One-Eared Stag & Cardamom Hill


I’m writing to you now from Emory Village, a flash from the past, as I prepare to speak to Emory Students at 2 PM, sign books at the Emory Book Store at 4 PM and then hustle over to Empire State South where I’m hosting a dinner at 6:15. There are still seats available, so, Atlantans, please come! Call 404-541-1105.

Now before all of this happens, I want to tell you about two incredible meals I’ve had so far since arriving in Atlanta on Friday. Let’s start with the brunch I had yesterday with Atlanta Magazine food critic Bill Addison at the One-Eared Stag near Imman Park.

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Casseroles, Atlanta


It’s not every day that you have a friend go into the food business, which is why I was so excited and exhilarated when my friend Hunter Hanger, the most charming Southerner that I know (when I just called him he answered: “As I live and breathe, if it isn’t Adam Roberts”), was opening up a food joint with his friends Betsy and John. But not just any food joint; a food joint dedicated to CASSEROLES. The inspiration came when Betsy’s mother was having surgery and “a dear friend from Macon” (to use Hunter’s phrasing) brought her a casserole from a casserole shop there. The gesture was so loving and kind that it really stuck with Betsy and when Betsy mentioned it to Hunter, they both realized that “nothing like that exists in Atlanta.”

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The Best Biscuits in Atlanta


Is there such a thing as biscuit terroir?

In wine, as in coffee, we can talk about the soil and growing conditions of the grapes or beans and how that affects the end product. But with biscuits, there are so many variables–the butter, the flour, the baking powder and the buttermilk–you can’t explicitly tie the biscuits to a place. For all you know that baking powder came from Newark, New Jersey.

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An Atlanta Lover’s Guide To Atlanta


Dear Matthew,

You are the director of my show The FN Dish and you are a smart, capable, likable fellow with good sense and judgment. Except, when it comes to one subject, you are a big dumbass. That subject is Atlanta.

You may remember that a few weeks ago, there was a plan for us to go to Atlanta to shoot a segment with Guy Fieri and possibly Alton Brown. You told Rachael, who also works on our show, “To get us in and out as fast as possible, I hate Atlanta.” It’s entirely possible that when you said those hateful, hurtful words you’d forgotten that I’d spent 7 years of my life in Atlanta and that it still holds a very dear place in my heart.

“Matthew!” I said. “Are you nuts? Atlanta’s awesome–we should stay there as long as possible.”

“Yuck,” you replied. “No thank you, you can have it.”

Strangely, I felt like I understood your misguided vitriol. I, myself, once had a very limited view of Atlanta. Back in middle school, I’d visited Atlanta with my JCC Teen Tour (yes, I was a Jew nerd) and we stayed downtown, ate at the Hard Rock Cafe and took a tour of the Coca Cola museum. Atlanta, for me, was much like what New York must be to the tourist who stays in Times Square, visits the M&Ms store and sees “The Little Mermaid”: a giant, soulless, corporate entity with no life, no quirk, no spark. I’m pretty sure that’s your slant: you came to Atlanta for work, you stayed in an ugly chain hotel, and ate your meals in sterile silence.

Well, Mr. Matthew, consider this e-mail your gateway to a whole new Atlanta. I will show you, in the next thousand paragraphs, everything you missed and why you are indeed such a dumbass. In fact, I’ll write you a guide. Here’s how to enjoy Atlanta the right way, a proven way. How is it proven? Craig came along with me this weekend for his first Atlanta visit. He was wary at first–“Atlanta?” he asked from the couch when I suggested it, “I dunno”–but, by the end, he was in love. Seriously. He’s doing the dishes right now, let me ask him.

“Craig, what do you think of Atlanta now that you’ve been there?”

“It was funky and edgy and reminded me of Seattle.” Which is high praise because Seattle is where he’s from and he loves it.

So here we go: An Atlanta Lovers Guide to Atlanta.

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The Farewell Atlanta Dinner

Tomorrow is my last day in Atlanta (sniff/sniff) and so tonight I hired a bunch of actors to play my friends and to join me at my well-thought-out final Atlanta dining spot. (Well I suppose tomorrow night’s dinner will be my final Atlanta dining spot, but you get the idea). To be honest, I didn’t have to rack my brain too hard: The Flying Biscuit was the obvious choice.


