Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Friday Night at Fritti

Context matters.

That’s the major thrust of Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” (which I’ve reviewed on here) and I think it applies to going out to eat.

Let me explain:

I have these friends–let’s call them “Mosh” and “Paty”–who really love the pizza at Fritti. When I wrote a pizza post a couple of weeks back, Paty e-mailed me and said: “You ain’t tried nothin’ til you tried the pizza at Fritti.”

Last night, I had plans with my friends Mark and Michael K. and I suggested Fritti.

“It’s the best pizza in Atlanta,” I explained, quoting Paty.

“Ok, soundsd good,” said Mark. He made the reservation.

We got to Fritti around 7:30. What’s nice about Daylight Savings time is that now everything is bright and sunsetty at 7:30. It was really pretty out.

“Can we sit outside?” we asked the host.

“No,” he said. “We can seat you at a table inside right now, or you can wait thirty minutes.”

We mulled that over and caved into our hunger. “Inside it is,” we said.

[Maybe I should have slipped him a $50, as per the bribing article I posted. Anyone have a $50?]

They led us to a back corner table, past the woodburning ovens where the pizza is made:

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I sat down and a beam of sunlight pierced my retina.

“Ow,” I said.

I moved seats and let the sunlight pierce the back of my head.

We perused the wine menu. Michael K. knows his wine, so we let him choose. He chose a bottle of Poliziano, a red Italian wine:

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It was nice, though slightly acidic.

Next, we ordered appetizers. Based on a review we read online, we went for the calamari. And since we were three, we also ordered a Frito Misto of shrimp and scallops.

What came out was two giant platters of fried food:

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I wish I could say that it was good, but it wasn’t. I didn’t like the batter—it was floury and unflavorful. It needed salt. And with a batter like that, you really wanted something to dip it in: garlic aioli or anything. All we got was a lemon.

And there was so much of it.

[An inversion of the Catskills/Woody Allen-Annie Hall joke of the two women at a restaurant: “The food here is terrible!” “And such small portions!”]

Anyway, the plates were taken away and out came our entrees. Mark and I went for pizza:

I took the waiter’s suggestion of the Pancetta Carmelized Onion Pizza with Hot Red Pepper Flakes:

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Mark ordered pizza with smelly gorganzola, pineapple and balsamic vinegar:

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Michael K. eschewed pizza for a pork chop, to his vast pleasure:

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“This is delicious,” said Michael K.

Mark and I were underwhelmed by our pizzas.

I thought mine was fine—I liked the crust—but it was comparable to the pizza at Osteria; also thin, made in a wood-burning oven and with the added bonus of being cheaper.

Mark was equally indifferent to his pizza, saying he wished there was more pineapple.

Would I have felt different had I been there with Mosh and Paty? Well, turns out, Mosh and Paty were there that night too. They split two pizzas between four people and everyone seemed contented.

“Wasn’t the pizza great?” said Paty.

“Yes,” I lied.

[Good thing they don’t read this website or I’d be in SOOO much trouble!]

So, in summary, Fritti was less than stellar; perhaps it takes enthusiastic company to bump it up to stellar.

[Sharing in the sentiment, Lolita just barfed.]

[And since I threw that in, I’ll also add that last night I had a very disturbing apocolyptic dream where the world, basically, ended. Tony Soprano was there and we were all listening to the radio, as bombs started to drop. I blame it on Fritti.]

Gelato at Paolo’s

I don’t really get gelato. I know it’s sophisticated ice cream, but I still prefer ice cream. [Especially at Jake’s, where I’ll take you soon. It’s in my Atlanta Top Ten.]

In any case, Lauren and I had pizza tonight–(JEWS: ACT NOW! LAST CHANCE FOR LEAVENED BREAD!)–and since I had my camera in my pocket and since there was a gelato place across the street, I said: “Let’s go!”

The place in question is Paolo’s:

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Apparently, it’s the best gelato in Atlanta (it says so on the outside). It’s at the intersection of Virginia and Highland which puts it literally in the heart of the Virginia Highlands.

Walking in the door, people were lined up. Knickknacks adorned the shelves. A TV screen showed a live image of the people in line with a sign that said: “Live on the Internet!” [I tried to find it just now online, but couldn’t.]

Today there was an interesting gelato selection:

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Most interesting was avocado gelato. Lauren and I asked for a sample and we were surprised that it was good. Smooth and creamy, it was one part face mask to two parts delicious.

