Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Alpharetta: The Taco Stand




The Taco Stand is about a mile from North Point Mall in Alpharetta.  It seems to be an outpost of an Athens establishment.  (That shows you how little I know about Athens and that other university.)  Despite the modest name, this is a very comfortable, full service restaurant with a large bar area as well.  I was there for lunch but I suspect it is very kid friendly in the evenings.



They have a full service menu, which was a big selling point for me.  I had a pork taco and a wedge salad. The pork taco was Southern style with cole slaw, etc. The wedge salad was great, in no small part because of the generous helping of bacon mixed in with the bleu cheese dressing.  I am a sucker for fresh tortillas and these were very soft and tasty. The service was wondefully attentive and relaxing.

The Taco Stand on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Marietta: Swapna Indian Cuisine

Category: Good local place.
Verdict: Very satisfying Indian food from both north and south.

Swapna is on Cobb Parkway near its intersection with I-285.  It is a very simple place, located in a former chain restaurant with no adornment.  Several Indian families ate Sunday dinner.

The restaurant serves both north and south Indian.  I was interested in some meat, so I ordered a chicken tikka skewer thali.  The generous serving spills over the edges of the photo.  The meat was served on a sizzling platter.  The naan was fresh out of the oven.  Overall, this was a satisfying, homey meal.
Swapna Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Lawrenceville: The Flying Machine

A recent radio story got me thinking about Gwinnett County Airport. The story mentioned a restaurant at the airport and as a flying nut I knew I had to try it some time.  Gwinnett County is a small airport. Although it has several bizjets, not much traffic takes off or lands there.  At PDK, in comparison, Friday night is a great time to watch the moguls jet home.  Gwinnett is more like the airports of old---a little sleepy, peaceful, soothing.

I sat on the patio, which is a great way to enjoy a summer evening, not to mention watch the airplanes.  A speaker plays the tower frequency so you can keep track of traffic around the airport.  When I arrived, a jump plane was parked in front of the restaurant.  (I could tell it was a jump plane because the right door was missing.)  After a few minutes the parachutists marched across the patio and into their plane, smoke canisters attached to their heels.  One of the kids eating dinner exclaimed "Are you guys nuts?@%#@!"  This is a very kid friendly place.

I went for the strip steak special.  This is airport food, nothing fancy, but it was very enjoyable.  Overall, a very nice experience.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chris's Pizza House


Chris's Pizza in Toco Hill Shopping Center is one of those old familiar places.  Although the name emphasizes pizza, it's best to think of it as closer to a Greek diner with an emphasis on pizza.  I've eaten there many times and had pasta, chicken parm, etc.  The decor is wonderful.  They have managed astonishingly well to approximate the atmosphere of a restaurant in Greece given that they are in an Atlanta strip mall.  The decor is white with sea blue seats.  The entire space is lit by two huge skylights that give the sort of natural light that makes the Mediterranean such an appealing place.

I had the pizza lunch special.  My Greek salad was of the lettuce variety but it was very pleasant.  This is my pizza with green mushrooms on top.  The pizza is workmanlike.  The crust is medium thick and just a little tough.  But it is perfectly fine and today the location definitely made this stop worthwhile.

Chris' Pizza House on Urbanspoon

Duluth: Sichuan House

Category: Worth a detour.
Summary: Authentic Sichuan food---what more do you need?

My friend Yu took me to Sichuan House, located in Duluth in the nondescript strip mall location that is obligatory to interesting Atlanta restaurants.  (The more usual American spelling is Schezuan in case you are Googling or searching.)  I've been brainwashed to think of Sichuan food as simply hot.  But this is the kind of place that shows it is much more than that.

Yu tells me this dish is called heartbreak noodles because of the peppers.  It was definitely hot but several other flavors clearly came through.  The noodles were delicate in both taste and texture.

This was Yu's favorite.  The meat is bacon made on the premises.  The bacon had very little meat on it and perhaps was closer to streak-o-lean.  Greens and mushrooms complement the bacon.  It wasn't hot at all and the bacon didn't have a strong nitrite flavor so everything was very well balanced.

We also tried the duck, which was served dry with a finely crispy coating.  Duck is much more common in certain types of Chinese cuisine than it is in American restaurants.  While I feel sorry fro the little ducks, I do use trips to restaurants like this to enjoy it.

Sichuan House on Urbanspoon

Norcross: Nam Phuong

Nam Phuong is on Jimmy Carter Boulevard just off I-85.  The decor is nice and they have plenty of room to handle large groups.

