Sunday, December 30, 2012

College Park: Barbecue Kitchen

I finally had my opportunity to try Barbecue Kitchen. It's very close to ATL on Virginia Avenue which makes it a great place for a post-flight meal. This isn't fancy BBQ. It's a very nice, homey place with pretty much everything that one could want: good food, friendly service, and very reasonable prices.

Let's go around the plate. That's brisket in the center. If I had to complain, it was slightly dry, but overall it was very good and with a definite smoke taste. There's no question how this was cooked. The fried okra was pretty good. The rutabaga was excellent, perhaps just a little sweet and with a texture that combined softness with a little variety. The collard greens were just right. The cornmeal muffin was Mexican style with pieces of green and red pepper. The red peppers leave pleasant little hot spots on your tongue as you eat.

Barbecue Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 28, 2012

Des Moines: Saigon Cafe

Mom and I were running errands, spotted Saigon Cafe, and decided to give it a whirl. The outside is pretty darn low-key but the interior is nocely appointed.

We started with Vietnamese egg rolls. The inside was wonderfully porky, the outside was crisply tender. They clearly had just come out of the fryer for us.

We both had the same dish for lunch, the name of which escapes me at the moment, but had something to do with rolls. It consists of translucent crepes wrapped around pieces of pork roll, topped with small pieces of roasted pork, cucumber, and bean sprouts. The flavors were wonderful and the texture contrast between the pancakes and the table salad on top was a treat.

Saigon Cafe on Urbanspoon

Des Moines: Vietnam Cafe

Vietnam Cafe is in the food court at the back of Merle Hay Mall, in between Younkers and Kohl's. I stopped in for a quick, light snack. I ordered the won ton soup and was very pleasantly surprised. The broth was naturally light and clear (not the glow-in-the-dark yellow that some places insist on). It was complemented with bonito (dried fish) flakes, scallion, and a nice dose of pepper. The won ton noodles had tender, thin skins.

Vietnam Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Des Moines: Spaghetti Works

I ducked into Spaghetti Works for a snack. It's in the old part of town. The high ceilings make for an open feeling. I found the service to be very friendly and helpful.

I had the soup and salad bar combination. Like many restaurants with all-you-can-eat options, they are somewhat careful about how much they will give you at a time. The salad bar is AYCA only for an extra charge. The plate is small by my standards, but admittedly I like my roughage. The salad itself was very fresh and crisp. The selectoin of crunch toppings was the biggest I've seen, including oyster crackers. I also tried their chili, which hit the spot. It was hearty but not overly heavy, with about as much meat as beans.

Spaghetti Works on Urbanspoon

Des Moines: India Star

Mom and I decided to try India Star near Merle Hay Mall. As is common in these sorts of places, they focus on the buffet for lunch. The cuisine is north Indian, a mixture of meats and vegetable dishes.

Overall, we thought it was a good lunch buffet experience. The food wasn't what I would hot, but the spices do grow on you after a minute. We both enjoyed our eggplant. I also enjoyed one of my favorites, the saag paneer. The only disappointment was the tandoor chicken, which was a little dry. Mom also came up with a new salad dressing---yogurt sauce and mint chutney. It makes a great complemebt to the salad, particularly with the cool cucumbers mixed in with the lettuce.

India Star on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dutch Baby

Mom and I decided to treat ourselves for Christmas by making an apple dutch baby. It's usually classified as a pancake but think giant popover. When I was little, Mom would order the dutch baby at Village Inn. They don't make it any more so we decided to take matters into our own hands; we used Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe.

The batter is very simple but rich---two eggs plus two egg whites. You pour it into a hot, buttered skillet and bake it for an hour. The egg whites cause the batter to puff during baking.

Meanwhile we made the apple filling. One recipe requires six apples, which is about what you would put into a pie. Butter, sugar, and spices form the syrup for the apples. Once the popover is done, just pour on the apples.

Hers is the finished product. It didn't last long. The eggs in the batter make for a rich, eggy contrast to the apples. The popover also gives you a nice texture contrast. By the way, that's a large skillet. This is one big pancake. If you make it yourself, be sure you have helpers around to eat it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Peter Cheng's Tasty China II

This is one of Mr. Cheng's several outposts. My colleague at the University of Virginia mentioned that Mr. Cheng has a (very good) restaurant in Charlottesville as well. Tasty China II is located on Powers Ferry. I couldn't see the river at night, but they did have some cute Christmas decorations. I found the service to be pretty good.

