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Eating Atlanta Archives

January 16, 2004

Friday Morning's Southern Breakfast Spectacular: The Silver Skillet

As some of you may already know, like Batman and Bruce Wayne, I--the Amateur Gourmet--have an alter-ego: Adam the Law Student. This dichotomy rounds out my character to such a degree that Warner Brothers has already purchased the rights to my life story, Tim Burton to direct.

One of the sadder aspects of my life as a law student is the mandate that I take certain "required" classes. One of these classes is a dry, dusty examination of agencies and partnerships called "Business Associations." The fact that this class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12 pm renders it slightly better than tolerable. The fact that there's also a Friday morning session that meets at 8:45 am--yes, 8:45 am--renders this class an act of sadism.

Have you ever been up at 8:45 am? I imagine not. Clearly, this ungodly hour is reserved for lunatics and politicians to shuffle back and forth before the rest of the world awakes. I eyed the neighboring cars suspiciously: who are these people? Why are they up so early? Regis isn't even on yet!

Class today was moderately interesting. I actually like my teacher, he's an old world business lawyer type: he wears a suit and tie every day to class and he wears his glasses on the bridge of his nose to create a wisened elder effect. Today's topic was the fiduciary responsibilities of agents to their principals. I spent most of my time thinking about breakfast.

Which is why, when class was over, I hopped in my car, turned up the radio (well, a mix I made with "Raspberry Beret" featured prominently), and pedaled my way over to "The Silver Skillet"--an establishment voted, according to their sign out front, "Best Breakfast in Atlanta."

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Full disclosure: I have been to the Silver Skillet before. Last time was with my roommate who, while she enjoyed it, found the political climate a bit disconcerting.

"Notice the big American flag on the wall," she said.

"That doesn't mean anything," I said.

But at the cash register she pointed out the large streams of conservative political cartoons adorning the walls.

"How do you know they're conservative?"

This was a fruitless question. The large majority of snippets address the endlessly merry topic of Bill Clinton and his sexual proclitivies. "I'm With Stupid" reads an image on Clinton's shirt, with an arrow pointing down to his crotch.

"So what?" I sighed. "You can like the food and not like the politics."

Today I decided to do just that. After perusing the menu for a few minutes,

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I decided on a safe choice: cheese omelet (I spell checked that and that's how my computer spells it, though I feel there should be more ls and ts), grits and biscuits. The waitress had a lot of character. One part Flo from "Alice" and one part Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies."

"Arright," she said, bringing the ticket to the kitchen.

While waiting for my food, I snapped a picture of the counter which, like the waitress, also had a lot of character:

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I then, to kill time, whipped out my copy of this week's New Yorker. Reading The New Yorker at The Silver Skillet might be likened to reading The Communist Manifesto at Joe McCarthy's dinner table: it raised many an eyebrow.

"You have a lot of eyebrows," I told the man sitting next to me.

Finally, the food arrived.

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Let me be honest and tell you that the omelet / omellette / omelllllettttte wasn't very good. The eggs had no flavor, it was dry and comparable to any other Diner omelet you've ever had except less tasty. The grits, on the other hand, were good. I have no frame of reference for grits. Culturally, I am to grits what Balkie from "Perfect Strangers" is to Lomain. "Cousins?" No, Balkie, no.

Alas, we come to the biscuits. Allow me to wax lyrical on the biscuits. These are the best biscuits I have ever had. They are perfect. Light, fluffy, buttery, flaky: these biscuits melt in your mouth and stay there in your dreams. These biscuits are what biscuits are all about. I am a former biscuit neanderthal, declaring The Flying Biscuit's biscuits the best biscuits in Atlanta. (Say that ten times fast). Those, however, are biscuit novelties: weird saucerlike structures that taste good with apple butter and look good in dirty photographs. The Silver Skillet biscuits, on the other hand, are the real deal. Perfect, they are. So good, in fact, they even made the omelet taste good.

Breakfast digested, I rose to pay. Near the door are two trophy cases with photographs of the many celebrities who have dined at The Silver Skillet. John Lithgow (who filmed a TV movie there) and Katy Couric (who had her colonoscopy there) are just some of the many who have graced The Silver Skillet's tables. What caught my eye, though, was an image that sums up The Silver Skillet better than I can in words. Suffice it to say, if you see a professional wrestler on a trophy case near the door of your next breakfast haunt, order the biscuits. They're the best.

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January 28, 2004

Faulkneresque Fried Chicken Night at Watershed

Tuesday night is fried chicken night at Watershed.

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Watershed is a Decatur-based establishment dedicated to Southern cooking and owned by (depending on who you ask) either one or both of the Indigo Girls. The executive chef is Scott Peacock, whose "Southern Cooking" is a recent cookbook bestseller, available at your local cookbook dealer.

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Yes, Tuesday night is fried chicken night--as long as you arrive by 7:30.

For those of us who have a Negotiations class from 6 to 8, this poses a problem.

"What time are you coming in?" asks the reservationist.

"8:30," I reply, gingerly.

"Oh," she says with concern in her voice. "There probably won't be any fried chicken left."

"Can't you save us some?" I ask much like Oliver Twist asking for more.

"I'm sorry sir," she says. "That's impossible."

So Chris and I arrive at 8:26, prepared for disappointment.

I ask the hostess with the same reserve the parent of a dying child questions a doctor as to their offspring's life expectency: "Any chicken left?"

She smiles. "As a matter of fact." Dramatic pause. "Yes."

Woohoo!

We are shown to our table in a room that looks a little too industrial to be serving Southern food. Yet, the room has a pleasant quality to it also: a sourceless radiance that makes the temperature outside a distant memory. Our waiter approaches us with aplomb.

"What's that?" we ask.

"A plomb," he answers.

We wait for this awkward moment in the narrative to pass and order drinks.

"Sweet tea!" I say.

"Me too!" says Chris.

"Ah ah," says the waiter. "No sweet tea. Just unsweet tea."

What kind of Southern dining establishment is this?

"Two unsweet teas, then," we reply.

He returns with our drinks and we order our fried chicken.

"Okey doke," says the waiter, and scurries off to the kitchen.

Since this review concerns Southern dining, I will make this mid-section Faulkneresque.

My mother is a fish.

Twenty minutes later (or maybe even sooner), the waiter returns with two piping hot plates that he sets down before us. Their contents are as follows: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, garlic green beans and two biscuits. He brings us a side of butter and honey and we are set.

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The chicken is wonderful. The outside is not greasy at all, just perfectly battered and seasoned and fried. The inside is moist and flavorful; probably from soaking in buttermilk, as the Southern Cooking book suggests. The star of the side dishes are the green beans: crisp, succulent, and garlicky--their greeness counteracts the richness and whiteness of the other foods. The biscuits are yummy (though not as good or buttery or light as the Silver Skillet's). The mashed potatoes are fairly forgettable.

Overall, we are sated, but I insist on dessert.

"What do you recommend?" we ask the waiter.

"The chocolate cake," he says, as if letting us in on a secret. "It's the best."

We take his advice and he returns bearing chocolate cake.

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The cake is good. We eat it.

The check arrives. We pay it.

We rise to leave, and do what any self-respecting Southerner does when leaving a fried chicken dinner: shop for shampoo.

"Excuse me?" your thought bubble declares.

"Yes," my fingers answer. Watershed's lobby, rather incongruously, sells bath products to departing guests.

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I smell several varities and decide that my current shampoo--Aveda's Blue Malva (why does Malva sound sexual?) (oh, I think I know)--works fine.

We exit into the cold and declare our Watershed fried chicken experience to be as soul-warming as light in August. Absolutely, absolutely. As I sit here typing, my dinner memories fill me with sound and fury.

My mother is a fish.

February 4, 2004

The Varisty: Greasy Grimy Goodness

Last semester I worked at Atlanta Legal Aid. My boss, an amicable sort, had many convictions, the most prevalent one being: "There is no onion ring better than the onion rings they make at The Varisty."

Now I'm a reasonable man. I believe that reasonable convictions maintained by reasonable people should be viewed reasonably. However, something here seemed awry.

"You mean to tell me," I said, "in all the world, there are no onion rings better than the ones at The Varsity?"

"No sir," he said. "Definitely not."

Tonight, I had to grab a quick dinner between class and rehearsal for The VD Show; a Valentine's Day show I'm doing with Out of Hand Theater featuring a musical I wrote called "The Boy Who Went Blind" and a musical piece I wrote called "Women Outside The Bakery" to be performed at CJ's Landing in Buckhead February 12th to the 14th; live music, prizes, and I'm playing with the band (I hope they let me sing "Hey Ya!"). I decided The Varisty would do the trick.

The Varisty is an Atlanta staple. You just see it and think "Atlanta" in all its good and bad connotations. I walked in and saw three white men eating alone in trucker hats. The counter was dead; sleepy black women in visors stood sullenly on the other side.

"A #1 please," I said.

"You want onions?" asked the woman.

"OK," I said.

I paid and received my tray.

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The chili dogs? Well they were good. I really like chili dogs. It's my vice. Some people smoke cigarettes; some people do drugs. I eat chili dogs. Though, it should be noted, the chili is rather--umm--well it kind of tastes like cloth ground up and soaked in beef juice. I mean that in a good way.

The onion rings? They were the best part. The best in Atlanta? Surely. The best in the world?

Well, boss, maybe. Just maybe.

February 13, 2004

Feeding My Body Politic: Taqueria Del Sol & Star Provisions

If there is one area of conversation, one facet of communication that I would extract from all future interactions it would be politics. My friends might find this strange because I am often puffing heatedly about affirmative action, gay parenting and abortion (I often play the devil's advocate, rousing great venomous passions over dinner) but I never do so gladly. If I could, I would be done with it: leave the politics to the pros, and let me worry about food.

That was my mindset today as I made my way down 14th Street. (Cue Rufus Wainwright's "14th Street" from his new album, which is such a good song). "Ahhh," I said to myself. "What a lovely day. I shall go to Taqueria Del Sol and Star Provisions and record my experience for my site readers."

And then I saw a vision out my window:

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I found this vision disconcerting because after my journalistic endeavor, I planned to kill my baby.

"Oh well, baby," I said. "I guess you'll live after all."

Then I parked my car at Taqueria Del Sol.

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Did I think about the exploitation of Mexican iconography and food in maintaining the sustinence of rich white people? No, reader I didn't. I ordered three cheaply priced tacos ($1.49 each): a fried chicken taco, a brisket taco, and a fried fish taco.

I sat at a table and read a New Yorker article about John Kerry. Damn politics!

Then my food was brought out:

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Did I see in my tacos metaphors for capitalism (brisket = beef industry), religion (fish = sticker on Christian cars) and cultural hegemony (fried chicken = mainstreamed version of the real deal). No! I just ate them and they were delicious.

Then I made my way over to Star Provisions, which--after severe protests from the S society and R-wingers--is now simply TA Provisions:

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In all seriousness, Ta Provisions is probably the most respected, most accomplished and most expensive "supermarket" to be found in Atlanta. It is housed right in front of Bacchanalia, often cited as Atlanta's best restaurant. Inside you will find:

A bakery:
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Today they were selling these amazing look S'Mores:
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But I didn't buy one because I'm a Democrat.

There's also a kitchen equipment section:
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A meat section:
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And a candy section:
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Finally, after a trip through the wine section
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I made my way home. In the car, I noticed a mini-van in front of me with a large fish labelled "TRUTH" eating a smaller fish labelled "DARWIN." The license plate said: "Support Our Teachers!"

The baby said: "Kill me now."

February 15, 2004

How Adam Acquiesced And Went To The Farmer's Market

"I can't believe you've never been to the Farmer's Market," says Katy. "You're the Amateur Gourmet!"

Her husband, Josh, agrees. "It's really embarssing for you," he says. "It's like this horrible secret that no one knows about."

Chris expressed similar sentiments last night. "It's like you're living this big lie."

So today I finally broke and called up Josh and Katy and said: "Fine! Fine! I'll go with you to the Farmer's Market!"

Granted, I said this while the phone was still ringing. When I finally got through I casually mentioned a possible Farmer's Market visitation, and Katy immmediately jumped.

"So you're saying you want to go to the Farmer's Market?" she asked enthusiastically.

"I guess that's what I'm saying," I replied.

"Well well well," she said proudly. "Our little boy's all grown up."

So I made my way--ah, let's do this in present tense--I make my way over to Josh and Katy's and they are outside waiting.

"He's here!" they sing in unison.

"I'll follow you guys there," I say. "I want to go to Border's afterward."

"Ok! Ok!" They get into their car. I get into mine.

We begin driving. The weather is rainy. I begin to wonder if today is a good Farmer's Market day and then I remember that, according to Chris, the Farmer's Market is indoors.

Here's a picture of the drive:

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Finally, we get there. Josh and Katy point the way:

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"It's over there!" they inform me.

"Can you guys stop talking in unison?"

They nod together.

We make our way over. Here is the last picture I'm officially allowed to take:

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After that, there is a sign that says "NO PHOTOGRAPHS! NO VIDEO RECORDING!" I find this rather odd for a Farmer's Market, but I don't say anything.

So we begin walking the aisles. Josh and Katy have an agenda: groceries to buy, things to plan. I am just there to watch.

"Aren't you going to buy anything?" asks Josh.

"Nah," I say. "I'm just here to look."

"Ohh, come now," says Katy. "Surely there must be something you want to buy."

They lead me over to the spices.

"Look at these spices!" they say. "Look how cheap they are! And look how much you get!"

"Yes, they are cheap," I say. "And you do get a lot."

