Sunday, September 30, 2012

IPRW Part 3: Wisteria

It's the beginning of fall, which means it's time for Inman Park restaurant week again! I love that they have it twice a year: in the spring and in the fall. Last time I went to Sotto Sotto and Wisteria. And guess what? I couldn't resist going to Wisteria yet again this week :)

The menu for restaurant week this time was pretty much the same as it was in the spring. However, there were multiple choices for both appetizers and entrees, so I had a hard time choosing something even after having tried several of the things. Actually, I went there with three friends, and we all got different dishes and we all loved what we had. I guess I'll first summarize what the others had before describing my meal.

My roommate Snooki had the mixed greens salad and the pork tenderloin. The pork was lightly seared on the outside and literally melted in your mouth! Definitely the best pork tenderloin/chop I have ever had anywhere! This is not an over-exaggeration. It's so easy to overcook the pork to the point where it's too dry. This one was the opposite of dry. It reminded me more of seared tuna steak than any other pork dish. My friend Els ordered the black eyed peas hummus and shrimp and grits, which is exactly what I had last time. She liked both of them. Finally, Els's boyfriend got the deviled eggs and fried chicken. His favorite piece of food was the sweet cornbread. He even wanted to get the recipe :)

The appetizer I decided on was the tomato soup with arugula pesto. The soup was really delicious by itself, with sweet tomato notes. I'm glad that there wasn't anything spicy in it. The pesto, when mixed with the soup, added some herbal freshness to the dish, but I didn't like how oily it made the soup. The soup came with a really incredible toast covered in Parmesan cheese. The toast was very simple, but the crunch and the cheese made it irresistible.

For my entree I ordered the Southern-fried catfish. The portion size was surprisingly large because each plate came with two rather large pieces of fish. I ate only one of them and saved the other one for lunch the next day :) The breading was a little soggy, but it didn't overpower the fish. And the tartar sauce on the side was pretty good, too. I also liked the stewed roasted peppers, green tomatoes, okra and crawfish that accompanied the fish. I'm not a fan of okra, but the one here wasn't that slimy so I could eat it. Overall, I liked my entree, but wasn't wowed by it.

Just like last time, the dessert was a trio of traditional Southern desserts: carrot cake, brownie, and lemon pecan bar. Unlike my last visit to Wisteria when I didn't like the carrot cake, it was my favorite this time, haha. It was just so moist and the perfect sweetness. I was also impressed with the lemon pecan bar. There were pockets of tartness that mixed well with the sweet dough. The brownie and spicy ice cream were delicious as well, but not as novel as the last time... But the general consensus at the end was that we all wanted a second serving of dessert :)

Well, that was my visit to Wisteria. Stay tuned for a dinner at Parish, also as part of Inman Park restaurant week.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Everyone who's ever stopped in front of the yogurt display in a grocery store must have seen the large variety of yogurt flavors available. Some have fruit in them, some just the flavor, some have mousse-like texture, and so on, and so on, and so on. Eating Greek yogurt is the few fad, so it isn't surprising that many different flavors have popped up as well. Well, variety is good, right? Yes, but I often find myself spending a looong time choosing a type of yogurt to buy. And that's true even though I usually stay away from the flavored varieties because they can be too sweet for me.

I'm a huge fan of plain yogurt, but even there the options are amazing. Over the years, I've done unofficial taste tests to find brands I like. I judge yogurt based on the following criteria:

  1. Whey (the liquid in yogurt) - as little as possible
  2. Taste - more tart is better
  3. Texture - needs to be creamy

So here are my favorites in several categories:

Plain non-fat yogurt - Dannon. It has very little whey and good, firm texture. The tartness is good for a plain yogurt. Publix-brand yogurts are also good.

Flavored yogurt - I like the Yoplait Whips for their mousse-like texture. They can be as indulgent as desserts, but hey, they still have some health benefits

Plain non-fat Greek yogurt - Fage. I love everything about it. It's pretty tart, firm, and creamy. Chobani is actually creamier, but I prefer Fage for its tartness.

Because of the popularity of Greek yogurt, some more exotic types of yogurt have also appeared. For now they are primarily found in organic food stores like Whole Foods, but I can see some of them jumping to the mass market. Today I decided to do an official tasting of some plain yogurt varieties I saw at Whole foods: Greek (Eros), Icelandic (Siggi's), New Zealand (Dreaming Cow), soy milk (WholeSoy & Co.) and coconut milk (So Delicious). So here are my reviews:

  1. The Eros Greek-style yogurt wasn't as good as my favorite Fage. The taste was a little milder, but it was similar in texture. I think it represented the Greek yogurt category very well. And for people who care about this, the milk comes from cows certified to be raised and handled in a humane way...
  2. The Siggi's Icelandic-style yogurt (also called skyr) was amazing! It was incredibly creamy and thick. Like Greek yogurt, it's strained. I'm guessing it's strained for longer to achieve this texture. It wasn't as tart as Fage, but I'm still a huge fan. And the best part is that it is surprisingly low in calories for such creaminess (80 calories for a 150 g container). And just like Greek yogurt, it has a whooping 15 g of protein.
  3. I have mixed feelings about the Dreaming Cow New Zealand-style yogurt. My initial reaction was that I hated the cream layer on top. It is just that: maybe 1 mm-thick layer of cream. I'm not sure of it forms naturally on top of the yogurt (it probably does in New Zealand), or if it's artificially added to the commercial product. Well, after you get past the cream, the yogurt is actually pretty good. It's tart and firm, probably from straining. It resembles Greek yogurt, but with only 1/3 of the protein. And as an added bonus, the milk comes from free-range cows here in Georgia. (The Wallaby brand of Australian yogurt didn't come in plain variety, but maybe it tastes similar to New Zealand-style yogurt without the cream top layer?)
  4. The WholeSoy soy milk yogurt is dairy-free, thus vegan friendly and good for people with lactose intolerance. I do drink soy milk on a daily basis, but I wasn't a huge fan of the yogurt. It did taste just like soy milk, but also came with the grittiness/starchiness of bad soy milks. I might have liked it if the starting milk was better quality. Btw, it's surprisingly high in calories and low in protein (150 calories in 170 g, 8 g protein).
  5. The So Delicious Coconut milk yogurt is targeted to the same user as the soy yogurt - vegans or people with allergies. The coconut taste was very very mild, and I actually wish it was stronger. It wasn't as starchy as the almond yogurt, but the texture was just off for me. It looked like apple butter, but a light brown color. Or non-strained ricotta. The only reason I finished it is because I don't like throwing away food. 
Btw, in my numerous hours in front of the yogurt sections, I've noticed that Chobani has a pretty good variety of flavored Greek-style yogurts. Maybe for my next taste test I need to try them all?

