Tuesday, February 28, 2012

La Italia!

I apologize if "La Italia" is not grammatically correct... I'm just trying to use something catchy to show that I'll be talking about Italian food today, haha. Atlanta is not New York when it comes to Italian cooking, but there are a few notable places. One of them is La Tavola, where Cashew and I had dinner recently.

Because it was our first time here, we wanted to try as many things as possible, but that's not too easy with filling pasta dishes :( Instead of filling ourselves to the point of being sick, we were smart and decided to just come back some other time. So, the items we settled on for this visit were the Black Linguine, Ricotta Gnocchi, and Zuppa di Pesce. First, the seafood soup was was what was expected of it: lots of seafood and a flavorful broth. Some of the sea creatures that were represented were clams, scallops, shrimp, calamari, and what looked like cod or haddock. One pleasant touch was the calamari tentacles and whole bodies!

The gnocchi were also delicious. I personally couldn't taste the ricotta in them, but it did give them a slightly cheesy texture. The surprise of this dish was the real poached egg on top. Granted I'm not an expert in Italian food, I can't say I've seen anyone combine pasta with eggs before.

Overall, both the soup and the gnocchi were solid, flavorful dishes, but they pale in comparison to the black linguine! The combination of squid ink pasta, calamari and Thai basil pesto made this one of those memorable dishes that stick with you. (Other such dishes for me were the chorizo chips at Pura Vida and the French toast at La Boulange.) While we were eating it, we kept exulting about how good it was. After we finished it, we felt sad. I've tried to think of something to explain what made the dish so good, but I don't think there's a single factor. Instead, it was probably the masterful combination of Italian flavors from the pasta with Thai-inspired flavors in the pesto.

I am a big fan of small portions in restaurants, but this was clearly one case where I regretted not having more food. I guess my only option is to make this planned second visit to La Tavola as soon as possible.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Radiant Cafe

The trend of using seasonal, local ingredients is sweeping over Atlanta! Well, this has been the case for a couple of years now. Using seasonal ingredients is not only good for the environment, but also makes food taste better the ingredients are used at the prime of their ripeness. And while most new places now offer often-changing, seasonal menus, one place has been doing this for a while. Hidden on the east side of Decatur is a place called Radial Cafe. It used to be a great brunch/lunch spot, but recently they started offering dinner as well.

I had heard wonderful things about Radial Cafe, but didn't get to try it until a few days ago. It was my friend Vivmuk's last weekend in Atlanta, so we met up there with him and Cashew for a goodbye brunch. We went all out and ordered a ton of food! I was craving some eggs, so I got the salmon scramble. Cashew and Vivmuk both went for the biscuits with gravy and poached eggs. Cashew chose bacon on the side, and Vivmuk chose sausage. We all shared a peanut butter toast, one of the specials that day, and the cheesy grits. Oh, they also brought out some complementary cranberry-lemon crumb cake and cranberry-pecan mini muffins. I loved the tartness of the crumb cake, but wasn't a huge fan of the muffins.

My favorite thing at Radial was definitely the peanut butter toast. The toast itself was challah bread that was so so soft and stringy. When you tried to cut it, you could see the different layers separate very nicely. But the thing that made this toast incredible was the peanut butter sauce on top. It must have had a pretty generous amount of butter in it because it was very smooth and deep in flavor :) It reminded me a little of the caramel sauce that comes with the sweet potato pancakes at Highland Bakery, but without the pecans...

I had never been a fan of biscuits and gravy, but I LOVED them at Radial. I love each component separately, but whenever I had them together before, the biscuits got soggy and unpleasant to eat. But somehow, the biscuits at Radial had a strong, but not tough, crust that prevented the moisture from the gravy from getting into the biscuit. So each bite consisted of buttery bread and really really delicious gravy. Seriously, that was some of the most flavorful gravy I have ever tasted!

Actually, the main dish I liked the least was my scramble. I wish I had traded it for some of those delicious biscuits :P There was nothing wrong with the scramble, really... It just wasn't as flavorful as the other things at the table. The only flavor that stood out was the salmon, so the dish was overly fishy. Even the presence of sun-dried tomatoes, something I love, couldn't redeem the dish.

Finally, I liked the grits even less. I might even say that I disliked them. There is something about grits, but I was never a huge fan. The only place where I kind of liked them was at Murphy's in the shrimp and grits dish. I think it's how plain they taste anywhere else. Even adding cheese couldn't help. Yes, I did taste the cheese, but it was like eating cheese with a really weird texture. Plus, the grits cooled down and congealed very quickly, making them even less pleasant to eat.

Well, there were definitely some hits and misses at Radial, but the misses were because of my personal preferences and not the quality of the cooking. I will be happy to go back, maybe try the dinner menu next time. Or go for breakfast/brunch again and enjoy some more of their awesome food and coffee :) Btw, I don't think the coffee at any other place had been memorable enough to be mentioned, but the coffee at Radial is amazing!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Food Is not Everything

Sometimes we go to restaurants just for the food, to satisfy hunger. Other times we want to indulge in an experience. The latter case usually involves a sophisticated place and a high price tag, or an ethnic restaurant. However, even if we go to a fast food place or a drive through, we expect a sertain level of service and get annoyed when we don't receive it.

I recently went to Sonny's Place, a small Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant close to where I live that also has a Scoutmob discount. Maybe the fact that it was completely empty at 6:30 pm should have been a red flag, but I decided to stay anyway. The bad experience started at the very beginning when the owner greeted me with "Do you need a menu?" in a husky voice. Of course I need a menu! He then handed it to me, but didn't specify whether I order at the counter or sit down at a table. So I ended up standing halfway between both, trying to figure out what I wanted. The special is supposedly the St. Peter's fish, but I decided to go with something more basic - the appetizer sampler platter. Then I was finally ordered to sit down. The platter came with falafel, hummus, tabuleh, babaganoush, and two salads. All items but the falafel medallions weren't bad, but they weren't memorable or distinguishable in any way either. The only positive thing about them was that I could eat them with warm pitas. The falafel, though, was inedible. It was obviously very old and re-heated. Instead of only the outside being crispy, the whole piece was a solid rock.

Well, despite the falafel, I wouldn't have minded the place too much if it wasn't for the attitude of the owner. He never smiled, and he seemed like he didn't think it was necessary to show his customers any respect. He did come to ask me how the food tasted twice, but wasn't happy of my answer of "It's good!" I don't know what he expected me to say, maybe he wanted me to tell him it was amazing, outstanding, the best things I've ever had. But for me, even saying that it was good was a stretch, haha.

A few minutes after I sat down, another party came to the restaurant. It was obvious it was their first time in there as well. They were seated before being given the menus, but they were taking a while to order. The owner kept going to them and badgering them to make up their mind. At the end, he seemed pretty disappointed that they didn't get what he suggested and that they didn't order alcohol. Again, he just seemed unhappy and intimidating, which is very offputting when you're willing to pay for a meal out.

I was really glad I had the Scoutmob deal. It did make things a little better because the whole experience was so bad, I should have been paid rather than me paying for the food. I think this is the first time I can honestly say that I'm never going there again.