Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Spice

Category: Excellent neighborhood Thai restaurants
Verdict: Very flavorful food that can be both familiar and unusual at the same time

Top Spice is one of those places I like so much that I didn't get around to blogging about it until now; I always knew that I would be back again.  It has several locations and I've eaten in two of them over the years.   I of course enjoy Thai food for all the reasons that so many people do: unusual yet understandable, wonderful and new combinations of spices, and relatively light and healthy.  I've always considered Top Spice to be an excellent example of the genre. Top Spice actually serves both Thai and Malaysian food, which we'll get to in a moment.

I didn't really need an appetizer, but I decided to try a roti murtabak, which I don't think I've had before.  It's a flatbread/pancake filled with ground beef, onion, and spices.  The filling was dry and I think that my mood would have been satisfied with something a little juicier, but I enjoyed it.

I really loved my main course dish, chicken rendang.  It is a Malaysian dish that I hadn't had it in several years but I remembered that I liked it.  The sauce on this dish gave me the sensation of the ground chili and curry spices with both my taste and the feel of the sauce on my mouth.  I could touch the spices with my tongue as I enjoyed their flavor.  It isn't every day that you get such a complete, intense food experience.  I did manage to save some so that I can enjoy the rest at breakfast tomorrow.

Top Spice Thai & Malaysian Csn on Urbanspoon

Top Spice Thai & Malaysian Cuisine

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Decatur: Cafe Lily

Category: Wonderful local place, worth regular visits
Verdict: Elegant Mediterranean food and outstanding service

Cafe Lily is one of those places that I've walked past dozens of times but never tried.  We went there tonight for a Georgia Tech event at the behest of my friend Yorai.  I had assumed from the name that the menu was vaguely French.  To my surprise, it is actually Greek and Mediterranean.  This turned out to be a wonderful treat.

When I realized that the menu was Greek-influenced, I had to try the horiatiki salad.  Those of you who read this blog regularly have read my occasional rant about the unwanted appearance of lettuce in the American Greek salad.  This, boys and girls, is what a Greek salad is meant to be.  The presentation I've seen in Greece is a little different, but this gets the list of ingredients exactly right: tomato, feta, onion, cucumber, olives, all in an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. This style of salad is both refreshing and satisfying.

Yorai steered me away from eggplant and toward lamb.  My lamb chops were excellent: juicy and tender.  They had a light covering of pepper herbs that wonderfully complemented the meat.  The potatoes were finished to exactly the right level of crunchiness.   If only all breakfast potatoes were so well prepared...

Cafe Lily on Urbanspoon

Cafe Lily

Decatur: The Chocolate Bar

Category: Special occasion friendly
Verdict: Fun combination of chocolate, food, and atmosphere

I've had my eye on The Chocolate Bar in downtown Decatur for awhile.  Tonight's lovely weather seemed like a good time to try it out.  The atmosphere is hip bar: they seem to have an extensive liquor collection and a layout that is conducive to talking, seeing, and being seen.  Their menu actually has a  good range of foods and one could probably have a whole meal there.

I had a small assortment of chocolates complemented by coffee.  The chocolates were fun but on the whole not a gourmand experience. All the ones I tried were filled with a chocolate cream (ganache), so I didn't get the variety of textures that I had hoped for.  They have a wide variety of flavors, but generally speaking they were slighlty artificial, rather than relying on native ingredients.  The cherry flavored chocolate, for example, was just that, not a chocolate that hid a cherry in its center.  I will say that the chocolates were stunning in appearance.

The Chocolate Bar - Decatur on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sandy Springs: Blue Grotto

Some friends and I tried Blue Grotto.  It's just off Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.  As you can see from the sign, it's a small-plate place, serving both sushi and tapas.  I concentrated on the sushi.  The tapas side seemed to me to be an eclectic mixture of small items.

This is the sasimi sampler.  The presentation was very nice.  The sasimi was certainly well prepared (some how well done doesn't seem like the right phrase for sasimi).  I think I would have to put this into the date place category---perfectly fine but not exciting.

