Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bone's

I finally collected on my bet on the 2008 election.  My reward was a steak at the best restaurant in Atlanta. Dimitrios finally came in from Europe and took me to Bone's.  The wait was definitely worth it.

I started with a Bibb-style salad with some tart apple slices, bleu cheese, etc.  It was very subtly done, with all the tastes in place but none overwhelming the other.  I could even taste the lettuce, which can get lost.  I usually order a wedge salad with a big bleu cheese dressing when I get a steak.  I'm glad I went for something more subdued.


The steak closest to the camera is mine, a dry aged ribeye.  Dimitrios's bone-in filet is in the back. In between we have his hash browns and my sweet potato.

When I saw a dry aged steak on the menu I had to try it.  (They have a non-dry aged ribeye as well.)  I've had dry aged meat a few times before and the process definitely adds to the flavor of the meat. My steak wasn't overpoweringly meaty, which can happen if one isn't careful with aging.  It was also very tender and juicy with wonderful flavor.  The bone-in filet is a cut that I haven't heard of before.  It was a fairly small but thick cut of meat with a big bone.  Dimitrios said that he really enjoyed it.

I think that Dimitrios won the battle of the side dishes.  The hash browns were formed into a perfect patty with fried onions and sour cream on top.  The combination of tastes and textures was a perfect accompaniment to a steak.  My sweet potato had a lot of butter, brown sugar, and pecans on it. While a good idea, both of us found it a little overpowering.

This sort of meal calls for dessert.  I had the dark chocolate mousse and Dimitrios had the creme brulee. Both our desserts were subtly done and not overpoweringly sweet.  We ended up taking some of the dessert home but it was a wonderful way to cap off the meal.

Bone's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Bones

Crawfish Shack Seafood

Category: Worth a drive
Summary: Excellent shellfish boils, not to mention surprisingly low prices

I've heard very good things about Crawfish Shack on Buford Highway for awhile but I hadn't managed to get there.  A dinner with my friends Sudeshna and Saibal turned out to be the right opportunity.  Be forewarned---this place is very difficult to see from Buford Highway.  The sign is totally invisible from the northbound side of the road, which is the side that it's on.  All I can say is drive slowly and have a passenger look out---it's in a newish strip mall.

The place itself is simple but bright and cheery.  You order at the counter and eat at big picnic tables, but the decor is new and fresh. When I asked our server for a refresher course on how to eat a crawfish, he went back to the kitchen, got a demonstration crawfish, and gave us a wonderful demo.  (You pull the front part of the shell up as if lifting the hood of a car, then pull off the tail. To get at the tail meat, you break off the tip of the tail and then work off the rest of the shell.)



This, believe it or not, is the combo for one, which was plenty to feed 2 1/2 people. The bowl is 10 inches in diameter, so this is a lot of seafood, not to mention some potatoes and corn thrown in for good measure. Although they have fried food, we opted for boiled/steamed.  The boil, or spices put into the water, is spicy. It imparts a wonderful flavor but isn't overpowering; there is just a limit to how much pepper you can get into a piece of food by boiling.  The crawfish were the spiciest; we weren't sure whether they absorb more spice or are just cooked in a different way. We all agreed that the crawfish was the best, partly due to the spiciness of the boil but also because of the inherent tastiness of these little creatures.

Crawfish is also a great social dinner.  Like fondue and some other dishes, it's impossible to eat quickly. The slow pace gives you plenty of time to talk and actually enjoy your dinner rather than just stuffing it down so you can get back to the TV.

My overall reaction is wow.   I'm already thinking of who else I can invite to join me for a crawfish dinner.


Crawfish Shack Seafood on Urbanspoon

Crawfish Shack Seafood LLC

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ou For U Dairy Vegetarian Cafe

Category: A nice stop in the Perimeter Mall area.
Summary: Tasty and healthy vegetarian food.

