Friday, August 26, 2011

Duluth: Myung Ga Won


My student Dongwon Lee celebrated his newly minted Ph.D. by taking me to Myung Ga Won. It's across from Gwinnett Mall. The decor is modern upscale, giving a fancier feel than one finds in most Korean BBQ restaurants.  I think that the food preparation also reflects this greater degree of care.





This is Dongwon with our lunch for two. The grill is in the middle of the table.  Our server brought the raw meat to the table and cooked it for us. We had a classic Korean BBQ made of short ribs. The short rib meat had been spiral cut from the bone---I can't imagine how much practice it takes to do that. Our server then cut it into small pieces and grilld them without adding sauce, unlike American BBQ. I used the soy sauce you can see just in front of the grill.  The meat was excellent, balancing juiciness with the char from the grill. You can eat it wrapped in lettuce leaves or as is.  I always enjoy the huge number of side dishes that come with a Korean meal.  Korean BBQ is great for celebration and enjoying friends. The excellent and carefully prepared food here made this experience even better.

Myung Ga Won on Urbanspoon

Atmsophere

 Atmosphere has been on my restaurant to-do list for quite some time, so when my friend Glenn suggested we go there I jumped at the idea. The restaurant is on Piedmont at Morningside, just north of Ansley Square, in a nicely appointed house.

I don't go to French restaurants very often so I went a little crazy ordering some old favorites. This is the onion soup.  I'm not sure if the cheese was gruyere---I'm a little out of practice---but whatever it was I liked it.

 I had to try the duck. You can order either one leg or two. The duck had a good, crispy skin and was very juicy.  The sauce is an important part of the duck experience. It was very rich and savory, a great complement. The green beans still had some crunch, which went well with the duck skin.










This is the apple tart.  The shape not the standard round tart and it is made with a flakier crust than is typical for a tart. The pastry was very crisp and buttery. But my favorite part was the caramel sauce; I scraped every last drop off the plate.




Atmosphere Bistro on Urbanspoon

Dahlonega: Piazza

 


Piazza is just off the main square in Dahlonega.  It's actually two restaurants in one; the other side of the restaurant is a steak place. The decorations make extensive use of draped fabric but the general atmosphere is very family-friendly as befits the location.


This is the salad bowl, which seems to come with pretty much everything.  I am in my tangy food phase and this salad really satisfied my cravings. The vinegar in the dressing, the generous olives, and the tomatoes all combined for a rich but not overpowering taste.  It's a bottomless salad bowl, part of the family-friendly approach.


The pizza is thick crust.  It's very good overall, although the sauce doesn't come through very well.  That is an individual-size pizza that fills up a standard-sized plate.  The portions would be generous even without the bottomless salad bowl. Overall, it's an excellent value, which is always a plus for families.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Virginia Highlands: Cacao Opening Party


As Hyesoon and I finished up at La Tavola, the woman at the next table asked me about my camera.  When I explained that it was for my food blog, she invited us around the corner to the opening of her sister's new chocolate shop.  As it turns out, her sister is Kristen Hard, a nationally-known chocolatier.  The shop is her third location of Cacao, one of those many places I'd read about but hadn't yet visited.  She roasts her own cacao beans, for goodness sake. What a treat! 
Invited guests filled the shop and spilled out onto the sidewalk.  A band played in the front window.  The food, of course, was exquisite.  You can see a sample of chocolate truffles in this photo.  I noticed an apricot balsamic number.  Given my recent obsession with fruit and balsamic vinegar, I had to try it.  The flavor was an amazing balance of sweet and just enough tang; the texture of the truffle was perfect.  My absolute favorite was the salted caramel gelato.  I can't imagine how much experimentation was required to get the right amount of salt into an ice cream, but it was perfect.

And here is a photo of Kristen and me...

Cacao on Urbanspoon

Virginia Highlands: La Tavola

Hyesoon and I decided to get out of our usual neighborhoods and try something different.  I'd watched some Italian cooking on Anthony Bourdain's show last night, so I was primed for Italian.  We headed to la Tavola in the heart of Virginia Highlands.  The atmosphere is elegant and upscale but also very lively and fun.




The menu has a lot of traditional Italian fare---they are, for example, the only Atlanta restaurant I've come across that has broccoli rabe---but quite a few of their dishes also have a modern twist.  This is a beet and peach salad.  It's served with some lightly cooked onioin and a very light vinegar sauce.  The peaches were served firm, which I found a little surprising.  But overall the dish was exquisite and totally unexpected.  All the flavors were very subtle but definitely there.


I had the veal saltimbocca and some tagliatelle bolognese.  Saltimbocca is another dish that is relatively hard to find in Atlanta.  I've always enjoyed the contrast between the mild veal and the strong preparation; La Tavola's was excellent.  The bolognese was very simple and subtle, just as Tony Bourdain and his guests advocated last night.


Hyesoon let me try her sausage and clams.  The sausage was just like everything else---flavorful but subtle.  It was served over polenta, a great complement to the sausage in both flavor (pork and corn are perfect together as every Southerner knows) and texture.

La Tavola Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 12, 2011

Honey Birthday Cupcakes

My inspiration for my birthday cake came from a visit to my friends the Hansens.  They have a huge garden and even their own beehive.  I started to wonder what you could do with huge quantities of honey.  My inspiration was a spice cake with a honey buttercream frosting.