Sentimentally speaking, The Flying Biscuit has me by the, well, biscuits. I’ve been going there since my freshman year of college (all seven years ago) and each time I go I get excited. I’ve gone for special occassions (birthdays), non-special occassions (weeknight dinners), dates, parties, and national political conventions. The Flying Biscuit is emblematic of my seven-year Atlanta experience.

Tonight we were celebrating me and in attendance were some of Atlanta’s finest and brightest. There were these people:


These people:


And these people:


I wish I knew their names, but they were awfully nice to let me sit with them. Heck, they even bought me dinner!

I will miss this salad and of course the biscuit:


I will not necessarily miss the catfish served on cheddar cheese grits with a raspberry onion topping:


Mostly, though, I’ll miss Atlanta. I think Atlanta is a marvelous city, full of wonderful people, great scenery, charm and (yes, dammit) culture. I’ve cherished my time here and will look back on it fondly for years to come. It was in Atlanta that I became the person you know and love today and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. You are the wind beneath my wings, Atlanta. You’re the father I never had. Ain’t no mountain high enough, to keep me from you.

In conclusion, this is my last Atlanta post. Savor it, cherish it, put it in your pocket. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be a New York resident! That may be in a few days, so until then, keep your forks aloft and your palates soft! Your palates soft? Hasta a Neuva York!

A BuhBye Banquet at Bacchanalia

Lauren and I have been roommates for two years now–I moved in two summers ago–and sadly tomorrow night marks the end of our cohabitation. Remember how the Golden Girls ended with Dorothy getting married and Blanche, Rose and Sofia opening a hotel? This is sort of like that except neither of us is getting married nor opening a hotel—we’re merely moving to different cities. I’m New York bound (two weeks from today!) and Lauren is headed to DC. Tomorrow night is our last night because Sunday we both head out to take the bar and then I come back and move before Lauren returns in the middle of August.

But let’s not get all mushy. Lauren and I are stout-hearted individuals and, as you may remember, psychic twins. (We were born three hours apart in the same hospital and didn’t meet each other until college). We’ll stay close, calling and e-mailing and visiting. She’ll get Lolita on the weekends–all will be well. Plus, we all know that parting is sweet sorrow: we shirked our bar-studying responsibilities tonight and fine-dined at Bacchanalia and WOW what a meal.

Context is important here. Lauren and I have been cooped up in coffee shops buried in stacks of law books for the past two and a half months. We’ve been doing this since May. The idea of eating food that was not a burrito or cheap sushi was a heavenly prospect. Plus, there was wine.

Our waiter was phenomenal. Don’t give me precision, don’t give me Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto mannerisms—give me an enthusiastic foodie like Matt (I think his name was Matt) our waiter. He steered us through the menu masterfully. This was a prixe fixe menu ($65 for four courses) and he pinpointed the best from each column. Plus, he was a great wine guide. For some reason I was craving Rose–like Britney Spears I’m not a girl, not yet a woman–and I asked Matt (his name?) if that was ok. That’s a strange question I admit. But I’m an insecure wine drinker. And I like sweet things. Matt gave the thumbs up—“You can drink whatever you like; there’s no right or wrong wine.”

So I had the Wolffer Estate 2002 Rose and Lauren had the Riseling Kabinett, Graacher Himmelreich, Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler 2002. (Impressed that I remembered that? I didn’t–I stole the wine list.) Ironically, Lauren’s was sweet and mine was subtle and not-so-sweet. I regretted my wine-choice and seethed with jealousy as Lauren sipped hers.

Now then, on to the food. Wow.

First, two gifts from the chef. The first I didn’t photograph: a puff pastry with cheese in it, served hot from the oven. The cheese had an aged mature quality that cranked this beyond a Bar Mitzvah handout.

Then there was Chef Gift Gazpacho:


Summer is really the best time to fork up the dough and eat out at a nice ingredient-oriented restaurant. Here were great summer flavors all fused in one bowl. And there was only about three bites worth and already I was salivating for the food to come.

Now for the first course I learnt from the mistake I made when I went to Bacchanlia with my mom a few months ago. She ordered the crab fritter and I didn’t. That was my mistake.


This is truly, beyond any doubt, the best crab fritter you will ever have in your life. Amazingly, the recipe is on their website. Steamed fresh blue crab, homemade mayonnaise, Tabasco, Panko, Thai pepper essence and assorted citrus supremes and you’ve got yourself a flavor bomb that will detonate in your fantasies for a lifetime.

