Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chamblee: Coco's Chinese Restaurant

Coco's is in the Vietnamese shopping center on Buford Highway. One set of signs in the window are written in English and feature the usual suspects for lunch specials; the other set is written in Chinese on a white board. They don't keep all the interesting food on for the Chinese menu, though. The English menu had plenty of options both in animals and body arts. Sadly, I wasn't in a very adventuresome mood today.

I started with hot and sour soup. It was good, with some nice grains of pepper.

My main dish was a hot pot tofu. I'm used to more primitive-style clay pots, but this one was pristine white. The tofu was cooked in a brown sauce with some ground pork and a few bitter green stems. The tofu itself was silky in texture but held together well. It was salty but not from soy sauce.

I was a little disappointed in the service. My soup and tofu came at the same time, then they forgot about me until I waved my hand for the check.

Coco's Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Decatur: Luquma

Luquma is across from Patel Plaza in Decatur. I've passed it many times and thought about eating there. Tonight was the night. The layout is typical of such restaurants: order at the counter, take your number, get some water from the jug up front.

The cuisine is Indo-Pak. I recognized many of the dishes from my forays into North Indian food. I'm not sure what is specifically Pakistani. All my food was quite good. My kofta balls were about the size of a medium meatball---but meatless, of course. The sauce was rich and pretty thick. My favorite was the eggplant. It had a wonderful creamy texture. The sauce was spicy, enough to make my lips tingly but not enough to cause me to breathe fire. The naan was fresh and tasty.

Luquma on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Buttermilk Kitchen

Buttermilk Kitchen's sign "Breakfast all day!" sounded just right so I ducked in for a noontime pancake lunch. The location is on busy Roswell Road but the interior is quiet, sunny, and pretty. The service was very friendly and efficient.

These are the prettiest pancakes I've seen in a long time: perfectly round, golden brown on the top with the perfect brown-and-white speckle pattern. (Their only competitors in the beauty contest came from a Best Western Inn in small-town Nebraska, staffed by women who had cranked out stacks of pancakes every morning for years.) And these pancakes tasted great, too. They were thick and fluffy. The buttermilk flavor gave the perfect tanginess. They held together beautifully on my fork but melted in my mouth. These pancakes really hit the spot.

Buttermilk Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Buttermilk Kitchen

Friday, June 21, 2013

Decatur: Sawicki's

I finally tried Sawicki's in downtown Decatur and I'm glad I did. They are a real, live butcher shop that also serves sandwiches. The service was friendly and efficient.

Everything about my Cuban sandwich was great. The ham was satisfyingly hammy, the cheese was rich and oozingly tempting, the bread was crusty on the outside and just chewy enough on the inside. Smashing everything together in the sandwich press really gives the final touch to this sandwich. This was a great lunch.

Sawicki's Meat Seafood and More on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Porch at Schenley

I met my friends Sarah and Karen for a wonderful dinner at The Porch. It was a beautiful evening and the restaurant gives everyone plenty of windows to enjoy the view.

I didn't grab a photo of our cheese plate, but it was very good. I thought the bleu cheese was the star of the show. Karen and I opted for the roasted chicken. It was delicious, with a wonderful slightly crispy skin and succulent interior.

Sarah opted for the Porchetta, a pork belly wrapped around a pork chop. That's one big hunk of pig. Sarah was able to take quite a bit home. She reported it was excellent and it certainly looked juicy.

I finished up with their strawberry shortcake. I was disappointed with the squishy, non-fresh strawberries but the shortcake was excellent. They made a true scone-style shortcake biscuit, which is hard to find, and the pastry chef executed it perfectly.

The Porch at Schenley on Urbanspoon

PGH: Bar Symon

I was disappointed by my visit to Bar Symon. Airport restaurants have an opportunity to be a haven in the midst of commotion. Iron Chef Symon's restaurant failed in that mission.

My salad was billed as the Simple Salad but I think that the restaurant veered a little too far in the simple direction. As you can see, it is mostly iceberg lettuce; the other vegetables are placed unartfully around the edge. Worst was the dressing, which veered much too strongly in favor of olive oil at the expense of vinegar, leaving an oily film.

My crispy chicken sandwich was quite good. It came on lightly toasted sourdough with great flavor. The crispy chicken's crust was nice and crunchy. The avocado gave the sandwich some moisture without messing up the chicken.

But the restaurant's biggest failure was service, which should be the hallmark of any airport food operation, whether it be fast food or fine dining. I was seated at the most remote table in the restaurant. The waiter came by, I gave my order, and he then disappeared for a long time. After a long drive to the airport and a stint in the security line, I was in the mood for water, which was not forthcoming after I drained my first glass. Finally my food arrived and I was able to ask for water, but my waiter disappeared again. I finally found him and asked for the check after I had finished my sandwich. He disappeared again for several more minutes. An airport restaurant shouldn't add to a patron's stress level. Unfortunately, Bar Symon failed that test.