I didn't grab a photo of my spring roll.  I really enjoy Vietnamese rolls as an alternative to Chinese fried egg rolls.  The combination of the thin crepe coating and steaming allows you to really taste the vegetables, particularly the leafy greens.  It's a very delicate dish.


This is my pork dish.  The preparation is a little like Korean beef---thin flat pieces with a glaze.  It was good but I probably should have ordered more adventurously.

Nam Phuong on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Decatur: Iberian Pig

The Iberian Pig is on the Decatur MARTA square.  The decor is rustic elegance.  I was given a window seat because I ate dinner early, but it's a popular place in the evening so don't get your hopes up.

The menu is tapas.  This photo shows three (well, 2-1/2 actually) of my four items: Salchicho sausage, Manchego cheese,  and bacon wrapped dates.  The pork cheek tacos didn't make into this photo.  This choice of items was inspired by my visit to Jaleo in Washington DC that I blogged about earlier this year.  As in DC, the bacon wrapped dates were the big hit---these came on top of a bed of mashed sweet potato, which gave a great sweet note to contrast with the bacon.  The sausage was very delicate and good.  The cheese was very good although a little different than I expected.  The tacos were good but for some reason just didn't excite me the way the other dishes did.  Overall, a very successful meal.  I would unquestionably go again.

The Iberian Pig on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Decatur: Mac McGee

Mac McGee is on the square at the Decatur Metro station.  It is an upscale pub that is true to the form in both atmosphere and menu.  The food is the sort of food you would expect in a pub---burgers and other hearty food---but done with quality ingredients and a twist.

I tried the house corned beef and some sauteed spinach.  The sandwich was on handmade bread that had excellent texture and flavor.  The corned beef was subtle, not obviously corny.  As much as I enjoyed the sandwich, the spinach was the big hit.  I'm not entirely sure what they did to it, but the result was a twist on what could have been a dull side.  When a beefeater's pub can make a vegetable the hit of the meal, then you know that they can cook.

Mac McGee's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Avondale Estates: Savage Pizza

Savage Pizza is located in Avondale Estates, which is a cute little town if you haven't been there.  The decor and atmosphere is pleasantly standard pizza place with a theme in comic books.


I had an enjoyable salad for starters.  I then moved onto a veggie pizza with a whole wheat crust.  Whole wheat crusts can be tricky but I thought this was great.  I thought that the whole wheat flavor was just the right complement to the vegetarian toppings.  The pizza came with a variety of good, fresh toppings.  My only complaint was that the broccoli wasn't cooked before it was put on the pizza.  I think that a little steaming would have made it more enjoyable and probably enhanced the flavor of the broccoli.

Savage Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 14, 2011

La Grotta Ristorante

Category: Classic Atlanta restaurant, worth a drive
Summary: Elegant service, outstanding food, beautiful atmosphere

Tom Conte turned me onto La Grotta originally.  He told me it was great but it took me awhile to get there.  I'll listen more closely next time.  The restaurant is extremely discreet, hidden in the inner garden of a Buckhead apartment building.  The picture shows the view from my table.  It was a lovely place to spend an evening.

The one word that describes the service is gracious. You are met at the entrance not only by the car valet but also by a greeter who very graciously shows you the way to the restaurant.  The entire staff was friendly but not intrusive.  My waiter was more than happy to answer my questions.

I started with a risotto.  This dish is relatively hard to find in Atlanta; it takes some finesse to reach the best balance of creaminess and toothiness.  My risotto had a wonderful texture.  The salmon was a subtle addition, which itself takes some finesse since the salmon could have ended up dominating the risotto.

As you might guess from the bone sticking out from the salad, this is a veal chop. Veal milanese is a wienerschnitzel-style preparation with a very crunchy crust. The waiter told me that the chef pounds out the veal chop himself.  The salad on top is very light, which contrasts wonderfully with the cruncy/tender chop.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Alpharetta: Alpine Bakery and Trattoria

Category: Worth a detour
Verdict: Excellent pizza as part of a full Italian-American menu


I've heard about Alpine Bakery for awhile and finally made it.  Alpine Bakery is, you must admit, not the most obvious name for a white-linen Italian restaurant, but there you have it.  They also have an extensive bakery case with a large variety of cakes.


The restaurant has a full menu of Italian-American dishes but I went for the pizza.  I was slightly skeptical at first when my waitress explained that they make margherita pizzas in both white and red.  (For all you food geeks out there, you can read about the origin of the pizza margherita on Wikipedia's History of Pizza page.)  But it was an excellent family style pizza, the best I've had in quite awhile.  The crust was the right combination of crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  The cheese was outstanding.  I had a small cup of sauce on the side, which helped me isolate its flavor.  The sauce had the right balance of acidity and just a little sweetness.