Please don't ask me what the name of this restaurant means---I have no idea. But I am glad I stopped by. I was in the Perimeter Mall area and needed a fast lunch; I was in the mood for something moderately healthy. When I saw a sign on Peachtree Dunwoody Road for a vegetarian restaurant, I decided to give it a try.

I thorougly enjoyed my lunch.  I had a lentil soup and the falafel platter. The lentil soup was fine; the falafel platter really got my attention. The bread was pillowy and warm, obviously fresh. The falafel was pretty good. The vegetable medley that served as a bed was very bright and fresh tasting, a perfect accompaniament. The hummus came with an oil dressing and was another good complement. As you can see, they also get Brownie points for food styling.

OU for U Café on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Decatur: Golden Buddha

category: interesting Chinese/Korean restaurant
summary: ask for the special menu---ordering the right thing is important

Hyesoon and I went to Golden Buddha on Clairmont for dinner. I've driven by there dozens of times and never been in. Even if I had, I probably wouldn't have ordered the right things. It turns out that this restaurant has a big reputation among Georgia Tech students as a good place for Chinese/Korean food that is good and reasonable. The restaurant is totally nondescript and, like many Asian restaurants, have a special menu that they generally give to Asians but not Causasians. I suspect that some of their dishes are ho-hum, but I definitely enjoyed our meal from the special menu.
 
My favorite dish was the seafood soup (which, by the way, is on the regular menu).  This large bowl is a half-serving.  It is chock full of seafood, a healthy dose of noodles, and a little greenery.  The broth was delicious. It was spicy but just enough to tickle your tongue. The taste overall was very smooth, almost buttery. I'd like to know the recipe.

We also had some chicken wings, although we had to take most of them home. This was also a big dish. The sauce isn't hot even though it could pass for a chili sauce in look. I would call them Chinese Buffalo wings but they aren't hot. The sauce was just sweet enough to balance the crispy fried chicken.

Golden Buddha Chinese on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pizza, or My Final Descent Into Ice-Induced Madness

OK, so it's been awhile since I've been outside. I didn't cook anything special on Wednesday, but that just caused me to start to idly consider what I would make if I could actually get to the store. I also spent too much time browsing cooking Web sites, always a dangerous pastime. I finally realized that although I had depleted a great deal of my stock of foodstuffs, I did have everything I needed to make pizza.

I made pizza several times while I lived in New Jersey but never made my own dough. Most pizzerias and Italian bakeries will sell you a pizza dough from their stacks of round, blonde domes that they make every day. Today, I made my own dough. The recipe is the essence of bread baking: flour, warm water, yeast, a little salt. After breakfast, I mixed the dough (thank goodness for Kitchen Aid mixers) and let it go through the two rounds of rising. I may have rushed it just a tad, but I was able to have a late lunch.


This photo doesn't do justice to the dough stretching process---I only have two hands so I couldn't stretch and take a picture at the same time. The basic technique, which I learned by watching the pros at work, is to continually work around the edge of the dough. Lightly pinch the edge of the dough and stretch it just a little bit, then move your hands to the next position and repeat. Holding it above the table seems dangerous at first but gravity helps stretch the dough---just make sure you keep it moving to avoid tearing. The dough should be very thin, almost worrisomely so. Just remember that it will rise while in the oven.


As you can see, my technique isn't perfect yet, but I did get it pretty thin.  I covered the pizzas with my homemade tomato sauce and some high-quality shredded Parmesan. Another tip I learned from ordering too many pizzas was that cornmeal makes helps to move the pizza on the pan---the grains of cornmeal act as little tiny ball bearings. I cooked the pizza at 500 degrees, as hot as my oven would go. It took no more than five minutes to cook them through.


Here is the result. The edge was pale because my oven wasn't the 800 degrees that many pizza restaurants use. But overall this was my best effort at homemade pizza so far. The crust was properly thin. The hot oven gave it the right crusty on the bottom, chewy on the inside texture that is the mark of real pizza. I probably used a little too much sauce, but the only downside was a little mess as it dribbled. A hot, fresh pizza is a treat on any day but it was especially welcome today.

