Saturday, November 26, 2011

Zuma, n-th take

I love living next to the Toco Hill location of Zuma. I've been there many more times than my posts indicate. Almost everything I've had there is great. The only thing I haven't liked so far is the Volcano Roll, mostly because of the copious amounts of sauce.

The last time Cashew and I went there though we decided to change things a little bit and get the bento box combos. We both had the spareribs. I also got teriyaki shrimp, unagi roll, and seaweed salad. Cashew's box contained fried seabass, tuna avocado roll, and kimchee. The short ribs were amazing. Even better, there were several large pieces, not just a couple of sad looking bones. The ribs themselves were actually enough for an entree by themselves. I also enjoyed my shrimp which seemed to have some spices on it in addition to the teriyaki glaze. Both sushi rolls were good too. I actually liked Cashew's tuna roll better than mine. The boxes also included sticky rice, but both Cashew and I were too stuffed with all the other goodies to eat too much of it. Overall, it was yet another satisfying meal at Zuma that made me feel really grateful for living close to it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

DC food scene

I recently went to a long conference in Washington, DC, and was really lucky to stay at Dupont Circle, one of the better neighborhoods for food and going out. When I was walking through the area, it felt like I was in heaven: several blocks of restaurants, cafes and bars that covered a range of prices and types of cuisine. I think I did a pretty good job in experiencing the variety that I was presented with :)

Representative of this diversity was the first place I tried: Russia House. I'm coming from Eastern Europe and always knew Russian people, but I had never been to a Russian restaurant before. One of the things I had always wanted to try was a traditional soup called borsch. The other thing I ordered was the pierogis plate. I don't know whether the borsch is supposed to be a hot or a cold soup, but it failed on both fronts; it was served just lukewarm. The taste wasn't too bad, but it wasn't as rich as I expected it to be. I imagined something similar to pot pie, but got a light tart soup instead. It didn't taste bad, but it wasn't satisfying to me. The pierogis were slightly better, but the temperature was again an issue. It seemed like they had been made earlier in the day and just warmed up a little bit in the oven. They supposedly had duck meat inside them, but all I noticed was the potato filling. Thankfully, they came with a good dipping sauce that finally gave some flavor to the meal.

My next foray into the Dupont Circle food scene was a place called Thai Chef. Like so many Thai places, it also served sushi, which is what I ordered. One of the main reasons was the fact that the sushi was included in the happy hour menu for ridiculously low prices. That did make me a little nervous about the sushi quality, but I went for it. I was boring with my first choice and got a spicy tuna roll. To make the meal a little more exciting, I also ordered a piece of smoked octopus nigiri. Well, I was glad I got the tuna because it was exceptionally good! It was some of the spiciest spicy tuna I've had. The fish itself was fresh too. I liked the octopus nigiri as well, but I didn't love it. The smokiness was well-pronounced, and I guess I wish I had gotten more of the pure octopus taste. I have only myself to blame, though...

Moving back to the Old Continent, my next meal was at an Italian restaurant called Cafe Odeon. I was in the mood for something light, so all I got was the Scampi Fra Diavlo, or Spicy Shrimp. The dish did have an adequate number of shrimp, but it came way short on the spiciness level. Plus, all of the side vegetables were too overcooked. At least I had a Scoutmob deal so I didn't have to pay too much for a very disappointing meal.

Finally, I gave Italian food another chance with an outing to Sette Osteria with my labmate Mrs. LSU, and I am so glad we went there! I occasionally think whether something I've had is good enough to be referred as the best thing I ever ate, and the Scialatielli pasta I got at Sette is definitely the best pasta I've ever had! What made it so special? The real basil leaves incorporated in the fettuccine dough. I need to learn how to make this! It made the pasta taste so fresh and light! And that's something you don't often think about pasta. The tomato-based sauce contained eggplants, mozzarella and bell peppers, and also tasted great. Mrs. LSU got pumpkin-stuffed ravioli. She said that they were a bit too sweet for her, but that the quality of the ingredients made up for the strange taste. We also got dessert, with me ordering the tiramisu and Mrs. LSU getting the Italian-style cheesecake. The cheesecake was dense and delicious. My tiramisu was surprisingly light and with a strong coffee flavor. I did like it, even though the powdered cacao made me choke on the very fist bite I had.

That's pretty much what I had for dinner in DC. There was a stop for beers and pizzas one night, but the pizza wasn't anything out of the ordinary and the beers were too overpriced. $10 for a glass? Come on! Still, I had a great dining experience in DC, and I hope I can try a few more places at some point in the future.

Chinese bistro?

When I hear the word "bistro," I imagine a streetside cafe in France or somewhere along the Mediterranean coast. Using "bistro" to refer to a Chinese restaurant is almost an oxymoron. With that said, I was pretty skeptical about Gu's Bistro. But the many good things I had heard and read about this Buford Highway restaurant was enough to convince me to try it.

