Monday, May 25, 2009

Nuevo Cantina Laredo

Nuevo Cantina Laredo is not that easy to find. It's buried in the West side industrial district, across the street from the Pepsi bottling plant. (You can guarantee that the Pepsi bottler will be hard to find in this town.) Even so, it's always crowded. I tried it for dinner for the first time the other night and barely got a table without waiting at 5:20 PM. I've been there for lunch several times and have had to wait every time.

I couldn't make up my mind, so I ordered the chicken mole and a side tamale. The mole sauce is just right, with the chocolate and savory tastes well balanced. The tamale is quite good. I've had tamales hand made by someone's grandmother that were better, but this had the corn wrapper and was overall very good. My neighbors at the next table suggested the lobster, which gives me an excuse to go back soon.

Although I certainly enjoy exotic dishes, I don't eat them every day.  What I find most satisfying day in and day out is food that tastes like someone's mother made it.  Nuevo Cantina Laredo fits that bill.  The food is hearty, full of taste, and always the way it should be.  It's been around forever and I expect it to still be here when I retire.

Nuevo Laredo Cantina on Urbanspoon

Pig 'n Chik

Pig 'n Chik has several locations. I've tried the Chamblee location. It's pretty easy to miss---a small location in a small strip mall.

I decided to try the chicken, just to prove to myself that I don't have to order ribs every time I go to a BBQ place. The beans were pretty nondescript. The cole slaw was fine but not exciting. The chicken was pretty good. It was served off-the-bone, which is definitely easier to eat although it does take away a bit of the carnivore vibe. The meat was very juicy and tender. In addition to the usual red sauce, it also serves a mustard-based sauce, which I really enjoyed.

I must say that on a more recent visit, I had the ribs and was very disappointed. They were dry to the point of leatheriness.

Pig-n-Chik BBQ on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chamblee: Contigo Peru


Let's go with the Peruvian seafood theme---who would have guessed that Chamblee is the epicenter? Contigo Peru is at the intersection of Chamblee-Dunwoody Road and Peachtree, about a quarter mile from Salsa con Sabor.



I tried a seafood with rice dish. As you can see, it is a rice/seafood stew like a paella. The seafood was primarily calamari and shrimp. The rice was cooked with peas and other vegetables. It came out quickly but the dish had obviously been cooking for quite some time---very savory. The spicing was mild. I'm not sure what the green condiment was, but its spicy kick belied its relatively meek appearance.

Contigo Peru II on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chamblee: Salsa con Sabor


Salsa con Sabor is part of the old new Chamblee. It's located in an ex-chain restaurant on Peachtree. I've been there twice and the food has been the best of home cooking---the home cooking of a long-lost relative since I can't say that I'm an expert on Perivuan cuisine. The firt time, I had a Cuban sandwich that really made my day.



On my second visit, I had pork with plantains. The presentation was very different than what I had expected. I assumed, based on my limited experience with plantains, that they would be sauteed. As you can see, they came in a large round ball---somewhat like mashed potatoes but with a crispy crust. The pork was very savory and juicy. This style of preparing the plantations is the right method for this dish---if the plantains had been fried in butter the dish would have been much too greasy. The rice is Puerto Rican style, with mushrooms and what appear to be capers.

French toast with Nutella(TM)

Why didn't I think of this before? Crepes with Nutella are a staple of French street food. It works just as well on French toast. My only challenge was to spread it over the bread without tearing the bread apart. But visual aesthetics are not the main goal here...

Fritti

Fritti, on North Highland Avenue, specializes in Italian-style artisanal pizza, as compared to New York style. So let's get right to it.



I decided to try the sausage and green pepper pizza. The sausage was very dense, which I enjoy; I thought its spicing was good but not excellent. As with an Italian-style pizza, the cheese and sauce were applied in relatively small quantities as compared to New York style. This gives your mouth more space to enjoy the bread. A recent review in Atlanta Cuisine said that Fritti's bread isn't very bready, a judgement with which I concur. However, the texture and crunch were just right.