They lead me down the produce aisles.

"Look at all this produce!" they cheer.

It is true: there is a lot of produce. And the value is great. There are many people there scooping up produce by the armful.

"Ahh!" says Josh. "I know!'

He scampers off and returns with a yellowish ball with five fingers coming out of its head.

"What is it?" I ask.

"It's a hand of Buddha! For your website! A strange fruit!"

I accept the Hand of Buddha, despite my Jewish upbringing, and begin to have fun.

"Whoah!" I say. "Look over there! Fish!"

Josh, Katy and I run over to the fish section. There are live crabs snapping at children, lobster tanks, and giant glass aquariums with huge fish floating sadly in limbo.

"Oh my God!" I say. "Look how big that fish is!"

"You see!" says Josh.

"You see!" says Katy.

"The Farmer's Market is great!" they say in unison.

"I know!" I say.

"Hey!" I add. "Let me take a picture!"

"But..." says Katy.

"I'll do it covertly," I promise.

I sneak the camera out of my pocket and snap this shot as Katy and Josh scout out for the fuzz.

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"Quick, run!" they say, and scurry off with their wagon.

I watch them scurry into the parking lot, tying the wagon to their car with rope and hopping in like Bonnie and Clyde. The speed off as the Farmer's Market police chase them, sirens blaring and bullets spraying.

I sigh with gladness. I have been to the Farmer's Market.

The Atlanta Burrito Review: Chipotle

Tonight began a bold new endeavor in the land of the Amateur Gourmet: a comprehensive tour of Atlanta's burritos. Since Moe's and Willy's are pretty standard fare, Lauren and I decided to try the newly built, newly popular Chipotle in Toco Hills. For the sake of keeping this review short, I will dispense of narrative structure, dialogue and characterization and simply say that this burrito was a superior Atlanta burrito. Here is a picture:

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And now for my evaluation:

TASTE: B+. The chicken is grilled and fresh, the salsa is fresh too. The beans are fine (as beans usually are) and the guacamole is thick but good. Chips don't come free, but even so they are superior: hefty without being dense, light without being weak. Unlike the Moe's chips, these don't break when scooping up stray pieces of chicken.

VALUE: B. Moe's gives you chips with your burrito, so Chipotle loses points for charging for theirs. However, Chipolte gave us free drinks because we were students (with student IDs). "Do you always do this?" I asked. "Always for now," the woman answered.

OVERALL: B+. I'm keeping my grade in the B-range because surely there are better burritos in Atlanta. But in terms of cheap, easy to get to Atlanta burritos, this is among the best.

February 19, 2004

Birthday At Blais: Powertripping and Mass Food Consumption in Buckhead

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Let me spill the beans right away: after tonight's 26th course a man with spiky hair and a white soccer jersey came over to our table.

"How was everything?" he asked.

"Wonderful," I said.

"Amazing," said Lauren.

"Good good. Well," he continued, "I'm Richard Blais." He shook our hands.

For a sense of how accomplished Chef Blais is, check out his profile on the Blais Atlanta website. He has worked at the finest restaurants in the world: The French Laundry, Chez Panisse, and El Bulli to name a few. Now he was hovering over our table.

"It's so nice to meet you," Lauren said.

"Everything was delicious," I said.

Now up until this point, we had the sneaking suspicion that the restaurant thought I was a food critic. Granted, in a very minor way I am a food critic, but writing a few reviews on the internet seems incredibly minor compared to the work of our nation's real food writers: William Grimes, Ruch Reichl, John Kessler. We thought the suspicion stemmed from the fact that I was taking pictures of every course as it was brought out.

Lauren continued: "It's really great how laid back it is here. Everyone is so friendly."

"Yes," I said. "Just a few months ago I went to Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and had an awful meal; everything was so formal."

"Yes," said Chef Blais, "I know."

An awkward pause.

"How do you know?" I asked, incredulously.

"I read your review on eGullet," he answered.

My stomach was in my throat. Say what!?

You see, several months ago--after our Charlie Trotter's disappointment--I wrote a somewhat scathing review on eGullet--that launched a 12 page debate over the merits of my amateur perspective on fine dining. As exciting as this was, it always seemed a very contained esoteric debate in a cultish foodie world. Now this star chef was saying he read my review?!

"I actually read it to my staff here when we opened," he continued. "So that they wouldn't be so formal."

Lauren burst out laughing.

"We also told the waiter not to follow you to the bathroom tonight," he laughed, "even though we usually do that, because you wrote about that in your review."

My ego, at this point, floated out of my body and began dancing the dance of the cocky monkey.

"Stop it, Ego," I said.

Chef Blais lingered a little more. It seemed clear that he knew I would be writing a review. Was he nervous? Did he fear me? How powerful I had become!

And yet he had nothing to worry about. Lauren and I both found everything up until that point (and after) to be beyond spectacular. Our dinner at Blais was among the best I've ever had, and surely the best meal I have had in Atlanta. I say that having eaten at Seeger's (which was cold and overly formal) and Bacchanalia (a vague distant memory that conjures very little in the way of nostalgia). Each course was a magical sensory experience--the most dazzling flavors melded together in ways so imaginative that each tiny course was an event.

"Well," I said, "I'm kind of freaked out right now, but thanks for reading my writing."

"No problem," he said as the waiter placed down our 27th course.

"I'll let you finish your meal."

* * * * * *

So with that ego-trip out of the way, let us shock you with our food consumption. According to our waiter (who, by the way, was also fantastic: incredibly friendly, helpful and informative--appropriate since the chinese tattoo on his wrist is the word for "teaching") the kitchen was shocked that we ate everything. "They were taking wagers back there," he said, "as to when you would conk out."

"Not us," said Lauren, "we're troopers."

And for your visual pleasure, I captured every single course in the 31-course line-up. If you do the math, I think it will fall a little short but that's only because some of the courses were served at the same time. And to be honest, I could not have put another thing in my mouth if they paid me. Since describing each course to you would take an eon, I will simply label each picture and let you enjoy the visual stimulus that was our meal. Suffice it to say, dining at Blais was an incredible treat and a dining experience that I highly recommend. And I'm not just saying that because I know the chef.

THE 31 FLAVORS MENU

Quail Egg, Maple Flavor
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Crispy Chicken Skin, Gravy, Pickled Collards
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Shrimp, Polenta, Amaretto
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Asparagus, Parmesan, Caramel
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Sweet Tea in 3 Textures
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Caesar Salad
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Salmon Eggs, Vanilla Caviar
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Oyster, Cocktail Sorbet
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Tuna Belly, Frozen Wasabi
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Veal Jelly, Vermouth, Horseradish
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Sweet Potato, Ranch Ice Cream
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Fried Squid, Smoked Paprika
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Sangria
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[Not exactly sure. The menu they gave us says "Inflated Salt Cod" but I think this is a clam.]
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Barely Smoked Hamachi, Yuzu
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"Vitello Tonnato"
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Sea Scallop, Edamame Ravioli
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"Impasta"
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Turbot, Almond Gnocchi, Orange Rind
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Wild Striped Bass, Short Ribs
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"Pink" Duck Breast, Aromatic Vapor
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Slow-Cooked Lamb Loin, Cashew, Coconut
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Cheeseburger, Foie Gras Milkshake** (This was the highlight of the meal! So funny and absolutely delicious.)
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Egg Cream, White Truffle/White Chocolate, Sesame Creme Brulee
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Olive Oil, Lemon Sorbet
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Warm Parsnip, Ginger (Sorry, I started eating this one before I realized I hadn't taken the picture yet)
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Oozing Chocolate, Black Olive, Red Wine (and Birthday Well-Wishes)
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And, the final note struck was perfectly charming and perfectly funny. A square of gelled Tang floating on a white plate.

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Thus ended our birthday meal adventure. Excuse me now while I keel over and die a happy death.

February 22, 2004

Pizza Pages, Pizza Pages: Johnny's Pizza

Tonight Lauren and I ordered a pizza. The first idea was to order from Savage Pizza but the Savages refused to deliver to Emory.

"Sorry man," a Savage said on the phone. "We don't go out that far."

So we went for Johnny's. The official name is "Johnny's New York Pizza," but that is perhaps a misnomer. It's amazing how food establishments can appropriate entire cities to buttress their claim to authenticity. Or even entire continents! Doc Chey's advertises itself as an "Asian Noodle House." Hello, Doc Chey's? It's Asia calling; please stop appropriating our continent.

Here's the Johnny's box which arrived quite promptly:

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Does the box look like a New York Pizza box? Well, for starters, there are no icicles hanging off it. And, secondly, the box looks incredibly generic. No weather-worn wear-and-tear. When I was a kid, my parents bought me some strange Hannukah gift that was a sort of Make Believe Restaurant. It came with menus to color, chef's hats, aprons and pizza boxes that looked just like this. I think you see my point.

We opened the box and saw this:

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A fruit tart?! What gives! [Just kidding. We ate this later. It was a party gift from our friends Hannah and Mike and it was way delicious.]

Here's what we really saw:

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Our toppings were pepperoni and green olives. I really like olives on pizza. Some stupid people (Lisa and Alex, for example) think olives are gross. These people are fools. Olives on pizza (or off pizza) are delicious.

Anyway, the pizza itself approximates a New York pizza I suppose. The crust is its greatest claim to fame. It has that burnt pizza oven flair, that crispy chew and tug. But the sauce and cheese and oil content scream Movie Theater pizza. Real New York pizza has a grace and harmony, a perfect balance of sauce and cheese that justifies its status. Johnny's "New York" Pizza is no more "New York" than pastrami at the Waffle House.

The pizza served as a prelude to the final episode of Sex and The City. I know this is tangential, but what did you guys think? I was a little disappointed. I never really liked Mr. Big. I was hoping Carrie would end up single. But I'm glad Samantha didn't die.

February 28, 2004

Ooh Baby I Like It Raw: MFSushiBar

In Gourmet Magazine earlier this year there was a supplement listing the hottest and best restaurants in every city. When I finally got to the Atlanta section, I was surprised to see--sandwiched between the Ritz Carlton and Seeger's--a restaurant Lauren often waxed lyrical about: MFSushi.

"It's the best sushi ever," Lauren would say. "It's amazing. Like nothing you've ever had."

This always seemed suspicious to me. Sushi is sushi. All raw fish tastes the same.

So tonight, when my friend Jimmy and I were making plans he said he was in the mood for sushi and I said: "How about MFSushi?"

Jimmy paused and said: "Yes, actually, that's a good idea."

Usually, sushi-goers in my circle of friends will sushi-go at RuSan's, a perfectly respectable sushi joint with locations in Midtown and Buckhead. But tonight was special. Tonight we would eat the best of the best. I made the reservation for 8:30 and began my preparations. These entailed belting "Old Man River" at my piano and eating some Blackout guacamole.

Finally, the witching hour arrives. I drive down Ponce until I see the awning I have driven past so many times. I turn left and encounter a mess of a valet parking situation. I sit in the car for 10 minutes before someone finally takes my keys. (*As an interesting side bar, I have a weird thing where before the valet gets in my car I turn my CD off or put on the radio so they don't judge my taste in music. You'd do the same thing if you had my taste in music.)

Walking up to the restaurant, I snap picture of the awning:

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I sneak in the door and Jimmy is waiting inside.

"Were you waiting long?" I ask.

"No," he answers. "But good thing you made a reservation. There's an hour and a half wait!"

The hostesss leads us to our table. Here's what the place looks like:

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As you can see, the interior is very fashionable. Atlanta's crem-de-crem are noshing on raw fish, and Jimmy and I fit right in.

Well, maybe we don't fit right in, but we scrape by under the radar. The menus are brought and we begin our gameplanning.

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"Do you want to get two rolls each and share them?" asks Jimmy.

I find this plan rather worrisome since what if I don't like what he orders? So I ask the waitress for advice.

"Well," she says kindly, "I suggest that you order two rolls each and share them!"

"Brilliant!" I say.

Jimmy shakes his head.

So Jimmy orders the crunchy roll and the rainbow roll. I order the shrimp tempura roll and the tuna roll. But first, we order a ginger salad.

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I really like ginger salad. Or ginger salad dressing. When my friend Dana and I went to NYU for a summer, we were obsessed with the ginger-carrot dressing at this place called DoJo. So tonight, I really enjoyed my ginger salad.

"This is a good ginger salad," says Jimmy.

The salads are taken away. Time passes. I think too much time passes.

"It's been a while," I say.

"No it hasn't," says Jimmy, pointing out that the people next to us, who just got their food, had been there before us. Before I can refute him, our food is brought.

Here is mine:

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Here is Jimmy's:

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The verdict?

"This is really good sushi," I say.

"Yes," Jimmy agrees.

We scarf down 8 rolls from our plates and then swap.

"This is really good sushi," I say, eating from Jimmy's plate.

"Yes," Jimmy agrees, eating from mine.

The sushi is gone.

Was this the best sushi of my life? Yes, most certainly yes.

But, to be honest, after tonight I realize that I'm not so much a sushi person. I like eating it, but I would never go out of my way to eat it. And I would never pay an exorbitant amount of money for the world's best sushi. I'd rather have a really good steak.

The waitress, reading over my shoulder, begins to cry.

"There there, sushi waitress," I say. "I didn't mean it in a mean way."

She scurries off with our credit cards.

"That was a good meal," says Jimmy.

"Yes," I say.

I stare at the empty plate.