Blue Grotto Sushi, Tapas & Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 22, 2011


Category: Good local place
Summary: Typical north Indian fare, but at least they're not afraid to use spices

I noticed the sign for Viceroy a good six months ago and finally made it there for lunch.  It's in the Wal-Mart shopping center on Ashford-Dunwoody Road.  The interior and service are both fairly upscale.

I stuck to the vegetarian side of the lunch buffet.  It was all pretty standard fare.  Not that there's anything wrong with that---a good, competent meal is always welcome.  And, in fact, I thought that Viceroy was more willing to use spices than quite a few of the local Indian restaurant.  All of the dishes had a little zing, whether from cumin, coriander, pepper, or other appropriate spices.  I ate up the onion chutney with a spoon and then went back for seconds.

By the way, is there a category for Indian-American food?  I've talked about the differences between Italian-American and Italian food, and Chinese food in this country is well known to be Chinese-American (yes, I'm talking about you, egg foo young).  I don't know enough about Indian food to be able to say, but I would guess that much of the food at Indian restaurants in this country has been adapted for both American ingredients and palates.  My bean dish, for example, was made with red kidney beans.  And I can't tell you how many times I've been to an Indian restaurant in the South, craving spicy food, and coming away with a meal that was as flavorful as baby food.

The Viceroy Royal Indian Dining on Urbanspoon

Viceroy Royal Indian Dining

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pappy Red's B-B-Que, a.k.a. P. Red's

Category: Great casual neighborhood place.
Verdict: Great ribs, unpretentious atmosphere.

I finally made it to Pappy' Red's, a.k.a. P. Red's.  It's on Chattahoochee off Howell Mill in the west side warehouse district.  Any BBQ place with an airplane on the roof is worth trying; I'm not sure why it took me so long.  This building used to be something non-descript.  They've renovated inside to be neat and tidy, but I wouldn't call this a P.C. BBQ place.  The clientele was also eclectic, just as befits a BBQ joint.

I loved my pork ribs.  They were the best I've had in awhile: meaty, juicy, very tender with just a hint of toothiness.  I liked their idea of serving a toasted hamburger bun in place of white bread.  I enjoyed the crunchiness and I've always hated that gummy white bread that so many places serve.  The rice and beans were spiced well but not hot.  I was pretty happy with the cole slaw.

P. Red's B.B.Que on Urbanspoon

P Reds BBQ

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pastries with Brioche Dough

I found a recipe for a brioche-dough coffee cake ring in Julia Child's book The Way to Cook and it has been in my dreams since then, waiting for the opportunity to be realized.  This week was that chance.  A brioche dough is rich to the tune of four eggs and 1-1/2 sticks of butter so it made perfect sense for a rich pastry.

I made one batch of dough and let it rise the prescribed 45 minutes.  I didn't see any change whatsoever.  So I did what any reasonable baker would do, namely fret about the weather and wonder if I had killed the yeast.  But I was also determined not to let this lump of dough get the best of me, so I made another batch of dough.  Four more eggs, 1-1/2 sticks of butter, and 45 minutes later, I had another batch of dough with no visible rise.  Desperate, I put a piece of the original batch of dough into the oven.  It puffed up fairly nicely, so I knew the yeast wasn't dead.  I decided to use the first batch to make a practice set of pastries and use the second batch for the final pieces.

Since the coffee cake recipe only required a half recipe of dough, I decided to use the rest for a chocolate babka.  If you don't know what a babka is, it is a wonderful chocolate roll that was the subject of a Seinfeld episode (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dinner_Party_(Seinfeld)).