When I checked foodnetwork.com for spice cake recipes to see what spices they use, I found that Emeril Lagasse had created a similar cake, only using whipped cream with honey as the icing.  (Damn you, Lagasse!)  Just to show him that I knew what I was doing, I decided to continue with my original plan: Rose Levy Berenbaum's All Occasion Yellow Butter Cake with spices (ginger, cloves, and cinnamon) topped with Rose's Neoclassic Buttercream Frosting with honey substituted for the corn syrup.

Here is one of my honey cupcakes:


I substituted honey for some of the sugar in the cake, which I could clearly taste in the finished product.  The frosting is a boiled icing; as I heated the honey it gave off an amazing bouquet of clover.  I was worried about overpowering the honey, so I added only about 1-1/4 sticks of butter rather than the 4 sticks (!) called for in the recipe.  The result had a very clear taste of honey both at first taste and continuing.  The sweetness of the butter provided a great counterpoint to the honey, although next time I might try only one stick. The yellow of the butter in both the cake and icing perfectly complement the honey's color.  Honey icing is a very different experience from a honey glaze, much more complex.  Maybe I should get some bees of my own...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Minneapolis: Sawatdee


My niece Anna introduced me to Sawatdee Thai.  It's located in a hip part of downtown Minneapolis that is near the stadium (I think). The restaurant is open brick but with very high ceilings, giving an airy feel.

I went for the shrimp and mixed vegetables curry (highly recommended by Anna) and tofu with mixed vegetables.  I've decided that I love Thai spices and all my dishes.  These people also know how to make food hot, but the other spices weren't lost.








Sawatdee on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Portland: Vindalho


My friends Payel and Arijit introduced me to a wonderful Indian fusion restaurant, Vindaloo.  It's in East  Portland, a part of town that is nice but not at all pretentious, full of well-loved homes and small neighborhood places.  It did take me a few minutes of wandering around to find the restaurant itself.  (Note to hip restaurants: a small sign doesn't make you hip, just hard to find.)  The decor is very modern and full of light.  The food is truly outstanding but nothing comes across as trying too hard.


I started with samosas made with yukon gold potatoes.  Quite frankly, I don't think the yukon golds didn't make a real difference but the samosas were great.  The crust was much more tender than the average samosa.  The samosa is the Indian version of that Southern favorite, the fried pie.


This is vegetable soup with tamarind, absolutely my favorite dish of the meal and one of the best things I've had in awhile.  The soup itself is very light.  I'm used to having tamarind in heavier foods and the contrast between the tamarind and the light broth was an eyeopener.   I have some chicken vegetable soup and I'm going to see if I can reproduce this effect.


My main dish was dal koutoo, which was a medley of fresh vegetables.  The sauce was quite savory but not in a heavy-handed way, just a great complement to the vegetables.


We also had the chutney assortment  My favorite was the pear chutney.  The red was a red pepper and the green was mint.

We finished off the meal with some masala tea.  The spice blend was very rich and complex, quite frankly better masala tea than I've had anywhere in Atlanta.

Vindalho on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Berkeley: Kirala


My friend Alex tells me that Kirala is a hot spot for locals.  It certainly had the atmosphere of someplace that has the good food and easy atmosphere that can attract people over and over.  (Of course, maybe you need to be a local to find it.  I drove bast the restaurant at least four times before I saw that little tiny sign.) We sat at the sushi bar, which gave us an excellent view of the grill as well as the sushi chef.  The menu is a variety of nouvelle Japanese foods, both grilled and raw fish, sometimes (although not always) with a twist.


This is our sushi plate.  All the sushi was excellent.  The eel was a particularly pleasant surprise.  I like good eel but I find all too many eel servings to be harsh.  This eel clearly had the flavor of eel but wasn't overpowering and with a very complementary sauce.  We also tried several other small plates.  The chicken with pickled beet sauce was excellent.   Alex recommended the beef-wrapped asparagus, which lived up to its billing.  The dish was very elegant and the asparagus took me a bit by surprise, but both the beef and the asparagus came through very well.


For dessert we tried ice cream wrapped in a relatively thin layer of rice that had been pounded into a paste, similar in consistency but a little softer than marzipan.  The rice was cold but still pliable.  I ordered the red bean ice cream but we agreed that Alex's selection of the mango ice cream was the winner.

Kirala on Urbanspoon

Los Gatos: Wine Cellar


My friends Natha and Ray know exactly where to go for every occasion.  Today, we had a very nice meal on the patio at the Wine Cellar in downtown Los Gatos.


Natha said I should try the burger, which she thought was the best in town.  I skipped the bun to avoid some calories.  The burger really was delicious.  They use organic local meat and you can definitely taste the quality of the meat.  Organic meat sometimes is indistinguishable from non-organic, but the   flavor of a good organic meat is more complex. (Arguably, not having a bun brings out the meat's flavor even more.)  My garden salad was low-key but a nice complement.
Wine Cellar on Urbanspoon

Palo Alto: Fish Market

My friend Ken and I went to the Fish Market in Palo Alto to revisit old times. The Fish Market is 35 years old and my first meal there was almost that long ago.  I've always liked it---high-quality seafood in a nice but unpretentious atmosphere.  They also have a fish market that carries the same types of fish that are on the menu, but I've never used that option.

I continue to be a salmon nut so I had the mesquite-smoked wild salmon.  Wild salmon has a darker, more interesting flesh and a more interesting texture.  The fish was very well prepared, although I couldn't taste the mesquite.  Unlike some fish establishments, they have a good selection of vegetable sides.  The vegetable medley is what you'd expect but the tomatoes were a nice surprise and a great complement to the salmon.

Fish Market on Urbanspoon