Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Free oysters" ploy worked

I just can't resist free food, especially when it's oysters. Really, how often do you get free oysters?!?! So when Cashew and I heard about free oysters/sausages/drinks/concert at Abattoir, we had to go there. We expected a huge crowd and fights... Instead, we got a sophisticated crowd that politely waited in line to get one oyster and two sausage pieces. Yup, that's all we could get at once. We did line up several times, but people who knows us know that we need a lot more food to fill up. On the bright side, the drinks included prosecco and regular wine in addition to craft beer, none of the cheap crap you usually get for "free drinks."

Thankfully, we were there with some friends who had been to Abattoir before and who highly recommended the regular menu. Cashew and I shared the pork rillette with toast and eggs and one of the cheese platters. Honestly, I don't even remember which cheese we had. I'm pretty sure it was the valencay (a goat cheese), but I'm not 100% positive... It came with crackers and an olive tapenade. The crackers weren't enough for all the cheese, but that let us experience the pure taste of the cheese, haha.

The pork rillette was basically a pork puree with the consistency of pate. It was served on rustic toasted bread as a spread. Interestingly, it also had quail eggs. I'm not sure what the eggs were supposed to contribute to the dish (except novelty), but they definitely didn't hurt it either. And the grainy mustard on the side was quite tasty as well. I'm kind of a freak when it comes to mustard. I like it so much, especially the spicy kind, that I eat it by itself.

For a sweet end to a sweet night of perfect weather and great company, the whole group shared the dessert sampler. The platter included a carrot cake with root ice cream, maple creme caramel with a bacon cookie and chocolate chess pie with pecan brittle. Let me tell you, I've had my share of desserts at many places, but all three of these were definitely top of the notch. The root ice cream was so different, smooth and delicious. The creme caramel was perfect and smooth as well. Believe it or not, the chocolate pie didn't taste like chocolate, but I still loved it. It had some unique taste and texture that I can't describe, but it might be some of the best chocolate dessert I've ever had. And the best part for all of this is that we didn't get charged for dessert!!! Can you believe this? I think the waiter liked us and that was his treat to us. He definitely received a very generous tip :)

One of the special things about the whole experience of Abattoir was the atmosphere. We were sitting outside on a warm but not hot night, surrounded by a vibrant crowd, talking to good people, eating delicious food. Unfortunately, we'll probably have to wait until the summer is over to enjoy a perfect night like this again.


I do try to be creative with the titles of my posts (although I normally fail in that regard), but I couldn't help but use the name of a dish for this one. I love this word, "bibimbap"! Try saying this 5 times fast :)

In case you're wondering what the heck "bibimbap" is, which I did when I first saw it on the menu at Wasabi Grill, it's a traditional Korean dish. According to Wikipedia (!), it literally means "mixed meal." Cashew and I got the seafood bibimbap, so we had a few types of fresh sashimi mixed in with white rice and veggies. It's almost like freestyle sushi, thus really light. However, typical of Asian cooking, it wasn't lacking in flavor :)

To balance the lightness of the bibimbap, the other dish we ordered was the BBQ beef stir fry . Those Koreans know how to do BBQ, even in a stir fry form... The meat was incredibly tasty and tender. The only way it could have been better if it was on the bone, as part of spare ribs ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011


My friend Ems has been insisting on trying Bulgarian food. Unfortunately, there are no Bulgarian restaurants in Atlanta, the city with the second highest Bulgarian community in the US... The best substitute for Bulgarian food you can find here is Greek food, so we had dinner at Taverna Plaka recently.  This is a sit-down restaurant as opposed to a diner like many other Greek places, and serves food that's pretty close to what my mom would make at home. On a side note, if you go there, you probably won't be sitting down the whole time as the stuff likes to start random dancing sessions as people are dining, and make everyone join in. They dance a tradition Greek/Bulgarian line dance (the Bulgarian word is horo) that I highly recommend for everybody. They also have a belly dancer that performs for part of the night. Actually, the crowd is very diverse, and the place seems to be a favorite with both families and bachelorette parties.

Ok, back to the food... One of my most favorite things about Taverna Plaka is the complementary make-your-own hummus. Yes, it is complementary, and yes, you make it at the table. They bring all the ingredients (chickpeas, garlic, oil, salt, etc.) in a wooden mortar, and you smash them together and mix them with the pestle. Aside from being really fun, this is great because you can control how chunky the chickpeas are; I tend to like hummus with more chunky pieces. The hummus comes with warm, crusty French bread with a soft interior that's really, really tasty. Plus, they do bring you more bread if you ask for it.

I wanted Ems to experience some Bulgarian flavors, so we also ordered the tzatziki sauce with pita chips as an appetizer. We have this yogurt-based sauce in Bulgaria, but usually eat it as a side salad. The one we got this time was too salty, but it's usually good and very refreshing.

For my entree, I ordered stuffed peppers and tomatoes. My mom makes stuffed peppers all the time, so I was curious to see how close the ones at the restaurant were to home-made. The verdict is that they were pretty close. The stuffing they used contained a lot more ground beef that my mom uses (her stuffing is mostly rice), but it did taste almost the same. The tomato was stuffed with the same beef/rice mixture. On the side, I had lemon-roasted potatoes that I really love.

I recommended to Ems the lamb stew because lamb can be considered the national meat in Bulgaria. I expected the dish to be more like a stew - chunks of meat with veggies. Instead, it was a large piece of meat in the middle of a bowl of orzo pasta. The lamb was fresh, tender and flavorful. I think Taverna Plaka is the only place in Atlanta that can cook lamb the way I like it.

