Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Heirloom Market BBQ

Heirloom Market BBQ's location certainly pays homage to BBQ tradition but it's heck to find, particularly if you are driving in from the west. You are looking for this building on Akers Mill Road. The "food mart" next door seems to specialize in liquid foods of the fermented and distilled varieties, just like so many BBQ places, but it serves truly outstanding and original food. The entire place is tiny. The order stand could fit in a shoebox, there are only a couple of small tables and counters, and the kitchen staff isn't any better off for space. I was there in mid-afternoon and didn't have any problems finding a place to sit but I understand that the wait in line at lunch can be very long.
I went for the North Carolina pork sandwich with Korean sweet potatoes. The pork was tender while retaining its texture. It was served on a great egg bun; I consider white bread to be my sole complaint with BBQ culture. I'm not sure what was Korean about the sweet potatoes, which were extremely fresh potato chips, but they were so good that I had to restrain myself. One of the standards sauces is Korean, which I used on my sandwich. The place definitely has a Korean bent, as evidenced by their home-canned cucumber kimchi. Heirloom Market BBQ on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Alpharetta: La Casa Italian Grill

La Casa is in a house in what I think of as old downtown Alpharetta. The atmosphere is definitely elegant without being showy. The service is of the excellent, friendly, attentive, yet unassuming style that I have come to expect from Italian family restaurants.
I staretd with a salad, which was very fresh and light. My main course was a Margherita-style pizza. The crust was excellent, chewy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The sauce was rich with tomato flavor. The cheeses were fresh and excellent. Overall, I had a wondeful meal. La Casa Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Sandy Springs: Hearth Pizza

Jennifer and I had lunch at Hearth Pizza. It's in the Whole Foods shopping center on always-crowded Roswell Road. The atmosphere is upscale casual. The decor is rich, dark woods. The bar is central to the space and it has its share of TV screens but they aren't too obtrusive. The walls sport photos of some of the most famous New York pizza venues. Hearth Pizza Tavern on Urbanspoon
We started with salads and some meatballs. The meatballs were rich and moist and the tomato sauce was of the fresh variety, populated by small chunks of tomato. We then followed with a pizza. Beware, their pizzas are fairly small. Their larger size was just enough for both of us. The pizza was OK but not, in my humble view, entirely worthy of the surroundings. The crust didn't have the chewy/crusty combination that is the essence of New York pizza. We also found the service to be a little spotty; we generally had to ask for help rather than being checked on. Overall, come here for the atmosphere, not the food.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pressure Cooker Candied Ginger

I made candied ginger a few years ago. It's not something I would do every day but I had a lot of fun doing it. I recently acquired a pressure cooker and it inspired an interesting idea to me: why not make candied ginger in the pressure cooker? It should be very soft and flavorful.
Here is the result. I peeled two large ginger roots, cut them into small cubes, and put them in the pressure cooker with heavily sugared water. The traditional method first boils the ginger in plain water to soften it and then again in sugar water to candy it. The resulting candy was very tender but still with the characteristic ginger texture. It was also sweet without being overpowering. The traditional method leaves a lot of sugar crystallized around the ginger. The pressure cooker gives a much more subtle result. The ginger stays moist even after it cools but you can dry it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. That inspired me to dip it in chocolate.
While I was in the business of dipping candies, I also decided to make a batch of caramel. I ended up making two: the first one was just a little too hard and the second one was very soft. The temperature I cooked the second batch was only 3-4 degrees below the first batch but the result was very different. The candies were soft enough that gravity would flatten them out just a little. But that is a perfect consistency for chocolate dipping.
Here is the final result, thanks to my newfound chocolate skills. I dipped the ginger in small clusters which makes a very nice visual presentation. Dark chocolate is the perfect complement to the subtleness of the pressure cooker ginger. And the caramels are just luscious.

Marietta: Red Elephant Thai Cuisine

A business lunch took me to Red Elephant, located near the intersection of the Perimeter and I-75 in the business park district. The atmosphere is bright and modern.
I started with Tom Kha Kai, the chicken coconut soup and followed with mixed vegetables and tofu. Everything was pleasant but the spices, one of my favorite parts of Thai food, barely raise their heads. This is a fine place for someone who is new to Thai food or not a big spice person but I wouldn't call it adventuresome. Red Elephant Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gnaw Bone IN: Gnaw Mart

Yes, Gnaw Bone is the name of the town, to the extent that this wide spot in the road qualifies as a town. To cap my meaty tour of the Midwest, Jennifer and Steve took me to Gnaw Mart to sample the specialty, the tenderloin sandwich.

