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Showing posts from September, 2009

PHL: Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar

While waiting for my plane at Philadelphia airport, I tried Cibo. It's in terminal B and has an extensive wine bar as well as an Italian menu. A pilot told me that the food was very good. I enjoy sit-down meals at airports to break up the hectic pace of air travel. I like having a well-balanced meal when I travel. I also like eating with real utensils, not just my hands. I had a salad and the chicken parmesan. Chicken parm is classic Italian-American comfort food, which is particularly welcome on a trip. I'm not going to pretend that the food was world class. But it was competent, which in an airport is a major victory. The sauce, pasta, and chicken all did their job.

Philadelphia: Bubble House

Jason and I visited Bubble House on the U Penn campus. We didn't have the bubble tea, though. If you haven't heard of this concoction, it's a fad drink that came out of Taiwan. It's tea, alright, with milk and sugar, but it also has big gelatin beads. You're supposed to suck the beads along with your tea using a big, fat straw. It was fun once. I did try their dessert, which was quite good. The pastry was very crispy, which made a nice complement. We also had a good sencha tea from their diverse selection.

Philadelphia: Magic Carpet Foods

I've always been impressed by food cart culture in Philadelphia. I think they have the best and most diverse range of food carts of anywhere that I've visited. The food cart scene is best on the U Penn campus, particularly around the medical school. I was always impressed by the carts that offer bowls of fresh fruit, but you can get all sorts of international foods in a very small radius. My colleague Rajeev Alur took me to his favorite, Magic Carpet Foods. I had the Dervish Delight, which ncluded falafel, hummus, taboulli, tossed salad, and pita. The proprietress was extremely nice and explained my choices. She recommended sesame seeds, which were wonderful. The falafel, hummus, and taboulli were all of excellent quality. The range of textures and tastes in this style of food is a constant source of enjoyment. Rajeev is a regular at Magic Carpet and if I lived there, I would be too.

Philadelphia: Naked Chocolate

Naked Chocolate is on the U Penn campus. The decor is quite elegant. They have chocolate in all varieties: small chocolates, drinking chocolates, and cakes. I had breakfast there: Sacher torte, chocolates, and coffee. The chocolates were great. I tried one of their spicy chocolates, which was very subtle and interesting. The Sacher torte was very good, but let me brag a little. I visited the Hotel Sacher in Vienna a few years ago as part of my extensive study of Viennese pastries (hellish work but somebody has to do it). Nothing can beat their Sacher torte. Among other things, they serve it mit schlag (with whipped cream), something that Naked didn't do. But I certainly enjoyed their version quite a bit. It wasn't really a well-rounded breakfast. They have some muffins and other things but not omelettes, meat, etc. But what the hey, who can complain about chocolate in the morning?

Philadelphia: Varallo Brothers Bakery

There are advantages for us geeks to hang out with fuzzy studies types. Claudia wrote her master's thesis on food culture in South Philadelphia, which is an Italian neighborhood. After our cheesesteaks, she took us to what she considers to be the best Italian bakery in town, Varallo Brothers. We couldn't resist and tried a variety of desserts. I started with a cannoli. It was a variety I hadn't seen before, with an egg cream filling. This gave a more subtle flavor than the traditional straight ricotta. I also tried one of the filled pastries, which had a superb crust.

Philadelphia: Pat's King of Steaks

On my recent trip to Philadelphia, my first stop was Pat's King of Steaks. Pat's invented the cheesesteak and they are masters of the form. When I got there at 2:30 in the afternoon, 50 people were in line ahead of me. As you can see, Pat had his rules for ordering long before the Food Nazi's rules. "Wid" means with onions. You have your choice of cheeses, including Cheez Whiz. Expect to eat outside, no matter what the weather. If you're lucky, you'll get a table underneath the awning. I ordered a provolone cheesesteak wid. A well-executed cheesesteak is a thing of beauty, and this one was a wonderful relief from the trip. I prefer provolone because of its more subtle flavor. Jason had a pizza steak which looked very hearty. Claudia had a hot dog and cheese fries, which she let us sample. The cheese fries use Cheez Whiz. The fries are not bad, but not really in the same league as the cheesesteak.