My dessert, a chocolate and panna cotta tart, was excellent. The chocolate wasn't overpowered by added sugar. The bite of the chocolate was balanced by the panna cotta, which is a more natural way to achieve the richness that one wants in a dessert. Fritti on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Vortex Midtown


Let me say upfront that I am too old to eat at the Vortex and I know it.  They say they card people at the door to keep underage drinkers out, but it's actually to keep out senior citizens like me.  I somehow escaped their dragnet.  I went there at the behest of my colleague Gabe Loh, who brought a faculty posse with him:




The Vortex has been on TV for its burgers loaded with a wide range of cholesterol-laden accessories.  Because I am elderly, I stuck with the Plain Old Burger, on the excuse that it let me concentrate on the meat.  The meat and the bun were both of very high quality.   I ordered fried plantains with mine, which were much more enjoyable than fries would have been.  Here it is:


Vortex Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Varasano's

Varasano's has been open for about two months.  Their menu is purely pizza---even if you want something as Italian as chicken parmesan, you're out of luck.  This dedication is entirely appropriate for a shrine to pizza.

The pizza is more like those I've had in Italy.  The crust is thinner than even a New York pizza.  There is also somewhat less cheese on it.  Remember, in Italy pizza is regarded as a snack while in America it is a meal.  The crust is outstanding---I'm tempted to say that my favorite part of the pizza was eating the edge.  The edge has a slight burn, which is exactly what a handmade pizza is supposed to have.  The cheese and sauce are both very delicate.  The pizza was a medium size, but because the ingredients were so light, I ate the whole thing without feeling stuffed.

I also had a Caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil).  Its presentation was interesting, with small pools of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette on the side.  That did make it a little difficult to get the dressing on the salad, but I guess I could get used to it.

I had the Italian donuts for dessert.  They didn't call it zeppole, which is a staple of the pizzeria.  It's just fried dough sprinkled with sugar, if one can refer to fried dough as simply "just".  A typical zeppole is a fairly nondescript blob, but these were healthy-sized bars.  They came with a raspberry dipping sauce.  Mine were served hot out of the fryer.  They were very light and a great end to the meal.
Varasano's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Eating Around Georgia Tech: St. Charles Deli

There are spots around Atlanta---Toco Hill, for example---where one can find good delicatessen food, but let's face it, this isn't New York.  St. Charles Deli in Tech Square is a good representative of the deli genre.  I ate there today with my colleague Karsten Schwan.  Today, I decided to try the Philly cheesesteak.  I was quite satisfied with the result.  They use provolone cheese; I've always been appalled that many of the cheesesteak faithful use Cheese Whiz.  I've had their hot pastrami on many occasions with great enjoyment, particularly when I go for the extra meat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ray's in the City

I had been thinking about writing a post titled "Is there good food in downtown Atlanta?" and answering no, but that's because I didn't know about Ray's in the City.  I reviewed Ray's in the Water earlier and I was similarly impressed by the city version, which is across the street from the Hyatt Regency.  I do have one minor complaint, however.  Although the salmon itself was wonderful, the blackening was desultory at best.  A blackened piece of meat is supposed to have a thin but distinct crust made from burned spices.  The coating on this fish was more like what you'd get from a quick pass with an airbrush.  I missed both the spicy taste and the texture.  But as I say, the salmon itself was very well prepared.  My Ray's salad was also excellent.  It had a great combination of cheese, nuts, and fruits in addition to the lettuce. Ray's in the City on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 11, 2009

Announcing the Atlanta Donut Hamiltonian

The Atlanta Donut Hamiltonian will be held on Monday, June 1.  This event will tour every independent donut shop inside the perimeter.  We will sample and compare their wares, hopefully with some live blogging and without throwing up.  Stay tuned for more details.