I started out with an appetizer of chicken in translucent noodles. It's a cold dish, which emphasizes the subtlety of all the elements. The chicken was very tender and flavorful. The noodles had just the right amount of bite. Small cucumber spears made a great complement in both flavor and texture.

My main course, spicy fragrant duck, couldn't be more different. It's done in the "hot and numbing" style: fried duck with no sauce, but covered in pieces of red pepper and scallions. The idea of frying a duck may seem redundant since it already has so much fat, but trust me, it's extremely flavorful and the flavor of the duck really comes through. Since we are in the South, comparisons to fried chicken immediately leap to mind. The crust's flavor didn't come just from the red pepper. I'm not sure exactly what he had in the coating but I really enjoyed it. It was very crispy as well. The duck was outstanding: succulent, tender. Some of the pieces contained bones, which is great for flavor but bad for chopsticks. I ended up eating it by hand. Let's just say there wasn't any duck left to take home...

Peter Chang's Tasty China 2 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Northlake: El Toro

El Toro is a tiny little restaurant in the Sports Authority mall across from Northlake Mall. I've gone past it for years but never quite made it in until now. El Toro is a chain, but this is clearly a family operation. It's a good local family restaurant: good, basic food; consistently pleasant and attentive service; and reasonable prices.

I've eaten there twice now. On my first visit, I had the vegetarian platter. That was very satisfying and hearty. The refried beans were particularly hearty. Tonight, I tried the chicken fajitas. They were good as well. The sizzling platter adds a bit of carmelization to everything. It was served with pico de gallo, avacado, refried beans, and rice.

El Toro Mexican on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bone Lick BBQ

Bone Lick is in the Apex apartment/shopping complex. I don't know why this neighborhood developed in the middle of a warehouse district, but it certainly has blossomed quickly. Bone Lick is an outpost of the P'Cheen empire. The decor is fairly high-key, with a selection of video games. The bar is right at the center of the restaurant. Unfortunately, I found the service to be confused and unattentive.

This is my half rack of ribs. The meat is very, very tender. But I found something a little lacking. I think it is the lack of smoke flavor in the meat. The meat was quite good but I'm not yet ready to put it into the pantheon.

The salad comes with a dressing that reminds me of Arthur Bryant's BBQ sauce. As interesting an idea as this is, I don't think it quite works for me on a salad. Not enough of the dressing sticks on the salad to give you a proper sense of the dressing's taste. The white bread is clearly custom made and has been grilled with a good helping of butter---very rich.

Bone Lick BBQ on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Melting Pot

Hyesoon and I were in the mood to talk. We decided to try The Melting Pot in midtown. It's very near campus and I've been by it dozens of times but never tried it. Fondue is a great meal for talking. Things go slowly when you cook only one or two pieces of food at a time and talk is the natural thing to do.

Their menu is much more complex than a typical fondue restaurant. They emphasize a 3/4 course meal: cheese fondue, salad, meat fondue, and possibly chocolate fondue for dessert. They have a dizzying variety of options for all the fondues.

This is our cheese fondue course. As you can see, they give you a variety of dipping items, including the traditional bread and fruit as well as some other items. The cheese fondue contains both kirchwasser and wine. We both really enjoyed the flavor of the fondue. It must have been the variety of wine they chose that gave it a very lively flavor.

Their meat fondue course can be made with the traditional oil for cooking, but they also have broth-based cooking baths. Good Marilyn was in attendance that night so I went with the broth. I had a surf and turf meat fondue: chicken, beef, and shrimp. The broth was surprisingly tasty, particularly on the shrimp; the seasonings they put into the broth are most noticeable on the shrimp. It cooks everything surprisingly fast, too.

Our chocolate fondue course had darn and white chocolate chocolate swirled in a yin-yang pattern. Sorry I didn't get a photo, but I was pretty full at that point. The presentation was very skilled and it tasted great. Once again, they gave us a wide variety of dipping items, both traditional and not-so traditional.

The Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 3, 2012

BGR: The Burger Joint

Today was my day to try BGR in Atlantic Station. It is one of the proliferating upscale burger joints: more options than Five Guys, not quite as many as someplace like Farmburger.

I went for the box lunch special: basic burger, fries, drink. The burger was quite good. They manage to get a char onto the meat from the grill. I had all the basic toppings except cheese, all of which were high quality. The fries came in a giant handful. They were outstanding---very crispy and pretty darn big.