We went with a small cup of stracciatella; the Italian version of cookies and cream.

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Very good, very yummy. As good as ice cream? Well, no. But good. And yummy. The End.

Aria Restaurant (Atlanta)

Bruised, battered and overworked, my stomach barely survives weekends with my parents. The sheer mass and variety of food is too much for my delicate internal organ to handle. Last night, in a quiet moment, my stomach stepped into a spotlight and began singing a sad aria.

“ARIA,” said my parents, and scooped us up and drove us down Paces Ferry Rd. to Aria, a restaurant we had heard much about.

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“Please, mom, dad, I can’t,” I pleaded, “I’m so full.”

“NONSENSE!” they chimed back. We walked into a funky room with a silver beaded curtain and a strangely lit bar. A hostess led us to our table.

The decor was truly Felliniesque in that it was classic Italian with surreal edges. Like a giant sea creature chandelier:

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Or a bejewelled feline overlooking the table above us:

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And three otherworldy creatures from the planet EAT who stared back at me smiling eerily:

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I remembered the adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and also the adage “Eating is good” and decided to be a good sport. Besides, believe it or not, I was starting to get hungry again.

“Here we go,” said my stomach.

Our waitress was exceptionally helpful, considerate and pregnant. She steered us through the menu with charm and a genuine excitement over the food. Mom took her appetizer recommendation, a warm lobster salad in a martini glass with layers of truffled potatoes and slow-cooked broccoli:

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I went out on a limb and ordered tuna tartare, because I had never had it before.

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Studded with pine nuts and Asian spices, it was truly delicious. Not too heavy but choc full of flavor, it was a gift to my tongue while proving gentle to my stomach.

Dad had a smoked salmon appetizer and Michael had the Caesar salad. [Not pictured.]

And then the entrees arrived. I took the waitress’s suggestion for the most popular dish: a slow cooked pork with bleu cheese polenta and spinach.

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It was fantastic. Fork-tender and rich, the pork–a non-traditional Roberts family choice–proved a major success.

Mom and Michael both had the veal:

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Over which they were both enthusiastic.

Dad ordered the filet migneon, which he ate quickly enough, but which he declared to be “crunchy.” [Perhaps he was referring to the charred surface?]

Finally, the waitress practically sang an aria (ARIA!) over the warm cheesecake dessert. “I don’t normally tell my customers this,” she said, “but I once had a woman tell me the warm cheesecake is better than sex. It’s THAT good.”

We gave the thumbs up, as well as mass approval to a strawberry angel foodcake peppermint icecream dessert. Here they are:

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Mom bit into the cheesecake and said, in her heavy New York accent: “Oh moy gawd. That is to DOY foh.”

I preffered the strawberry one:

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Just because it was the prettiest and the lightest and the most basic. But the cheesecake was great too.

Before we knew it, the check was paid and we were out the door.

My parents loved the meal. According to my mom—who was just in New York last week for their 30th anniversary trip—Aria was better than Town, Lever House and “all the other places we ate.” [I still preferred our lunch at Bacchanalia.]

The valet brought the car around, and my parents visit would very shortly be over. My stomach began its slow mental journey back to its regular routine.

As we said our goodbyes, and the curtain came down on a weekend of decadent dining, a small voice began to sing softly.

“Aaaah, aaaah, aaaaah,” sang my stomach, accompanied by my kidney on lute.

“How pretty,” said my mother, kissing me goodbye. Farewells to dad and Michael and then into my car.

Lights fade to black. The audience rises to its feet. “BRAVO! BRAVO!”

FINIS

Bacchanalia (Atlanta)

Bacchanalia is one of Atlanta’s top restaurants, if not The Top restaurant (second only to Seeger’s). Yet, everyone I know who has eaten dinner there–myself and my family included–comes back disappointed. Why?

Well my memory from the family trek to Bacchanalia three years ago (and remember, this was before Adam became food conscious) is one of dainty dishes, small portions and esoteric ingredients. I remember my dad being unhappy. I remember a subtle, snobby vibe.

Today, though, my dad and brother went to a golf tournament and mom suggested that she and I go to a nice lunch. I suggested Bacchanalia since, most likely, I won’t eat there again before I leave Atlanta. She approved.