They don't start to serve these beauties until 11 AM. We made sure that we got the first ones by ordering 20 minutes early. The tenderloin is broasted---fried in a pressure cooker. The result is very flavorful and tender. The potato chips were also handmade and just right. This isn't a light meal---I felt it for several hours. But the company and the food were both well worth the trip.

Lavendar Bistro on Urbanspoon

Bloomington IN: Little Zagreb

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So my IU host Steve Johnson arranged for us to have dinner at the local shrine to carnivores, Little Zagreb. No wimpy goulash here, this is all meat.
We started with a pork rib appetizer. The sauce is zesty but not overly hot. The pork was very tender and a good way to start out the meal. I also had a salad, my one lapse from meat frenzy.
Look at that steak. It was very tender and juicy. Plus it was huge---Steve and I split it. Eating the whole thing would have put me into a meat-induced coma but this was an excellent, classic steak dinner. Janko's Little Zagreb on Urbanspoon

Bloomington IN: Sugar and Spice

My visit to Indiana University started with a late arrival. So when I woke up, I was ready for a little treat. The IU Student Union is one of those things that makes college towns great: a hotel plus all the conveniences of student life. Sugar and Spice is a bakery in the student center that specializes in two of the basic food groups: sugar and caffeine. I believe the pastries are organic; the coffee definitely is. My cherry turnover was delicious, with flaky pastry and a very cherry filling. Sugar 'n Spice on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Johns Creek: Alessio's

A visit to my friends Yu and Fumin necessitated a pizza pickup. A quick search turned up Alessio's. It's a classic neighborhood pizza place: casual atmosphere, a little big screen action, diverse menu. We enjoyed our veggie pizza. The crust was a good balance of thin/crispy and chewy. It's the sort of comfort food that one can find a lot of in the Northeast. Alessio's Restaurant & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Penzeys Spices

Penzeys Spices opened on Roswell Road a couple of months go just a few doors down from Trader Joe's. Thanksgiving is prime time for spices so I was happy to have a chance to visit. I must say it smells great. The spices hit you as soon as you walk in the door. They carry a wide range of spices, some of them more common and some much more difficult to find. One of the best features of the store is that you can buy spices in small quantities at reasonable prices. Remember Alton Brown's admonishment to use spices within three months---buying small quantities makes sense for all but the most everyday spices. I bought some cardamom pods for myself that I haven't had a chance to try yet but should be a lot of fun. I also picked up a mixture of several varieties of cinnamon for my friend Baker Bob the Pie Master. I'm looking forward to seeing/tasting what he does with it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Umma

Umma opened a few weeks ago in Tech Square serving sushi and Korean food. It's a very simple, low-key but attractive place. Think of it as a brigher, happier version of all the noodle shops that workers go to every day for lunch. They have a variety of noodle and rice bowls. (I saw the bowls and they are huge.) I concentrated on my usual sushi: spicy tuna and salmon. Both were quite good. They came with a traditional assortment of appetizers including a few slices of omlette and a simple soup. They seem to be open quite late as well, very good news since late-night fare is surprisingly limited around Georgia Tech.
Umma's House Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brookhaven: Haven

The fact that Haven is an outstanding restaurant isn't exactly news. I visited there several years ago and had told myself on more than one occasion that I should go back. Hyesoon and I finally made it and had an excellent time. The food is outstanding. The atmosphere is upscale casual---you feel that people come there to have a night out without feeling pressure to reach some standard of attire and sophistication.
We each tried the Tuesday special: burger, cheese, bacon, fries, and glass of wine (or beer if you prefer). All the ingredients are carefully selected. The bacon was a standout, but when does bacon ever play second fiddle to any ingredient? The burger is messy in a fun way, which fits very well with Haven's atmosphere.
We tried the banana pudding for dessert. Those are little tiny vanila wafers on the side. The small size makes a cute and surprisingly effective twist on the classic combo. The pudding is served in a jelly jar and a full-size wafer just wouldn't work. Remember to dig in---the bananas are hidden in the middle of the jar. Haven on Urbanspoon