Bar Symon on Urbanspoon

Pittsburgh: Cafe Phipps

Gabriela introduced me to Cafe Phipps, underneath the dome of the Phipps Conservatory across from CMU. It's a lovely space. The menu focuses on healthy food, organic options, and a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options---but they do have organic, grain fed chicken.

This is my Indian/Middle Eastern lunch. The sauces were light and refreshing. I think they gave the naan a quick toasting on the grill, giving it a little extra butter flavor. It was a fairly small lunch but quite good.

Cafe Phipps on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pittsburgh: Pamela's P & G Diner

Gabriela and I decided to kick off our day of meetings over a discussion at Pamela's. The design is friendly and efficient but not overdone. Service was just right for morning---responsive but unobtrusive.

I went with Pamela's Special Crepe Hotcakes topped with strawberries. The hotcakes were interesting and quite good: not as thick as a pancake but thicker than a French crepe. They were also just a little crispy, adding texture that you don't usually get with pancakes. The strawberries were fresh and good. The coffee was hot and plentiful. I was a little surprised that Forbes Avenue doesn't seem to have more breakfast places, but I consider Pamela's a find.

Pamela's P & G Diner on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Decatur: Sun in My Belly

Sun in My Belly is a funky/hip location near the railroad tracks in Decatur. It grew out of a catering service and, impressively, serves three meals a day. Unfortunately, I found the service to be aloof and my waitress distracted---I had to give her my order twice.

I found everything on my salmon plate to be very well executed but without much striking flavor. The glaze on the salmon had both sweet and umami elements but neither was distinct. The kale had a nice texture but not a lot of flavor. The couscous was similarly uneventful.

If I had to guess, I would chalk up both of my concerns about this place to its roots in catering: the service from a lack of affinity for the hospitality aspects of restaurants and the shy flavors from a need to satisfy large numbers of people at once.

Sun in My Belly on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 10, 2013

LGA: Crust

My last refueling stop on the way out of New York was Crust in LaGuardia's Delta terminal. This is one of those new-fangled airport restaurants run on iPads. Each table has an iPad that you use to order. You swipe your card on the card reader at your table. You can then play with the iPad while you wait for your order to arrive. I'm not totally crazy about this system: the screen gets very greasy; the ordering system makes you select your tip amount when you order, before you have seen the quality of service; when I tried to browse the featured Wall Street Journal site, I couldn't look at most of the articles without a subscription.

My dad designed equipment for those drive-in speaker ordering systems. He told me that the favorite pastime of customers was squeezing ketchup into the speaker. I wonder what the 21st century equivalent is?

The pizza, in airport terms, was quite good. The crust was crisp with a little bit of char, just as it should be. The sauce was nice and tomatoy. The basil leaves gave a nice flavor contrast. I wouldn't put this up against landside gourmet pizzas---the cheese was obviously grated, for example---but it certainly was a refreshing change from old fashioned airport food.

Crust on Urbanspoon

Brooklyn: Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory

On my way out of New York, I managed to stop by Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory's second outpost in Greenpoint. I've looked forward to their ice cream for quite some time. This was also my chance to visit the neighborhood memorialized in Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The storefront is in an industrial section near but not on the waterfront. Everything was pleasantly quiet and relaxed over the weekend.

The staff let me sample vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The strawberry zing really got my attention, so that is what I ordered. The ice cream is excellent because it relies on cream for its flavor. Too many ice creams depend on sugar to grab your attention. But let's face it, ice cream is about the cream.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 6, 2013

New York: Bareburger

Bareburger on the Upper East Side is another member of the riot of build-your-own-burger joints that came out of the Great Recession. They offer a variety of standard burger configurations plus the opportunity to design your own. Their twist on the formula comes in the meats they offer, not just the usual beef/turkey/veggie patty but also buffalo and ostrich.

I went for the classic beef burger, whole wheat bun, fried onions, mushrooms, lettuce, and tomato. Some toppings are free, others like the fried onions and mushrooms, are extra. The burger was good, the mushrooms and onions were great. The whole wheat bun was a very good choice---extra flavorful. Service was friendly but a little scattered.

Bareburger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Woodside Queens NY: La Adelita

A trip to New York led me to stay in Woodside, Queens, a (relatively) quiet part of New York. I wandered into La Adelita, located at a subway stop on the 7 line. The atmosphere was very pleasant, the service very friendly, and the food quite good.

I went for one of my standard dishes, mole enchiladas. As you can see, the presentation was very attractive. The plate was sizzling hot. The test, of course, is the sauce. Mole is supposed to be a oomplex sauce with perhaps two dozen ingredients. A lot of retaurants take shortcuts and end up with a simple sauce. La Adelita's version was complex, with multiple tastes running through my mouth. A bite of sauce starts with the spices and ends up with the heat of the pepper. The cheese perfectly modulated the heat of the sauce. I'm glad I stopped in.

La Adelita Restaurant on Urbanspoon