P.S. Start reading the names of the bacterial cultures that the yogurts are made from. The different brands differ somewhat, but they ALL contain L. bulgaricus, a bacterial strain originally isolated from Bulgarian yogurt :) I can't wait for the time when Bulgarian-style yogurt will become available in the US :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Breakfast Paradise

I recently realized that I haven't written yet about one of my most favorite places in Atlanta: The Original Pancake House. I live only a couple of miles from it on Lavista Rd. and I have been there probably around 10 times. If I was an early riser, I could probably go there every day. However, it seems that everyone loves this place so forget about getting a table in a timely manner if you go after 9 am! Even for only 2 people, you'll probably need to wait at least 30 min. One tip I can offer is waiting close by the "bar." Those spots are first-come, first-served, and it's usually possible to get a spot there pretty quickly. Plus, the whole menu is available at the bar, and the person who works there is very friendly :)

The Original Pancake House has a multi-page, diner-like menu that I would scoff at if I saw it at most other places. They offer probably 30 different types of pancakes, 10 types of waffles, many omelets and typical breakfast specialties with eggs and meats. I'll start with what I haven't tried: any of the waffles, the French toast, and the huge, intimidating Dutch baby. An order of a Dutch baby, a baked custard with berries, is literally the whole pan. I've seen it on other people's tables, but I haven't been brave enough to order it.

Now the things I've had, starting with pancakes. The banana pancakes are amazing! They are light and fluffy, not too salty or too sweet, with real bananas inside the pancakes and on top of the pancakes. Plus, they come with their own special tropical sauce instead of syrup. The sauce reminds me a lot of diluted orange juice, but it's surprisingly good. I've also had the plain buttermilk pancakes and the buckwheat pancakes as part of a breakfast dish. The meat dishes come with a side of buttermilk pancakes, but you can sub the buckwheat pancakes if you ask nicely. However, the buckwheat variety is a little too dense for me, so I prefer the plain buttermilk.

In the pancake section you can also find Swedish pancakes. Well, I expected an American pancake-style dish with lingonberry sauce instead of syrup. However, what I got are HUGE crepe-like pancakes. The Swedish pancakes were oblong, the size of two large crepes put side-to-side, and each order came with three of them. The pancakes were even lighter than crepes, having a more lacy appearance. After my initial surprise with the order, I really enjoyed them and ate 2.5 of those enormous pancakes.

Talking about crepes, I've tried the cherry crepes and the banana crepes. I was a little disappointed with the cherry crepes mostly because of the quality of the cherries. They tasted very artificial, as if they came from a jar. Plus, they lacked the tartness I expected. On the bright side, the banana crepes were perfect. It was obvious they were made with real bananas :) By the way, the crepes have whipped creme as a base for their fruit stuffing, and the amount and sweetness of the cream are just right.

On the more savory side, I've had the Southwestern omelet. It comes with red and green bell peppers, onions, and typical Tex-Mex flavors. It comes with a special spicy sauce that I really loved and a side of pancakes. The omelet at Original Pancake House is one of the fluffiest I have ever seen. It looks more like a souffle than an omelet. It was cooked well, and wasn't greasy or soggy. Some omelets I've had at many other places become soggy when the liquids from the veggies separate from the eggs - not a nice sight.

On mornings when I'm not too hungry, I just order two scrambled eggs. I've had both the plain version and eggs scrambled with cheese. I like the plain version a lot more. The cheesy eggs had way too much cheese. I don't even know how that's possible considering that I LOVE cheese, but the eggs with cheese just don't taste right to me. Well, two scrambled eggs is not a big enough breakfast even if I'm not hungry, so I have to order the mixed berries fruit bowl. You have to try it!!!! It's a large bowl of fresh, ripe, juicy, sweet berries - blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, bananas. And yes, bananas are actually berries. But what makes this dish so amazing is the small bowl of whipped cream to dip the berries in. I don't even know how to describe the whipped cream, but it's simply heavenly. It's thicker than, say, Miracle Whip, but it's just as light in taste. It's just a tad sweet. But the combination of the texture and flavor make it the best whipped cream I've had. I can definitely eat it by itself, but I also use it for the berries. Everyone who's tried it has loved it. Oh, the fruit bowl also comes in a melon version, but I have never ordered it. As long as it has the same cream, it must be good :) By the way, the restaurant uses the same cream for the crepes, but the hot temperature of the crepes starts melting the cream and it loses some of its appeal.

Finally, I haven't ordered any of the meat dishes, but I've been told that the bacon and the hash browns are also delicious. But what I'm dying to try next are the coconut pancakes or waffles. Maybe it's time for my first waffle?