Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tempe AZ: The Chuckbox

I've always loved the Chuckbox. I went to high school in Tempe and occasionally hung out at the ASU library. (I'm a nerd---what do you expect me to do?) I discovered the Chuckbox across the street from campus on one of those trips, probably on my way to the textbook store (I told you I'm a nerd). It hasn't changed at all and I still think it's great.

This is the Little One. The Big One is pretty big and their huge burger really is huge. One of the things that caught my eye way back when was the open charcoal grill that's right in front of you. You order your burger, you see the cook slap it onto the grill, you see the flames lick it into shape. They also have a fixings bar, something that was very popular int the '70s but is much less common now. Most of the new custom burger places put together the burger for you. I enjoy the opportunity to look, shop, and figure out what I want by what I see in front of me.

The onion rings, by the way, were perfect.

Chuckbox on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tempe AZ: The Dhaba

While wandering around Tempe, I happened across a small Indian strip mall. Its restaurant, the Dhaba, specializes in Punjabi food. I was very impressed with the food as well as the decor.

I ordered the vegetarian thali. It started with a diced vegetable salad with a sort-of-French salad dressing. I've never seen a salad like it in an Indian restaurant but it was a refreshing way to start. The thali itself had Punjab choli, a lentil dish, and dal. The choli was quite spicy. The chutneys that accompany the meal are much more flavorful than what one gets in a more mundane Indian restaurant. When I looked at the red sauce I suspected that it was pretty hot. I was right---it gave a beautiful burn that kept me coming back for more.

The Dhaba on Urbanspoon

Phoenix: Pizzeria Bianco

Pizzeria Bianco is one of the most famous restaurants in Phoenix. It happens to be just two miles from the airport. That made it easy to decide what to do first when I arrived in town. I arrived at mid-afternoon, normally a slow time for restaurants. Bianco is so popular that you have to wait even at the down times. The hostess told me to expect a half hour wait but she very graciously worked me in after about five minutes.

I started with a plate of green and black olives. Both tasted great and provided different textures (green is firmer). They come bathed in an amazingly flavorful olive oil. Even if you aren't a crust person, try dipping a little of your pizza crust in the leftover oil.

This is the sonny boy pizza. It's topped with salami, something that one doesn't often find on pizzas. This extremely fine salami gives a very meaty flavor without being heavy. Of course, the crust is superb. It's just the right thickness with a few wonderful burns.

Pizzeria Bianco on Urbanspoon

Irvine CA: Cafe Bresserie

My Irvine friends took me to Cafe Bresserie during my recent visit. The restaurant is located in an office building near the airport. The outside is low-key but the inside is large and pretty opulent. We arrived early but by the time we left many couples were dancing to a band.

We kicked things off with a breasola, a very delicate dish that is a great way to introduce a meat-oriented meal. Our next course was salads. My caesar was fine but nothing special; my friends reported that the beet salad was outstanding.

My main course was a steak and white corn. The steak was excellent. The corn was very sweet and tender, almost like dessert.

The hit of the meal, however, was the chocolate souffle. It was perfect. The richness of the chocolate and raspberry didn't overwhelm the richness of the egg. It was fluffy and tender, not to mention beautiful.

Cafe Bresserie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Decatur: Bakery at Cakes and Ale

Catherine and I got a chance to try the Bakery at Cakes and Ale. I had stopped by before for just long enough to try an exquisite cookie. I've been looking forward to this breakfast for a chance to catch up with Catherine and to make our acquaintance with some great breakfasts.

That's my cheese and green onion scone plus a biscotti. The scone was very intriguing---you don't see savory scones every day in this country---and it turned out to be even better than I imagined. It has just enough cheese to give the flavor but not be gooey. It's surprisingly salty, which adds a lot to the overall experience. The biscotti was perfect. Too much sweetness would just be lost when you dunk it. The pistachios and bits of chocolate make great little nuggets to discover.

Bakery at Cakes & Ale on Urbanspoon

Sufi's

Hyesoon recommended Sufi's. She likes its combination of good food and late hours. I dropped by last night for what passes for a late-night meal for me. As you can see, the interior is quite elegant. The service was generally very good, although I must say that the rest room had absolutely no paper towels.

This is the table salad that starts off the meal. It has mint and some other herb I couldn't identify, walnuts, radishes, butter, cheese, and bread. Mixing and matching is part of the fun.

My main course was the veggie stew. I had another dish in mind when I ordered so I was a little surprised by what I got, but it was very good. The sauce was moderately spicy; it left a nice burn on my lips at the end of the meal. The stew includes eggplant, potatoes, and an assortment of other vegetables. It comes with a large serving of rice but I think the best way to enjoy it is Southern style---dunk your bread. Wiping the bowl clean is a sign of a good meal.

Sufi's Atlanta on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Duluth: Jang Su Jang

Hyesoon introduced me to Jang Su Jang. The exterior is low-key and I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to it by myself. The restaurant serves both Korean BBQ and tofu. The room is in a more traditional Korean style and the service was very good.