Philadelphia: Pod

My colleagues Oleg Sokolsky and Insup Lee took me to a stunning restaurant located on the U Penn campus. Pod is one of the creations of Philadelphia restaurant mogul Steven Stark. It specialty is sushi and the decor is Jetsons modern. I apologize for the horrible quality of this photo (no flash on an iPhone) but this is our sushi assortment. As you can hopefully tell, it is served on a multi-tiered carrier from a tea service, which was a very elegant touch. The sushi was of very high quality. My first piece, salmon, set the mood for the evening with its buttery softness. The sushi went quickly. We also had several other items. The roast pork was competent but not exciting. The mushroom fried rice was very light and refreshing. The desert, Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate, was an excellent trio of chocolate items. Such a rich dessert coupled with excellent Asian food is a rare treat.

Twisted Taco

Twisted Taco is across the street from Perimeter Mall. It's in a small shopping center along with Alon's. Twisted Taco is in the back, so drive around back and walk into the courtyard. It's a sports bar kind of place, with plenty of TVs and a spacious bar area along with nice indoor and outdoor seating. I ordered three tacos: their traditional meat taco, a California-style chicken taco with avocado, and a crab cake taco. This is the sort of food that is supposed to be fun, with lots of unusual combinations, but not necessarily authentic. Quite frankly, I wasn't sure which taco was the chicken and which was the crab cake. I also ordered their fried ice cream. It turned out to be simply ice cream in a bowl made of a fried tortilla. It was enjoyable, but not really fried ice cream.


On a whim, Saibal and I decided to check out Rise. Its a sushi lounge near the Georgia Dome. The atmosphere is upscale and modern. It's easy to miss their lunch sushi special, which is on the lunch side of the menu, not the sushi side. I had a nigiri selection and a spicy tuna roll. Both were very good, with very fresh fish. (Where does fresh fish come from in Atlanta, anyway?) My favorite was probably the spicy tuna roll---I have a weakness for that.

Computers as Roommates (An Aside)

This note has nothing to do with food but I might as well get it out of my system. I've been living with my desktop computer in my bedroom for a few months. I've found that computers make for mediocre roommates. Sure, they let you watch streaming video whenever you want and they don't leave any dirty dishes around. But they keep calling attention to themselves in rather unflattering ways. Does my computer really have to wake me up in the middle of the night? The latest incident was created by the software HP installed to check for hardware bugs. When it started up, it turned on my two screens, which throw quite a bright light. That was enough to wake up up and try to figure out what was going on. But Vista itself is even more rude. My automatic updates run in the middle of the night so they don't disturb my work. But updates that require a reboot not only turn on the screen, they also put out the little Windows ta-da. Isn't that a little like announcing

Taqueria El Vecino

Once again, weather dictated my choice of meals (and reviews). I found myself hanging around the Oak Grove neighborhood on LaVista and decided to revisit Taqueria El Vecino. The decor and staff are breezy and fun. Their attention-getter is a salsa bar that has a variety of salsas from gringo mild to forest fire hot. I wanted to cover all the meats, so I ordered two tacos, one beef and one pork, and a chicken mole tamal. The tacos were very meaty and hit the spot. I was less happy with the tamal, which seemed a little dry to me.

Mykonos Taverna

I'd been planning to visit Mykonos, at Clairmont and I-85, some time but I was never in the neighborhood at the right time. Today's horrible weather provided me with the perfect excuse---I wasn't going anywhere, so I might as well have dinner. I apologize for the lousy quality of the picture of the sign, but I took it while being drenched. The atmosphere is sports oriented. It's designed as a place to hangout but doesn't suffer from the lousy lighting of a bar. Several TVs provide the requisite ESPN. I tried the gyros, which is advertised as Atlanta's biggest and best. It was pretty good---I was more than satisfied.

Mimi's Cafe

We (Sudha Yalamanchili, Sean Lee, and myself) had a breakfast meeting at Mimi's Kitchen this morning. It's in the greater Perimeter Mall area, in a cluster of restaurants near Target. This was my second or third visit. I had French toast stuffed with cream cheese and topped with strawberries and blueberries. I was a little disappointed in the size of the serving. The strawberries had been packed in syrup, which I found a little heavy. But it wasn't bad. On other occasions, I've had their muffins, which are good comfort food.

Chamblee: The BBQ Corner II

I was in the mood for Chinese food last night, so I headed to Chamblee. I spotted a restaurant that I'd never noticed before, BBQ Corner. My meat hunger took over---I turned around and headed in. I ended up with the pork noodle soup. This is one of my favorite Chinese comfort foods; it combines two of my food loves, meat and carbohydrates. As you can see, the meat is sliced and put on top of the noodles. I wouldn't rank their rendition as any more than average. It was nowhere near, for example, the wonderful bowls served by Ollie's in New York. But I could imagine ending up here once again when a similar craving strikes. Meanwhile, I'll keep my eyes open for other purveyors of Chinese noodle cuisine.