"It certainly was."***

*** Please forgive this strange ending. It is 3 AM and I have no idea how to end this. Thank you.

March 2, 2004

My First Quesadilla

This past summer, I worked at a law firm in Los Angeles. One day, all the interns (myself included) went to have Mexican food for lunch. To better inform the story, here is a brief synopsis of my Mexican food experience up to that point:
1. When I was 8, my parents took us to a cowboy themed restaurant in Colorado. There was a show with high-divers and a video arcade. The food was Mexican: tacos and enchiladas. My brother and I stared at our plates dumbfounded. My mother said: "Don't worry, boys, you don't have to eat it. We'll get hamburgers after the show."
2. When I was 16, I went with my friends to Taco Bell. I had tacos with meat and crunchy cinnamon sticks.
3. When I started Emory, everyone went to Tortilla's on Ponce. I went with them. They ordered burritos. I ordered a burrito. They loved it. I hated it.
4. As time progressed, burritos were unavoidable. I went with friends to Willy's and eventually Moe's. One day I would compose not one but two songs about my experiences. The songs, though, came after my summer internship. Excluding the songs, then, this was the extent of my Mexican food awareness.

We sat down at a large table. Someone ordered pitchers of margaritas. (Lawyers like to drink at lunch). I eventually leaned over to a fellow intern.

"What are you having?" I asked sweetly.

"A tamale," he answered matter-of-factly.

"What's a tamale?" I replied.

A siren began to blare.

"WHAT'S A TAMLE!" He leaped out of his seat. "OH MY GOD! ADAM DOESN'T KNOW WHAT A TAMALE IS!"

The interns began cackling with furious laughter.

"HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW WHAT A TAMALE IS? WHERE ARE YOU FROM? QUEBEC?!"

"Actually," I mumbled, "Atlanta."

"DO THEY NOT HAVE TAMALES IN ATLANTA? IS IT ALL FRIED CHICKEN AND COLLARD GREENS?"

"Now look here," I responded with righteous indignation. "First of all, stop speaking in all caps. And second of all, Atlanta is a cultural haven with all sorts of authentic ethnic food, including Mexican. I was just raised in a gastronomically ethno-exclusive household. Our food repertoire was very limited. And my dad hates cheese."

The interns were unimpressed. I sank back in my chair. I ordered a taco.

I now know--or at least I think I know--what a tamale is. I have also, I'll have them know (a) made guacamole in pitch black darkness (see Blackout post); (b) attempted to fry my own tortilla chips; and (c) watched "Frida" starring Salma Hayek on DVD. Satisfied?

Tonight, though, I leaped far ahead in my quest for Mexican self-respect. At Moe's, where I needed to grab a quick dinner, I decided to forego my usual Triple Lindy burrito and to go where no proud Roberts Family member has ever gone. I ordered a Quesadilla.

"Black beans and chicken?" asked the Quesadilla chef.

"Yes, please."

"Sour cream and salsa on the side?"

"Sure," I responded.

He then leaned over the counter, his eyes darkening.

"I know who you are," he said.

I looked around me nervously.

"You are the man who doesn't know what a Tamale is."

I turned red. "News travels fast."

He pulled back and slapped the beans on my Quesadilla with an unsettling thrust. He threw my Quesadilla on the grill and I watched the cheese and beans bubble and sizzle.

So when it was all said and done, what did I think?

To be honest, I liked it. It was perfect. Not as filling as a burrito, but not so light as to be insubstantial. Reasonably priced, flavorful and easy to eat: I am a Quesadilla convert.

I left, kicking my heels, proud of my new step towards self-improvement. Just as I opened the door, someone threw a tamale at my head.

I swung around. A tumbleweed drifted past. The theme from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" played.

"Adios, Tamale man," said the Quesadilla maker.

"We'll meet again," I said, in my best John Wayne voice, wiping the tamale from my head. "What's in this anyway? Corn?"

"CORN!"

A throng of protesters began to chase me, but that's another story. Til later, buckaroo, happy trails.

March 4, 2004

The Pain of Consciousness: Fat Matt's Rib Shack

"What a terrible thing consciousness is."
- Harold Bloom on King Lear Act IV (gleaned from The Village Voice)

Tonight, I was craving ribs. Lauren was going for tacos. "We're going for tacos," she said.

"Well," I replied, "I'm in the mood for ribs."

"Very well," she said and exited.

Cue cell phone. Cue finger. Cue Mark.

"Mark," I said, "I'm going for ribs. Interested?"

"Yes!" he said and told me to pick him up.

"Very well," I said and exited.

[Adam picks up Mark. Mark and Adam drive to Fat Matt's.]

We arrive at Fat Matt's Rib Shack. I force Mark to discontinue a story about vomit at his birthday party. We exit the car and behold a giant green wall.

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"Shall we?" I ask.

Mark refuses to say "let's" because I cut off his vomit story.

Inside, a blues band is playing. I take a picture and it doesn't come out. We approach the counter. I order first.

"A half slab of ribs, please, and a lemonade."

I pay. $9.40. These ribs don't come cheap.

Mark's turn. "Two pork sandwiches and--"

Readers grow disinterested, concerned only with what I ate. Very well.

We sit inside because the tables outside are all taken. Here's Mark beneath the giant menu:

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Quite quickly, the food arrives. Here are my ribs:

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I begin to take a picture of Mark's food, but readers urge me not to.

Before I can begin my first bite, a table opens outside.

"Look a table!" declares Mark.

"Ah!" declares I.

We scurry outside and bask in the warm evening glow.

"Good work," I say. "Now let's eat."

[Time passes. Ribs consumed.]

A NARRATIVE INTERRUPTION TO EVALUATE THE RIBS, TYING IN THE PRETENTIOUS OPENING HAROLD BLOOM QUOTE

Look, facts are facts. I have had good ribs at Fat Matt's before. In fact, last time I was there I recall saying to my dining companion: "These are delicious. These are the best ribs I've ever had."

Tonight's ribs were not so delicious. They were tough, bony, slightly burnt and very difficult to eat. The sauce was good--tangy, flavorful--but they couldn't save a bad cut of meat.

What I really found myself craving--and hence the pain of consciousness--was the rib platter at Houston's. To BBQ purists, this is the equivalent of sacrilege.

"HOW DOTH YOU DESIRETH SUCH TRIPE!" booms Harold Bloom.

Quiet Bloom.

In any case, the Houston's ribs may not be authentic, but they are: (a) easier to eat; (b) a better value; (c) always consistent.

What I really need to do, though, is take a BBQ tour of the South before I move away forever. Perhaps I will do that soon for this site. Until that day, though, my consciousness will suffer the tug of war between authentic-yet-hard-to-eat Fat Matt's and commercial-yet-delicious Houston's.

We now return to our regularly scheduled narrative.

CONCLUSION

"That was pretty good," I say.

"Yeah," says Mark. "Though the sauce was a little spicy tonight."

I look down at my plate. I move all the napkins I used from the table on to the plate. As you can see, my "On Napkins" post was no lie:

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"Shall we?" I say.

"Let's," says Mark and we exit.

March 24, 2004

Get in my BELLY

A new General Store, trendy sandwich shop has opened up in the Virginia Highlands. It is called BELLY.

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Having driven past it several times, I decided to go in today with my digital camera to survey the place.

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The place is definitely Virginia Highlands chic: ethereal funk music playing; candles burning; spotted light on exposed brick. The employees all had decidedly funky haircuts: many with bleached blonde hair. The goods offered are eclectic--various types of dried-out chilis; vinegars; and unusual cookbooks (one, I think, was called "Crazy Chickens" with pictures of crazy chickens).

Everything there looked fresh and new. A cheese counter looked good enough to lick. I proceeded to lick it, only to have an employee inform me that the cheese counter was not for licking.

In any case, I was hungry and I wanted a sandwich. I read the sandwich menu carefully. Nothing stuck out at me as something I HAD to have, so I went with the panini because I don't eat much panini in Atlanta. I chose the mozzarella, tomato and basil panini. I also ordered an orange cream soda.

What I didn't like was that when he rung me up with a credit card, there was a line for tip. Why should I tip someone at a counter? He's not a waiter. I have to carry my own food. Sometimes I'll feel pressured and give a tip anyway. Today I felt vengeful, and left the line blank. The guy gave me a dirty look.

Soon, my sandwich came out and I saw it sitting up on the counter. I was sitting alone at the table. Was the guy going to bring it to me? Was he mad that I didn't give him a tip?

I gave him a look that said: "Umm, I know that my sandwich is up there, why aren't you giving it to me?

He feigned distraction.

I scudded my seat back noisily and stomped up to the counter, swooping the sandwich up myself.

"Sir, that's not yours," said the man nicely.

"Oh," I said.

Soon, though, my sandwich appeared. Here is a picture:

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It came with a devilled egg (a strange touch!) and a bunch of tiny pickles. I took a bite of the sandwich first:

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The textures all went well together, but the sandwich suffered from a severe lack of flavor. Perhaps that is the bain of mozzarella sandwiches: they need something to perk them up or they fall flat. Mozzarella isn't very flavorful in and of itself. It acts as a vehicle for other condiments: tomato sauce; vinegar; wasabi. (Ok, maybe not the last). And this sandwich just tasted like bready, gooey air.

Perhaps it was the pesto (a basil replacement, I suppose) that was the true criminal here. Pesto is a great opportunity for flavor. You can add garlic to it and salt. And I think it's the latter that felt most absent. The pesto (and hence the sandwich) was underseasoned. So was the devilled egg. The only flavor I really got at lunch was from the pickles and the cream soda.

Yet, Belly seems promising. Eager to please. And I very well might have picked a loser: I've never really met a mozzarella panini sandwich that I liked. (Although, admittedly, I don't think I've had very many). Surely, I'll go back to soak in the aesthetic and try something new. And maybe next time I'll tip the counter guy.

March 26, 2004

THE AMATEUR GOURMET'S ATLANTA TOP TEN: AGNES AND MURIELS

Since I'll be leaving Atlanta soon, I think it's important that I leave behind a legacy of places to eat. Think of the millions of followers who will one day visit the city of my origin--like Avon historians visiting Stratford--without a guide as to where to go, what to do, where to chow down. I owe a duty to my far-flung readers--the Malaysians, the Parisians, and those Outside the Perimeter*--to point them on a path of gastronomical fulfillment; to paint my fair city with its many flavorful colors. I owe my readers a Top 10 Atlanta list and God help me if I don't include Agnes and Muriel's.

Look, I'll be the first to admit: it's not for everyone. I know people who say: "I had a bad experience at Agnes and Muriels." I even relate to them because I too had a bad experience at Agnes and Muriels (food poisoning from the pot roast, but let's not go there). Yet, when I'm shivering in some New York hovel, pining for my days below the Mason Dixon line, I'll be craving not Seeger's eggshell-stuffed caviar custard or the Ritz-Carlton's shotglass oysters. I'll be pining for a warm little hideaway; a kitschy house with Barbie Dolls, 50s television sets and flamboyant waiters. I'll be pining for:

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Let's start with the atmosphere. There is nothing like it---unless you live in a trailer park shrine to Howdy Doody; or MGM Studio's Prime Time Cafe. (But even that pales in comparison). Let's start with the exterior. Look how cute this house is:

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Don't you want to go inside? Notice the inflatable bunny head inside the tree? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Check out this bizarre creation at the hostess stand:

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Or this fabulous coffee-cup chandelier:

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Do you see why I love this place? It's kitsch! It's fun! It's Agnes and Muriels! And check out the babes:

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I think I've made my point. But now you're probably wondering: "Ok, Adam, you showed us the decor; how's the food?"

The food is fun! It's kitsch! It's yummy!

For starters, Lauren and I shared a plate of Fried Green Tomatoes:

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They were terrific, with some kind of smoked chili sauce and feta cheese. The tomatoes had lots of flavor.

Then for my entree: boneless fried chicken breasts, sweet potato fries, and noodle kugel.

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This food is comforting and so bad for you. And fusion in a very delicious way: Southern cooking by way of Liberace. You gotta love it.

AGNES AND MURIELS HAS BEEN DECLARED AN AMATEUR GOURMET ATLANTA TOP TEN HOT SPOT.

* For those not familiar with the parlance, "Outside The Perimeter" denotes anyone who lives outside of Atlanta proper. Its meaning, though, is rather derisive: it suggests inferior education, significant tooth decay and a son named Bubba. Living Outside the Perimeter (OTP), to be honest, means you're a hick.

March 27, 2004

Iris, Therefore I Am

Fine dining usually requires the following:
1) Money;
2) Companionship;
3) An occassion for which to spend (1) and invite (2).

Tonight's (3) was celebrating my excting non-food related news from earlier in the week. Tonight's (2) was, of course, Lauren. And tonight's (1) was generously donated--without their knoweldge, really--by mom and dad. I mean, I'm sure they'd approve: how often does one have a (3) to celebrate? It was all (4) a good cause.

Originally, I had suggested Bacchanalia because that's one of Atlanta's top restaurants, if not the very top. But they were booked. And I was kind of glad: when I was there with my parents several years ago, we were a bit underwhelmed.

Then I tried Bacchanalia's sister restaurant, The Floataway Cafe, which is surely one of my favorite Atlanta fine dining spots. They were booked too.

Frustrated, I turned to the John Kessler page at the Access Atlanta website and read through his reviews. It was difficult because you couldn't search by rating; so I had to read through a bunch of places I never heard of, only to find Kessler's disapproval. Then I stumbled upon Iris--a place I had been to one time before and enjoyed--and decided it was the perfect spot to go. Not too dressy, not too formal, but quality 2-star food. In East Atlanta.