As the pizzas cooked, I noticed that the ice was finally melting. Not a moment too soon...

Build-Up to Cabin Fever: My Personal Fondue Party

I admit it, the tortillas I talked about in my last entry weren't my only symptom of cabin fever.  (Nor were they the last---wait until you see the next blog post.)  On Monday night, as the massive sheet of ice was being laid down over the city, I held my own personal fondue party.

This wasn't quite as crazy as it may sound.  I've had a fondue set for 20 years and never used it.  My friends and I decided last summer that this winter was the time to break it out and have a fondue party.  If you're wondering why I waited six months, you've never had cheese fondue.  Although wonderful, it has the density of concrete as it sits in your stomach.  Hibernation is the only path to digestion.  Eating it in Atlanta's hot summer could very well make your stomach ferment and blow up like a balloon.  Before the storm, I had tried to organize a small group of friends who could tolerate possible mistakes to make a test run but schedules didn't mesh.  So, as the storm approached, I decided to make a very small batch myself while I sat out the storm, which I really didn't think would last much past Tuesday.

The fondue itself was quite easy.  I used a combination of Gruyere and Ementhaler cheeses, about evenly split, which I melted on the stove.  The traditional recipe calls for white wine to improve the cheese's fluidity.  I tried apple juice, which worked very well.  A little bit of cornstarch slurry gets thrown in to bring everything back to the right consistency.

My fondue stand was ready to go.  I had originally assumed that I needed Sterno, but my burner runs just fine on rubbing alcohol.  I cut up some bread and Granny Smith apple for dipping.  The result was very enjoyable and a great antidote to an icy night.  The only thing that I need to work on was my heat control---it takes very little heat to keep the cheese liquid.

Any such meal of course demands dessert, so after a little rest I prepared a chocolate fondue.  I used unsweetened baking chocolate and cream but no sugar.  I used fruit, including some of the apple, for dipping.  I wasn't sure the baking chocolate would really taste good enough, but I was surprised at how enjoyable it was.  I do suspect that a fancy eating chocolate would be even better.

Overall, the evening was a big success.  I tested out a new recipe without subjecting anyone to possible disasters and I entertained myself on a cold winter evening.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tortillas, or Adventures in Cabin Fever

As I write this, Atlanta is frozen in an armor suit of ice. The city has been closed for two days and tomorrow promises to be just as bad.  I haven't been out since Sunday. What is one to do?  Obviously, cook something that I otherwise would never get to, namely tortillas.

I love fresh tortillas---warm, supple, smelling of lard. The Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego is my tortilla mecca. Their front window is filled with a group of women who spend all evening rolling, patting, and cooking tortillas on a huge flat stove. Although I wouldn't make tortillas at home regularly, making them once is both a treat and an homage.

It took a day of isolation to hatch the idea of making tortillas. I spent last night plotting my strategy. I had bought a bag of masa (corn flour) while shopping for the ingredients for my black mole sauce over the summer. I prefer corn tortillas; in my ignorance I consider them the One True Tortilla. I chose Alton Brown's recipe. The tortilla is one of those deceptively subtle dishes. It has only a few ingredients---flour, salt, lard, water---but the art is in the subtlety of their combination. I had to add a lot more water than the recipe suggested. In retrospect, my problem was almost certainly in substituting corn flour into a wheat flour recipe. After two additions of water, the dough finally formed a ball but was still crumbly.  I added some more water by hand.  As it turns out, even that wasn't enough.  After mixing the dough, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest.

I formed the dough into little balls, which gave me one last chance to knead it. As I rolled them out, I could tell that they were still a little too crumbly.  Sure enough, they broke up a little as I transferred them to the pan. Despite this flaw, they cooked up nicely. The tortilla puffs up just slightly as it cooks even though it has no leavening.