Thankfully, I had Cashew with me to guide me through the large menu with unfamiliar dishes. After some discussion, we narrowed down our choices to the Husband & Wife appetizer (on top of the plate pictured to the right), the cumin lamb (on the right side of the plate), and shrimp-stuffed tofu (see below). The first dish, according to Cashew, is an authentic Chinese dish that is found only in authentic restaurants. It contained sliced beef and beef tendon in a spicy cold sauce with scallions. Honestly, I couldn't distinguish between the beef meat and tendon; they were both cooked to the same tenderness. The sauce was also amazing, and made the whole dish very flavorful.

We ordered the cumin lamb knowing that it would be spicy, but boy was it hot! I tend to order spicy items, but I had a little trouble eating this one. The key was making sure that I didn't have any chile peppers in my bite. On the bright side, cumin had a strong enough taste to stand out from all the heat. Just a suggestion, though: if you take any spicy dish to go, make sure you don't pack any chiles. Their taste will only concentrate and intensify because most of the meat is gone. This dish was HOT in the restaurant and barely edible the next day! My eyes were seriously watering, and my mouth was burning for a long time after that lunch...

Finally, Cashew wanted a tofu dish, so we got the stuffed tofu. We didn't really know what it would look like, but I guess neither of us was prepared for what we got: strips of tofu wrapped around minced shrimp, deep fried, and served in a syrupy-looking sauce. Well, the sauce wasn't as sweet as it looked, but it was completely flavorless. The tofu didn't pack much taste either. The only redeeming characteristic of the dish was the bok choy, which I love.

Despite our not-so-great experience, I do believe in the quality of food at Gu's Bistro. I wouldn't mind going back and trying something less spicy and that I'm more familiar with :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Authentic Greek

There are a number of Greek restaurants and diners in Atlanta, but I hadn't found a place that I loved unconditionally. I like Taverna Plaka, but even that seems Americanized. Well, all of this changed after going to Cafe Agora.

But before I go into my ravings for the place, I want to mention Nick's to Go. Richie Bear took me there for lunch once. It's literally a shack on the side of the road in a bad part of town. But oh how great the food is! I never liked gyro meat before I tried it there. Who would have thought gyro meat can be moist without being greasy? That's pretty much all they sell, but it's well worth going there.

I was lucky enough to discover Cafe Agora from a list of 38 places in Atlanta worth trying. I was a little suspicious how authentic it could be if it was located in the very heart of Buckhead, but this all changed once we tried the food. I've already been there twice in a week: once with Cashew and once with Richie Bear. We got the same things both times: the mixed maza and the mixed grill platters. That's the best way to try all of the awesomeness that Cafe Agora offers. The maza platter contains hummus, baba ganush, tabuleh, a ground carrot salad, a bean salad, grilled eggplant salad, and tsatsiki sauce. It is served with pita pieces to soak up every last piece of each salad and clear the plate! And while you're working on these appetizers, the grilled platter is being prepared and comes out right on time. It contains chicken, kufti (ground beef), and lamb gyro meat with a side salad, rice, and spiced pita strips. The lamb here is almost as good as the one at Nick's to Go. And how authentic are the chicken and beef? They had the same flavor as grilled meats my parents used to prepare in Bulgaria! Yes, Bulgaria is not Greece, so I can't take this as a sign of authenticity, but that's the flavors I love :) The meat here is much better than anything they serve at the Greek Festival...

And if you go to Cafe Agora for lunch, they'll even give you complementary pilaf, or Greek-style rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon on top. I didn't like it as much as the other things we had mostly because it was too sweet for me. It seemed like it was made with evaporated milk rather than the real milk which I'm used to. But despite this, I again believe in Greek food in Atlanta!

Flats, and more flats

Everyone loves pizza. Even the very cheesy types that might give you a heart attack... Thankfully, pizzas have recently gotten a healthier look. Flatbread pizzas now have a perfectly crispy crust and greens-based toppings.

A new place at Linbergh called Urban Flats recently had a Scoutmob deal, so Cashew and I decided to try it. It was cute, and had a very urban, industrial look. I ordered a fig, prosciutto and blue cheese pizza, and Cashew got the curried chicken pizza. Of course, I expected some cheese, but I was disappointed to see that the whole crust was covered in it. It wasn't even all blue cheese but probably white cheddar. If it wasn't for the toppings, I would have called this a regular pizza. It was tasty, but not what you'd expect from a flatbread pizza. Cashew's pie was similar to mine in terms of cheese. However, her chicken did have a very strong curry flavor, which ameliorated the presence of too much cheese.

So, if you're looking for something fresher, don't go to Urban Flats. Go to MetroFresh or Piola instead. I'll mention MetroFresh only briefly because I didn't take any pictures there. I went there with Richie Bear and also ordered the fig and prosciutto pizza, but this time it wasn't smothered in cheese. On a side note, their turkey chilli, veggie soup, arugula salad, and Brussels sprouts are also amazing!

Piola actually serves traditional pizza. Indeed, it is an international pizza chain that originated in Italy. I add it in the flatbreads category here because that's what it reminds me of. I went there with Cashew and her friend Amy. We shared a Mantova pizza (arugula, brie, and carpaccio) and a Rossa pizza (tomatoes and basil). They were both very light and fresh. My only complaint is that the brie flavor wasn't noticeable. It's kind of funny: I didn't like the too much cheese at Urban Flats, but wanted more at Piola. There is a fine balance that neither of these two places reached.