Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Decatur: Kitsch'n 155


Kitsch'n 155 is just north of the VA Hospital on Clairmont Road.   As you can sort of see in this photo, it's in an old Arby's that has been empty for as long as I've been in Atlanta.  They've fixed it up nicely; the outdoor seating was so nice that I couldn't get a table out there.

I arrived late and just missed the blue plate special.  It sounded great: BBQ beef on a cork cake.  So I had a big salad with a burger patty on top.  Unfortunately, I was so hungry that I forgot to photograph it, but let me assure that it was good and satisfying.  They use all natural meats and the patty just tasted clean and fresh; the patty was clearly handmade.  The salad itself was extremely fresh and had a good assortment of ingredients.

Despite the claim on their t-shirts that their food is tacky, I think the menu is pretty wholesome in a very homey way: hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, ice cream.  The atmosphere is much the same way. I met the owner who was very nice; this is clearly a family operation. I am a sucker for good, wholesome, simple food and I consider this to be a great addition to the neighborhood.

Kitsch'n 155 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Balsamic Pie

It's summer and I love strawberries.  So I made two strawberry desserts: a favorite, strawberry shortcake; and a new one, strawberry balsamic pie.

Strawberry shortcake is pretty easy and always wonderful.  I use a yellow cake from Rose Levy Berenbaum's Cake Bible.  I used to use a more scone-like biscuit recipe but I switched to the yellow cake at some point.  I top it with sliced strawberries and whipped cream.  Real whipped cream is one of those things that is easy to do but gets your guests' attention.  Just put some whipping cream, a little sugar, and perhaps a teaspoon of vanilla in a bowl and turn on the mixer.

I heard about strawberry balsamic pie in a review of a Brooklyn pie restaurant, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.  Rather than fly to Brooklyn, I decided to make one.  Trying to create a dish without ever having tasted it is an interesting challenge, but what the heck.  The filling is strawberries and corn starch that have been cooked together in a sauce pan.  You then add some balsamic vinegar.  I added it slowly and stopped when I had a good hint but not an overwhelming taste.  Strawberries already have a bit of zing but the balsamic gives both a different flavor note and a different kind of zing.  I think it would be especially interesting to try this with a very high-end balsamic vinegar.   A friend let me try some of his 12-year-old balsamic some time; it was thick, surprisingly sweet, and very subtle.  Perhaps some day I'll make it to Brooklyn and buy some fancy balsamic...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alpharetta: Adoba Taqueria

Adobo is one of those sorts of places you take the family to in the evening to unwind.  The decor is what seems to be the default for mid-range restaurants in Alpharetta, namely brick.  As I was leaving, the musician was setting up, which is a nice activity for a Friday evening.

The taqueria tag in the name is somewhat misleading.  This isn't a casual, fast food place, but a full restaurant with plated meals.  They also have more than just Mexican food, so there should be choices to satisfy a variety of tastes.

The salsa was pretty good.  It had some bits of pepper in it that had real bite, but was mild enough overall to satisfy most people.  I ordered one of my standard Mexican dishes, the chicken mole, for my main course.  The chicken itself arrived in fairly small, relatively artless pieces.  The sauce didn't have much of an identity.  Overall, I think this is a good place to take it easy some evening but that's primarily due to the atmosphere.

Adobo Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Alpharetta: di Paolo Italian Kitchen


I didn't expect to find di Paolo but I'm glad I did.  It is an elegant restaurant specializing in Italian food more in the northern style.  They do have a wood-fired oven for pizza but they also have a strong menu of meat dishes.



For an appetizer, I tried the olives and almonds, which were wonderful.  I've become addicted to olives lately; they combine saltiness, bitterness, and other flavors in a very compact package.  This dish had an assortment of several types of very high quality olives.  Those are the stems of a few of the olives sticking out of the dish, which was a nice ornamental touch. The almonds are an excellent accompaniment.


This is my entree, the roast pork shank.  On top is some julienned apples.  Behind the dish was some vinegared red cabbage somewhat reminiscent of sauerkraut but more crisp.  As you can see, the meat was served on the bone, something you don't see very often with pork.  The meat was fork tender and very juicy.  The two garnishes were excellent counterpoints.

I got to spend some extra time there thanks to the huge storm that rolled through.  The service was extremely gracious and attentive in a low-key way, in the manner of excellent Italian restaurants.

Di Paolo on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 13, 2011

Genghis Grill

Genghis Grill is a new location of a Mongolian BBQ chain.  I visited the one near Perimeter Mall.  I came to two conclusions after my visit.  First, Chow Baby does a much better job of the Mongolian BBQ concept.  Second, even apart from the comparison, Genghis Grill isn't very satisfying.

Genghis Grill has a somewhat limited menu of ingredients.  I found their sauces to be uniformly too syrupy and overdone.  It's not a very good value; they give you a fairly small bowl and allow you only one trip.  (You can get unlimited trips for a markup.)  And the service I received was quite inattentive, this despite (or perhaps due to) the near total lack of customers in the restaurant.

Genghis Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buford Highway: Nam Phuong



I thought that name sounded familiar...I heard about a new Vietnamese restaurant on Buford Highway and realized as I drove up that I had been to the Norcross version last month.  This one is across from Plaza Fiesta Shopping Center in Pho #1's old location.  The room has been spruced up.   The bones of the place are good---it has three glass walls to provide a light-filled environment.