I picked her up in front of the mall where she “got a lot done at Saks,” and drove her–stupidly–through heavy traffic because of the Dogwood Festival. When we finally got to Bacchanalia, we were ready to eat.

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Already, walking in, I knew this was a good idea. Things are quieter at lunch, and there’s a breezy charming feel. The cheery woman at the hostess stand led us to our table. “Enjoy your lunch.”

On the way, we walked past the bar.

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The windows overlook the kitchen, and it’s nice enough. But I have to tell you this: Bacchanalia is ugly.

I can’t describe the tiles on the wall any other way than to say that they look like urinal tiles. Not that urinals are made of tiles, but they looked like tiles you see on the wall above a urinal. And worse, they look HIGH SCHOOL urinal tiles. Yellowy and gross.

With that out of the way, though, the place overcame its ugliness with gorgeous weather outside and good cheer in the room. Mom and I ordered wine and the waiter snapped a photo of us:

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The menu changes daily and the waiter gave us the lowdown: go for the blue crab fritters as an appetizer and the duck for an entree.

Unfortunately, my curious nature feels wasteful ordering two of the same thing so I let mom order that and I ordered the tomatillo cucumber gazpacho with lobster and a lobster roll, to round out the theme.

Soon, the first course arrived. Here’s my gazpacho:

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And here’s mom’s fritter:

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I hate to say it, but mom clearly picked the winner. The fritter was mind-bogglingly delicious. With hints of vanilla, citrus and chili, that ball of crabby goodness was a piece of heaven.

The gazpacho was light and refreshing.

“Mom,” I said innocently, “that fritter’s so heavy. Why don’t you have the rest of my soup: it’s light and refreshing.”

“Nice try,” she said, “but fine, you can have the rest of mine.”

I accepted her offer and scarfed down the remnants on her plate. She made her way through my gazpacho.

And then the entrees.

Mom’s duck:

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And my lobster roll:

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Mom hates to say it, but I clearly picked the winner. The lobster roll was mind-bogglingly delicious. The best thing about it was the orange zest mixed right in; it gave it such a light, tart flavor it made my whole face light up.

Mom’s duck was tough, but still good.

“Want to trade?” asked my mom.

“Yeah right,” I replied.

Soon our plates were taken away, and the chef sent over two plates of strawberries with bitter orange sorbet.

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And, being the indulgent people that we are, we took the waiter’s recommendation (which had proved worthwhile with the fritter) and ordered a brown sugar cake with walnut ice cream:

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Oh my God, was this good. Lip-smackingly good. I fought mom’s spoon out of the way to get more cake, more ice cream.

“I raised a monster,” she commented.

And so the lesson learned today is that people get disappointed with dinner at Bacchanalia because it’s a perfect lunch place. It’s not wildly expensive and the food is marvelous lunch food. I can easily say that this is the best meal I’ve had in a long while, and you know as well as I do how many meals I’ve eaten in a long while. I loved it.

Fogo De Chao

And now a story from the Platinum Collection of Roberts Family stories.

When we moved to Florida in 1991, we stayed for a brief spell with my great-grandmother, Helen, in Sunrise Lakes. For those who have never been there, Sunrise Lakes is a community divided into Phases and each Phase has a pool, a shuffleboard court and a community center. Our story takes place in our family mini-van in front of the Phase II community center.

As we were driving along, my father–sturdy behind the wheel–spotted a flock of birds ahead. Coming from New York, there was little to think about. New York Driver’s Regulations clearly state that if a flock of birds sit dead ahead, drive into them and they will scatter away.

My father did just that. He drove ahead. And then.

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.

“BRAAAD!”

“DAAAD!”

“AAAH!”

* * * * * * * * *

The Great Duck Slaughter of 1991 is still talked about by Phase II residents.

“Those poor ducks didn’t know what hit them,” says Morris Schulman of Apartment 37G.

“I can still hear them quacking,” says Flora Nussbaum of 22H.

“I think that story explains a lot,” says Lauren on occasion. It’s her favorite story of mine.

Many lessons can be derived from that story, but one truth remains clear: I come from a family of blood-thirsty killers.

I mean look at my brother and I:

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Have you seen beasts more savage?

Our thirst for blood is insatiable and that is why I suggested that tonight our family dine at a meat-lovers paradise: Fogo De Chao.

