The slightly cavernous interior at 1190 N. Highland Ave. was always a problem for its previous occupant, Vine. The intimacy needed for fine dining was difficult to create in such a space, and even the broad patio, a huge asset in this Virginia-Highland neighborhood, seemed too unrefined for $30 entrees.
The space is practically perfect for a barbecue joint, however, particularly one that's full of happy eaters, as D.B.A. Barbecue is most evenings. Vine's subdued and slightly dowdy wine country décor has been replaced by barnyard chic - rough wood on the walls, Americana, neon and metal signage. It's too bright and clean to look like a real 'cue dive (à la Daddy D'z), but it does manage to feel friendly and neighborly. And in the warmer months, that patio is going to be ... qu'est-ce que c'est ... smokin'.
D.B.A. (a play on "doing business as usual") had a bit of a rough start the barbecue was almost universally reported as underwhelming. So owners James Ehrlich and Matt and Lee Coggin brought in new chef Drew Kirkland. Kirkland had been working as chef de cuisine for Kevin Rathbun and brought with him his Lang smoker. I never ate at the restaurant prior to the changes, but in its current state, D.B.A. is turning out big piles of tasty meat, along with classic Southern sides done right.
(Photo by James Camp)
God, this was good -- St. Louis-style ribs, sliced brisket, collards and mac and cheese (made with rigatoni and three cheeses). It was my dinner Saturday night at the new Community Q. Wayne dined on the ribs alone and his mom ordered the pulled pork, which may be the best I've ever had in our city.
The restaurant is the creation of three partners -- David Roberts, Jim Laber and Stuart Baesel. All three have high-class restaurant credentials including time with Guenter Seeger at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead and Seeger's.
I had heard that Baesel had been a pastry chef for Seeger, so I was hoping to see some interesting desserts. So far, though, dessert has been limited to banana pudding -- a very good banana pudding, but not the novelty I was hoping for. I was informed that, with time, more interesting desserts will be offered. Other plans include opening for breakfast.
All of the meat we sampled was tender, slightly smoky with some crispiness to blackened surfaces. Two sauces are available -- a vinegary one and a tomato-based one that honestly tasted to me like it contained Coca Cola. The staff assured me that it was soft-drink-free but had plenty of sugar. Although quite sweet for my taste initially, the flavor grew on me.
I'll have more to say about this in "Grazing," but don't hesitate to go now. I know barbecue is controversial, but I'm betting this place will be a big hit.
Oh! Get the baked beans. They're freakin' amazing.
(Photos by Cliff Bostock)
I was on my own for dinner Friday night, so I stopped at the new Pizzeria Vesuvius (327 Edgewood Ave. 404-343-4404) after the gym for a perfect post-cardio meal of fats and carbs.
Located in the short-lived Bureau's location, the new restaurant features build-your-own pizzas and nine house-designed ones named after the world's volcanoes. I chose this Fuji pie, featuring roasted pork, hoisin sauce, cabbage, caramelized onions, scallions and chili flakes.
It was quite yummy, with a relatively thin crust, the vaunted char of a wood-fire oven and unusual ingredients. I ate at the bar, where co-owner Chris Lopez was working.
If you're a purist looking for the perfect margherita, you won't go for this, but if you like a pub atmosphere with imaginative pizza, you'll like Vesuvius.
(Photo by Cliff Bostock)
I had another terrific lunch at Eclipse di Luna with my friends Brad Lapin and Eric Varner Friday. The menu of small plates was changed about three weeks ago.
One of the really spectacular newbies is this tamale filled with duck confit, topped with an intense mole. Even if the duck confit and mole were absent, the fluffy, savory tamale would be worth ordering alone.
Another newbie is a pair of sliders made with ground veal. You'll encounter tastes of manchego and blue cheese along with sharp house-made pickles. We also tried a new dish of braised lamb in a smoky, spicy tomato sauce topped with bits of apricots and scallions.
I also ordered the octopus with fingerling potatoes and capers, among my favorite regulars here.
Another highlight of my visit was meeting Johnny Cash, out front of the restaurant while waiting for Brad and Eric. He is a Goldendoodle and the coolest dog I've encountered in a long time. He turned out to belong to owner James Erlich. I would have dog-napped him but I live with someone who says he has no objection to my getting a dog as long as I also sign an apartment lease somewhere.
(Photos by Cliff Bostock)
It's a grand game of incest and intrigue, the restaurant biz. Chefs, managers and servers follow one another from restaurant to restaurant. The gossip may get nasty and the knives may end up in back after back, but at the end of a Saturday night, everyone's just one big happy family.
It was something of a shock when I walked through the door of the new Miller Union (999 Brady Ave., 678-733-8550) and found myself face-to-face with Neal McCarthy, longtime manager of Sotto Sotto under Riccardo Ullio. I knew my cover was blown instantly and, in case I had any doubt, chef Steven Satterfield, a longtime chef for Scott Peacock at Watershed, came out to our table to say hey later. The two have opened this restaurant, named after the old Miller Union Stock Yards, in Atlanta's Westside.
There was no back-stabbing in this encounter. Both men have received the best on-the-job educations they could get in Atlanta. But I was chagrinned at how difficult the game of critical anonymity has become in our city. Critics - and I don't know one who isn't recognized frequently - have become part of the incestuous game. At least I had not met McCarthy's amazingly beautiful (and towering) wife Carolyn before.