Lauren refused to heed the tale of my mother’s crab ecstasy and instead ordered an appetizer of California Snails with Gnocchi and Pesto.


The aroma practically lifted Lauren out of her chair with anticipation. “It smells sooo good,” she said. Then she bit in and smiled euphorically. “Wow.”

I tasted a bite and agreed that it was delicious but it was no crab fritter. More like a snail fritter. Without the fritter.

Moving on, then, our meal was presented in the French style—appetizer, entree, salad/cheese course, then dessert. Thus, our entree came next.

Lauren ordered the Wood Grilled Duck Breast with Rosa Bianca Eggplant Caponata. (Impressed that I remembered that? I didn’t…I also stole that menu.) (Ok, ok–the waiter gave it to us).


Lauren raved over its deliciousness. I was too busy devouring my Roast Veal with a Fricassee of Wild Mushrooms:


The waiter sold me on this one (I think his name was Matt). He told us that the veal takes three days to prepare—that they brine it (I think?) in herbs and then slow roast it all day to give it an incredibly tender quality. (Sidenote: Paula Poundstone just made a post-drunken-mishap appearance on David Letterman and she did a bit about waiters giving too much information at fancy restaurants: “The Chilean Sea Bass wasn’t line-caught, it was lured on to the boat by a reading of the Canterbury Tales.”)

Anyway, the veal was absolutely wonderful. (I’m running out of adjectives here.) I literally scraped my plate clean.

Now for the cheese course. Earlier today–having studied the Bacchanalia menu earlier in the week in a fit of bar-study distraction–I resolved to get the cheese selection for my third course. This was a big deal because I come from a cheesophobic family and I would never in a million years, but for my new interest in food, order a cheese selection when other options were available.

However, Lauren opted to order the cheese selection and I listened to the waiter (Matt?) and chose the world-famous-featured-in-Gourmet-and-Bon-Apetit Roasted Marinated Beets with Vermont Fresh Chevre & Beet Sorbet.


Let’s give an A+ for presentation, shall we? And that beet sorbet–that’s the equivalent of flavor LSD. Not in the sense that it’s good (which it is) but in the sense that it really blows your mind. It looks like it’ll taste like strawberries or raspberries but then it tastes like beets. See what I mean?

Lauren’s cheese cart arrived and she was able to make a selection:


The cheese lady was well-intentioned but, according to Lauren, not very well informed. She mispronounced several of the cheeses. (Again, this is according to Lauren who is a French snob). I thought the cheese lady did fine—I liked her use of the word “nose” to describe the cheese. “It has a powerful nose,” for example. [Interestingly, I’ve been described the same way.]

Lauren settled on some cow’s milk and some stinky soft cheeses:


Lauren offered me a sample and, echoing my cheese-eating sentiments from Per Se, it tasted like a foot–only moreso. Blech. I washed it down with a huge gulp of wine.

Oh more about the wine. The waiter paired our entrees with special-entree wine pairings. With Lauren’s duck there was Van Duzer Pinot Noir 2001; with my Veal there was Glen Carlou Grand Classique 2000. (Does that mean anything to anyone? To me they’re just a bunch of words and numbers. But maybe that will be valuable to some readers).

And now for my favorite part of any meal–the uninhibited butter knife killing spree. Oops. I mean dessert.

First, a pre-dessert gift from the kitchen:


This was a pluot, blueberries and a scoop of some kind of yogurt. Very tasty.

Now then, of course, Lauren chose the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with Malted Milk Chocolate & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream:


I ordered outside the box and chose a Berry Empanada with Malted Vanilla Frappe:


You know those fried funnel cakes at carnivals and Six Flags? How their smell fills the air and you want nothing more than to devour one so you can barf it up after riding the Mindbender? That’s what this was like (without the barfing). Plus there were berries and microgreens and a frappe. How could this be bad? It wasn’t, I assure you.

And then with the check a final gift from the kitchen—those little sweet bonus dessert nuggets called Mignardises. I love stuff like this.


Let’s see—on the left is a sour melon, then an apricot dipped in chocolate, some kind of brittle, candied orange peel, and a chocolate truffle. Talk about living like a king.

After paying, Lauren and I descended the steps—ready to face the bar (on Tuesday and Wednesday) and then to journey forward in our separate though surely-to-be-intermingled futures.