After kneading the dough, I gave it a first rise of about an hour in a greased pan. I then punched it down and let it rise again overnight in the refrigerator.  In the morning, I rolled out and formed the dough. The ring coffee cake requires a long, narrow piece of dough.  The filling consisted of walnuts, raisins, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  My practice coffee cake included a little molasses in the filling, which gave it a wonderful flavor, but unfortunately I forgot to add it in the release version.
I then rolled up the dough very carefully and pinched it together as carefully as I could. I formed it into a ring and cut openings around the edge. I proofed it by putting it in a cool oven with a pan of steaming water for 15 minutes.
I then let it rise for a few hours before adding a streusel topping (sugar, flour, oil) and baking. The baking itself took only about 15 minutes.

The babka was simpler.  I rolled out the dough and spread a chocolate mixture on top.  The filling consisted of a Lindt bar finely chopped, some sugar, and a little cinnamon. I then rolled it up and put it into a bread pan for the final rise.  I worried that I hadn't put enough chocolate into the filling but the final result had plenty of chocolate.
The results tasted great.  In the end, it rose quite a bit. I just had to give it more time. I suspect that the dough takes longer to rise because it is so rich and heavy. I need to work on my hand skills to improve the visuals of the coffee cake, but the brioche was both rich and soft. That's a big ring, by the way---big enough to cover the entire serving platter. This recipe requires some time and effort but it is a great special treat that I plan to add to my reservoir.  I've made sweet rolls for 20 years as my baked treat and it's about time that I diversified...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Moe's Original BBQ

This one snuck up on me.  I saw a sign outside their door on 14th Street and thought they had just opened after a long prep.  As it turns out, they had been open for a month.  Moe's is a chain that fits the upscale BBQ trend, although I wouldn't call it totally buzzword compliant (no sign of the "O" word).  The decor fits the college theme very well.  They're located in the Kool Korners building.  I'm relatively new to this town but I understand that the building has  a long history with Georgia Tech.

I decided to go with a rib plate.  The slaw was vinegary, which I found very refreshing.  (Keep in mind, however, that I'm on a sour kick, so your tastes may vary.)  The beans were pretty sweet, overall well executed but nothing exciting.  The ribs were very porky---soft meat with a little bit of tooth.  But I didn't taste any smoke.  Perhaps it was just me; I plan to try something again at some point.  I just didn't get that smoky, burnt bits BBQ feel.

Moe's Original Bar B Que on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 4, 2011


We capped off Restaurant Week with a visit to Wisteria in Inman Park.  The menu concentrates on nouvelle Southern but certainly has enough variety to satisfy pretty much anyone.  I must say that we enjoyed ourselves and were impressed with the food.  We also thought that the $25 three-course meal was a very good value with generous portions.

I started with the crayfish and corn fritters.  They were very well executed as fritters but I couldn't discern either crayfish or corn.  (Mom's really are the best.)  But I didn't mind too much because they were so satisfyingly crunchy.

Having learned my lesson from Rathbun's, I went for the trout.  It was prepared in a French style with a twist.  It came with butter sauce and almonds but the sauce had a touch of vinegar, which was noticeably different than what you would get from wine.  I also noticed a little sweet, which gave just a suggestion of sweet-and-sour.  The sour note was, I think, a very good idea that set off the trout very well.

Dessert was a sampler of three desserts, all of which were great.

Wisteria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 3, 2011


As part of Restaurant Week, I visited Rathbun's with a group of friends.  As you can see from the photo, Rathbun's shares some of the design characteristics that I noticed at Kevin Rathbun Steak: an entrance secret enough to be the envy of the CIA (and I don't mean the Culinary Institute of America), a hip industrial/modern interior, and a youngish crowd (present company excepted).

This was the first course a sopressata served with cheese, bread, and a very small amount of what seemed to be a marmalade.  The slices of sopressata were so thin that I had a hard time really discerning its taste, but it certainly qualified as light.

My red meat cravings got the best of me and I ordered the hangar steak served on a bed of polenta.  It was very good---I particularly enjoyed the pairing with the polenta---but I should have ordered the Georgia trout.  Everyone who had the trout said it was wonderful.

My cravings served me well for dessert. I had a piece of chocolate cake with a marshmallow cream topping.  The marshmallow cream really complemented the cake very well.

Rathbun's on Urbanspoon