I was in Buckhead yesterday and in the mood for a quick dinner. I decided to try Jalisco, a small restaurant in a rather reserved strip mall in south Buckhead. It turned out to be a surprisingly good choice. It has the feel of a neighborhood Mexican restaurant. The staff was entirely Hispanic, which isn't exactly what one expects in Buckhead. The atmosphere was low key. I ordered a plate with an enchilada, a tamal, and a chile relleno. All three were good, with the chile relleno being my favorite. This is a nice, homey place with good, satisfying food. It's a pleasant change from the foodista atmosphere that one often finds in Buckhead.

Eating Around Georgia Tech: Water Haven

Sorry I don't have pictures for this one. I've been to Water Haven twice now, once for appetizers at dinner and once for lunch. This is the replacement for the lamented Globe in Tech Square. Most people I talk to are not very happy with the food. I think it's OK, but I choose it for convenience, not excellence. Today, I had the pork sandwich. The combination of elements---bun, slaw, etc.---were actually quite good. But the meat itself was nothing exciting.

The Varsity

I apologize for taking so long to review the Varsity. It's one of those places that you know will always be there. My latest meal there consisted of the grilled chicken sandwich and onion rings. The Varsity is not known for its diet food, but the grilled chicken sandwich was pretty good. But I made up for my healthy habits with their excellent onion rings. These are handmade, not manufactured in a factory. But I would like to know what happened to their barbeque sandwich. That was my favorite sandwich on the menu, but I noticed recently that it's no longer there. Whether thou art, Varsity BBQ?

Bagel Palace and Deli

I reported earlier on Bagel Palace's cakes. This morning, I had breakfast there for the first time in awhile. I've eaten there quite a few times and it was good to be back. Today, I had one of my favorite items, the sweet potato pancakes. It's a simple but very enjoyable idea. The pancakes are very thick and cakey. The sweet potato note is definitely there but isn't overwhelming. I've had a variety of other items at other times. Their blintzes, for example, are excellent to my untrained palate.

Guatemala Restaurante

Guatemala Restaurante is on Shallowford in Chamblee. It's a very local restaurant. Most of the clientele speak Spanish. But they are very nice to gringos like me. I went there because I craved a tamale. I ordered two of the chicken variety. I apologize for this photo, but as you can see, the presentation is a little different than what I'm used to---the corn wrapper only goes around part of the tamale. But the big surprise was when I put my fork into it and hit something hard. That turned out to be the joint half of a chicken leg with the meat attached. It was good, but I have never seen that style before. Imagine how I would have felt if I had been eating it with my hands. The plantains were more standard, served with sour cream. They were a nice complement to the tamales.


During our visit to La Fonda on Friday, Saibal opined that Atlanta doesn't have any truly outstanding north Indian restaurants---tandoori and nan are acceptable but not enticing. So I decided to sample another contestant. Haveli is downtown inside the merchandise mart. My garlic nan was pretty good. But I was disappointed in the chicken korma. The sauce was neither as creamy nor as thick as I like it. Given the location and venue, I was hoping for more. So my hunt for great north Indian food continues.

Eating Around Georgia Tech: La Fonda

I don't have any pictures, but Saibal and I squeezed in a visit to the new La Fonda location on Howell Mill. I've driven by their other locations quite a few times but this is my first visit. Their menu combines traditional Mexican fare (tacos, enchiladas) with Cuban dishes. I really like Cuban food, but I was worried about carbs, so I ordered chicken tacos. They really hit the spot---I found the seasoning to be subtle but interesting. They have quite a few vegetarian items; Saibal's vegetarian shish kebab looked great.

Pizza Outside the Perimeter

During some recent excursions around Stone Mountain, I noticed several Italian restaurants and pizza places that claimed to serve New York style. So I answered the call of duty and ate two lunches back-to-back to provide you, the reader, with up-to-date information on the state of pizza outside the perimeter. My first stop was Uncle Vito's in Snelville. The style of the restaurant is very much New Jersey neighborhood pizza place---counter, booths, everything. As you can see, I enjoyed my slice of pepperoni. The crust was the right balance of crispy and chewy. My next stop was the aply named Pizza Cafe, which is very near Stone Mountain. The restaurant is pretty big and has a broader menu. But their pizza was also authentic. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn't rank either of these establishments as superb pizza, but they were both tasty and quite authentic. And let's face it, pizza doesn't have to be fancy to be satisfying.