Have I told you about East Atlanta yet? It's like Atlanta's answer to Greenwich Village. Only much, much smaller. And near a prison.

Lauren and I gussied ourselves up. Well, first, she wanted my fashion approval. She came into my room with a really funky, shiny orange skirt and a funky, black and white top.

"What do you think?" she said.

"Love the skirt," I said. "Love the top. But they don't go together."

Wounded, she exited and returned, now with a denim skirt.

"Better," I said. "Anything else?"

Hissing, she exited once more and returned with a black skirt.

"Excellent!" I said.

"Ladeeda," she replied.

I, of course, looked perfect in my colorful button down shirt and snazzy jeans. We boarded my car and began the journey out east. We listened to my newly purchased "Purple Rain" CD.

"Dig if you will the picture," sings Prince, "of you and I engaged in a kiss."

"I dig it," says Lauren, and begins making out with the CD case.

Finally, we arrive at Iris in funky East Atlanta. The valet takes our keys and we make our way to the door.

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"Table for two," I say. "Under Gourmet. Amateur."

"Ah, very good sir," says the host. "Right this way."

He leads us to a lovely area outside:

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We look at our menus:

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We order wine:

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["Lauren," I yell just now. "What kind of wine did we have at dinner?" She yells from the other room:
"Starts with a C... C-L-E-V-N-E?" Hmmm. "OK!" I say. "That'll do!"]

The waiter suggests an appetizer of Kobe beef with a Mongolian BBQ sauce. "So tender, it'll fall off the bone." We order it:

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So tender it falls off the bone. "Mmm," says Lauren. "This is delicious."

Next, I indulged and ordered a lobster bisque while Lauren went for the less indulgent salad.

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I actually thought the lobster bisque was wonderful. Usually it's so creamy that you feel like you're drinking from an udder. This one was perfect. With tons of flavor. Among the best I've ever had.

And now for the entrees. The waiter warned me. I didn't heed his advice. You see, on the menu were many entrees I was eager to try. The one that seemed most daring, most exciting for someone who has culinary ambitions beyond steak and potatoes, was the Venison Osso Bucco.

"It's great," said the waiter, "but really heavy for this kind of weather."

Fool! I thought. Nothing's too heavy for moi! But damn, he was right.

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It was delicious but so so rich and so so heavy. I loved all the condiments: there was a side of pineapple / apple compote. And sweet potato crisps. And a little fork to eat the marrow. I didn't really eat the marrow because I was so full.

But I ate the whole thing, otherwise. "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," I said.

Lauren wisely chose the free-form ravioli with halibut.

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If it doesn't look like ravioli, that's because it's not. It's free form. But Lauren loved it.

And, for whatever reason, it seemed like a good idea to get dessert. I don't know how I did it, but I did it.

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Apple crisp. Vanilla ice cream. Delicious. But deadly.

I tumbled out of my chair face down on the ground. Lauren got my feet, the waiter got my head.

"Roll him," instructed Lauren.

They rolled me to the car.

"Fork lift!" yelled the waiter.

A large crane descended.

"Up she goes!" he laughed.

"I'm a he," I mumbled.

"Yes you are," said Lauren, taking the keys.

"Thank you," she told the waiter.

She closed both doors and started the car.

"Even doves have pride," instructed Prince.

"I'm sooo full," I said.

"Next time," said Lauren, "listen to the waiter."

March 31, 2004

Leaving Atlanta Checklist: 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.

April 1, 2004

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.

April 2, 2004

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.

April 3, 2004

Carnivorous Tendencies: The Roberts Family (and Lauren) At 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?

The Mother and Child Reunion: Lunch at Bacchanalia

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.

April 4, 2004

Operatic Endings: Dinner at Aria

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

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.

April 10, 2004

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.]

The Fountain of Youth: Ice Cream at Bruster's

Conversation turned, last night, to the subject of ice cream.

Michael K. is an ice cream afficianado. He has a mega-ton ice cream/gelato maker and his knowledge runs deeper than mine, thus far, on the matter. He was happy to hear about my serene out-of-body experience with the vanilla bean.

"What's your favorite ice cream in Atlanta?" he asked.

"Jake's," I answered, maintaining my cool.

"Bah!" he said. "Jake's is frozen treacle. What you need is Bruster's."

"Bruster's!" I said, astonished. "You mean the red and white stand near where I live with the sign that looks like Luden's cough drops?"

"That's the one," said Michael K.

"I don't believe it," I said, mortified.

"Well," explained Michael, "Jake's freezes its ice cream for too long. Bruster's serves theirs almost immediately after making it."

"Let's put this to the test," said Mark.

We drove to Bruster's.

And now for a brief aside, regarding the title of this post.

Pulling up to Jake's, Mark and I spotted the cutest thing you ever did see. Across from us in our parking spot, was an old couple--maybe in their 70s or 80s--in their Cadillac, each licking ice cream cones like children. It's hard to explain how beautiful the image was: this old man and woman, like kids in high school, licking their cones with a total lack of self-awareness. They seemed so happy. And so young.

"That is so cute," said Mark.

I wanted to take a picture, but that would have been weird.

But it's amazing, isn't it, how ice cream is a great equalizer. Everyone loves ice cream. You might not picture Bush and Kerry sharing a hot tub, but you can picture them on a bench--side by side--with ice cream cones, can't you? Or J. Lo and Ben, after they make up? It brings the world together.

It reminds me of a Wordsworth poem: "I scream / You scream / We all screamest for ice cream."

So here's the Bruster's stand:

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And here's my cup of white chocolate raspberry:

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Indeed, it was creamier and fresher than Jake's. I still prefer the quirky flavors at Jake's (particularly their Key Lime Pie ice cream), but I will agree with Michael K. that Bruster's is much less frozen. And, plus, Bruster's had that adorable old couple. Wonder if they're still there?

April 21, 2004

Help! I'm Being Sucked Through THE VORTEX!

You will encounter two emblematic Atlanta images on your way into The Vortex.

Naturally, you'll encounter the skull. The Vortex is located inside the skull. Its visage informs the area around it: the punky, funky Little Five Points.

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But first, you'll encounter The Cockmaster.

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Can you make him out? I shot this out of my back window, just as the light turned green.

The Cockmaster is an Atlanta staple. He stands on the corner of Ponce De Leon and Moreland wearing bicycle shorts stuffed (or are they) with what resembles a giant...errm...cock. He also carries a cane. But its the...errm...cock...that makes him The Cockmaster. That thing is huge. He's an Atlanta staple.

Ok, now back to The Vortex.

The Vortex claims itself as having Atlanta's best hamburger. I'm getting tired of declaring things "Atlanta's best" anything, since I don't think I have the credentials to do so. Instead, I'll just say that The Vortex is my favorite place to go for a hamburger.

Bikers congregate outside. Rock music plays within. You walk inside and see this sign:

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And so, accordingly, you seat yourself.

The menu is funky too. Not sure if you can make this out:

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but it provides instructions on "behaving like an adult" ("You're not in high school anymore, testosterone-boy. If a stranger is talking to your girlfriend, it's really not that big a deal.") and not "showing your ass" ("Few things are as embarassing as being cut-off at your favorite bar.")

Lauren and I ordered iced tea, so that really wasn't a problem. We diverged on our actual orders, though: I smartly ordered a cheeseburger and Lauren stupidly ordered a cuban sandwich.

"It's soooo good," said the waitress.

It wasn't. "It's really dry," Lauren said sadly.

My burger was fantastic:

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The bacon was a little too greasy and a little too curly, but the burger itself was great. The cheese was a nice complement (<--got that right this time). And of course onion rings are always a treat.

Lauren left feeling ashamed of her order and I left feeling like the...errrm...cock of the walk.

April 22, 2004

Poor Man's Sushi at Rusan's

There is no reason to document a meal at Rusan's. It's as pedestrian as you can get when it comes to sushi.

There's no point taking this picture of the exterior:

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Or this of the table showcase when you enter:

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Or this of the noisy sushi bar where the sushi chefs yelled indecipherably upon our entrance: "HEY!!! OHHH!!! EEEH!!! ARAOH!"

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But Rusan's is where you go on a weeknight when you want sushi. It's funny, if you harken back to my review of MF Sushi, I rather callously remarked: "But, to be honest, after tonight I realize that I'm not so much a sushi person. I like eating it, but I would never go out of my way to eat it. And I would never pay an exorbitant amount of money for the world's best sushi. I'd rather have a really good steak."

Interesting how we can grow backwards (the title, incidentally, of David Byrne's great new album). Meaning: the fabulous sushi at MFSushi didn't turn me on to sushi; the mediocre sushi at RuSan's made me long for really good sushi. See?

Like this salad, for example:

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A fine, standard, gingery, vinegary sushi bar salad. But it was way too gingery, way too vinegary. I pined for the controlled performance at MFSushi:

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And the sushi itself: a great candyland assortment of eel, fried tuna rolls, and tuna/salmon rolls...

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But lacking in the craftsmanship and panache of MF:

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In particular, the balance of sauce and flavor on the inside of the rolls: Rusan's dredges their's with gooey sesame sauce or obnoxiously firey pepper sauce. MF's was balanced.

So, in conclusion, it took the flourescent lights at Rusan's to help me see the sushi light I missed at MF. Great sushi is an art. I'm now officially a sushi snob.

April 27, 2004

Just Like Old Times: Breakfast at the Crescent Moon

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Alex and Michael, two stars in my social planetarium, are here to visit, staying with me, despite the fact that I am mid-finals. Here you can see them raiding my kitchen--insulting my hard-earned tubs of homemade ice cream and sorbet for Lauren's jar of Queso.

This morning, Alex expressed her desire to revisit her favorite Atlanta breakfast haunt, The Crescent Moon, so she could have their French Toast. I said I'm on board as long as we can go early so I could get studying done. (As you can see, now, I am on a mid-day study break).

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The Crescent Moon is just one of those adorable Atlanta breakfast nooks, where charm and sass come free with your 99 cent coffee. At the Crescent Moon, though, it's filtered through the prism of Decatur, often redubbed Dick-Hater for its overabundance of lesbians. And there was definitely a lesbian vibe today at the Crescent Moon. I broke out my Berkenstocks, whipped out my acoustic and started singing "Least Complicated" to the joy of everyone around.

Notice the retro chic scenery:

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This is where we used to come in the latter days of college; a special Sunday brunch early in the afternoon. The wait would be 20 minutes, and we'd sit in the little back room, crowded with strangers, drinking complimentary coffee and waiting for a table.

We each ordered our usual: I with The Heap, a spin on Denny's skillet sensations except gooder. A mountain of potatoes, eggs, bacon, Herbs and a biscuit.

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Alex ordered her favorite, the challah (emphasize the CH) french toast. (You pay by the slice, and Alex bravely ordered two).

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Michael ordered the nastiest thing ever which he called a Southern tradition: biscuits and gravy. He may be right but I hate gravy. That's a secret I'm letting you in on. He offered to let me try some, but I feigned fever and passed out on the floor so I wouldn't have to. Be honest: does this look appetizing to you?

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The meal over, we strolled outside and felt the bulk of our stomachs.

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We stumbled to our cars and drove off full and contented. Just like old times.

May 4, 2004

The Blue Plate Special Chainsaw Massacre XVIII

There is Whole Foods in my backyard and then there is Whole Foods on Ponce.

Whole Foods in my backyard is Lance Bass. Whole Foods on Ponce is Justin Timberlake.

Cry me a river.

Sometimes I go to Whole Foods on Ponce and eat dinner. They have a Blue Plate Special. The Blue Plate Special is very hit or miss. When it hits, it's good. When it misses, it's awful.

Here's how it works: you choose a meat--but not any old meat--you choose a cheap meat. The fish, for example, is off limits. (But, then again, is fish a meat?) Then you choose two sides. That's your blue plate special.

Tonight I thought I chose well with spicy coconut chicken. Sounds tasty, no? I chose rice and mushrooms as my sides. I brought it to a table and took a picture:

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I took a bite and had a similar reaction to Sylvester the cat when Tweety drops a safe on his head and his tongue spills out like a staircase. This was HOT. Firey hot. Backdraft hot. Some like it hot hot. Hot Or Not hot. Too hot to handle hot. Buster Poindexter hot hot hot. Who's Hot? Hot. Hot Legs hot. Hotty McHotHot hot. HOT.

Maybe I'm exaggerating. I'm sure to fans of firey foods it was fine. And the first few bites were tolerable. But as the meal progressed my face turned red. I started to sweat. I really felt ill. I couldn't finish. I ate the mushrooms and called it a night.

[A night of the Iguana night. Nighthawks night. Goodnight saigon night. A Knight's tale night. Nighty night night. Nick at Nite night. Goodnight night. Night!]

May 5, 2004

A Tale Told By A Vidiot: The Kool Korners Cuban Sandwich

Site reader and part-time Amateur Gourmet publicisit Vidiot has been hawking me for a while to go to Kool Korners on 14th Street for their Cuban Sandwich. "Go to Kool Korners on 14th street!" he will write. "Eat their cuban sandwich!"

Today, my stomach and brain battled for control of the steering wheel as I figured out my lunch destination.

Stomach: Listen to Vidiot! Let's eat a cuban!

Brain: But we have work, you scoundrel. A final! In Jewish law!

Stomach: Screw the Jews! The Cubans have better music.

Brain: They do? What about Fiddler on the Roof?

Stomach: Screw Fidddler, they did The Buena Vista Social Club.

Having won his point, Stomach drove us over to Kool Korners which had a deceptive exterior.

