Saturday, January 22, 2011

Expensive, but delicious!

I love getting deals on good food, so I go to Scoutmob restaurants all the time. That's exactly what I thought I was doing last night when Cashew and I went to Pura Vida. It is a tapas restaurant in the Highlands, and it's owned by Chef Hector Santiago who appeared on Top Chef. I think this is the first Top Chef restaurant I have been to... I was prepared for really good food, but what we got completely blew away my mind!

But there will be more about that later. First, the only spoiler of the night was the check. As I said, Cashew and I thought we would get 50% off our dinner. However, as it turned out, a restaurant called Pure Taqueria had the deal, not Pura Vida... At the end we had to pay about $40 EACH!!! Good thing we both agreed this was the best food we had ever had, so we weren't very upset. And I mean it, the food at Pura Vida is probably the most creative and best tasting of anything I have ever tasted.

Enough of this, though, I need to get to what we ordered. I ordered a white wine sangria as my drink. It was pretty good. When I got to the bottom of it, I noticed that it had grapefruit. I hate grapefruit, but somehow I didn't notice its taste in the sangria :)

We shared 5 different tapas: (1) tuna poke, porque no?, (2) cangrejo "tater tots," (3) aguacate criollo, (4) tamales nejos, and (5) steamed coconut buns. First came the aguacate criollo, or avocado with chorizo chips. I couldn't stop my praises for the dish after the very first bite! It's so creative and innovative and delicious :) I need to learn how to make this myself!

Next we got the tuna poke. Not much to say about it except that the fish was soooo tender, it melted in your mouth. The tuna was covered with what looked like regular corn flakes, but oh well... One sub par ingredient wasn't enough to take away anything from this amazing dish.

The next dish we tried was the coconut buns. The buns themselves were very very soft and light and airy. I personally didn't taste any coconut flavor, but I still loved them. They were wrapped around a piece of pork belly. I am known to pick every piece of fat from my food because I don't like the texture of fat. Again, I was amazed at how well-prepared the pork belly at Pura Vida was. I could actually eat it by itself, without having any of the bun in the bite. So when a chef can transform fat into something delectable, you know you're at an amazing place.

The next dish was one of the tapas we were most excited - crab tater tots. The tater tots themselves were made of plantains, and they had pieces of real crab meat in them. The crab flavor was just strond enough to make it noticeable but not take away from the fried flavor and texture of the tater tots. By the way, I wouldn't have guessed they were made of plantains and not real potatoes. As everything else so far, they were delicious.

The final tapas dish was the tamales. They were also very tasty, and could be the best tasting thing at many restaurants. However, compared to the perfection of flavor in everything else we had had up to that point, they didn't quite measure up. The tamales themselves weren't very flavorful, but they went well dipped into the sauce that came with the plate.

Because everything was so impressive, we couldn't leave the restaurant without trying a dessert, too. Our first choice was the Latino chocolate tart. Unfortunately, they were out of it. So, we had to "settle" for the chocolate creme brulee. I don't know how good the tart could have been, but the creme brulee was our of this world. It was so dense and rich, it felt like chocolate pudding. However, it had the nice brulee crust on the top that's so much fun to dig into :) One slight negative with this dessert was the amount of powdered sugar on top. Both Cashew and I started coughing at our first bites. However, once we got to the Kahlua on the bottom, we had forgotten we had any complaints about the dessert.

In summary, I don't remember the last time I loved anything I ate so much. I did enjoy the food in places like Two Urban Licks and Rathbun's, but i don't think it can measure up to the culinary excellence we experienced in Pura Vida. Pura Vida is hands down my favorite place in Atlanta so far, and I am definitely going back there despite the hefty price :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Warming up

This sounds crazy, but there was still snow and ice in Atlanta a week after it originally fell. Thankfully, the temperatures are above freezing now. Everyone's mood is also warming, and people are enjoying the outdoors again after a week of cabin fever.

Last Saturday I met up with several people for dinner. We decided to have Thai food again. Thai food just seems perfect in the cold weather. Well, I think it's perfect in any weather, too :P We went to Noodle in Midtown. It won some distinction from Creative Loafing, but I don't remember the specifics now... Anyway, I was excited to try it. It has a pretty cool interior: long tables for community seating in the middle, booths on the sides. The menu seemed amazing when you read through it. There were so many things I wanted to try. I eventually settled on Green Curry Soup with shrimp. It had egg noodles instead of rice noodles. Honestly, I didn't particularly care about the soup. The noodles were too dense and long; it was hard to eat them unless you slurped them. Nothing else about the soup was very flavorful, either.

Cashew got a dish that was supposed to resemble a bird's nest. I don't remember the exact name, sorry... I just remember it came with crispy noodles, and had everything else spooned on top. I think Cashew did like her dish. Her only complain was that there was too much filling on top and you couldn't clearly distinguish the next shape. Our other friends got pho soup and green curry with chicken and broccoli.

Even though we were all pretty stuffed after the dinner, we decided to get dessert. Missing the warm weather, three of us got ice cream: cinnamon flavor (Cashew), coconut flavor (me) and green tea flavor. Our other friend tried the coconut cake. The consensus on the table was that the cake was the best dessert. It was so light and fluffy with the perfect smooth cream between the layers. I also loved my coconut ice cream. The green tea ice cream tasted just like green tea, which is great if you love that flavor (which I don't, but my friend does). The cinnamon ice cream had a strong cinnamon flavor which was too overpowering, so no one enjoyed it too much... Poor cashew... And to top it all, the serving size were HUGE! Three scoops! At that point I was glad for the filling dinner because I was able to eat only half the ice cream, haha!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow blues

I must admit, I am not doing that well at this blogging thing. I keep forgetting to take pictures when I go out. But I think I'll simply start describing the food, just so I can mention all the places I go to.

