Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ann Arbor MI: Zingerman's Delicatessen

I've been to Ann Arbor several times over the years but never managed to make to Zingerman's for anything more than a flyby. I was convined to eat there on this trip. Breakfast was my opportunity.

And what makes a better breakfast than a reuben? This is the Brooklyn reuben with pastrami substituted for corned beef. I have had the original Reuben at Reuben's in New York. Zingerman's execution is simply at a higher level. "Melts in your mouth" is a cliche but I can think of no better description of my experience eating this sandwich. The cheese and dressing give the foundation of that creaminess, but everything in the sandwich simply melts together into an experience that is really very differen than the sum of its parts. The meat, bread, cheese, dressing are all there but the tastes and textures all combine in a way that is simply more than a sandwich. I was holding it in my hands, but my mouth experienced something closer to a casserole or a roast stuffed with cheese.

And to think that I had been missing this all these years...

Zingerman's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Ann Arbor MI: West End Grill

Trev, Jan, and Karem took me to a wonderful evening at West End Grill located, appropriately enough, in the West End. The restaurant still has its old tin ceiling festooned with stained glass chandeliers.

I was too hungry to take a picture of our appetizers: crab cakes and bleu cheese tarts. The crab cakes had just a bit of heat to them, something you don't always find in a crab cake but which worked very well. The bleu cheese tarts lived up to their intriguing premise, rich and tangy.

This is my caprese salad. The mozzarella, tomato, and basil were all outstanding. The balsamic vinegar had been very well aged, giving it a thick consistency.

My main course was tuna, perfectly prepared to a medium well.

The tuna left just enough room for a chocolate lava cake paired with decaf coffee. The cake was rich and moist. I kept scraping my plate to be sure I retrieved all of the chocolate.

West End Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Decatur: Chai Pani

Chai Pani is the new south Indian spot located in the old Watershed location in downtown Decatur. It's a large, well-lit space that gives the feel of a moderately upscale restaurant, coupled with the casualness of chaat. The service was friendly and very helpful.

I started with the matchstick okra fries, which were my favorite. The okra was cut paper thin---I'm very impressed with their slicing technique---and fried to melt in your mouth. The okra flavor comes through extremely clearly. Overall, the taste of fresh vegetables was the consistent theme of the restaurant. A typical chaat restaurant is making fast food and the flavors can get a little lost. The artisanal approach to chaat gives the old standards some real punch.

This is a mixed vegetable uttapam. The pancake is thicker than a French crepe and a little thinner than an American pancake, resulting in a hearty meal. The mixture of fresh vegetables on top popped out with vegetable flavor, making a great combination with the pancake. The vegetable stew served as the side was spicy enough to get your attention but not overpowering. I had chai to drink; the tea and milk were in perfect balance.

I love papadum, so I finished the meal with an order. They were a great treat. Both the tamarind and mint chutneys were excellent.

Chai Pani on Urbanspoon

Chai Pani

Monday, March 25, 2013

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Highland Bakery

Lunch was my opportunity to try the new Highland Bakery on the Georgia Tech campus. It's located on the back side of Tech Tower. It seems to have already taken its place as a favorite stop for prospective students and their families. The decor is modern, relaxed, and spacious.

Although the soup was tempting, I had to try something with bread, so I ordered the caprese sandwich. The bread was perfect all the way down to its light toasting. The cheese and tomato were excellent; a few leaves of basil added a nice contrast. It was filling without being heavy, just what I had hoped for. I also had a sweet potato biscuit for my afternoon snack. It was superb: great sweet potato and nutmeg taste without losing the biscuity texture.

Highland Bakery on Urbanspoon

Highland Bakery

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Decatur: Ledet

I went back to Ledet for the first time in awhile. It is one of the several Ethopian restaurants on what I think of as Ethiopian Corner at Clairmont and Briarcliff. The service, I must say, was spotty and the bathroom fixtures in need of major repair, but the food was quite good.

Ethiopian food has an amazing variety of ways to prepare both meats and vegetables, all with emphasis on sauces. I had the vegetarian platter. The dishes included lentils, beets, leafy vegetables, and one or two things I couldn't identify. Everything was great. The vegetables were all cooked to the proper texture, not too soft and not too chewy. The sauces were all spicy in the best sense, flavorful but not overpowering. And I finally figured out that you can reuse a piece of bread several times, thus saving a little on starch intake.

Ledet Ethiopian on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 18, 2013

NaanStop

One of my students pointed me to NaanStop. It's on the Broad Street restaurant row near Georgia State. It has a fast lunch/mix-and-match format, but done to Indian food.

My main course was paneer tikka masala done as a naanwich. As you can see, the paneer wrapped in garlic naan has a very pita-like vibe. The naan was slightly dry but the paneer was superb. The masala sauce gives a good hearty taste. The sauteed onions and green peppers nicely complemented the cheese and sauce. I asked for a combination of sweet and spicy chutneys which they put right on the sandwich. This turned out to be a great combination, with sweetness to start and a nice warm back end. The samosa is pretty darn big and really, really good. The crust is superb. The filling is homey-tasting with potatoes and just the right amount of spice.

Hey, NaanStop guys, why not put a branch up here at Georgia Tech?

NaanStop on Urbanspoon

NaanStop

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Clayton GA: Zeppelin's Pasta House

It seems that I am usually in the mood for a burger when I'm in Clayton. Something about the mountain air, I guess. Yes, I know Zeppelin's is a Pasta House, but their menu has quite a few sandwiches, too. It exudes a burger vibe as soon as you walk in the door.