The Korean salad is one of the joys of a Korean meal. The dishes very widely and I don't think that two restaurants serve them the same way. My favorite was the cucumber. Its sauce was very complex: heat, sour, and just a touch of sweetness.

Tofu houses serve the tofu in a soup. Hyesoon recommended that I try the seafood. It had some small clams or oysters and crayfish. Those little critters packed a lot of flavor. I ordered it spicy; the level of heat was just right.

Jang Su Jang on Urbanspoon

Lake Toxaway NC: Osteria Del Monte

Hyesoon and I were driving along Highway 64, despairing of ever finding a place for lunch. At just the right moment, this very cute rustic Italian restaurant appeared on the side of the road. Inside, the room was spacious and upscale-casual elegant. I found the service to be great in the Italian style---gracious but not stiff.

For lunch I tried the eggplant parmigana. Everything about it was great. The eggplant was tender. The tomato sauce was sweet with a little bit of acid and full of flavorful. The cheeses were outstanding. The pasta was al dente and just right.

Osteria Del Monte on Urbanspoon

Clayton: Osage Farms

I first discovered Osage Farms at the beginning of the summer. It's located on the north side of Clayton. This is a real farm stand: it's in the middle of a field; most of the produce comes from the local area. You can tell that the people there take pride in what they do.

On my first visit, I bought a basket of strawberries. I was surprised that they were ripe so early in the summer. They didn't disappoint---they were some of the most flavorful strawberries I've ever had. I bought them to make strawberry preserves. I asked the gal at the cashier if she knew how many pints of preserves I should be able to make from my basket. She said she didn't know but she would ask someone. A minute later she came back and said that she asked a gal who used to make jam for a living, who said I could get 10 jars. That advice impressed me as much as the strawberries---these gals clearly know their stuff.

On this visit, I concentrated on apples. As Hyesoon pointed out, the bins and bins of different varieties don't have the same cosmetic properties as the apples in the grocery store---they vary in size and a few have blemishes. But they are all extremely flavorful. I was particularly impressed by the Arkansas Black, a variety I'd never seen before. I has a dark skin and very rich, sweet flavor. I made a pie using a mixture of apple varieties. It was the best apple pie I've made in a long time.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Alpharetta: Breadtime

Breadtime seems unassuming at a glance from Alpharetta Highway. But when I stepped in side I found a small, very complete and elegant European bakery and restaurant. The interior is casually elegant and the outside space is positively cute.

This is one of their pastry cases. They also display meats, loaves of bread, and a very nice selection of wines. Their menu includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They of course feature items like sandwiches that show off their bread but they have a wide range of items.

I stopped by for a snack and found it impossible to stop at one item. The croissant was the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and buttery tender on the inside. The middle tore out of it in the most luscious way when I pulled on the tip. The apple strudel was excellent---this is a European-style pastry that isn't overloaded with sugar. (One of my pet peeves is that Americans put too much sugar in desserts. All that sugar hides the other flavors.) I also took home a half loaf of rye bread. It had a dense but very tender crumb and an excellent crust.

Breadtime on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dayton OH: Brunch Club

I spotted Brunch Club as I drove past and knew that I had to try it. Cute, isn't it? The inside is equally cute, sporting a farmhouse decorating scheme. It's a bright spot in a rather drab neighborhood.

As much as I was tempted by the breakfast burrito, I ordered the buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat is something that you don't see every day and it the rich flavor of the buckwheat gives pancakes an interesting spin. These were quite good. The coffee was excellent and plentiful. My egg beaters were very nicely prepared. In every respect a very good breakfast to prepare me for my morning meeting.

Brunch Club Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dayton OH: Smoking BBQ

Smoking BBQ is in downtown Dayton. It's located in an old White Castle-ish burger emporium. In keeping with the classic building, the seating is counter only. 60's and 70's music provides the ambience.

My collard greens were pretty good with a nice smoky flavor. My cole slaw was workmanlike, fine but not spectacular. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the main event. The meat on my ribs was dry and chewy. I had high hopes for this place but it did not, at least on this visit, live up to my expectations.

Smoking Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

ATL: Burgers BBQ and Brews

Burgers BBQ and Brews is in Hartsfield-Jackson's terminal C. It's located in the space formerly occupied by Pascal's sit-down restaurant (a place I will miss). The restaurant offers waitress service at tables. The room is spacious, unlike the walk-in closets that pass for sit-down restaurants at most airports. The service was very gracious.

My first chance to try it was at breakfast; I ordered biscuits and gravy. I could smell the smoke of the meat in the gravy as soon as my waitress set the plate down in front of me. It didn't disappoint. The gravy was a little thin but extrmely flavorful. The biscuits were very tender. They came with a choice of either hash browns or fruit. I consider the fruit option to be very progressive. The fruit was very good---big chunks of melon that were very freshly cut. Overall, a very good breakfast for any restaurant, airport or no.

