Sunday, July 29, 2012

ORD: Garrett Popcorn

A recent trip to Chicago allowed me to reacquaint myself with Garrett popcorn. In my opinion, it's the best caramel popcorn in the world. My first sample, perhaps 15 years ago, was one of those moments when I realized that I'd never eaten the real thing before. The caramel is rich, buttery, and soft. And because they do such large volumes, it's incredibly fresh.

I flew Delta between Atlanta and Chicago. Delta's concourse isn't the most advanced at O'Hare. Since one of the goals of this trip was to get some Garrett's popcorn, I asked a passing stewardess who explained that I could just pop over to the United or American concourses to find a whole range of Chicago specialties. Thanks so much! It only took a few minutes and was a much more enjoyable way to spend some time waiting for my flight than, say, reading my email.

Garrett Popcorn Shop on Urbanspoon

Taqueria Del Sol

I've been to Taqueria del Sol in Decatur but never the one nearest my office. A Sonic Generator concert turned out to be the motivation I needed. The line extended outside the door but the service was quick and very friendly. And it's quite a value, too.

The surprise hit for me was the green chile encihilada. The chiles added just enough heat and a different texture to the cheese. (A sign by the register declared that the Hatch NM chiles will arrive soon.) The brisket taco, which I've also had in Decatur, was superb in all aspects: meat, sauce, tortilla. The El Pastor was fine but for some reason didn't inspire a strong reaction.

Taqueria Del Sol on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Davio's

Davio's has been a fixture in Boston's Back Bay dining scene for several decades. I ate there quite a few times back in the 20th century. Their Atlanta outpost is in Phipps Mall. The atmosphere is quietly luxurious. As you can tell from my photos, the lighting is low. One interesting feature is a separate bar just for solo dining.

I've eaten at Davio's twice now. On my first visit, I concentrated on the steak, which was beautiful meat given excellent preparation. This time, I had a yen for pasta. I started with the safe choice of a Caesar salad. Their version has a very definite anchovy zing. Anchovy is in theory in all Caesar salads but usually more in spirit than in fact. The bite of the anchovy was a welcome introduction to the meal.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed their bread and additions. I devoured the olives. They had an excellent, firm texture and were deliciously salty. That's white beans and mild red pepper on the left side.

My main course was a classic (and labeled so on the menu): tagliatelle Bolognese. The pasta was al dente. The Bolognese sauce was luxurious with both tomato and meat. It managed to be both subtly delicious and comforting.

For dessert I had a chocolate lava cake served with cherries and a dollop of ice cream. The ice cream seemed to have a few ice crystals in it but the cake was wonderful and the cherries were a great addition one doesn't see all that often.

Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Sandy Springs: Cafe Noga

I was around Perimeter Mall and needed a snack so I decided to drop by Ou for U. It's a good thing I did---it's now Cafe Noga. The proprietor explained to me that they changed their concept just a week and a half ago. It's still kosher but no longer vegetarian.

Since I just wanted a snack, I decided to have some hummus. It was delicious and much more flavorful than the grocery store or fast food varieties that I'm used to. The proprietor also gave me a special sauce in the small cup, explaining that it is Iranian. It was very light, basically a vinegar with some red pepper flakes and possibly one or two other things. The combination of a little hot and a little sour was the perfect addition to the hummus.

Cafe Noga on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Decatur: Wahoo

Wahoo is across the street from the East Lake MARTA stop, just inside Decatur. This neighborhood has grown quite a few restaurants in the past few years that occupy the old storefronts. Don't let Wahoo's small front room fool you, though. I sat in the glassed-in part of the back section with a beautiful view of the greenery of the outdoor eating sections and their many plants.

This is watermelon gazpacho. It was wonderful and the perfect way to start off a summer meal. That's sour cream on top, just enough to contrast its fat with the sweetness of the watermelon.

For my main course, I had the shrimp and grits and succotash. The shrimp and grits were pretty rich; a bit of tomato set off the cream very nicely. I did miss having more of a pure grits experience, though. The sauce made it a little hard to chase down all the grits.

I really enjoyed my succotash, perhaps more than the shrimp and grits. The lima beans were cooked just enough to give a wonderful texture.

I enjoyed my food very much but I had a few qualms about the overall experience. The service was a bit perfunctory. I wasn't offered bread until well after my gazpacho arrived; when it came, all I had was two tiny, thin pieces. And I wouldn't really call this a neighborhood place. The casualness here is too studied for me to just drop in, relax, and perhaps run into a friend.

Wahoo! a Decatur Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Palo Alto CA: La Bodeguita Del Medio

Zahra and I decided to visit La Boduegita Del Medio for our lunch meeting. It's very low key on the outside but inside it is spacious and airy. The atmosphere is upscale casual and the service is very gracious.

I started with the empanadas, which are an appetizer. They were perfect. The crust's consistency was perfect; the pork filling was moist but not goopy; the sauce perfectly complemented both. I finished off the meal with a salad that included goat cheese encrusted with plantains. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how they did it but it tasted great. The plantains were dried and/or fried and the texture of the crust with just a little sweetness complemented the texture and taste of the cheese.

La Bodeguita Del Medio on Urbanspoon

Palo Alto CA: Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels

As yet another sign of how Palo Alto has changed, this little pocket of a storefront that once housed a donut shop is now a bagel shop. Still bread with holes but a much healthier vibe. Izzy's is kosher and proudly proclaims its Brooklyn heritage.