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It looked like a run down grocery store. I loved the mystery of it all.

Once inside, I realized what I had stumbled upon: a well-kept Atlanta secret! The place was packed with businessmen, young people, old people, and Sally Struthers all lined up for Cuban sandwiches. I tried to pick a good photo spot to capture it for you but nothing really worked. I'd rather paint the place with words.

The place was deceptively decrepit. Meaning, the walls were dirty, the shelves dusty, the decor similar to that of a run down Shell station. Yet, the people there were vibrant: an old man behind the counter chatted up a customer in Spanish. A woman carried a large pot with a beautifully roasted hunk of meat. Other women manned (or womanned) the cash registers.

When I was up to plate I ordered the classic cuban. I also bought a bag of Guacamole Doritos and an Iced Tea.

I carried my purchases outside where there was one table, already occupied. So I went to my car and ate behind the wheel with the windows open. Here's what the sandwich looked like:

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Now I'm no Cuban sandwich expert, but is this really a classic cuban? Don't get me wrong: everything tasted great. The meat was savory, the cheese sweet and perfectly gluey. But the presence of mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion made it taste a little like a Subway hero.

When I was in L.A. this summer, I ate Cuban sandwiches at a place called Cafe Tropical in Silverlake. At first I thought they were terrible. I'm not a ham person. I'm not a cheese person. I sometimes like pieces of pork. I do like pressed bread. In any case, a few visits later I was hooked. But the sandwich really had no accoutrements: there was the ham, the cheese, the pork and the bread.

So maybe L.A. made me a Cuban sandwich snob? If it did, it doesn't matter because I really enjoyed the Kool Korners version.

What I did not enjoy were these Dorito guacamole chips:

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They tasted like cardboard triangles dusted with chemistry set guacamole. Literally: powdered guacamole is not a good thing.

All in all, I enjoyed my lunch. Thanks Vidiot for the suggestion!

Pavlov's Almond Tart

Life requires motivators. To get out of bed in the morning, we need incentive. "Ah yes," we tell ourselves, "Neil Diamond tribute on Good Morning America. Must rise!"

Consequently, great tasks require great motivators. "Climb Mount Everest? How can I?" said Sir Edmond Hillary to himself. And then he realized: "Oh yes! When I reach the top I can sing 'Climb Every Mountain' from The Sound of Music and really mean it!"

Today, then, I had to answer Question #3 on my take-home final. Question #3 is a very hard question. It is worth 30 points. It has four parts. I needed a motivator. So I purchased this Almond Tart from Star Provisions (which is very near Kool Korners):

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The woman there put it in a box which she put in a bag. I put the bag in my backpack and left it there during part (a) of question #3.

"Eat me," whispered the tart after part (a).

"No!" I scorned. "We have to finish parts (b) (c) and (d)."

"Aww come on," the tart taunted, "you deserve me. Part a was really hard!"

I saw his point. I removed the tart and gobbled it down. Then I drove home and checked my e-mail. I watched "The Daily Show." I didn't get (b) (c) and (d) done until just now.

So the moral is: don't prematurely eat your motivators.

May 7, 2004

Waitress Row Your Ass Ashore: Lunch at Canoe

Good help is so hard to find.

Literally.

Our waitress was missing for 90% of our meal today at Canoe, an otherwise adorable Atlanta restaurant on Paces Ferry.

I mean check it out:

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Beautiful, right?

Canoe is located on the Chattahoochee River. On a completely unrelated note, there were girls in high school we called chattahoochees (or hoochie mamas) because they wore midrifts with bellybuttons popping out, hoop earrings, and gold necklaces with their names on them. In other words, I went to high school with Sarah Jessica Parker.

Here is our lovely view of the bridge:

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Looks like something out of Fried Green Tomatoes. Except in that movie, the service was amicable and alert---who cares if they serve you human ribs as long as they serve you?

Our waitress wasn't a bad person. She was just aloof. Majorly aloof. We ordered drinks. She didn't bring them. We asked for bread. She gave it to the next table. People sat down thirty minutes after us and were on their entrees before we got our appetizers. Our waitress sucked.

But the food was pretty good. We had been there once before and the food was better. That time was Sunday brunch and I really enjoyed their brunch food.

Today I started with the aloof waitress's recommendation of chilled artichoke soup:

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A nice presentation, sure. That's basil in there. The soup was light and refreshing but not my favorite.

My dad definitely picked the winner. A smoked salmon appetizer that mom and I finnagled dad for a taste of:

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It was fantastic. The best part of the meal, and I only had a small taste.

Mom's onion soup is not pictured because I deemed it unimpressive.

As for entrees I had the crab cake salad:

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This was a disappointment. The inside of the crabcake was overly mayonaissey and mostly flavorless. The citrus salad dressing left me unenthused.

Mom had a tuna salad that I also didn't care for:

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Dad, yet again, picked the best---a rock shrimp salad:

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Everything was fried, true. But it looked the most interesting and tasty. I picked off his plate.

Here's mom and dad with the lovely background:

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I would tell you how the meal ended, but we're still here. The waitress hasn't brought the check. Any day now.

May 8, 2004

Eating Veal is Evil and I Ate Veal

Last year a New Yorker article came out that turned me vegetarian for a week. I had survived a college life filled with vegetarians--basically everyone I was friends with was a vegetarian--without my carnivorous foundations cracking. And then this article came along--a very shrewd piece about PETA--that brought the reader to chicken farms where rows upon rows of beakless chickens were anesthetized and staring into space, the smell of ammonia overwhelming the author (this is how we fatten our chickens: we keep them sedentary with drugs). This freaked me out. But not as much as veal.

Veal, it seems, suffers the cruellest form of regulated animal treatment. Baby cows are kept in individual pens without any room for movement. This is to fatten them up (similar to the chickens): the less they move, the fattier they get, and more flavorful. So the baby cow spends its entire life in a crate until its old enough to die, never moving.

When I finished my week of vegetarianism I vowed that I would become a more conscientous meat eater. The week without meat led me to believe that we are meant to eat meat: our canine teeth are exhibit A. The fact that meat is delicious is exhibit B. Evolution dictates that every trait is purposeful and deliciousness is no exception. We eat meat to maintain our place on the food chain. Otherwise, Tim Burton would direct Planet of the Cows and we would all have udders. Typing would be impossible.

Veal remained the exception. I said: "Everything but veal. It's too cruel."

Then last night happened. Was I drugged? Drunk? Under a hypnotic spell?

No. We were at Aria (already reviewed last times the parents visited). At that last visit, mom had the veal and raved the whole way home. We made our reservation last night because of the veal--it had such a powerful effect.

And, exploring the menu, my eyes kept shifting to the veal. It sounded delicious with porcini mushrooms and crispy leeks over mashed potatoes. How cruel is a pen anyway? Movement is so overrated. And the veal was already dead, wasn't it? Ordering the veal would only bring the already dead baby cow from the kitchen to my plate.... they weren't going to go kill a fresh one for me. If I didn't order it, it would go to waste.

Ok, this is the same argument people make about voting: "I'm only one vote, I don't matter, who cares if I go?" Sometimes I believe that. I lost my write-in ballot for Bush v. Gore and felt bad but not so bad until the TVs came on that night and I saw that it all basically came down to Palm Beach County: my county, my vote.

Now Bush is president and I ate this for dinner:

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Can you forgive me?

May 9, 2004

Everything I Say Is Wrong: Dinner at Chops

Depending on your perspecitve, my brother might seem a cantankerous sort. In many ways he's like a gorilla: keep him fed, keep him sated and all will be well. Irritate him and you'll be eating gorilla paw.

Michael--as he is called--finds my obsessive food picture taking bizarre and irritating.

"Stop taking pictures of your food," he said last night, "I'm going to throw your camera across the room."

"Michael," I said, "Thousands of people are waiting with baited breath to see what we had for dinner."

"No they're not," he responded, "you're probably the only person who reads your website; you must click on it so much, that's why you have so many hits."

"Michael," said mom, "take it down a notch."

Chops is located in Buckhead near my parents' hotel. It's your quintissential steakhouse. My family really loves steakhouses. They eat at one every week. We're going to another one tonight for Mother's Day. Here's Chops's door:

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As often happens on these dining excurisions, I began formating the dinner's narrative hook. The hook I came up with went like this: "Jewish people really like steakhouses. Everyone here is Jewish. Why do Jewish people like steakhouses so much? What cultural--"

"That's not true," said my brother.

"Yes it is," I rejoinded. "Look around! See all the Jewish families? It's like Temple Beth Steakhouse."

"There's a nun over there," Michael pointed.

"What?"

"A nun, look."

I turned around. There was a nun. Everyone there wasn't Jewish.

"Oh."

Our waiter came over. He asked for our drink orders. Michael ordered a Sprite and a prime rib.

"Michael," I said, "he's only taking our drink order."

"I know but I want to reserve the prime rib in case they run out."

"Haha," I said. "How silly, they're not going to run out."

We finished our drink orders. The waiter left. We explored the menu. I decided upon prime rib. So did my dad. The waiter returned.

"Well?" said the waiter.

Can you see where this story's going?

"Prime rib!" said dad.

"Me too!" said I.

"Ahhh," said the waiter, "Sorry, but we just ran out."

"Aha!" said Michael rejoicefully. He turned to look at me: "Everything you say is wrong."

He was making a good case. I ordered a steak and kept my mouth shut.

Chops has a really good Chopped Chops Salad:

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The dressing is a creamy garlic and if there's one thing my family likes it's a creamy garlic dressing. We used to go to a steakhouse in West Palm Beach called Raindancer where they had Green Garlic Dressing on the salad bar. That was its greatest selling point.

Time passed. I went to the bathroom. I heard a conversation between two older gentlemen:

Man 1: I'm not retiring! Fuck retiring!
Man 2: Shit, we're too young.
Man 1: I just went to Florida. The guys my age? They look like old men! What am I going to do, sit home with my wife all day?
Man 2: Fuck no.
Man 1: You have to stay active! Fuck it!

I returned to the table and soon my steak was delivered.

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This was a New York Strip and it was delicious. They crusted it really well with a salty garlic mixture.

And here's Michael's Prime Rib:

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Looks like an Atilla The Hun prop, huh? Like the one he gnaws in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure?

My mom, eventually, asked for the bone so she could gnaw. My mom likes bone gnawing. Maybe she's Atilla the Hun reincarnated?

We got the obligatory sides...

Onion Rings:

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Creamed Spinach:

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Toffee Coffee Crunch Pie:

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I would have preferred it for dessert, but toffee coffee crunch pie goes great with steak.

"You're retarded," says Michael. "Give up."

Me? Retire? Fuck no! Who cares if everything I say is wrong?

May 10, 2004

The Subtle Art of Mealplanning: Mother's Day Brunch at the Buckhead Diner

If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the hand that feeds the stomach is the hand that rules the world. Since my mother and grandmother don't cook, one might conclude that they are powerless parties in the Roberts family superstructure. How wrong you would be.

What my mother and grandmother lack in cooking skill they make up for in the subtle art of mealplanning. Like snowboarding, mealplanning incorproates the challenges of one skill (cooking, skiing) and channels it through another medium (telephone, snowboard). My mother and grandmother plot meals like Tolstoy plots novels; that is, very carefully.

How interesting that our meals play out like novels too.

In today's paperback bestseller, a favorite character returned to the fold: grandma flew in this morning for my graduation, catching an early flight from West Palm Beach and leaving grandpa behind, still recovering from the repercussions of intensive radiation. Mom and dad picked her up, we met up at the hotel, and made our way over to the Buckhead Diner:

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In chapter two, grandma told us of how she asked the man sitting next to her if she could have the aisle seat, of the subsequent conversation in which he explained how his child from a first marriage hates his new wife, of how my grandma only sipped her Cranapple juice because of the excessive sugar and carbohydrates. Soon after, we posed for this picture:

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Back to our original theme, the process of mealplanning involves two stages: external and internal mealplanning. External mealplanning involves all the externalities: where will we dine? How will we get there? Who will we go there with? When will we go? Will there be parking spots when we get there? What if it rains?

Internal mealplanning involves food selection. For mom and grandma, this is a very intensive process: it requires terrible scrutiny and deeply realized self-awarensss. For example, today, it took several lifetimes for mom and grandma to conclude that a field green salad with bleu cheese, apples and walnuts would provide the spiritual sustinence they needed to get through the day. Of course, they ordered the dressing on the side. Here they are, satisfied with their internal mealplanning:

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I do my own mealplanning with you, dear reader, in mind. How brave can I be? What will be most entertaining, most photogenic? Which entree selection will cause a comment flamewar that will leave unsuspecting readers bloody and blind? Today that selection was a smoked salmon tower with potato pancakes and poached eggs and string beans:

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This was a nice dish, a brunchy dish. Not my favorite, but not NOT my favorite. Would I get it again? No. Would I get it flowers? No. Would I get a tattoo? No.

What I would get again, what I would buy flowers and what I would get tattooed on my forehead is the Buckhead Diner's James Beard Award winning Banana Cream Pie:

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'Twas quite delicious.

And to all you mothers out there--whether cookers or mealplanners--Happy Mother's Day! This banana cream pie's for you.

May 12, 2004

Blais Has Closed!

I'm really sad.... The spot where Lauren and I celebrated our joint 25th birthday with a 31-course dinner (here's the link to my write-up) is closed. Official word comes from the AJC:

WEDNESDAY PEACH BUZZ
Daring eatery Blais shuts its doors

By RICHARD L. ELDREDGE

BLAIS The restaurant that made a name for its humorous, unlikely and sometimes brilliant food innovations -- closed its doors suddenly on Monday night, just shy of its six month birthday.