And despite my C-level execution, they tasted great off the griddle.  They were too crumbly to bend or wrap, but that didn't matter once they were in my mouth. After an initial sacrificial tortilla eaten straight, I ate them with some chicken cooked in my black mole sauce from the summer, which I had the foresight to can. A little chicken, black mole, and tortilla all in one bite. A wonderful way to bring a little warmth into a cold day.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Morelli's Ice Cream

Morelli's is on the southeast side of town.  I first spotted it while on the way to the Starlite Drive-In.  Some of the local buzz finally pushed me over the edge to make a trip just for ice cream.

This is a traditional ice cream stand in physical format.  That means there is no outside seating. Luckily, in the winter you can always sit in your car.  The ice cream is much richer than your typical stand, though.  I was in a traditionalist mood and went for a scoop of chocolate.  It was very creamy.  The chocolate note was there but not overdone; this wasn't some strange, offbeat style of chocolate.  They do have a variety of unusual flavors that seem to rotate, given the long list on their Web site.  Overall, I'm not sure how Morelli stacks up to my all-time worldwide favorites---I still dream of Rick's Rather Rich in Palo Alto---but it is definitely the richest ice cream I've had in Atlanta.  This experience also makes me want to track down a Westside Creamery truck for comparison.

By the way, have you ever wondered why humans eat ice cream in the dead of winter?  On my visits to Denmark, I've been astounded by the number of ice cream shops.  I've never been there in winter, but my friends assure me that they eat ice cream all winter long.  And winter there is not only cold and damp but dark---not the sunny experience you see in ice cream ads.  Human nature is a wonderful thing...

Morelli's Gourmet Ice Cream & Desserts on Urbanspoon

Morellis Gourmet Ice Cream

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Goldberg's Bagels

Category: Chain of neighborhood restaurants
Summary: An honest deli experience
Circumstances led me to a late lunch/early dinner at Goldberg's Bagels. I originally was looking for a snack but I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and eat a little early.  The best way to try more than one thing was the soup and sandwich combo. This is the chicken soup, my favorite part of the meal.  It was rich, filled with meat and vegetables. I give it an A for presentation, too. As you can see, they also serve Dr. Brown's soda, a New York favorite that is not always easy to find here.


Although I was tempted by the reuben, I couldn't resist the hot pastrami.  I tend to have reference dishes at certain types of restaurants---things I order on my first trip so that I can easily compare to other restaurants. The pastrami was definitely tasty. The pickle was fine but not my style; I prefer a pickle with more snap in both texture and acid.

Overall, I can't quite rank Goldberg's in the same class as some of the top NYC delis.  But it is authentic and good. They have an extensive deli counter that seems to have everything you want. Overall, pretty good and much easier than getting on a plane.

Goldberg's Bagel Company & Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thelma's Rib Shack (Thelma's Kitchen)

Category: Atlanta institution, worth a drive
Summary: Wonderful home-cooked Southern food

Thelma's Rib Shack (a.k.a. Thelma's Kitchen) is an Atlanta institution, having been here for decades.  Their old location was closer to Georgia Tech; they are now located on Auburn Avenue in the Martin Luther King district. They are extremely easy to get to, just around the corner the I-75 off-ramp.  Urbanspoon for some reason lists Thelma's as closed, but reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.


I've been there once before.  The atmosphere is classic Southern steam table cafeteria; the staff are very friendly and courteous. This time I decided to try the fried chicken (despite the restaurant's name).  As you can see, the food is served with real silverware and china, a sign of they pride they take in their work.  The chicken was perfect: crisp crust and tender, juicy flesh.  The greens were tender and kissed with pork, with very subtle flavors. The sweet potatoes were flavored with butter and sugar, sweet to the taste but not overpowering.  The cornbread was excellent.

Thelma's Kitchen on Urbanspoon