Quite frankly, I'm not sure I know how to order at this place.  I ordered a broken rice dish served with BBQ pork and I somehow expected a somewhat different presentation.  I had a similar problem last month as well.  Not to complain, though.  I used the opportunity to sample their selection of sauces.  The garlic chili was my favorite.  The garlic gives enough of a different spin on the chili to make the sauce more than heat.  Don't get me wrong, it was hot.  I didn't start to cry, so it wasn't extremely hot, but it took about 15 minutes for my mouth to go from the I-can't-feel-my-tongue-against-the-roof-of-my-mouth stage to the pleasant tingling stage.  I crave strong flavors right now, so the garlic chili really hit the spot. I liked it so much that I went across the street to Fiesta Farmers Market and bought a jar.

I must say that the service here is sporadic.  Our group had spotty service in Norcross but we thought it might be because we had a large group.  I got the same service this time---it's just the way they roll.

Nam Phuong on Urbanspoon

Update: Bagel Palace


I've written about Bagel Palace before, but never about their lunches.  I just had to show you this brisket.  It looks delicious and the taste more than lived up to the looks.  The meat was fork tender and juicy.  The gravy on sauce was rich and not too thick.  The tomato paste added both flavor and color.  The vegetables in the sauce made the entire dish more like a stew.  The whole thing was served on some of the rye bread from their wonderful bakery.

Brisket is one of those  dishes that teaches lessons about cooking.  The brisket is not a fancy cut of meat.  You need to give it tender loving care to bring out its qualities.  But the reward for spending the time on a brisket is a wonderful dish.  Good tasting ingredients do not have to be expensive. Care and attention can turn humble ingredients into good, satisfying food.

Bagel Palace Deli and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 10, 2011

Norcross: Mojito's Cuban-American Bistro

Mojito's is on the square in old Norcross.  It's a a very quaint location that they have turned into a very hip atmosphere.  The place was buzzing with people.  Stephanie and Bob joined me to try out a few dishes.

The menu has two very strong themes: plaintains and frying.  Even better, they fry plantains.  I really think they should call the place Plantains R Us.  So, of course, I tried the fried plantain pancakes along with some empanadas.  I was curious to see how they fried the pancakes.  They seem to have first grilled the pancakes and then fried them.  They were like small versions of my banana pancakes, with slices of plantains in the middle, but fried.  Quite frankly, they were a little tough and I don't think that I would order that one again.  The empanadas were very good.  The crust was excellent, not too surprising given their penchant for frying.  The fillings were quite good and the hot sauce was certifiably hot.  Stephanie and Bob also concentrated on small dishes rather than the entrees.  Their most unusual dish was a yucca preparation.  I didn't try it but it looked fascinating.  Desert plants can be incredibly juicy.

Mojito's Cuban-American Bistro on Urbanspoon

California Pizza Kitchen

Last night wasn't one of those calm, relaxing evenings.  It was late and I hadn't had enough to eat.  Nor did I have any time to sit down at a restaurant.  I kept running through the possibilities for a fast meal near my destination (one of the good things about writing a food blog is that you can always think of places to eat).  I ultimately realized that my best bet was takeout from California Pizza Kitchen in Dunwoody.  I am always in the mood for pizza.  While I don't consider them truly New Jersey-class pizza, they're not bad and they were very convenient.

I had a vegetarian deluxe pizza with some goat cheese thrown in.  The crust was whole wheat.  I also ordered a nice garden salad.  The entire experience was very satisfying; the pizza felt good going down.  My big complaint about CPK is that the sauce doesn't come through strongly in their pizza.  As a tomato fanatic, sauce is very important to me.  Nonetheless, last night wasn't about culinary adventures.  It was about comfort and reliability.  And let's face it, those ideals are what food is really all about, isn't it?

California Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Fava Mezze

Category: Great local midtown place
Verdict: Excellent food, wonderful service, and you can even park!


Fava Mezze has been around for a few months and I finally stopped by on a whim.  I'm glad I did. It's on Hemphill near 14th Street. The restaurant is very simple and intimate but it is backed up by a catering kitchen so the menu is very complete.


The service here was extremely gracious. When I came in, the owner explained the menu to me and suggested that he could put together a combination plate for me.  Since I haven't had falafel in awhile, I decided to try that with a small Arabian salad.  The result was delicious.  The falafel was very crispy on the outside and tender on the inside with just enough dressing. The salad---tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, etc.---was very refreshing.  Once again, the service was outstanding: the chef came out to ask me how I liked it; the food was served on an elegant piece of china.

The owner was nice enough to let me sample his baklava.  It's dangerously good.  The butter in the pastry came through very clearly, something that I've never experienced in baklava before. I'm not a baklava scholar but I think this is the best that I've ever had.

Fava Mezze on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Decatur: Napoleon's Grill

 
Napoleon's is in the Oak Grove neighborhood of northernmost Decatur. The restaurant opened last year as part of a long-overdue revival of the long-neglected strip mall that formerly held Quinnie's BBQ.  Napoleon's is a casual bar with a lot of indoor and outdoor seating.


The menu has a broad range of items: tacos, rice bowls, burgers, and dinners. If I may be a food snob for a minute, some of the items on the menu seem to suffer from the faux-fusion technique of randomly combining ingredients from different types of cuisines.  I am all for new flavors, but I would like to think that an unusual combination is motivated by the natural compatibility of the ingredients, not by a radio button menu of combinations.

That being said, I enjoyed my tacos.  They both had cabbage, which I consider an echo of the radio button approach, but both were quite good.  One was a Korean BBQ short rib done up with a nice sauce, cabbage, etc. The other was fried tofu cubes with peanut sauce, cabbage, etc.  Both were tasty and gave me just enough to enjoy the flavor of each without being overly filling.  Tacos are a great neo-tapas kind of dish that lends itself very well to sampling.

Napoleon's Grill on Urbanspoon