A perfect dinner to cap off a perfect friendship. May we carry it with us always. [Well not always, that would be unhealthy. But you know what I mean.] Here’s to many great meals to come!

Let Us Make TOAST the Toast of Atlanta

Jimmy has a dream. Jimmy’s dream is that his neighborhood restaurant, Toast, will flourish and fly and be there always for him to nosh at. Jimmy invited me out last night because–understandably–my companionship is much sought after and, secondly, he wants me to promote Toast.

“Jimmy!” I said, scandalized. “I am not a food-blogging whore! I do not push restaurants just because my friends really want them to do well! What kind of a person do you think I am? And while we’re on the subject, are you offering me money? Because I accept cash.”

We made our way over to the inviting entrance:


Already I liked it. I could feel the quirky vibe seeping out the door, jolly people on the patio chewing food with smiles. A waitress recognized Jimmy and ushered us inside. She pointed us to a banquette and Jimmy gave me the outward facing table. I like the outward facing table because you can see who’s coming in. Jimmy was buttering me up. It was working.

Behind Jimmy was a giant sign that said TOAST:


This kind of place is right up my alley. Jimmy must have known that. Jimmy is a clever plotter.

And then the waitress was just adorable. Her name was Jeanie (“With one N,” she said, “Like ‘I Dreamed of Jeannie’ except for the one N.”) She was wildly enthusiastic about the food. She even agreed to a picture:


And talk about kismet: Jimmy and I had already selected our food but we asked her, anyway, what was good. “The scallops are amazing,” she said, referring to the scallops appetizer. “That’s what I picked!” I said. “And the gnocchi,” she said, “is to die for.” “That’s also what I picked!” I responded. “Oh my God!” she said.

Then quicker than you can say “Yes Master!” and blink your eyes, Jeanie was back with my scallops:


They were wonderful. Perhaps it compromises my credibility to call these scallops iconic, but they were truly among the best I’ve ever had. Perfectly caramelized and accompanied by lovely pillowy ravioli with–I’m sorry to say–a filling that I forget. But no matter. The scallops were divine.

(“You’re doing great,” whispers Jimmy, “here’s a $20.”)

And then there was gnocchi.


Sorry Jimmy, but this wasn’t as good as the scallops. But it was good. I enjoyed the pesto and the artichokes. Maybe I’m just not a big gnocchi fan? In fact, when I was a waiter I constantly mispronounced it. “Gggg notch ey,” I would say.

For dessert, we shared a strawberry shortcake type thing with marscapone ice cream:


The strawberries were glazed with balsamic vinegar and that was fantastic. The shortcake had a salty quality that I loved. It was a great dessert.

OK, Amateur Gourmeters, time to throw your weight. Let’s see you all stampede over to Toast and make it a new Atlanta powerhouse. If not that, then when you’re in town maybe you should check it out? It really is cute.

That will be $49.74, Jimmy.

[Just kidding. I really DID like it.]

MYSTical Dining at Nam

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, all because they played video games. I know because I was one of them: my mind was nurtured not on Luigi Pirandello but Luigi as in Mario and Luigi as in Super Mario Brothers 1, 2 and 3. Also, Legend of Zelda. And the pinnacle of my video gaming achievement: The Goonies for Nintendo, which I beat late one night to the delight of my awestruck brother.

How amazing to ponder the hours spent behind that glowing screen, fingers clicking frantically: worlds conquered, princesses saved. How horrifying, in a way, to consider all the hours wasted that might have been spent reading or writing or playing hopscotch. I might have been a hopscotch champion! Instead I saved a mermaid.

When a mind, like mine, marinates for as long as it did in the world of video games, one begins to wonder what flavors linger from that former life? Do I view life as a mission, a la the mission games–earning and achieving, ascending from level to level? Or do I view life as a puzzle, like the puzzle games (Clu Clu Land comes to mind–anyone ever play that?)–life slowly unraveling to reveal great designs underneath?

Tonight’s dinner at Nam flashed me forward a few years beyond the roguish western philosophy of Nintendo and into the eastern zen garden of Myst.

Did anyone here play Myst? Do you recall its quiet splendor?

The mission of Myst was to, basically, wander around until you found things. No little ghosts chasing after you; no steadily diminishing time clock. Myst was in a way a suspended meditative state: replete with ethereal water noises and sparkling sunlight coming through trees.