Well, maybe it wasn't authentic Bulgarian, but Ems really liked the food, making the night a success.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Happy Hour!

Sometimes all I need at the end of a long week is good drinks, tasty food, and good company. Well, I enjoy that all the time, but it's especially useful as a mood lifter :) At the end of one such week recently Cashew and I headed to the happy hour at Ra Sushi. We were so determined to make it there, we almost ran from 5th St. to 11th St. to arrive before the end of the happy hour specials...

This was our first time at Ra, and I had a great first impression of the space. It was very modern and sleek, typical of the new restaurants in Midtown. Cashew and I were starving by the time we got there, so we ordered a variety of dishes. We first got the ceviche and avocado salad and the yellowfin tuna tartare. I liked both of them. The ceviche was lemony and very refreshing. It also came in an interesting presentation: a fried wonton bowl. We weren't sure if we were supposed to eat the bowl, and it wasn't very flavorful, so we just nibbled on it a bit. The tuna was also amazing; it was fresh and well seasoned.

Well, this was a sushi place, so we had to order some sushi rolls. We went with the traditional spicy tuna roll and rainbow roll. Unlike the appetizers, the sushi was really disappointing. The tuna roll had some weird unrecognizable taste and texture. It seems like the tuna was ground up and mixed with spicy sauce, but the result wasn't good at all. The rainbow roll was slightly better and slightly more edible, but it wasn't even close to good sushi...

To make up for the bad sushi, the last dish we had, the BBQ ribs, were all we hoped them to be. They were done in Korean-style BBQ, they were perfectly seasoned, and they were juicy and tender. We seriously ate every last drop of them, even the visible fat, and ended with licking the bones. I wish we had gotten three portions of the ribs rather than sushi.

At the end of the night, we had to have our happy hour drinks. I ordered a lime mojito, and Cashew had the mango mojito. Both of them were really good. The lime mojito was as sour as I wanted it to be. Even the mango mojito was more on the sour, as opposed to too sweet and sugary, side.

So the verdict is, if you go to Ra Sushi, avoid the sushi! All the other things they had were delicious.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Still #1

After learning that I won a prestigious scholarship, I wanted to celebrate with Cashew. And what better place to go than our favorite restaurant in Atlanta? So it was time for our second visit to Pura Vida!

In the spirit of a real celebration, we started off the night with drinks. The caipirinha attracted my attention because it's made with limes and I love sour, lime-containing drinks. As expected, it was amazing. Cashew got the signature Pura Vida cocktail. The name skips my mind right now, but I think it was "Sex with Santiago." We had gotten a free sample from it after flirting with the bartender during our first visit there, so now she wanted the full version. Something you'd never guess from the menu or even by drinking it is that it contains a raw egg! Cashew and I know just because we're best buds with the bartender ;) The drink is great, not slimy at all. By the way, both drinks had just the right amount of alcohol.

For food, we wanted to further explore the exhaustive menu and try things we didn't get the first time. It was hard to pass some of our favorites, but we came up with five new options: Peruvian blue tilapia crudo, charred mushrooms, fall over chayote, mofongo con "carne frita," and chivo al vino en fufu. The tilapia was lightly cured and salty. I didn't mind the saltiness, and I don't think it was overwhelming. I think, despite being cured, the fish tasted really fresh. Just like some of the other dishes we got that night, it came with foam on top. After watching Food Network obsessively, I know that foam is actually really hard to make, and is one of the biggest trends in the food industry right now. I'm glad to see that Chef Santiago is up to date with what's cool in the culinary world :)

We got the charred mushrooms despite the fact that I didn't even like mushrooms up until a few months ago. Well, dishes like this one made me like them. The mushrooms seemed more like sauteed in butter than charred. Whatever the preparation method, they had an amazing taste and simply melted in your mouth. If all mushrooms tasted like that, I doubt I would have avoided them. [Note to Pumpkin: they taste like the mushrooms my mom made once.]

The reason we ordered the chayote was because we didn't know what half the ingredients were :P It was a chance to try something different. It is basically a salad made of a type of squash with tofu on the side, pepitas (pumpkin-like seeds), and calabaza puree (whatever calabaza is...). The dressing was umeboshi sauce (whatever umeboshi is...). The salad reminds of Vietnamese salads in style, but was a bit too sour. By the way, the tofu was cooked perfectly, and was much better than the famed tofu at Top Flr which was one of the 100 dishes to try in Atlanta.

Speaking of the 100 dishes to eat in Atlanta, the mofongo was on the list as well! I think mofongo is basically mashed up bananas that have been formed into balls and fried. Honestly, I don't remember much what they tasted like. I had really high hopes for this dish, but I was disappointed. The mofongo was unmemorable. On the bright side, it also had foam, and the pork was really really tender and flavorful.

Finally, the chivo dish was a type of giant dumpling. The Chef again showed off his creativity by fusing Italian (the polenta), French (slow-cooked meat in wine, here goat) and Asian (the dumpling) elements. Just like the pork before, the goat was perfectly cooked and was extremely tender. In case you've never had goat meat before, it tends to be tough and needs special preparations to tenderize it. I was very impressed with how it turned out in this dish.

So after trying 11 different dishes on two different occasions at Pura Vida, I'm glad to say that I still consider it the best restaurant in Atlanta. And the good news is, there are more items on the menu I need to try!