BGR - The Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Decatur: Cakes & Ale

I freely admit that I took a very long time to visit one of the mainstays of Decatur's culinary scene. I have now visited twice. On my first visit, I was desperate for meat and was thrilled with my very tender, very juicy steak. Tonight, I went for the Sunday dinner, a prix fixe presentation of three courses. This dinner is designed for conversation, with long stretches between courses, so go another night if you are in a rush.

The appetizer was shrimp in a red sauce that didn't have a very strong flavor to my tastebuds. The chips were excellent. The avocado was a little more au naturale than usual, which I enjoyed.

I was a little disappointed with the main course. The chef's goal for this dish is to have you build your own taco based on the tortilla. Unfortunately, the texture of the tortilla made it unbendable; it was also not extremely flavorful by itself. The brisket was also a bit of a letdown. Although it was fork-soft, it wasn't very moist. The beans and grain base was a great accompaniment, though, and the squash was outstanding.

The dessert was excellent. This Mexican fried pastry is very light and airy. It was served with a chocolate sauce; the entire arrangement reminded me of a light and airy profiterole. That's a Mandarin orange; I dipped a few slices into the chocolate and ate the rest straight.

Cakes & Ale on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Decatur: Seven Hens

Seven Hens in North Decatur Plaza is a surprising little place. It's a little unusual but the shortest description is upscale/international Subway with a killer chicken cutlet. You get to choose a flavor profile for your chicken, the type of bread, plus all your toppings.

Here is the cook at their signature slicing station. He cuts the chicken with quicvk rolls of his circular blade. It sure made me hungry.

I decided to try the salad option, which is the chicken served on top of a salad and toppings of your choice. The chicken is served Viennese style: pounded thin, coated with bread crumbs, and then fried. Mine was wonderfully crispy, enough to tickle the tastebuds of any Southerner. The salad was also very good---extremely fresh, very green leafy vegetables and a good salad accessories.

Seven Hens on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Boulder CO: The Buff

The Buff is nationally known for its breakfasts. I've visited them for years during my occasional visits to Boulder.

This time I decided to try something different, which turned out to be the breakfast tacos. It was rich with eggs, peppers, vegetables, and all sorts of other things. All the flavors were distinct but no one flavor dominated, exactly what you want in this sort of thing. The sauce was excellent.

The Buff Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Boulder CO: Agave Mexican Bistro & Tequila House

Mike and Linda took me to Agave for a wonderful dinner. Like so many newer restaurants, it is in a low-key strip mall location that hides a very nice interior. The restaurant is decorated in low key colors, natural but modern, and features a fireplace.

We started with a guacamole that was made at our table by our waiter. As you can see, he added a flourish to the presentation. It tasted great, with a complex flavor from the variety of things he added to the avacado.

I had seafood tamales for my main course. The seafood was cooked perfectly and the taco body was moist while still holding together. I must say that the most amazing part of the main course was the beans. The dominant taste was clearly beans, not some additives, but that taste was rich and luxurious in a way that I don't normally associate with beans. It's amazing how much flavor can be had from beans by someone who knows what they are doing.

Agave Mexico Bistro and Tequila House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Lodge at Unicoi State Park

I visited Unicoi State Park for the first time. It's near Helen and features a lake and fun, easy hiking trails. It also has a lodge whose mountain trout buffet has gained renown. I figured I had hiked enough and deserved a treat.

That's one big pile of fish. The buffet also has beef, veggies, salad, dessert, everythign you would expect.

Fried fish would, it seems to me, be a particularly hard dish to make work in a buffet. This fish was excellent. The crust was flaky and crisp. The fish was very moist and flavorful. And, as you can see, it was also pretty darn big. The rest of the buffet was excellent as well.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tucker: Fork in the Road

Fork in the Road opened just this week in Northlake Mall. It advertises itself as a chicken-and-beer place. That translates to a sports bar with really good fried chicken. Even though the restaurant is brand spanking new, I was very impressed by the food, the service, and the prices.

The menu features fried chicken and wings. My fried chicken was straight out of the fryer and delicious. The crust was crispy and flavorful. The meat was tender. They serve a variety of sauces even with the fried chicken. I really loved their chipotle sauce. It starts off with a nice smoky flavor, then goes into a long burn. The cole slaw was of the creamy variety and not overly goopy---quite good.

Fork in the Road on Urbanspoon