Chef Richard Blais hit the scene last year in a modernist renovation of the old Peachtree Cafe space in Buckhead. His off-the-wall menu appealed intensely to an adventurous segment of the dining public but scared off many.

Dried chicken skin with coleslaw ice cream, beef braised in Dr Pepper, parsnip cake with frankincense aroma, and the now-infamous foie gras milkshake were this restaurant's hallmarks. The menu attracted more critical praise than patrons.

Partners George McKerrow, David Davoudpour and Ron San Martin pulled the plug after investing "close to a million dollars," said McKerrow.

"Atlanta wasn't ready for what Richard had in mind," he added. "I think he's one of the most talented chefs in the United States" but "Atlanta's a meat-and-potatoes town."

Look for another concept in the space from the investors' We're Cookin' restaurant group (Aria, Canoe), in partnership with Aria chef Gerry Klaskala.

All You Can Eat Salad and Pizza at The Patio

Let us explore the psychological phenomenon that is "all you can eat."

In many ways, this culinary catchphrase is a challenge. "Ok eater," says the restaurant, "I dare you. Come here, and try to eat all you can eat. I bet you won't finish more than two plates."

And for the most part the restaurant is correct. You won't finish more than two plates. It's just that you know you can.

The language of American dining these days is the language of value. "Come in and buy one hoagie and get the second hoagie free!" "All entrees come with unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks!" "Take unlimited trips to our gourmet salad bar!" "Keep the table and the furniture! It's on us!"

In other words, American diners, let us lure you out of your homes with promises from the land of plenty. The result, of course, is that the quality of ingredients goes down while their quantity increases. It's like the Woody Allen joke that starts Annie Hall---First Old Woman: "The food here is terrible." Second Old Woman: "Yes, and such small portions!"

Americans will eat crap if you give them a lot of it for cheap. "Give me value or give me death" may as well be our mantra. Certainly it's my family's mantra. We like our portions big, our refills free and our bread basket frequently replenished. Why shouldn't we? We want our dollars stretched thinner than the noodles in our bottomless bowl of spaghetti.

And so tonight Lauren lured me out of the apartment with promises of unlimited pizza and salad at The Patio in Inman Park. What's funny about me and Atlanta is that I have lived here for seven years, and yet I still have no idea where I am half the time. Roads bleed into other roads and all of them are called Peachtree. I have friends who marvel at how completely lost I am when driving through Atlanta. And thus, I have no idea how we got to where we got to tonight but once we were there it looked cute enough.

The deal worked like this. First they bring you breadsticks and oil:

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This is a trick. They're trying to fatten you up so you don't gorge on more expensive products like salad and pizza. (Which are, essentially, variations on the theme of something and oil. Salad = lettuce and oil; Pizza = Bread and oil and topping; so maybe they're not saving that much money after all).

Regardless (or Irregardless? That is the question), we next split a giant salad:

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This salad was decent enough. What made it good was the fact that it was UNLIMITED. Amazing how that changes things. Were this a one-and-only salad, I would have been more critical. But this was a plenty-more-where-that-came-from salad. How could I complain?

Of course, we didn't order another one. We were saving room for pizza. We were ready to down 8 to 9 pies.

The way it works is you tell them you're ready for pizza and they start bringing them out. You don't choose toppings, they choose you. If you don't like what they bring out, wait for the next one. We started with this one:

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This pizza was half chicken and half onion. It was--like the salad--decent enough. Sometimes Atlanta pizza reminds me of those students you see in museums with pencils and heavily marked notebooks, trying desperately to emulate the genius of a Boticelli or a Tintoretto. They just can't quite get it.

The crust was fine, the sauce was fine, the cheese was fine. Just not great. Adequate. Yet heightened by the fact--yet again--that it was unlimited. Plenty-More-Where-That-Came-From Pizza.

And so we scarfed down a few slices and prepared for our next pie, which came shortly after:

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This was half meatball, half red pepper. We ate a few slices--no better than the first pie--and got full. We were done. Our "all you can eat" meal turned out to be just as plentiful as a normal not "all you can eat" meal. The difference, though, was that we knew we could have more if we wanted more. To quote Robert Frost: "And that made all the difference."

May 13, 2004

Gentrification and Creme Brulee Cheesecake in East Atlanta

You know how in "The Shawshank Redemption" the old man, Brooks, kills himself because he can't adjust to life outside the pen? (Sorry for ruining it, those who haven't seen it). Well I'm starting to feel his pain. Two days, now, since graduating law school and what have I done with my time? I've returned to the scenes of my incarceration: coffee shops.

There was Starbucks yesterday for peripheral playwriting and Caribou today for the conclusion of Nabokov's "Speak Memory." Tonight, bored silly, I ventured out to East Atlanta to begin P.G. Wodehouse's "Uncle Fred in the Springtime" at Joe's.

During my first trip to the bathroom, I snapped this picture of graffiti on the wall:

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See this is funny because the first person wrote "Resist Corporate Homogenization," unsurprising for the Bohemian East Atlanta crowd. The punchline is the second graffitist's retort: "Don't ask about gentrification." That's because East Atlanta is the epitome of gentrification: it is a poor, dilapidated strip near the Atlanta Federal Penitentary that, in recent years, has bubbled up into a slightly trendy, slightly hip not quite a destination spot. It's greatest claim is Iris (previously reviewed here) but there's also Mary's, the gay karaoke bar frequented by my friends and I Tuesday nights, and The Heaping Bowl, a fun quirky operation where I went once on a date. It didn't work out.

The socially minded worry over gentrification. The Lower East Side in Manhattan is experiencing just such a transformation. Long time residents are either thrilled by the increased property values or saddened by the deculturization of their communities. Well, not deculturization really, but reculturization. Out go the real poor people and in come the rich people dressing like poor people. Out goes the ethnic grocery shops and in comes the Whole Foods. Such is gentrification.

So tonight in my gentrified hovel, I asked the gentrified propietor which dessert was best. He said: "The creme brulee cheesecake."

I took him at his word and ordered a slice.

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If gentrification is the gutting and reworking of a community, fusion is the melding of two disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Thus this gentrified creme brulee cheesecake was the epitome of effective fusion: the end product tasted like an entirely separate entity, like something new.

And then there's confusion---this occurs when you start writing a piece on one subject, move to another subject, and completely lose focus. That's what's happened here. So I'll end with a food scene from P.G. Wodehouse which I'm enjoying greatly:

'What!'
'That pig is too fat.'
'Too fat?'
"Much too fat. Look at her. Bulging.'
'But my dear Alaric, she is supposed to be fat.'
'Not as fat as that.'
'Yes, I assure you. She has already been given two medals for being fat.'
'Don't be silly, Clarence. What would a pig do with medals? It's no good trying to shirk the issue. There is only one word for that pig--gross. She reminds me of my Aunt Horatia, who died of apoplexy during Christmas dinner. Keeled over half-way through her second helping of plum pudding and never spoke again. This animal might be her double."

May 16, 2004

The Best Chain Restaurant in America: Houston's

We are going to do tonight's posting in one big mega-post. Since I only have two things to talk about--geese and Houston's--we'll be ok. Oh, plus there's popcorn. But first geese.

Driving to Houston's today, some old people were holding up traffic on La Vista Road. I leaned my head out the window like an angry cab driver and yelled: "Hey! Waz going on!"

And then it became apparent: geese crossing. A family of geese. Here they are making their way to the Kosher Supermarket:

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If you're familiar with Amateur Gourmet running gags, you'll know what I'm going to say next. Ready? They were delicious. Tangy at first but with a hint of robust beefiness. Quite lovely.

And now, before Houston's, let's mention popcorn. Tonight I had the opportunity to sample Pop Secret's Honey Butter Popcorn. This was delicious. I know it's fake, it's phony, it's bad for you. It's polyhydroginated and hydropolyniated but I didn't care. It was yummy. I highly recommend it, especially if you--like me--can't make caramel corn to save your life. This is a great sweet/salty substitute.

Now on to Houston's.

Houston's.

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Houston's in Boca Raton is where my parents eat at least twice a week. It's the equivalent of a homecooked meal. Instead of making dinner, my mother strategizes getting into Houston's. "If we don't get there by 5:30, we'll never get in," she'll say. And when we get there she squeezes her way up to the front. "Hi Carol," she'll say to a woman who may or may not be named Carol, "How are you? Can we get a booth? By the window?"

Here is a place, though, where I am in agreement with my parents. We don't agree on politics. We don't agree on movies. We don't agree on the proper duration of a graduate career. However, we do agree that Houston's is delicious. I love their food.

Today, for example, I had their Club Salad:

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It was delicious. Bacon, lettuce, egg, fried chicken, and avocado in a terrific dressing: Buttermilk Garlic. Lauren was unhappy with her traditional salad with bleu cheese but we will ignore that because Houston's is delicious.

I also ordered a side of fries because I love Houston's fries:

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These are my ideal fries. I love my fries thin. And salty. These fries are thin and salty.

And now let me tell you about the service. The service was, hands down, impeccable. We walked in and a jolly woman showed us to our table. We made light banter. It was delightful. And delicious. And then an assistant waitress came right over and took our drink order. Whish. And she's back, putting the drinks on the table. Our real waitress appears and tells us the specials. Are we ready to order? We are. We do. Our drinks are refilled. Lauren goes to the bathroom. Her napkin is folded. She returns. The food arrives. "Everything ok here?" "Actually," I say, "I kind of wanted the dressing tossed with the salad, not on the side?" "No problem!" The salad is whisked away and in a matter of seconds brought back, tossed and delicious. Dining continues. Drinks are refilled. Done eating. Plates are cleared. Check is brought.

It was wonderful.

However, here's what's sad. Houston's must have a tipping problem. People must not tip appropriately. Look:

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Can you see what I'm showing you? Guess not. But at the bottom of the receipt, above my signature, you will see what is labelled: Quick Guide. It calculates the tips for you: 15%, 18%, and 20%. Not only that, in the check envelope which they bring to the table is a note that says: "IT IS CUSTOMARY AND EXPECTED TO TIP YOUR WAITER BETWEEN 15% and 20% FOR YOUR MEAL."

I am not offended that they feel the need to tell me this. I'm more offended that they have a need to tell me this. They must have a big tipping problem. Things must be really bad if you have to bully your customers into tipping. And having worked in the service industry (ok, it was only a month, but still) and having had friends who worked (and still work) in the service industry, I know that people can be pricky tippers. The worst tippers are usually the best dressed people and the best are the casual, laid back middle class people who know what it means to be a working hard for The Man. Although, there's no real formula. My old roommate James worked at TGIFridays in DC and he said that the tipping there was horrendous. In that case, the poorest people were the worst tippers. If I had more time I would say more about tipping....

Alas, however, tonight's posting time has expired. And I must conclude that tipping matters aside, Houston's is the best chain restaurant in America. Thank you.

May 23, 2004

Tierra is Verra Verra Good

Piedmont Road is one of those connector roads in Atlanta: it connects you from Buckhead to Midtown and intersects, along the way, with Rock Springs (taking you to Emory), Monroe (taking you to Ponce) and Tierra--a funky yellow South American fusion restaurant that my friends and I went to tonight.

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Driving past, you wouldn't necessarily think this was a special restaurant. I surely didn't. I only learned about it reading, among other things, Chowhound and the AJC. The restaurant also has its own website: Tierra's Website. The place is run by a husband and wife and according to the site's ABOUT section:

Ticha is from Central America and was raised in South America having lived in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Panama and Nicaragua. Dan is from New York and pairing his love of food and classical training to Ticha’s understanding of the different flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean have made Tierra the success that it is today.

I'm glad I read this now. It really gives me a good way to understand our meal. Classical meets South American. Whatever it was, it was delicious.

So I went there with Lauren, friend Michael (aka "The Good Doctor"), the infamous Trey Givens of treygivens.com (who I met for the first time tonight) and Mark (who you met at the rib place a while back):

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Now the first charming thing about Tierra is that they give you a glossary of food terms, to help you with the menu:

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The other charming thing is that the husband and wife who run the place are on the scene: the husband cooking in the kitchen, and the wife doing the rounds. She sat us at our table and helped us with our wine.
[Though apparently she cooks too.]

Michael, a bit of a wine expert, chose a bottle of this:

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It was a good red; it had a Latin flair, like Zorro. It did not, alas, wear a cape.

Bread was served. Michael pouted because the butter was too frozen. So then he did something that was, errr, something to do with frozen butter. He attempt to melt a bit over the candle:

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I felt that this was a bold creative gesture. Then the butter fell into the candle:

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So much for that.

Now for the food.

I took the waiter's recommendation for an appetizer and went with the mussels:

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A Bon Apetit magazine hung framed on the wall with the mussel recipe. I enjoyed them; there were bits of corn and Jicama floating around. The broth was rich and flavorful. Was I supposed to drink it like soup? I did that a little bit. I'm not so much an expert mussel eater.

But it was Michael who got the winning appetizer. He got "platanos filled with beef picadillo" which are basically plaintains and meat:

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As for an entree, I had the snapper--"Genuine Gulf Snapper: pan fried in coconut and beer batter, served with kale and red rice":

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On first bite I was a little disappointed. But that's because the first bite didn't have any skin on it. Once I got some skin, I got the flavor and it was great. Very unusual and very expertly done. The rice was good too; though the kale was not something I particularly enjoyed. It tasted rather like a thorny bush.