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Located in Buckhead, Fogo De Chao has no menus. It has little circular cards. The cards allow for two forms of communication. By turning your card to the green side, you are saying: I WANT MEAT.

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By turning it to the red, you are saying: MY THIRST FOR BLOOD HAS BEEN TEMPORARILY SATED.

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To ease your carcass-craving conscience, the meal begins with a trip to a lavish salad bar.

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Giant asparagus teams with mozzarella and chants: “It’s not too late to go green!”

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Yet a bountiful bowl of sundried tomatoes acts like a matador’s cape, reminding you of the feasting ahead.

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“Ole!”

You stare down at the plate you have created, and feel a strange emptiness. “WHERE IS FLESH!” you demand, pounding the table.

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You nosh away at your olives, your bread, your roasted red peppers until your thirst overwhelms you. “MUST HAVE MEAT!” you declare, flipping your card to green.

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Immediately, Gaucheros are on the scene with large skewers of dripping meat.

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The Gauchero serves your mother and your eyes turn yellow with rage. “FEED ME GAUCHERO!” you demand.

The Gauchero approaches cautiously.

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You rip steak off the skewer and bite at it like a velociraptor. “MORE!” you implore. “MORE!”

“Yes sir, right away sir,” says the nervous Gauchero.

Soon more is brought and set down on your plate.

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“MORE!” the Roberts family sings, pounding the table. “MORE!”

Lauren grows a little uncomfortable.

“You guys, there’s plenty of meat,” she offers.

The Roberts family eats Lauren.

I eat a sausage.

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Unable to go on, I flip the card to red.

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“No more,” I tell the Gauchero politely, as he takes away my plate.

We regurgitate Lauren and pose for a family photo.**

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“That was good,” says my brother.

“Very,” says my father.

“I’m stuffed,” says my mother.

Lauren quivers with fright.

We exit into the cold night air. The valet brings our cars around. Loud organ music plays. Somewhere, in the distance, a duck quacks. The Roberts Family has eaten.

** I bring your attention to my delightful, colorful shirt. My brother made the following comment: “Did you lose a ring toss at a carnival?” My mother said: “Was I with you when you picked that out?” My father said: “It’s very eclectic.” But I love it. What do you think, America?

John Kessler, My Parents and Emeril’s

Life is strange. You wake up expecting a professional photographer in your apartment and wind up at Emeril’s with the AJC’s food critic and your parents.

Here’s how that happens.

Originally, John Kessler was supposed to come over today with a photographer to finalize the profile he’s writing and to snap photos of me at my computer. I told him that my parents were flying in, but that I could schedule around them. Instead, he invited us all out to lunch; the photo session postponed.

Since my parents are staying in Buckhead, John suggested Emeril’s. I knew my parents would like that so I gave it the thumbs up. [We had been there once before and enjoyed the ambience, but not the food.]

I picked my parents up at their hotel (“Your car is filthy, Adam,” observed my mother) and drove them the five feet to the house that BAM! built.

The best thing I can say about Emeril’s Atlanta is that it’s beautiful. It borders on the tacky, but I love it. The door has etched glass and an ornate leaf-like sculpted handle:

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The bar has a coppery, woody, marbley feel and a large portrait of Mr. Lagasse looming overhead:

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The inside is like a cross between a country club and the Haunted Mansion:

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And the most gorgeous feature is the wine cove; a towering glass structure stacked with glistening bottles:

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With a bright red chandelier:

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We walked in and were greeted by the host.

“The Roberts party?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Your guest is at the bar.”

And hiding behind a column was John, pad in hand and eager to go. Introductions were made and we followed the maitre’d to our table.

Talking commenced. John asked my parents about their eating habits, my eating habits, whether or not I cooked as a kid and how often we ate out.

“Every night,” said my mom. John laughed.

A waiter came around and took our orders. “If everyone could order something different, that’d be great,” said John.

I ordered the fried oyster salad and the red fish.

More talking commenced. John discussed his career trajectory, how he almost took the LSAT (but forgot to sign the check!), and how instead of becoming a doctor like his father, he married one.

The appetizers arrived:

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Mine was pretty good. Not great. The food at Emeril’s is theme park food. Which, I suppose, is approrpriate since Emeril is the Mickey Mouse of the food world; complete with catchphrase and a mousey head.

John sampled some of everyones and declared his appetizer–shrimp remoulade–to be pretty good.

The dishes were taken away.