Vita

Vita is in south Buckhead.  As is the fashion in Atlanta, it bills itself as a New York style restaurant.  Certainly no restaurant in New York would be this spacious, either vertically or horizontally. But the food that I tried was quite good and arguably reminiscent of an upscale NYC Italian restaurant.  After spending the day testifying by video in a New Jersey court case, I thought that an Italian experience was called for.

I started with the prosciutto and melon.  This dish is sometimes served naked, but here it was served with a balsamic vinegar dressing, which complemented it very nicely.    For my main dish, I tried the chicken scarpariello, which is somewhat reminiscent of chicken cacciatore.  This dish is a stew with chicken, green beans, and potatoes. The chicken came with a crust applied before it was cooked in the stew.   The crust was gave the chicken a nice texture that survived well through the stewing.  The flavor was very rich.  My only small complaint was that some of the green beans were served with their ends intact.  The chef may consider this trendy but I just think it's annoying.  Normally, I would have tried the cannoli as one of my reference desserts, but the molten center chocolate cake was too tempting.  I made the right choice.  It came with a scoop of whipped cream next to the cake that looked like ice cream but was much lighter and an excellent complement.


Tin Lizzy's

Tin Lizzy's is across the street from Oakland Cemetery, near Six Feet Under.  A musician was playing in the bar while I was there, not bad for mid-afternoon.  I started off with the black bean soup, which is great comfort food.  I would put it in the same ballpark as the version I had at Stone Soup Kitchen, although I would have to put Stone Soup's slightly higher in ranking.  I then had a soft taco.  Tin Lizzy's are considerably larger than those at Taqueria del Sol.  Depending on your appetite, one may or may not be enough to make a meal.  My taco had a nice bite to it thanks to the peppers and the meat was very well prepared.  The taco was served on a whole wheat tortilla.  That's an interesting choice; I don't think that it made much difference to the taste or texture one way or the other. Tin Lizzy's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Harmony Vegetarian Chinese Restaurant

Harmony is in a strip mall near the intersection of Buford Highway and Chamblee Tucker Road. They do have a menu of vegetarian dishes that goes well beyond the standard Chinese restaurant, including a number with faux meats.

I tried two dishes. Both of them were fried and both were pleasantly salty.  When you don't have meat to work with, you have to add palate interest some other way.  First was the fried stuffed eggplant, which came with a sauce that physically resembled plum sauce but was more salty than sweet.  The very crispy crust made a good contrast to the soft texture of the fried eggplant.   My main dish was fried and salty bean curd.  The tofu was cut into longish rectangles, coated with a batter, and fried.  No sauce for this one, but once again, the crust contrasted with the soft tofu.  The crust also had a good dose of salt that brought out the salt monster in me.

Harmony Vegetarian Chinese on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 8, 2009

Stone Soup Kitchen

Stone Soup Kitchen is in Cabbagetown, a few blocks from Oakland Cemetery.  The outside of the building is modest, but inside the restaurant is very nicely appointed.  It's a vegetarian restaurant; some of the dishes are vegan.

I tried three things today.  I enjoyed the Cuban black bean soup.  That was perhaps unfair after having had a meat-rich chili at Taqueria del Sol yesterday; it's impossible to fully replicate the qualities of meat.  But my soup was very tasty.  It was nicely spiced but not what I would consider hot. I actually got quite a zing out of my salad, thanks to the balsamic dressing.  The entire salad was excellent---nice cheese, very fresh lettuce and other vegetables.

I'm glad that I listened to my inner glutton and got the peach cobbler.  The biscuit was outstanding.  Some cobbler biscuits are hard and tough, others are mushy.  This was just right.  They served it warm with cool whipped cream.  Who says vegetarian food can't be decadent?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

OK Cafe

OK Cafe is at West Paces Ferry Road and I-75.  The decor is 1940's wood coffee shop.  The effect is spooky---I know that everything there is new but I feel like I have stepped back into an old restaurant in the mountains.