Haven

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sushi Kiku

Se Hun was very kind to take our group to Sushi Kiku on Lenox Road. Lunch is a large buffet, including sushi as well as hot food. Think of this place as an American version of a Japanese beer and sushi bar. Kiku looks in many ways like a sports bar: lots of screens playing football, lots of people talking over lunch. The food here is surprisingly good, particularly the sushi. I went back for a second helping of sushi and I found all my (boring, white girl) favorites: spicy tuna and salmon. Overall, convenient, fun atmosphere, and good food.
Sushi Kiku on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Decatur: Chinese Dhaba

The latest outpost of Chinese Dhaba is in Patel Plaza near North Dekalb Mall. (Their original location is on Jimmy Carter Boulevard.) It is a very simple place---you order at the counter---but brightly lit and cheery.
I asked for something interesting and was pointed to the bullet chicken. It's billed as dry, but it has a small amount of sauce clinging to the chicken. It's also laden with pieces of chili and garlic. It was very tasty and quite hot. I didn't cry but my nose did start to drip, so the heat definitely got my attention. Chinese Dhaba on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Alpharetta: Lee Garden

Lee Garden is off Holcomb Bridge Road, right behind Alpha Soda. It fits the classic Atlanta mold of a nondescript strip mall storefront hiding a pleasant family restaurant. The interior is simple but nice. The service was very polite and attentive.
The potstickers were quite good. I don't think they were made in a machine. The crust, one of my favorite parts, gave just enough crunch.
I had a chance to try two dishes. Beef with broccoli was fine but nothing spectacular; of course, it's a pretty basic dish. The tofu with pork crept up on me. It was seemingly simple but something in the sauce, I think a combination of ginger and pepper, really stayed with me. The sauce made this simple dish much more interesting and unusual. Lee Garden on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Des Moines: Maid-Rite

Mom insisted I try Maid-Rite. As it happened, it was on my to-do list thanks to a long piece on Maid-Rite on one of Alton Brown's shows. It's a very Iowa thing that dates back over 80 years. They call their sandwich a "loose meat" sandwich. As you can see, it's hamburger that has been broken apart and cooked with their own seasonings. The usual burger acoutrements are underneath the meat. I have no idea how someone came up with this idea, but it's not bad. It is very much like a burger but with a different texture. The seasonings are definitely subtle and I can't put my finger on what they are. But straight ground beef wouldn't taste the same. As fast food goes, this little sandwich is a nice change of pace. Maid-Rite on Urbanspoon

Des Moines: Woody's Smoke Shack

I've spied Woody's on my last few trips to Des Moines. Mom and I finally made it. It's not too far from Drake in a smallish old storefront. The decor is Texas-centric but the BBQ is pork-centric.
I tried the rib plate with my standard sides of beans and cole slaw. The meat was tender with just a little bit of tooth. It tasted slightly sweet off the bone but when I tried a spoonful of the sauce I found it was pretty vinegary. Could they use a glaze on the ribs rather than the sauce? The beans and slaw were both good but nothing flashy. Mom enjoyed her pork sandwich which came on the classic white bun. Woody's Smoke Shack on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

L'Ecole de Chocolate a le Maison Robert

This article is about a chocolate class I took at Maison Robert in Chamblee. I've been looking forward to taking a class there for a long time. I finally found one that fit into my schedule. The class lasted all morning, which we used to build a chocolate birdhouse. Chocolate is one of those materials that provides a well-rounded sensory and creative experience. It's very plastic and can be used to make all sorts of things. It is relatively easy to work with but it does respond to careful handling. It smells and feels wonderful as you work with it. Wood has many of the same characteristics, but chocolate is a lot more fun to eat than sawdust.
This is Chef Robert showing us how to temper chocolate. He is a very good teacher who mixes explanation to the group with one-on-one. Tempering chocolate is, he reminded us, a critical operation in working with chocolate. Tempering requires keeping the chocolate at exactly the right temperature, about 89 degrees F, so that it gives a smooth, glossy texture when cooled. You need to keep the chocolate at this temperature during all the time you are working with it. We spent the morning in a pas de deux with our bowl of chocolate: too cool and we warm it in the double boiler, too warm and we add a little chocolate to cool it down.
Chef Robert has a special and very clever technique for building a birdhouse. We used an egg mold to cast an egg that serves as the walls of the house.
We cut the birdhouse door and the flat spot for the stand by heating spots of the egg on a warm pan. We then spread chocolate into a sheet to make the roof and stand. We then glued them together with chocolate and applied some decorations. Voila!
My hands have smelled of chocolate all day long. This class has been a welcome respite from what turned out to be a long day in a long week. Maison Robert Fine Chocolates on Urbanspoon