This is my whole wheat bagel. I also had a garlic bagel that didn't make it to see noon. I kept it in a bag and the smell drove me crazy all morning until I had to eat it. While both bagels were good, I found them to be less chewy than I expected. I do not claim to be a bagel expert, but I think that the chewy bagel is more typical of East Coast bagels. When I moved from California to New Jersey, one of the things I definitely noticed was a change in the bagels. Izzy's bagels seem to be of the softer, bready variety that Californians seem to be used to.

Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 9, 2012

Palo Alto CA: Fuki Sushi

Fuki Sushi has been here forever. Tonight was my first visit since I was a student many, many, many years ago. The setting is, like many Japanese restaurants, unassuming on the outside. Inside the room is elegant but not stuffy or formal. (They also have tatami rooms.) The service was very good.
This is the agedashi tofu. The tofu was very lightly fried in a very delicate batter. The sauce is soy-based but with a good dash of heat. The sauce takes away the crunchiness of the batter but without removing its basic crispiness. The light sauce was a treat in itself.
The dish on the right is big eye garlic tataki. It's tuna with chili peppers, some fish eggs, and garlic sauce on a base of fried renkon chips. I loved the combination of textures and flavors. All my other sushi was also excellent. I ate most of the ginger straight---it was downright sweet. Fuki Sushi on Urbanspoon

Palo Alto CA: Asian Box

At Kimberly's suggestion, my first stop after getting off the plane was Asian Box. It's in the Town and Country shopping center in Palo Alto. It has a mix-and-match menu of Asian ingredients. This type of menu---choose one item in each category plus some toppings---is very common in the nouveau burger establishments of Atlanta. Palo Alto has, naturally, applied it to Asian food. (I think their inspiration is largely Vietnamese. You should expect a rant from me on generic Asian food at some point.) Although they bill themselves as take-out, they also have indoor and outdoor seating.
I ordered a box with brown rice, tofu, peanut sauce, and bean sprouts. All the boxes come with a veggie mix, which you can order stir-fry or steamed. It came out in 3-4 minutes and hit the spot. It was quite healthy as well as filling. The peanut sauce had just enough heat to contrast with the richness of the peanuts. Interestingly, the default utensil was a fork but they gave me chopsticks as soon as I asked for them. Asian Box on Urbanspoon

ATL: Breakfast at Paschal's

I've written several times about the comfort afforded by a decent meal while traveling. Paschal's cafeteria stands at the airport are a welcome respite from the grind of 21st century air travel. They serve a classic Southern breakfast. The line at Paschal's is always by far the longest of any of the concessions.

This morning, my eggs were fluffy, my gravy smooth except for the occasional nuggets of sausage, and the grits were creamy. The service at Paschal's is always extremely gracious. As my mother said on one of her visits, it's just nice to have decent food while you're traveling. Concessions Paschals on Urbanspoon

Paschal's Restaurant

Sunday, July 8, 2012

La Parilla

La Parilla is in the Toco Hill shopping center. There was no line tonight but I've seen people waiting outside on several occasions. Inside, the space is very large. The atmosphere is a bit efficient.
My combo included a tamale, burrito, and enchilada. The tamale was the least satisfying. I couldn't catch much of the corn or pork taste. The enchilada was my favorite, partly because I ordered it with beef, but it and the burrito both came with tangy cheese. The price was very reasonable, under $10. Overall, a perfectly satisfactory meal, but nothing to write home about. La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mirko Pasta

Mirko has several locations. I've been to the Toco Hill location twice now. (Their HQ is at PDK airport---go figure.) Mirko is one of those casual, mid-priced but nice restaurants that has become popular since the Great Recession. They use design very well to set a mood. The room is very airy and the restaurant has an outdoor seating section.

They use a mix-and-match menu system: select your pasta and sauce, plus any side dishes you may want. I've been there twice now. On my first visit, I had the pesto. This time, I tried the Bolognese sauce. In both cases, I was more impressed by the pasta than the sauce. Their pasta is just right with that al dente bite. Their sauces were fine but none of the ingredients popped. I expected my pesto to feature the basil or the cheese a little more but nothing stood out. Similarly, neither the meat nor the tomatoes in the Bolognese sauce really wowwed me. Mirko Pasta on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 2, 2012

Decatur: Chopaati

Chopaati is one of the restaurants in Patel Plaza. It specializes in South Indian food, which bears quite some resemblance to Southern cuisine. It's fried to withstand hot weather. (I haven't been there, but I take it that a South Indian summer makes Georgia look like Alaska.) It's also quite spicy. Of course, it's also vegetarian, quite a departure from the pig-worshipping South. The atmosphere of Chopaati is very casual, reminiscent of a Southern cafeteria.
My first dish to come out was the Mysore Masala dosa. It's a thin, spicy lentil crepe with potatoes. It reminded me of BBQ potato chips---crispy and suffused with red, spicy pepper powder. Dosas are very filling, great comfort food.
I also had something I've never had before, paneer tikka. It's paneer (cottage cheese squares) prepared in a tandoor oven with tandoor spices. The paneer is definitely cooked, chewy but not too dry. The spicy hot sauce gave it quite a bit of zing and a very rich flavor. Chopaati on Urbanspoon