I never even got close to figuring out what I had to do to beat the game and it seemed almost irrelevent. Instead I spent many happy hours clicking left, clicking right, and savoring this virtual environment, eager to stumble across a hidden “world” that would transport me someplace new.

This is a respectable philosophy, I think, when it comes to dining. Click left. Click right. Savor your world. Get transported.

And I can’t even begin to tell you how thoroughly transported I was tonight at Nam:


If Atlanta dining is its own video game, Nam is a place I’ve passed by many times, never thinking to “click” it. It just kind of blended into the background. It was next to a UPS Store.

Then earlier this week my friend Mark suggested a dinner outing with our friends Andrew and Trinh on Thursday. I would pick the place because I’m the Amateur Gourmet. I consulted John kessler’s Best of Atlanta list and my eyes set on Nam for its rice flour Tamales.

Where was Nam? Let me get directions.

Oh wait! It’s that place next to the UPS store!

Double click.


So you know those video games where two players can fight together against a common enemy? Like that one with the wizard and the ninja or something? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?

Tonight I was lucky to have Trinh by my side. Trinh is half Vietnamese and she was here to help us navigate the menu. And also because we enjoy her company. Also joining us was the aforementioned Mark and the nowformentioned Andrew:


The waitress came around to take our drink order. Mark and Andrew stuck with water. Trinh asked if they had any Vietnamese drinks. The waitress srunched her face for a second.

“We have a very tart drink,” she said not-so-confidently.

“Ah,” said Trinh, “You mean ****.”

“Yes,” said the waitress.

“I’ll have that,” said Trinh.

“Me too,” I chimed in.

[I attempted to enter the name of the drink into my cell phone so I could report it to you now, but it is no longer there–maybe because no number was attached?]

Anyway, here is the drink in question:


It is a combination of salt and lemon and sunshine. According to Trinh, the lemons are salted and left in the sun to decompose. That’s how this drink is made.

And at first, it’s a little shocking to the palate. You’re not used to drinking something so salty through a straw. Although it is reminiscent of a margarita. And eventually the drink grew on me—I really enjoyed the depth of its fermented flavor.

Now the actual ordering. I played it safe, relying on John Kessler’s glowing review. [Sort of like cheating at Zelda with a “How To Beat Zelda” book.] Everyone else took some chances.

Mark and Andrew scored significant points with their fried soft shell crab and ginger sauce:


Trinh turned many heads with her steamed rice cakes (Banh Beo):


But I scored the magic mushroom with my Kessler-recommended Rice Flour Tamales (Banh Nam):


The presentation alone was enonugh to make me ooh and ahh. Wrapped in banana leaves, the waitress peeled back the one on top to reveal a layer of white flecked with bits of pork and shrimp and mushrooms. She poured a small spoonful of fish sauce for me and invited me to begin.

What a strange concoction! So unlike anything I’ve eaten before. I loved it.

How exciting, really, that there still worlds left to conquer! Let’s leave the video game motif behind and ponder the depressing notion that all land masses on earth have already been discovered. There will be no more Magellans. What’s left then for us? The answer is in the tamale. Vestiges of culture!

I truly felt transported eating this. I fell down the rabbit-hole. I took the red pill. (Or is it the blue pill?) I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Soon the plates were taken away. Trinh and I shared a sour mango salad (Goi Xoai):


This was interesting both flavor-wise and texture wise. The mangos were cut into long noodles that felt almost like spaghetti. And with the shrimp the salad was both refreshing and exotic, yet strangely familiar.

Finally, there was the “Shaking” Filet Mignon (Bo Luc Lac):


Please believe me when I say that never in all my life have I had beef this tender. It was a marvel. It literally melted in my mouth. Everyone who tried it (and Andrew ordered it too, so there was plenty to try) couldn’t get over how tender the beef was. Even flies on the wall whispered to eachother: “That beef is remarkably tender.”

And I loved the strange ritual of squeezing a lime into a little bowl of salt and pepper to act as a condiment. It worked out great: the lime and salt and pepper gave the beef the kick it needed to fully inflate its potential.

Sadly, there are no desserts at Nam. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a dessert kind of guy. But it’s a testament to how enraptured I was by this meal that I didn’t care. Bad dessert would have broken the spell.

We wandered outside and made our way home: this little adventure was over. No princess saved, no puzzle solved—and yet, despite that, something inextricably won.

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