancient Romans' penchant for disguising one food, particularly offal, as another, as illustrated in Petronius "Saytricon."

The new issue of my favorite foodie mag, Gastronomica, features a 14-page article about the French's own penchant for such culinary tricks during the 17th and 18th centuries. I haven't seen the issue yet, but Marc Abrahams discusses it in his "Improbable Research" column for the Guardian. His article is headlined "When is a frog not a frog? When it's a bird" and is illustrated with the Muppetesque photo above.

Abrahams writes:

The French will swallow almost anything, so long as it's surprising to see and delightful to taste. Jennifer J Davis explains why in a study called "Masters of Disguise: French Cooks Between Art and Nature, 1651–1793.J" The 14-page report, replete with old drawings and few new photographs, is published in the journal Gastronomica.

"Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," Davis writes, "cooks engaged in a multitude of games in which one food masqueraded as another. Such games often played along the fault lines of alimentary taboos, as the cooked imitated the raw, the dead masqueraded as the living, and the injunctions of Catholic fasts were followed to the letter, if not the spirit, of the law."

Religious fast days, especially, became opportunities for cooks to strut their ingeniously stuffed stuff. All things seemingly became possible. Vegetables took on the appearance of fishes. Fishes were made into simulacra of beef, pork, and other meats.

French chefs fried up frogs "en guise de" chicken. Going in the other direction, sometimes birds became faux amphibians.

Read Abraham's entertaining summary but subscribe to the quarterly Gastronomica to read the whole article.

(Uncredited photo courtesy of the Guardian.)

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Pricci

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 8:20 PM

MEAT OF THE MATTER: The beef carpaccio at Pricci
  • MEAT OF THE MATTER: The beef carpaccio at Pricci

Do you remember why you fell in love with restaurants in the first place? I’d like to say that for me, it was the philosophy behind the care and respect for organic vegetables, or the realization that an inspired dish of food could nourish the soul. But I’d be lying. In reality, my love affair started at my best friend’s 10th birthday. Her father took us to a fancy restaurant — it was the first one I’d ever been to. I remember my awe at the dining room's mirrors and soft lighting, the waiters in tuxedos, the sound of glasses clinking and people talking and laughing. It was like magic, a fantasy, a place where the entire purpose of its existence was to create relaxation and joy.

The first time I entered Pricci I was reminded of that original experience. After devoting so much time to thinking and writing about the new breed of restaurant, where casual hipsterdom and the ethics of produce are the main selling points, Pricci seemed like a welcome reminder of upscale dining’s original intent.

Waiters in white tuxedos glide around a room that’s almost comically clichéd, the Disney version of an Italian restaurant, with mirrors on the walls, Art Deco-inspired decorative touches, and clubby, circular booths. If it’s a bit silly, it's in equal measure pure fun, an unabashed homage to the idea that dining out is (and should be) a form of entertainment.

Continue reading "Review: Pricci"

(Photo by James Camp)

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Celebrity sighting

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 4:57 AM

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse was spotted brunching at Watershed today. Pass it on. (Hat tip: Stephen Curry)

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Riccardo Ullio to open Mexican restaurant in Cuerno space

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 4:42 AM

sotto caprese

sotto melon

We dined at Sotto Sotto this evening and got a mouth full of wonderful food and an ear full of news.

First, the meal: It was the last night of Inman Park Restaurant Week and the restaurant was packed with diners taking advantage of the restaurant's $25 three-course meal. I actually skipped that but I did take the server's suggestion that we "say goodbye to this year's Heirloom tomatoes" by ordering dishes that featured them, like the Caprese salad above.

The salad included a very good bufala mozzarella and yellow, purple and red Heirlooms. The yellow, which I don't recall encountering anywhere else this year, was especially good, with a slightly sweet flavor that Wayne called "watermelony." For my entree I chose the restaurant's classic dish of tortellini stuffed with ricotta flavored with fresh mint under a tart sauce of red Heirlooms and basil.