This is the Draft Dodger: Canadian bacon and cheddar cheese. The Canadian bacon was an unusual treat. The meat itself was high-quality and tasty. The overall experience was satisfyingly burgery. The fries were pretty good and I suspect they would have been fantastic if they had arrived about 5 minutes earlier.

Zeppelins Pasta House on Urbanspoon

Dunwoody's: Maggiano's

Food choices at the major malls are at the ends of the spectrum: food court quick or meal-as-production. Maggiano's is at the high end of the mall food spectrum. The food is big, plentiful, and consistent. I am a little frustrated by their multi-tier maitre'd system---too many people, too much walkie-talkie chatter---but the service is always reliably friendly.

On this trip, I had chicken florentine. This dish was pleasantly light: grilled chicken drizzled with just enough of a very rich, thick balsamic vinegar; grilled vegetables on top; some toasted Italian bread on the bottom. The side dish was grilled asparagus. I really enjoyed this dish. It was satisfying without making me feel bloated. The flavor combinations were interesting and well-executed.

Maggiano's Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Marietta: Barkers Red Hots

Gerard and I stopped into Barkers Red Hots for a quick post-meeting snack. This is a meat lover's kind of place with all sorts of meat sandwiches. Everything is cooked on charcoal. They even sell bags of their own charcoal.

This is my hot dog with kraut and mustard. It was the best dog I've had in quite awhile. The dog itself had just the right amount of char to give it flavor and character. The kraut was excellent. A very worthy snack overall. I will return.

Barkers Red Hots on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 11, 2013

Carver's Country Cafe and Grocery

Carver's is nowhere near the country and I didn't see any groceries but they sure know their Southern cafeteria food. I found this spot by browsing Urbanspoon---the high rating caught my attention. I had driven past Carver's several times without noticing.

Isn't that a plate of Southern goodness? The turkey was slighly dry, as you would expect for a steam table, but the combination of the salty gravy and the sweet cornbread dressing made me remember why people like Southern home cooking. The collard greens had all the collard flavor you want without any bitterness. My favorite was the okra and tomato. I don't see this dish nearly as often as fried okra. The sweetness and tartness of the tomatoes makes a perfect complement to the okra; nothing was overcooked, all the original flavors were there.

It's always good to know the way to do things at places like this. At Carver's, you pay as you leave. The couple who owns the restaurant are at the cash register and are very nice to talk to.

Carver's Country Kitchen & Grocery on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Decatur: No. 246

This was my second trip to No. 246 in downtown Decatur. The crowd was casually dressed but clearly there for a food experience.

On my last trip, I started with a cheese sampler, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This time I had the beet salad. I recently decided that I really like beets, so I was glad to see this on the menu. It hit a lot of different flavor notes: pistachio, goat cheese, and most memorably the blood orange, which was a great offset to the salad.

This is my margherita pizza. The crust was outstanding, just thick enough and wonderfully chewy. The basil leaves contrasted very nicely with the cheese. It came garnished with just a few pepper flakes and a little bit of salt. Before this showed up, I had tried a few grains of salt from the table bowl, one at a time. They are big enough that you can grab one. The flavor was outstanding---I recommend this as a good way to try a salt. That flavor on the pizza accented the salty cheese.

Their desserts are small in size, which was perfect for me. My cheesecake was full of cheese, just as any proper cheesecake should be. The added hint of rosewater is something I don't recall tasting in a cheesecake before but it went wonderfully with the cheese.

No. 246 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

ATL: Goldberg's Bagel Company and Deli

I've eaten at a couple of Goldberg's around town, so when I got off my plane, they seemed like the right place to hit for a little post-flight sustenance. This location seems to be pretty new to Terminal A. ATL is in the middle of overhauling quite a few of the restaurants.

I love everything bagels with their mixture of salt, garlic, and seeds. This was a fine examplar of the species: all the right flavors on top, properly chewy inside.

Goldberg's Bagel Company and Deli on Urbanspoon

Marcello's Pizza and Subs

In the mood for something a little different in Buckhead, I visited Marcello's. The atmosphere is very old-style local pizzeria: fairly dark, lots of photos on the wall, friendly service, the Chairman of the Board playing in the background. The menu is pizzeria with a strong Greek influence.

This is the veggie sub. The vibe is salad-in-a-bun. The oil and the mayo of the salad dressing gave a nice rounding out to the veggies and feta cheese. The roll was crusty and delicious. This was a quite satisfying lunch.

Marcello's Pizza & Subs on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Optimist

Hyesoon and I visited The Optimist on Howell Mill Road. The location is a little low-key from the street. Inside it is a very large space and surprisingly warm-feeling given the retro-industrial vibe. The bar is very well stocked. The service was very warm and informative.

As you will see, we went a little crazy. We each had two oysters, one from the East Coast and one from the West Coast. The shells are different---the West Coast shells are rougher---but I didn't notice an obvious taste difference between the two. Both were superb: extremely fresh and tasting of the sea. I liked mine with just a little hot sauce.

We also sampled the grilled octopus. It was amazingly tender given that it was grilled. The flavor was subtle, present but not overpowering.

This is Hyesoon's bass. She said the preparation was a little salty but overall very good.

We had hush puppies for our side dish. They came sprinkled with powdered sugar, something I've never seen before (zeppole yes, hush puppies no). The result was slightly dessertish. I would have preferred to have the pure hush puppy flavor but they were quite good.

My salmon was wonderful. The fish was extremely fresh; the flavor was very salmony but not at all fishy. The sauce combined buttery, a little sour, and just a little heat.

We finished with banana pudding: mini marshmallows on top, Graham cracker crust on the bottom. That thing in the middle is a disc of candied sugar used as a garnish. Not as good as my Mom's banana pudding, but still pretty darn good.

The Optimist on Urbanspoon