Michael took the liberty of ordering another wine:

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I took the liberty of going to the bathroom.

The plates were cleared. We drank more wine.

Then there was dessert. The waiter suggested the passion fruit flan. I love passion fruit. I like flan. "It's very tart," he warned, "it made me make a face when I tried it."

"Cool," I said, "let's do it."

The waiter gave me a strange look.

"Sir?"

"Oh, I mean, I'd like to order the passion fruit flan."

"Right away," he nodded, traipsing off.

He returned moments later. Here's the flan:

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And it was, indeed, tart. But beyond that it was slightly bitter. And it was the bitter quality, not the tart quality, that I didn't enjoy. With that said, though, I'm glad I ordered it. It definitely tasted of fresh ingredients and that I appreciated it.

Post-dinner conversation focused on pleated skirts, IMAX movies, and cicada consumption. Soon the bill came. Soon we paid. Soon we left.

'Twas a fun night for all.

May 26, 2004

I'm A Little Bit Kountry: Bobby and June's Kountry Kitchen

Today I stepped into a time warp.

The cast and crew of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" were swapped for the cast and crew of "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Stepping into Bobby & June's Kountry Kitchen was like stepping through the looking glass---I came out the other side in a scene from 1956. I felt like Marty McFly gone country.

My original intention was to grab a sandwich. A cuban sandwich, actually, from Kool Korners which I've already reviewed here. As I approached the Kool Korner's grocery I noticed a line outside--the doors weren't open yet. I didn't feel like waiting.

And then shining up ahead was a welcoming sign. It looked like this:

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And I thought: "What the hey? I'm adventurous. I do adventurous things."

So I parked in the Kountry Kitchen parking lot and made me way up to the porch:

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Already I felt like I was in for something special. Something about this place seemed so quaint, so real that it practically oozed history. I came through the doors and was greeted by what seemed like a whirlwind of activity.

Immediately on my left were rows and rows of busy booths, people chowing down on fried chicken and BBQ. Up ahead was a counter--a long stretched counter--with weathered women behind it wearing outfits that resembled nurse's uniforms.

A tall black man with only one eye yelled at me: "How many?!"

I faltered. "One!" I said. "For the counter, please!"

"All right," he said, dismissively. I made my way over to the counter.

Immediately one of the women came over.

"Sweet tea honey?" she said.

"Sure," I replied.

I looked around me. Giant Georgia Tech banners adorned the walls. A huge display of Coke bottles spanning several decades lined the shelves overhead. A deer's head emerged near a doorway:

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I studied the menu. It was a bit difficult. The waitress returned with my tea.

"What's good here?" I asked.

"The BBQ," she said, "beef or pork."

"Ok," I said, "Beef."

"You get two sides, sweetie," she replied, "you can pick from here or here."

I looked at two lists of side dishes. One list was the permanent sides, one list was today's sides.

"I'll take corn bread," I started.

"Well no sweetie," she said, "we can swap the corn bread for the garlic bread and that already comes with that. So pick two more sides."

I began to feel pressured.

"All right," I concluded, "coleslaw and mac n' cheese."

"Thanks sugar," she said, mozying off.

I whipped out my New Yorker and suddenly felt the Yankee in King Skynrd's court.

I looked around me. This place was so full of life it was a bit overwhelming. The tables were practically bursting with activity; a woman cop bantered with a dishwasher, a waitress with dishes yelled "coming through! coming through!" just as another waitress backed up into her.

"I said 'coming through!' darling. You gotta listen!"

They laughed it off.

More people sat at the counter. Construction workers in orange vests, business men in ties, a woman wearing a tunic. Older Southern men came in clusters through the back; two rooms behind the counter were also buzzing with activity.

This wasn't a restaurant, this was a museum of Southern heritage---a living, breathing relic from the past.

Soon my food arrived:

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Looks scary, I know. I'm not used to BBQ like this---when I think BBQ I usually think ribs. This was basically slices of pallid meat dressed up with a meaty BBQ sauce. The sauce itself was great, the meat ok. The sides were fine--nothing wowzy. The mac n' cheese had real cheese.

As for the cornbread...

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It was pretty dry. I used it to lap up BBQ sauce and then it seemed to serve a purpose. Very Cider House Rules.

But even if the food wasn't spectacular, that's not the point. This is one of those places you really have to experience to experience the South. It's a living breathing institution---a show of vibrancy and history in an otherwise pretty modernized city. Just down the block is The Four Seasons Hotel, Einstein Bagels, and Starbucks---three examples of just how much Atlanta (and the world!) has changed in the past few decades. We need places like "Bobby & June's" to remind us of what was there before.

May 29, 2004

Up Up and Away at The Floataway Cafe

The Floataway Cafe is (well, was) my favorite Atlanta restaurant. Maybe it still is. I'm undecided. Last night's meal did not work well in its favor.

At least the Floataway is conveniently located: it is literally down the street from where I live. If Atlanta is an alphabet and I live in A, the Floataway is in B. Actually it's closer than that: it's A.3.

So last night Lauren and I ventured over after our reservation at Nam was cancelled due to a broken water mane. The Nam people were very aplogetic.

After the short 40 second drive, we pulled up to the Floataway building:

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The complex is a warehouse complex that contains, among other things, a theater (Push Push), a quilting store and The Floataway Cafe. We made our way to the door:

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Once inside the hostess kindly told us that it would only be a moment. Would we like to wait at the bar? The bar looked crowded. So we went back outside and told her to find us there.

She founds us there moments later and led us to our table.

The following picture is my favorite of the bunch, it really captures the Floataway aesthetic:

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Milk bottle laterns hang over every table and giant sepia pictures of clouds adorn the walls. Unfortunately, most of the tables are banquettes and so when you begin taking pictures of all your food the people next to you start asking questions.

"Why are you taking pictures of your food?" they ask.

"He has a website," said Lauren.

"Oh," they responded uneasily.

"It's about food."

"We see," they said and returned to their plates.

Soon a waitress appeared.

"Would you like bottled or filtered water?" she asked. This is the dining question of the new millenium. Every fine dining spot I've fine dined at now asks this question at the start of the meal. Bottled water is as much a fad as the low carb thing. And, of course, it's a great way for restaurants to upsell their customers. In fact, I watched some show---now I forget what it was---where they sent a water sommelier to these people's tables and he pretended to be a water expert and helped them match their courses to the proper water. Then they showed him going to the kitchen, filling up their glasses with a garden hose, returning to the table, serving it to them and then shooting their reactions. They ooohed and ahhhed. Rather funny.

"Tap water's fine," we said.

"Very well," she replied cheerily.

She returned with a pitcher and began filling my glass. A stream of water spilled on my menu.

"Let me get you a new menu," she said.

What good service, I thought.

Then she asked for our drink orders. I had been gazing at the eclectic cocktail list---fresh mint julips, lemon drop martinis---and I asked her which was best.

"They're all great," she said.

"But is there any one that you recommend?" I pressed.

"I like them all," she said flatly.

Another complaint to register: SERVER AS AUTOMATON. This was the Charlie Trotter's phenomenon: servers that are so accomodating they become completely inhuman. I wanted a little splash of personality, a little hint of individuality to guide our choices. None was forthcoming.

"I'll have the orange blossom," I said picking at random.

Lauren ordered white wine.

Actually, Lauren's wine was really enjoyable. I love sweet drinks (hence the orange blossom) and Lauren's Riseling (a German wine?) was incredibly sweet. I liked it.

My drink was so sweet as to almost be unpleasant:

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Let's see: it was orange vodka, triple sec, and simple syrup. I mean, I liked it, but I wouldn't get it again.

Now then: the food.

The Floataway theory (as conceived by John Kessler) is that you go there for the appetizers, the pasta and the pizza. The entrees are to be left alone.

So Lauren and I each chose an appetizer.

I chose (rather controversially, since Lauren thought it was gross) white anchovies:

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Lauren chose the fritto misto with prawns and fiddlehead ferns:

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As you can see, the anchovies had a great presentation. And they tasted great: you really haven't had an anchovy until you've had a fresh one, as opposed to the ones from the can. Salty, yet not overwhelmingly so, and the celery and other greens offered a nice green contrast.

Lauren was unhappy with hers: they fried her prawns with the shells on. She had to dissect each one before she could eat it. I suggested that she eat the shells and she was not happy with this suggestion. I attempted one of her prawns and as I cut into it, brown sludgy juice oozed out. Not particularly appetizing. The batter was quite good, though.

Now, as for the pasta and pizza:

I ordered Enlgish pea lune, a kind of moon-shaped ravioli:

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Lauren ordered pizza with mushrooms and garlic:

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The pasta was fine, very fresh tasting but nothing exemplary.

The pizza, on the other hand, was exemplary. This is it folks: the best pizza in Atlanta. The crust is perfectly charred, the toppings and cheese perfectly balanced. It's a truly perfect pizza.

With the pizza, our Floataway meal redeemed itself.

Don't you hate when you love a place, though, and you go there to relive your love and the love doesn't happen? Like meeting an old flame for coffee?

Speaking of coffee, Floatway serves theirs in a french press:

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Very strong, but good.

And as for dessert, Lauren was quite thrilled with their flourless chocolate cake:

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Here's a closer look. I love how they lopped the whipped cream on top:

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After dessert, I journeyed to the bathroom. Thought I would photograph the Vespa in the hallway, because how often do you see a Vespa in a hallway?

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Soon our check came. We got up to go. Here's what the place looks like, so you get a better idea of the feel:

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We walked out full and contended. Not thrilled, though. It was definitely an off night at The Floatway. Later on, our friend Meg told us that the owner/chef (I forget her name) who also owns Bacchanalia no longer does the cooking at The Floatway. Maybe that's why it went downhill? Ah well. To quote Earth Wind and Fire: "After the love has gone / what used to be right is wrong."

June 1, 2004

Memorial Day Dinner At Surin

Oh beautiful for spacious skies / for Thai food made o.k.

Memorial Day is a secular Yom Kippur, a day of mourning without the fasting. We honor those who perished at war by toasting on the beach or by floating in a pool. Memorial Day is a serious holiday.

Perhaps most notably, Memorial Day is a day when many restaurants close, posting signs in their windows: "Closed For Memorial Day." This allows employees to toast on the beach or float in a pool while patrons go hungry. Happy Memorial Day!

I don't mean to be glib. For those with loved ones in Iraq or veterans in the family, Memorial Day is indeed a serious holiday. But might we not concede that I'm hungry? And everywhere is closed?

One place that is not closed is Surin, in the Virginia Highlands:

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There is an abundance of Thai food here in Atlanta. I had never even eaten Thai food before I came here seven years ago, but since that time I've practically become a plate of steaming ginger chicken, I've eaten so much of it. Bok bok bok.

In the Virginia Highlands alone, there is Surin and then Surin Thai Bowl (a second restaurant in Surin's backyard), Mai Lai on Amsterdam and then another outdoorsy one also in Surin's backyard. But that's just the tip of the Thaisberg: there's the punny Thai One On, the hotter-than-hot Thai Chili, the Thai place in the Kosher Supermarket shopping center, the other Thai place near Ru San's. I'm telling you: if you're planning a trip to Thailand, divert your plane to Atlanta and save some money.

But don't--I'm sorry to say--rush over to Surin. The food was, in my humble opinion, pretty lacklustre. I should have known when I saw pictures of the food in the menu. Your restaurant will automatically lose 14 points in my calculations if you put pictures of the food in your menu. That is tacky. That is what they do in European truck stops. Have some class people and trust your diners.

As far as everything else, we started out with basil rolls:

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And these were fine. The plum sauce was helpful.

But then, for my entree, there was the ginger chicken:

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Something about it really rubbed me the wrong way. I've eaten ginger chicken across Atlanta, and this was my least favorite version. The chicken was steamed, I think, before it was cooked with the ginger and the assembly tasted very-last-minute. Meaning, the ginger flavor hardly carried and the only unifying factor was the watery sludgy ginger chicken sauce that coated everything.

Lauren, on the other hand, adored her chicken: "I think the chicken's great, she said." She ordered a different dish but her chicken was almost identical to mine.

"What do you like about it?" I asked.

"There's no fat," she responded.

"But fat has flavor," I retorted.

"Eh," said Lauren, chewing merrily.

So in conclusion, Surin's ginger chicken did not pass muster---unless you're Lauren and you like your chicken fatless and flavorless. Call me old-fashioned, but I like flavor. However, I will concede flavorless and open for business is better than flavorful and closed for the holiday. Happy Memorial Day!

June 3, 2004

Pizza Quickly Reviewed: Savage

My friend J.C. and I did improv comedy in college. Rathskellar, our troupe, is the oldest college troupe in the country. I met most of my friends doing it. Josh and Katy were in it. Lauren was in it. Lolita was in it.

Since college, though, things have changed. I, for one, went to law school. JC went out to L.A. for a spell. I hung out with him a bunch this past summer when I worked there. And just recently, JC returned to Atlanta to kill time before he goes to Yale in the fall where he'll be getting his MA in religion and art.

We met tonight for pizza at Savage Pizza in Little Five Points. Since improv is at the root of our friendship, I will now attempt to review Savage Pizza in the style of an improv game, Alphabet. It goes like this: two people are in a scene and every line has to begin with the next letter of the alphabet. You don't start with A, though, usually you get a suggestion from the audience. Can I get a suggestion?

E?

Very well, then, E it is. And I'll write this like a scene of JC and I discussing our meal afterwards even though JC ran off to drink beer. For those who don't enjoy improv, you may want to skip this post. And it's all pretty suspect because it's written, but whatever.