Burgers BBQ & Brews on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tucker: Enzo's Pizza

Enzo's has been on my "I should try that some time" list for awhile. I should have tried it sooner. This is a real neighborhood pizza place in the New York tradition (just with better decor). The service is traditional of the pizza places I'm familiar with from New Jersey: go to the counter, order what you want, they'll bring it to you.

My salad was excellent. As you can see, the lettuce was a rich green, not a pale light green from iceberg. It also featured two kinds of olives, tomatoes, and some cheese, all of which made a great flavor combination. The vinaigrette dressing was rich and thick with a good amount of tang.

This is two slices of Sicilian pizza, something that is hard to find in Atlanta but common up north. It's thick and bready and traditionally made in rectangular pans. Enzo's version is delicious. The mushrooms got my attention first. They are fresh and with that meaty, earthy taste that mushrooms should have but too often don't. The tomato sauce was the right combination of acid and sweetness. The bread was very soft and tender in the middle with crunch on the bottom. These are big slices---one is probably enough for most people.

Enzos Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Decatur: Masala

I've been to Masala (formerly Mirch Masala) a few times. Tonight was my first visit in awhile. I found that things haven't changed. They do have a menu but most people eat from the buffet. They serve meat as well as vegetarian entrees.

Overall, the food is a mixed bag. The naan are fresh, flavorful, and plentiful. They have a good rendition of the lime picke, a condiment I have come to love for its combination of salt, sour, and heat. The aloo palak (spinach) was rich and pretty tasty. But the mutter paneer was a little overdone, the rice pudding was very thin, and they didn't have any onion chutney. It's certainly passable, but you and they can both do better, I think.

Mirch Masala on Urbanspoon

Chamblee: Royal China

I've been to Royal China quite a few times but not in awhile. Dim sum with Yu and Fumin was my chance to reacquaint myself. Chamblee has several very popular dim sum establishments and this is one of those popular ones. We made it there before the big rush. Popular dim sum helps ensure that all the dumplings are fresh---those carts don't circle for long before they have to go back for a refill.

We tried several of the old standards. A few things stood out. We of course had my favorite bao, white bready dough surrounding BBQ pork. We also tried the yellow version, which I don't think I've ever had before. Yu looked up the filling---turns out it's chestnut. Fumin ordered beef intestines, which I tried. Chewy, not a must-have item for me, but not bad.

The tea was great. I'm not sure what variety it was but it was good enough to deserve special mention.

Royal China on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chamblee: Himalayas

I've eaten at Himalayas a number of times over the years. The Indian food situation in Atlanta is similar to my view of the Italian restaurants scene---initially disappointing but more rewarding after doing some searching. I have found Himalayas to be a very solid performer over the years. My friend Saibal ranks it as his favorite Indian restaurant in town.

The exterior is extremely bland but the interior is quite nicely decorated. The lighting is very low, which is good for intimate conversations but bad for taking photos of food. I've always found the service to be a little brusque but efficient. They serve a selection of beers and wines.

I've had the tandoori meats quite a few times, which I found to be very good. Tonight I went for the vegetarian combo. It was bigger than I had remembered---two full entree portions plus rice, naan, raita, papadum, chutneys, and dessert. For my entrees I had aloo mutter and vegetable korma. They offer several levels of spiciness. I asked for the hottest level, which is at nose-running on the Marilyn Heat Index, just below eyes-tearing. Both dishes were rich with creamy sauces and the heat didn't overpower the other tastes. Their naan is always fluffy and inviting. The onion chutney at the start of the meal was good and surprisingly spicy.

Himalayas Indian on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tamales

I've loved tamales ever since my mom gave us canned Hormel tamales when we were kids. I realize that isn't the highest expression of the tamal, but to a 5-year old the combination of corn and meat was pretty great. I've since had real tamales which I love even more. I've been thinking about making my own for awhile.

My rendition was loosely based on recipes in Diana Kennedy's book on Mexican cooking. The biggest difference was in the masa. The basic combination is masa, lard, a little salt, and water. It took a lot more water to hydrate my dried masa than I thought. The result was a little lumpy but in the end turned out OK. Peanut butter consistency seems to be a pretty good target.

I made the filling from leftover pork roast that I had smoked awhile back. I added tomatillos, tomato paste, pecans, apricots, onion, garlic, salt, and cinnamon. I also made a few using just Arthur Bryant's BBQ sauce for the pork.

Next came stuffing. I spread the masa onto a corn leaf, then added in a little filling, trying to avoid the temptation to overstuff. I rolled up the corn leaf, which wasn't quite as messy as I had feared.

I then wrapped each tamal in aluminum foil. What, pray tell, is the traditional way of wrapping them?

I then put them in the steamer vertically. My steamer wasn't quite as roomy as I had hoped. The tamales stuck out the top a little, so I closed it with more foil. I steamed them for an hour.

The results were great. The Arthur Bryant's filling was good but the homemade filling won hands down thanks to all the widely different types of ingredients. The masa was creamy in texture and corny, a perfect complement to the pork. I resisted the temptation to eat them all right away and put most of them in the freezer.