The menu is not ironic but accurately reflects what one would expect from this sort of restaurant.  But there are twists.  The meats, for example, are hormone-free and organic, which is always welcome.  And my garden salad was very well done. The lettuce was very crisp; the balsamic vinaigrette dressing had a wonderful bite.  I thought about getting the turkey and dressing, but I decided to go with the hamburger.  I wish that the patty had been a little thicker, just for mouth feel, but it was very well prepared. The pickle slices that came with it were breaded and fried, something I've never seen before. (Is this, like fried okra with complete pods, another show of my naivete?)  The french fries were of the thin variety. They had a perfect combination of crispy outside and tender inside.
OK Cafe on Urbanspoon

Taqueria del Sol

Taqueria del Sol is another TV-famous spot in Atlanta.  They have several locations, including one near Georgia Tech, but I've only been to the Decatur location so far.  They do huge volume but everything moves very quickly.  Speed is good for tacos, which are best fresh.  Making tacos in volume allows them to keep all the components of the taco fresh and tasty.

I had two tacos today.  The Memphis had BBQ and cole slaw.  The meat was spicy but not overly spicy.  The carnita was more classic.  In both cases, the tortillas were fresh and wonderful.  I also had a small bowl of chili verde, which really was the favorite part of the meal.  Green chile isn't that easy to find in this part of the country.  This cup made excellent use of the chiles as well as the meat.
Taqueria Del Sol on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 4, 2009

Decatur: Johnny's New York Style Pizza

Still going with the pizza theme here.  Johnny's is near the Decatur MARTA station.  It has a refreshing college look.  It's lived-in.  References to bands and concerts abound.  I've been spending too much time in suburbia.

The pizza does live up to the advertising as New York style. I got two slices, one vegetarian and one meat.  Once again, your mileage may vary since this wasn't a fresh pie.  But they were good.  You should also beware that I got through half of my first slice thinking that the meat slice was lacking in meat before I realized that I was eating the vegetarian slice.  But it was good---I loved the strong presence of olives.  The meats on the other slice were well-spiced and tasty.  The crust was quite good and of the proper thinness and chewiness.  My only fault with this pizza is my general complaint with Atlanta pizza, namely the cheese.  I think there are two ways to go with pizza cheese.  Either you use an extremely fresh mozarella or you go with the gluey Mafia-style cheese.  One of the mob's rackets is to require their local pizzerias to buy third-rate cheese at inflated prices.  The taste is one of those so-bad-its-good things. 

I can't resist commenting on the name for the benefit of Atlanta pizza entrepreneurs.  If you're really going for the New York feel, you have only two choices of name: a variation on Ray's or the blue-label generic choice, Tony's Pizzeria.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Zocalo

Zocalo is in the party district of midtown, so it's not surprising that its signature dishes are margaritas and guacamole.  Today, I decided to stick with the chicken mole.  That's one of my reference dishes---I order it the first time I go to a Mexican restaurant to see how it stacks up. The bad news is that one part of my chicken breast was burnt to the texture of balsa wood---someone wasn't paying attention.  But to their credit, the mole sauce was excellent. It was well balanced with a strong chocolate note that didn't overpower the basic savoriness of the dish.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Buckhead: Pizza Fusion

I was in Buckhead today at lunch time and decided to go with the pizza theme, so I tried Pizza Fusion.  It's on Peachtree (is there any other street in Atlanta?).  They stress their organic ingredients, their use of hybrid and electric vehicles to deliver pizza, etc.  Their individual pizza has a more artisanal feel.  It has an irregular shape and edge; the shape reminds me of some of the pizzas I've had in Italy.  The pizza itself was fine, but it didn't give me a kick.  Organic foods that come from local, small farms usually have much richer flavors.  (One could say the same of non-organic foods from local farms.)  But not all organic food is grown by a lone hippie standing knee-deep in chemical-free mud.  Much of the organic food one finds today is industrially grown and has some of the same drawbacks as any industrial farm product.  While organic techniques may confer some advantages, better taste necessarily one of them.