A REVIEW OF SAVAGE PIZZA IN THE STYLE OF THE IMPROV GAME ALPHABET BEGINNING WITH THE LETTER E
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JC: Enjoy your meal?

AG: Fabulous!

JC: Gay word, Adam. Take it down a notch.

AG: Homophobe.

JC: I really like the pizza at Savage Pizza.

AG: JC, everyone likes the pizza at Savage Pizza.

JC: Killjoy.

AG: Look, I'm just saying that it's some of the best pizza in Atlanta.

JC: My words exactly.

AG: Not really.

JC: Oh?

AG: Proust's.

JC: Queer fellow he was.

AG: Right.

JC: So, you gonna post that picture of me and the pizza?

AG: Tada!

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JC: Unbelievable---I'm so hot it's unbelievable.

AG: Very modest, JC.

JC: What?

AG: Xeroxing your ego would take an army.

JC: Your prose is a bit purple.

AG: Zuck it.

JC: Anyway, shouldn't we discuss the pizza?

AG: Bubbly, beautiful, buoyant--

JC: Can't float, Adam.

AG: Didn't say it could.

JC: End it here, friend.

June 4, 2004

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:

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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.

Whooooooooooosh.....

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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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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):

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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):

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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.

June 11, 2004

Coming To Terms with Cold Stone Creamery

Look, Cold Stone, we need to have a talk. We got off to a bad start, now, didn't we?

Do you remember when we met?

It was a few years ago. Went to see a movie with Lauren, Hetal and Andrew and afterwards we stopped by your counter at the Phipps location. Hetal said you were all the rage. That we could choose any topping we wanted and that your people would chop it up into the ice cream on a marble slab. Never before have so many people uttered the words "marble slab." You've improved our vocabulary, Cold Stone.

But I was too blind to see that then. I was focused on my needs and my needs only. And my needs, that night, involved an order so grotesque that little children screamed when I announced it.

"Adam don't!" pleaded Hetal, Lauren and Andrew. "It's not worth it!"

"No," I insisted, "It will be delicious! Give me vanilla ice cream with Twix and strawberries."

The hush that overwhelmed your station in the mall, Cold Stone, was palpable. Everyone stared as the counterman gulped and began assembling my creation. I must have been mad! And yet I was sincere. It did sound delicious to me at the time. You can understand that, can't you Cold Stone? And after all: you offer both toppings to the consumer, don't you? Might you accept some small share of responsibility?

Well suffice it to say that the first spoonful went down rough. I feigned delight but I was really--like the ice cream--melting on the inside. It was awful. I vowed never to see you again. Rash? Yes. But necessary. Who knows what I would attempt if I didn't cut myself off? Pickles in chocolate? Cabbage in Coffee? I was in a very bad place back then.

Tonight, though, Lauren and I gazed upon you at your midtown location while we studied for the bar. Your shiny new surface beckoned to me. "Come," you seemed to be whispering, "Come again, Adam, allay your fears. I am your friend! Won't you embrace my marble slab?"

I echoed your words: "Won't you embrace my marble slab?"

"Excuse me?" snapped Lauren.

"Let's go to Cold Stone!" I said, and before I knew it we were inside.

Here, now, free from the memory of the Twix-Strawberry Disaster of 2001, I was like a kid in a candy story. So was Lauren:

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We skipped around in diapers and yelled "Mommy mommy I wanna a lollipop!" until the manager came out and asked if he could help us.

I let Lauren go first. I listened carefully as she placed her order. One small misstep and our connection would be forever severed.

"Mudpie," said Lauren choosing from a list of already assembled toppings and ice cream flavors. Hers would contain coffee ice cream, chocolate syrup and brownies. A noble choice, don't you think? You're so enigmatic, Cold Stone. It's like your heart is a...cold...stone.

And now I was up to bat. What would I choose? How to pick? There were so many choices.

"Ahem," said the counter person.

"Coconut cream pie!" I said, choosing a choice that seemed promising.

Lauren shook her head. "You always pick the weird ones," she said.

But I caught a glimmer in your eye, Cold Stone. I knew I stumbled upon something great. I watched carefully as your men got to work on their marble slab:

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Vanilla ice cream, graham cracker crumbs, coconut and whipped cream. You're the devil, you are, Cold Stone.

I was handed my cup. I gazed nervoulsy inside:

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Would we make it? Will the old wounds heal?

Oh and how, Cold Stone! It was delicious. All the flavors melding like the cast of Kate and Alley. A perfect assemblage by an ice cream genius. That's right, Cold Stone, I'm calling you a genius. Well played, my friend. I'm back on board.

June 14, 2004

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.]

June 23, 2004

Dinner With Katharine at Mama Fu's

Katharine is the star of two Thursday night dinner songs, the rather melancholy "Women Outside The Bakery" and then the rather inspiring (and incredibly well-sung, on her part) "Suddenly Salad." I totally recommend that you listen to them.

Tonight we had dinner plans. She was coming from her Pilades class and promised that I wouldn't recognize her because she would, after one Pilades session, look like Kirsten Dunst.

To show my support for her claim, I came to dinner wearing my Spiderman pajamas. She got out of her car indeed looking like Kirsten Dunst except sweatier.

Katharine had suggested we go to Mama Fu's which is a cheap/fast Asian Noodle house chain owned by the people who own Moe's the cheap/fast Mexican burrito chain.

[8 minutes to spare!]

So anyway she suggested that we share edamame, which we did:

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Edamame is a pretty decent thing to eat but I never really experience edamame euphoria. I think the secret is in the salt. If you coat anything in salt and then suck on it it will taste good.

Don't quote me on that.

The entree was Red Thai Curry and considering its reasonable price it tasted mighty fine:

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A good quick dinner with a good quick girl.

July 6, 2004

Watermelon Vidalia Onion Salad at Agnes and Muriels

In case you missed my original review, I LOVE Agnes and Muriel's. It's one of my favorite Atlanta restaurants.

Lauren, on the other hand, isn't as enamored, mostly because their food is very fried and greasy. Pshaw, I say, but then again I have a speech impediment.

Anyway, it takes a great deal of work to convince her to go there but yesterday the fates were on my side. It was July 4th (in case you missed the memo; hence all the explosions in the sky). Everything was closed. What wasn't closed? Agnes and Muriel's. Woohoo!

So I ordered my usual---the fried chicken, the sweet potato fries---and I was just about to order the Noodle Pudding when I decided to take a leap of faith and order the Watermelon Vidalia Onion Salad. How glad I am that I did:

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It looks simple enough but it is OH so much more. See it's not just the strange combo of watermelon and onion (Vidalias, which are tamer). But there was also some kind of strawberry-vinegar syrup that coated everything that made the entire experience Divine. Seriously. Athena popped out of my head, it was so good.

I wish I had the recipe handy---there is an Agnes & Muriel's cookbook you can buy---but alas I don't. If anyone has it, I'd be much obliged. As for now I'll tend to my gaping head wound and dream about one last visit before I head to New York.

July 11, 2004

We Go to Figo [by Josh]

[For three weeks, Josh and Katy blogsit]

For many a meal eaten out we work under the strategy of "I've got a twenty in my wallet and I don't want to stop at an ATM machine or bust out the credit card." Often this is just a noble goal (especially for two people) and we end up overshooting, but it does give you a nice starting point for the evening. It also allows for a couple nights out in any given weekend.

With the impetus of this site and a little prompting by the Gentleman Gourmand, we started compiling a list of cheap eats to try in Atlanta (forthcoming post to explore this in depth). First on our list to check out (although not on the GG's list): Figo

Two things about Figo that give it a big advantage before you even walk in the door:
a.) You are hard-pressed to spend more than $7 on an entree.
b.) You can bring your own wine without paying a corkage fee. Not one red cent and they provide a corkscrew and plastic cups (this is huge).

We picked up Kari and headed over to Figo, bottle of Zin tucked under the driver's seat. (No officer, it's only for emergencies, you know, like road flares and that unregistered pistol in the glovebox.) Katy ran in and double-checked the corkage policy as we were childishly determined not pay anything extra for what had been a free gift of wine. All was clear and we sauntered in and surveyed the menu.

At Figo you choose a pasta from one list ($3-4) and a sauce from another (all $2-3). The various raviolis are apparently irresistable as we all chose them. Katy had salmon and leeks; Kari tried the ricotta; I quickly chose the mushroom ones.

Woman behind the counter: Sir, you were anything but quick in making your decision.

Me: Shut up! That was quick for me.

Katy: Josh, let's go. Kari and I are done eating already.

Katy topped hers with the Arrabbiata sauce (spicy tomato and garlic):
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Kari and I both went with pesto:
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I have a hard time passing up pesto and I tend to like it with a very present garlic flavor. This pesto didn't have that but some would argue that it was more subtle that way. I enjoyed but I will probably try a different sauce next time. The mushroom ravioli, however, was most delectable. Katy declared hers simple but delicious.

The wine was fabulous. The more so for not suffering from the restaurant markup game. Too many times have we seen our everyday, $4 table wine in California (Forestville) go for $20-24 in a restaurant here. A glass or two of wine can quickly end a cheap eat and it was nice to be able to drink with impunity.

Kari and I drinking. Katy is taking the picture; Impunity must have slipped away for a second:
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Our conclusion: Figo is a worthy cheap eat in Atlanta. Go for it. --josh

July 13, 2004

Birthday: It's What's For Brunch [by Josh]

[For three weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit]

The Amateur Gourmet chooses lunch. He chooses dinner. He chooses law school and then chooses more school. In the morning he chooses sleep.

I choose breakfast. Or brunch, if you will. I like the savory option as well as the sweet, but when it's your birthday (or the day before) you need the pancake, you need the waffle, you need the creme brulee french toast with vanilla custard on the side.

Katy masterminded the whole day starting with a trip outside the warm, safe embrace of the city to realms known as OTP (Outside the Perimeter). Interstate 285 circles Atlanta, dividing the metropolitan area into: A. its center, with diverse and interesting neigborhoods and most of the good eats; and B. the ever-expanding sprawl outside the perimeter, which has a reputation for suburban blandness.

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So we ventured OTP to J. Christopher's, a large place that specializes in brunch and that was the location of a very favorable encounter I had with a gingerbread waffle a year ago. It's pretty cheap, the selection is wide and for the second time I found something that was not only a must-order, but something that I had never even conceived of before.

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The creme brulee french toast with vanilla custard on the side was quite nice if entirely excessive. The brulee was perhaps a little too bruleed in places but overall I thought it a nice effect that transcended the gimmick. It turns out that I really like carmelization. If I accidently carmelized my hand, I would probably eat it. The vanilla custard worked well too, both on the toast and on the tongue.

In good brunch fashion we were there for there for two and a half hours. Brooks (a doctor) regaled us with tales of medical anomaly, Franklynn acted out the part of the amnesiac patient, Mike balanced things on his chin. Katy ordered an egg-white omelet with smoked turkey, cinnamon apples and red onions:

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--josh

July 20, 2004

Cafe 458 [by Josh]

[For three weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit]

We met David, JC and Matt at Cafe 458 for brunch. Conveniently if you remember the name of the place you remember the address: 458 Edgewood. However, if you lose the little scrap of paper with the address, you lose everything, you don't know where you are, where you are going, your own name. All your eggs are in one address/name basket.

If you are Matt, you never find that piece of paper but you make it to Cafe 458 somehow. If you are David, you are inspired and a order a literal basket (bowl) of eggs (and biscuits and gravy).

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(Sorry about the focus, it just wouldn't stay still.)

Cafe 458 sells brunch on the weekends but during the week it is a restaurant for Atlanta's homeless. Before our first visit I was positive about supporting a good cause but dubious about the meal. I pictured a pancake breakfast with leathery pancakes, fake syrup, good feelings - the fare of many previous benefit breakfasts. Somewhere where you would describe the meal as "not that bad, actually." Not so with Cafe 458, it treats you delicious.

Witness the Lemon Raspberry Bread Pudding French Toast:
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Katy went savory with the Tofu Hash:
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JC took a more tradtional, comfort route with his combo:
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Matt chose my second choice, the stawberry almond pancakes:
458_pancake

All of the above came from here:
458_kitchen

On a little side note, David ate his first meat in a long while at this meal. Turns out that moving back to Georgia from New Jersey will do that to you ... especially if presented with biscuits and gravy. He reported his meal tasty even as his eyes flashed red and his chest hair grew. Matt looked on alarmed:
458_david_matt

--josh

July 24, 2004

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:

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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.

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

August 5, 2004

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.

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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:

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These people:

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And these people:

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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:

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

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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!

January 30, 2007

Park Slope Picks: Franny's, Taro Sushi, NoNo Kitchen

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard." - Dorothy, Wizard of Oz

Good point, Dorothy! And since I live in Park Slope it's time to stop trekking into Manhattan for my stomach's desire and time to start searching right here where I live. Especially because it's snowing. And icy. And cold.

So here's what I found. I found this awesome pizza at Franny's:

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Franny's was in my brain like a forgettable cousin, flitting around the Bar Mitzvah of my consciousness, never really getting noticed as I was lifted in my chair to Hava Nagila. I knew Diana went on a date at Franny's (prognosis: good pizza, bad date). And then I had dinner with Julie, Lauren's girlfriend, here for work from D.C. and she told me she'd been to Franny's with her co-workers and she couldn't believe I'd never been there. Especially because I live a few blocks away. And so I went with Craig to Franny's.

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