The atmosphere is fancy but still warm and accessible.  The service was very attentive and friendly.

Alpine Bakery and Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mosaic

Category: Local date restaurant
Verdict: Uninspired food, haphazard service

Mosaic is on a small side street in Buckhead off Piedmont and Peachtree.  As you can see, its location is beautiful with stylish seating on the inside and a large, verdant patio for outdoor seating.

Unfortunately, I found the food to be lackluster.  My salad's dressing was mayonnaise-y with no other real flavor coming through.  The result was a plate of green, moist roughage.  The service was pleasant but haphazard.  Most of the people I saw eating there were couples.  The location is certainly nice for dates but don't expect food worth of the setting.

Mosaic on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Aurora Coffee

I've driven and walked past Aurora Coffee several times.  I finally stopped by on a lovely spring evening.  Aurora says it is the oldest specialty coffee house in Atlant. It certainly has the classic lived-in coffee house feel.  My latte had a beautiful design in the foam and a perfect taste.


Aurora Coffee on Urbanspoon

Atkins Park Tavern


Atkins Park Tavern in Virginia Highlands is in a beautiful old building a few blocks off Ponce. The menu is modern American (steak, roasted chicken, salmon) with a Southern twist (fried chicken, shrimp and grits).

I started with a beet salad.  It included greens, walnuts, and goat cheese.  It cleansed my palate and was a good way to start the meal.

My main course was a roasted half chicken.  It was served on a bed of wilted greens and roasted potato wedges.  The chicken was certainly competent but I just felt that it could have been a little moister.  I did enjoy the touch of lemon.

Atkins Park Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Zyka

Category: Definitely worth a stop, possibly worth a drive.
Summary: Low-key atmosphere belies very flavorful food.  An intriguing combination of Southern cafeteria and Indian home cooking.


Zyka is very low-key.  It's tucked next to a child care center; as I drove up, I couldn't even see it from the road.  Inside is similarly low-key, more like a BBQ joint.  You order at the counter and wait for your tray to come.

I have heard quite a few good things about this place. But I had been expecting a sit-down restaurant and  after seeing the place I didn't have high expectations.  The food, however, was very flavorful.  Both the samoas and my eggplant dish displayed some very complex flavors.  Both were definitely hot with a slow burn that grows on you.  But that's not all---there were lots of spices lurking underneath.  The eggplant was also a grab bag of sensory experiences.  Red pepper husks were sprinkled throughout, making the oil used to cook the eggplant red.  The eggplants were cooked whole, leaving not just the skins, but also some eggplant bones. The stems of the eggplant were quaint and I'm sure that cooking the eggplants whole adds to the dish's flavor.

And to top it off, Zyka is a bargain.  This is definitely a great place for a quick, good meal.


Zyka on Urbanspoon

Zyka

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Livingston

Saibal and I went for lunch to Livingston, the restaurant in the Georgian Court Hotel.  My seat had a beautiful view of the marquee of the Fox Theater.  The atmosphere in the restaurant is elegant and the service was attentive without being fussy.

This is a shrimp tempura appetizer.  The sauce in particular was excellent; it featured a green chile base, some vinegar, and just enough sweetness to balance everything else.


I was a little disappointed with my beef short ribs.  They were actually a boneless preparation so I didn't get the beefy carnivore experience. The sauce was pretty standard stuff; I didn't find any hint of the moroccan spices that were promised on the menu.

Livingston Restaurant + Bar on Urbanspoon

Landmark Diner

Category: Local instutution
Summary: Great diner food, consistently excellent service.


Landmark Diner is a very well-known Buckhead spot.  It has all the usual diner trademarks: shiny exterior, large menu, generous portions, open 24 hours. But it also offers some upscale features; its liquor collection, for example, seems to be quite extensive.

I've eaten at Landmark several times over the past few years. On my previous visit I discovered the vegetable soup, so that's what I had again this time.  The photo shows my soup and salad order---that's a small salad but it seemed plenty big to me. The soup is a treat.  It's filled with all sorts of vegetables and has a very rich base.  I used the wonderful bread to sop it up. The salad was also excellent, particularly the dressing. On my previous visit, I made this mistake of ordering this soup with a large Greek salad, thinking that the soup wouldn't be enough. That salad was huge and filled with all sorts of great things (although I must admit that it was a lettuce salad and not a true Greek mother's salad).

Landmark Diner on Urbanspoon