The new restaurant - organic, local, sustainable when possible - reflects Satterfield's nine years with Peacock. The menu of straightforward dishes is heavy on the Southern accent, but subtly so. There's "griddled" poulet rouge on the menu but no fried chicken.
(Photo by James Camp)
NPR aired a story yesterday about Japanese 'herbivores," young men who have forsaken macho stereotypes. They even openly eat desserts with great pleasure!:
The changing tastes of Japanese men are quite literally what take up his days. He works for an Internet service provider and operates Sweets Club, an online group for men who like desserts. Set up in January, it already has about 1,000 members who congregate online and in person to debate the virtues of different brands of strawberry shortcake. It's something that Sekine says would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
Put through his paces with an impromptu taste test, Sekine praises peach gelatin as fresh-tasting. He is not so keen on coffee gelatin with cream a macho dessert if ever there was one labeling it "retro." He believes his dessert club shows that young Japanese men are asserting their individuality, reflecting a change in values from Japan's booming 1980s.
"Back then, lots of men liked desserts, but it was considered uncool. Cool men had to like alcohol or spicy food. I've discovered my father likes eating dessert, but he never showed it in the past," Sekine says.
New York Times columnist Stanley Fish recently wrote a column on expressions that particularly annoy him. Readers, hundreds of them, replied with their own. I've culled a few replies that pertain to restaurants:
In a restaurant, while having a good, and perhaps intimate, conversation, a waiter comes over and says, Is everything all right? The correct answer would be, Yes, it was, until we were interrupted. Of course, that would lead to an apology, which would further delay our conversation. [Why do restaurant owners require waiters to infuriate their customers with that inane question?] Posted by Ken
The phrase at the top of my most annoying list at the moment is anything done to perfection. Grilled to perfection broiled to perfection pan-seared to perfection. This construction is so terribly overdone (as opposed to rare, or even medium rare) by those who write menus and otherwise promote restaurants that it might actually be pushing me away from the items described. Just do what you have to do to my food (I must trust you, or I would have gone elsewhere to eat) and be done with it. And please dont stop aspiring to perfection, but also cease trying to convince us that youve reached it. Posted by Fr. Laird MacGregor
My names Chuck and Ill be your server tonight.
Would someone PLEASE tell the Chucks of the world that were aware of what his function in the restaurant is and that it doesnt include intruding on our evening by imposing his acquaintance on us as though wed come to the establishment to make friends rather than have dinner.
If we needed Chucks help at some point when he is absent from our table, it would be easy to summon him if we knew his name from a name tag or a button that had 23? on it. Are we forever doomed to the phony-egalitarian bonhomie of the You-can-call-me-Chuck, who will doubtless ask someone Are you still working on that?!? during the meal, or can we perhaps have a dinner were paying for (and paying him to serve) in relaxed anonymity? Posted by Titov0
Tonight is $3 slider night at the Shed on Glenwood. Among this evening's flavors is one made with pulled pork from Community Q, a new barbecue joint in Decatur. I've heard lots of positive buzz about Q, but haven't made it yet...
Pizzeria Vesuvius, new on Edgewood, will host a "soft opening" tonight and be officially open Friday. Follow the new restaurant on Twitter, @PizzaVesuvius....
Speaking of Twitter, you can follow me there, @CliffBostock, but I use Facebook far more often. You can friend me there, also by my name....
I'm also hearing lots of positive buzz about the new cajun spot, Cafe Nouvelle, from downtown lunchers. It's located across the street from Ted's Montana Grill on Luckie Street..
I took my friend the professor, Lee Orr, to La Pietra Cucina Tuesday and he loved it. The restaurant has hired a new general manager, Chris Martha, who was the manager of Spice and was with Fifth Group Restaurants since the group's opening of South City Kitchen....
The Big Gay Supper Club meets for dinner next at Waterhaven on Dec. 8....
The Bruery has been making a name for itself out in the highly competitive Southern California beer scene with its Belgian-inspired artisanal beers and has recently begun distributing in Georgia. Saison Rue is a Belgian/French farmhouse-style ale brewed with malted rye and fermented with wild Brettanomyces yeast, giving it a tart fruitiness and a distinct spiciness. It is bottle-conditioned, unfiltered, and presented in a 750-ml champagne bottle with a cork and wire cage closure. If you are looking for a unique beer to serve with Thanksgiving dinner, this is an excellent choice; but be forewarned that it is not a typical saison.
I was keeping it "tight." A term professional chefs toss around pretty loosely to define things being done correctly. It was 6:45 in the morning. There was farm-fresh asparagus boiling away in a properly salted pot of water. An egg, from another local farm, was gently cooking in a glass jar. This was a rather neat idea, I thought, as it kept the egg a beautiful shape and enabled me to get it to a nice, soft, custardy texture. A whisk was busy emulsifying a little olive oil and butter into some egg yolks and vinegar. A sabayon or hollandaise, take your pick.
It was the type of breakfast you might get in a very good bed and breakfast. Not overly creative. Tasty, simple, beautiful food.
Cold milk and a freshly pureed apple with a dash of cinnamon finished the prep list. And as I awaited my client, I checked off on her dossier. She has restrictions on her salt and sugar intake. Only fresh ingredients. Proteins cooked well-done. For that matter, vegetables, grains, everything cooked super tender. And most important, dessert (apple puree in this case) must be kept out of sight until its appropriate serving time. Or else...
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