Wayne ordered the three-course meal, starting with the cantaloupe and prosciutto show here, followed by a risotto topped with chopped tomatoes and basil. He spooned down a bowl of chocolate soup for dessert.

Now the news. We ran into Riccardo Ullio, owner of the restaurant, along with Fritti next door and Beleza in Midtown.

He is opening a new Mexican restaurant, Lupe, next to Beleza, where the defunct Cuerno was located. The restaurant will open Oct. 15 and, if you're wondering, it's named after Our Lady of Guadalupe, who will be making a splashy appearance on the walls there, I believe. A Mexican couple will be preparing the inexpensive menu of mainly taqueria-style food.

Ullio also informed me that he has hired the very talented Aaron Russell to supervise pastries at all four of his restaurants. Russell, you will recall, was chef at The Chocolate Bar, from which he resigned in August. He has most recently been working part-time for Shaun Doty....

Finally, Ullio said that he has replaced the pizzaiolo at Fritti. The new one is from Naples, like the last one. All participants in the pizza war that raged about town after the opening of Varasano's in the Spring must now report to Fritti for another taste comparison.

(Photos by Cliff Bostock)

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Condolences to Hector Santiago

Posted By on Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 11:33 PM

Condolences to Hector Santiago, "Top Chef" contestant and chef-owner of Pura Vida, whose grandmother died this morning. Wife Leslie Santiago posted this on Facebook:

Hector's Grandma, Abuelita Ana Santiago Oritz, died early this morning, at the age of 97. She lived a long life, had five children, lots of grandchildren and several great grandchildren. She lived to see a lot, including her grandson appear on television. I'm sure she was proud of him. Hector adored her, and will miss her. She meant the world to him.

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Some openings, some secrets of Southern hospitality

Posted By on Sun, Sep 27, 2009 at 11:16 PM


, which replaced Piebar, is now Ixtlan Ultra Lounge:

Just arrived in the former space of Eros Tapas Bar, Ixtlan retains the interior design of its predecessor (glass tent ceiling, stone floors, rooftop filled w/ rounded white backless couches), while boasting an all-new menu including "tapa-tizers" like Ixtlan Hot Fish (fried tilapia bites tossed in sweet chili sauce) and fire-grilled Filet Kabobs marinated in garlic, herbs, and the chef's signature tzatziki. Also worthy're char-grilled Sirloin and Turkey Burgers, Chopped Beef, Pulled Pork, and Chicken Breast BBQ Sandwiches, plus BBQ entrees like the Smoked Turkey Drumsticks and the 10oz Boston Pork Steak, aka the Rich Garces....

Cafe Sage Hill has taken over the Dusty's Barbecue location at 1815 Briarcliff Rd. It's all about breakfast and lunch, Southern-style....

A new restaurant, Croaker's Spot,  is opening at the corner of Edgewood Ave. and Boulevard, across from Danneman's Coffee. It will feature seafood and soul food....

The Iberian Pig (121 Sycamore St.) opens Monday night in Decatur....

Abattoir is now open for lunch....

Regina Charboneau, author of the Southern cooking blog for Atlantic Monthly's food site, recently posted an article entitled, "Seven Lessons in Southern Hospitality." Here is my fave "lesson":

Decide a night or day that is the easiest night for you to entertain. Maybe you have a housekeeper that comes on Thursdays so entertain on Wednesdays so you will have help cleaning up, or entertain on a Friday because your house is already clean.

Right. The secret to Southern hospitality is a servant. Miss Scarlett knew it and so should you.

I find this bit of Southern hospitality advice kind of strange too:

Never apologize even if dinner is overcooked or undercooked. Make light of it, we are all human--just have plenty of bread (and wine won't hurt). Whether you live in the North, South, East, or West, hospitality is hospitality--it is always a gift.

Well, fiddle-dee-dee, it seems the fried chicken is nearly raw. Y'all just have another couple of biscuits and I'll get the peach cobbler warmed up as soon as I scrape the mold off it.

(Photo of Vivian Leigh and Butterfly McQueen, from "Gone with the Wind," courtesy of Live Auctioneers.)

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