But for today, I do have pictures. Last week Atlanta got hit by an epic snow storm, and got a whooping six inches of snow :P  And these six inches of snow were enough to close down the city for a whole week... Well, the freezing rain right after the snow and the freezing temperatures for two days did make the situation worse than it might seem. Anyway, the fact is that I was stuck at home for 5 days. My friend Cashew was visiting me, so she was stuck here for the same length of time. By the 5th day, we were so ready to go out, we decided to walk to the local Top Spice Thai restaurant. Having spicy Thai food was a great idea for a cold winter day :) We first tried their veggie and tofu soup and coconut soup. Both were good enough, but nothing special.

For lunch we shared the spicy basil chicken and a seafood noodle dish with an unpronounceable name :P I only remember that it was the last item on the lunch menu. Just like the soup, the entrees were ok. They weren't as spicy as we wanted them to be, but at least they weren't too salty either. Despite everything, I do think that Top Spice has the best reasonably-priced Thai dishes in Atlanta. I've had Thai food at MaLi as well, but I don't remember what it tasted like :(

After the lunch, Cashew and I were looking for something new to do after a week of watching movies and TV. Pumpkin had sent us a recipe for French macarons, so we took up the challenge and decided to make them. The recipe she sent us was really really easy to follow, and included insider tricks and secrets that we credit with our ultimate success. Maybe our macarons were not the best ever made, but they were a valiant first try. Their texture was perfect, which is the hardest thing to get right for macarons.

Btw, here's the link if anyone else wants to attempt this culinary challenge: Enjoy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve has always been a night dedicated to good food for me. If I stay home with my family, my mother cooks something special. If I go out for dinner, I go to a fancy restaurant. This year I tried to make dinner reservation at a couple of popular places on December 30th. Needless to say, I failed to find an open table at a reasonable time...

Well, that was also good news because it meant I would have some tasty home-cooked food that's also way cheaper than dining out. This year we had something we call "Stefanie" meatloaf. It's made of seasoned ground pork, but differs from American-style meatloaves. The Stefanie meatloaf is made almost like a jelly roll - you lay slices of hardboiled eggs, cooked carrots, and pickles on one end and roll them into the ground meat. The result is simply delicious!

As sides, we had sliced fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and mushrooms that were baked together with the meatloaf. You gotta have something healthy, right? :P Well, that was combined with mashed potatoes (shaped as rosettes), so the health factor probably went back to zero...

This wouldn't be a family dinner without dessert. We had two of them this year. First, something we make every year, some pastries. We usually make them with regular cake batter, but my mother decided to make them out of velvet cake this time. The layers are then soaked in a syrup to make them nice and moist. There is buttercream icing in between the layers and covering the pastries. After cutting them in squares, we decorate them with more buttercream that has been dyed with food coloring. My mother made an incredible poinsettia pattern!

The other dessert were Bulgarian Christmas cookies that we call "Christmas trees" (yes, we had them for New years). The dough is very similar to sugar cookie dough. We then cut out the three different players with special cookie cutters and baked the cookies. After they cooled down, we assembled them with rose hip jam to hold the layers together. Finally, for the snow effect, the cookies were dusted with some powdered sugar. This was a great ending for a great dinner :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Miami fare

My family and I went on vacation to Miami after Christmas this year. The weather was too cold to swim, but that gave us a chance to go sightseeing and eat out. Here are some of the things we had.

First, in typical Miami/South Beach fashion, we had healthy food at Pasha's, a Mediterranean place on Lincoln St. on South Beach. This place was recommended to me by my friend Vivmuk, so I knew it would we good. We all started with a Greek salad to share. It was nothing special compared to other Greek salads I've had. The only plus was the feta cheese, which seemed more moist that most Greek-style fetas. (Bulgarian feta is much creamier and moister, and that's the type of feta I like.)

I also got the freshly-squeezed apple-pineapple juice. That thing was amazing! There is such a difference when the juice is fresh and made with real fruit, not concentrate or some synthetic crap. This juice was so thick, it was hard to drink it with a straw. I think all fruit juice should be just like that :)

For actual lunch, I had the spicy chicken wrap, Pumpkin (my sister) had the paella and chicken wrap, my mother had the grilled meat sampler platter, and my father ordered the lamb chops. We were so hungry by that point, that we devoured most of the food before I remembered to take pictures... Sorry about that... I'll just say that everything was great. The wrap was too small, but it's supposed to be healthy, I guess...

We also went to Key West since we were so close to it. I thought it would be some kind of tropical paradise, with tropical food and all, but instead it was very touristy. The food scene wasn't very impressive, and I didn't see anything special. We ended up eating at a place called Mangoes. Despite what the name might suggest, it was mostly a typical American restaurant. Well, they did try a little. I had a crab, tuna, and guacamole salad that had the most interesting presentation ever. The crab meat was pretty tasteless, but the salad was good overall.

Pumpkin decided to try the Jumbo burger, which was indeed jumbo! She finished only half of it. My mother ordered some kind of steak sandwich. The description on the menu was misleading because we thought it was an actual steak instead of a sandwich. Oh well... My father got the sesame spare ribs and a side of French fries.

Finally, we had to have the mandatory Key West food: key lime pie! I'd never had key lime pie before then, so I was very curious to try it. The one they were serving at Mangoes came drizzled with honey. That did seem like a good idea, but it completely overpowered the taste and tartness of the pie itself. I could feel the real taste only on the last few bites. I don't know if it was because of the honey, but the pie wasn't as tart as I expected/hoped it to be. I kind of hope that this is not what real/good key lime pie tastes like because if it is, I don't see what everyone is so excited about.