The entrees came soon after:

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The red fish was fine; battered in the same batter as the oysters. Not a ton of flavor, but the sauce made up for that. The waiter made the following ridiculous comment: “If anyone needs some more essence in their dish, we can take it in the back and BAM it up a bit.”

We all stared back at him puzzled and disturbed. He walked away.

After sampling everyone’s dishes, John took more notes. My parents told celebrity stalking stories (Timothy Dalton’s snub–“I’m never seeing another James Bond movie again!” said my mother) and John gave tips on getting into a restaurant (“Just show up; there are always cancellations. I have friends who got into the French Laundry that way.”)

Finally the plates were cleared and dessert menus came. We split a banana cream pie four ways and John ordered the port wine sorbet only to be brought the bourbon pecan sorbet instead:

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I thought the banana cream pie was the highlight of the meal, but that’s not saying much. John thought it was ok, not as good as New York Prime’s (my parents’ favorite restaurant). And the sorbet was merely mediocre.

We walked out together into the crisp Spring air.

We said our goodbyes and got into our separate cars.

“That was cool,” said my mom.

“Ya,” I said.

“I need a bathroom,” said my dad.

“Bam!” said a strange voice in the trunk.

Men in white smocks quickly invaded the car, removing the strait-jacketed Emeril from the back. “Bam! Bam!”

Life is strange.

Eatzi’s

Buckhead is, for many, the jewel in Atlanta’s crown. For others, it is the thorn in Atlanta’s side. For me, it is a place to go for a salad.

For non-Atlantans, Buckhead is the trendy, yuppy high-end shopping district with clubs, bars, fancy restaurants, The Cheesecake Factory, The ESPN Zone, the Lenox Mall, the Phipps Mall, the Ritz Carlton and The Container Store. I think the Container Store symbolizes everything you need to know about Buckhead: they sell containers at double the price of anywhere else. (However, according to Forbes, they’re one of the best companies to work for in America). (And they sell jars that are good for making jams).

In any case, Eatzi’s sits in the heart of Buckhead, across from the Rooms To Go where I got my furniture at the intersection of Peachtree and Piedmont. A large green and red neon sign beckons yuppies to their high-end already prepared food:

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It beckons me because they have good salad. In college, we would go to Eatzi’s for their salad. It’s not that their lettuce is wildly superior or that their dressings are that earth shattering. It’s just that it’s convenient. They’ll cut up a chicken breast for you. There’s bacon and hard-boiled egg. They toss it, they package it and they give you a fork. They kiss you on the forehead and call you in the morning.

I walked into Eatzi’s tonight and encountered a strange display of wine:

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Then I shot a picture of one of the service counters:

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After which a man in a Britney Spears headset told me there were no pictures allowed. I apologized and made my way around the store. Classical music blares overhead. You feel like you’re trapped in a Zales commercial. Then hordes of well dressed women, business-suited men, and Emory sorority girls line up for salad. Again, the Eatzi’s salad is very convenient.

Here’s mine (I shot the picture covertly):

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I went minimal on my toppings this time (you get charged per topping): chicken, eggs (<--a Jewish no-no: you don't eat mother and child together; some kind of Kosher law), bacon (<--another Jewish no-no) and croutons. Boy today I was a Jewish food rebel: ham, bacon, egg and chicken. Maybe I'll go sneak out and watch "The Passion" and really guild the lily. Or, more appropriately: guilt the Lily.

Country Ham at the Silver Skillet

There are certain things I haven’t eaten in Atlanta yet that I must eat before I leave for the Big Apple. Among them are fried chicken at this famous downtown place (I forget the name), real BBQ somewhere OTP (loyal site readers will know what that means), and–of course–country ham at the Silver Skillet.

Today I checked off #3, after a bomb scare in the law school parking lot sent me scurrying away from Jewish Law. And what better thing to eat when scurrying away from Jewish Law than ham!

Here’s what a country ham plate at the Silver Skillet looks like:

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You have your eggs, your grits, your red eye gravy, your biscuit and–of course–your ham.

I was prepared to be disgusted (I really have never eaten ham in my entire life; again, a cultural thing) but found it to be surprisingly tasty (though a tad bit too salty). I could see what all the fuss was about, though I seriously worry over the health of anyone who eats this on a regular basis. The whole thing was a reasonable $7.00 and it kept me stuffed ’til dinner time.