Friday, August 31, 2012

Hot Dog Cravings

Over the last few weeks I got this weird craving about hot dogs. And it wasn't just any plain old hot dog, but specifically a chili dog. I just kept picturing a hot dog with chili and cheese dripping from its sides. But me being me, I couldn't get any fast food hot dog. Instead, I met up Cashew at HD1 in Atlanta, with "HD" standing for "Haute Doggery."

HD1 is a hip, modern place from Richard Blais, the owner of Flip Burger. The two restaurants share a similar concept: prepare American classics in a gourmet way and serve them in a modern space that's highlighted by a large bar and a separate community table. The menu at HD1 offers a large selections of hot dogs, from classic to completely unexpected. Several options even came close to dissuading me from the chili dog. Even here I had a few options: Red Haute dog with beef frank and brisket chili or a veggie chili dog. Well, I opted for the classic and got the Red Haute. Cashew got the Little Italy. It was the second time she had ordered it, so that shows you it must be great. As to my chili dog, I absolutely loved it. It all started from the toasted bun that provided the perfect amount of crunch for a soft hot dog bun. The beef was flavorful and juicy without being too greasy. The chili was spicy, but not uncomfortably so. Well, I didn't get the melted cheese on top as in my cravings. But they, the world is not perfect...

The hot dogs were a good size for a light dinner. It seems like a funny thing to say that a hot dog is good for a light dinner. But here I mean it in terms of the amount of food, not so much nutrition. It was filling without getting you completely stuffed. Still, Cashew and I shared an order of the plain waffle fries. Despite what the name suggests, they were lightly coated in cheese and herbs. They were also perfectly crispy and not soggy at all. In terms of fries I've had, they rival the fries at McDonald's, and they're definitely better than the waffle fries at Chick-fil-A :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Barcelona, Ole!

My roommate Snooki,
Being a smart cookie,
Passed her qualifying exam last week
Continuing on her way to become a science geek.
To celebrate, we went to Barcelona,
A place fit for her fancy persona.

Alright, alright I got carried away with the rhyming. And to clarify, neither Snooki, nor Barcelona are fancy or snobbish. But of the two, Barcelona comes closer, haha. But it was a special occasion, so we could go overboard a little bit.

Barcelona is a wine and tapas bar in the Inman Park area of Atlanta. Snooki and I walked by it one afternoon when they were making paella outside in a huge fan and made the decision to try it one day. It turns out that they don't serve individual portions of paella, but offer it only in large batches meant for sharing. We opted out for sharing the smaller and less expensive tapas instead. The menu wasn't as extensive as the one at Pura Vida, but we still had plenty of options to choose from. Everything sounded really delicious, but at the end we got the Patatas Bravas, Herbed Goat Cheese and Mushrooms and the Wild Striped Bass Ceviche.

Snooki and I have something of a quest to try as many patatas bravas from different places as possible. This obsession started at Loca Luna where we always get patatas bravas for an annual school dinner. The dish is simply amazing there! The potatoes are perfectly crispy and spicy. The aioli that they are served with also contributes a little spiciness, but the smooth creamy texture helps to balance out the heat. I've tried to make my own patatas bravas once, but failed miserably :( We also ordered them at Iberian Pig once. They were better than mine, but nowhere close to the ones at Loca Luna. Considering these failures, I was starting to think that we won't be able to find a place that serves patatas bravas as good as the ones at Loca Luna. Well, I'm happy to say that this has changed! The patatas bravas at Barcelona come very very close to the ones at Loca Luna! The crispiness and spiciness are definitely there. The only difference is in the sauce. The potatoes at Barcelona are served with a spicy aioli and ketchup. The aioli was ok, but the ketchup (which wasn't changed in any way) had no place on a great dish like the patatas bravas.

The herbed goat cheese and mushrooms also had a lot to live up to. I had had a dish of mushrooms sauteed with garlic and butter at Pura Vida in which the mushrooms were just perfect. I expected something similar from the dish in Barcelona, but was a little disappointed. The mushrooms tasted ok, but I wish there was a little more depth of flavor, maybe some garlic or herbs in the mushrooms rather than simply butter. Also, I thought that there would be a ball of goat cheese on the side to almost sere as a dip for the mushrooms. Instead, there was an amorphous dollop on top that didn't provide as much tangy-ness to the dish as I was hoping for.

Finally, the ceviche was great. I don't have much to say about it except that it was exactly what a ceviche should be: fresh-tasting and with large chunks of seafood. The citrus flavor was refreshing, but not overpowering. My only complaint is that there wasn't more of it ;)

At one point during the dinner we were pleasantly surprised by a complimentary dish of beets with walnuts and pesto. We still don't know why we received it, but we didn't turn it down... Even though Snooki doesn't like beets, we kept the dish. Of course, I ended up eating most of it, but Snooki at least gave it a try. The verdict: she still doesn't like beets. Well, I enjoyed the dish. I actually like the slightly sour taste of beets, and it went great with the blue cheese-based pesto on top.

It being a celebration, we also ordered drinks and dessert. Snooki is a big fan of sangria, so she tried the white wine one. Well, I can assure you she liked it very much and only two drinks were enough for her for the night. I tried the caipirinha. I was a little anxious when I saw that it came in a pretty small size (maybe 6 oz), but my mood completely changed only after a few sips. Man, this drink was strong! After only half a drink, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to drive home. Thankfully, the food and dessert soaked up the alcohol by the end of the night and we were able to get back home safely. By the way, even though the drink was strong, the caipirinha was easy to drink because of the refreshing lime taste.

As to the dessert, Snooki and I shared a chocolate hazelnut molten cake with coconut ice cream on top. The cake wasn't that great. I didn't taste much hazelnut in it either. However, the coconut ice cream was one of my favorite things. It reminded me a lot of coconut gelato I had had in Italy. I wish Barcelona sold it in cartons to take home ;)

By the way, Barcelona is also known for its wine list. Maybe we need to try some during a future visit :P

Friday, August 10, 2012

It's a Lunacy

It's a Lunacy! That's what I thought when Cashew said she wanted to go to a place called Lunacy Black Market. It could have been good, but I was more worried that it would be trying too hard to be unique but falling short. But hey, it was Cashew's birthday, so I had no say.

My first impressions of the place were mixed. It had a very rustic, antique-y  feel. However, the tables. chairs and cupboards looked more old than antique. Some of the tables had couches instead of chairs, but the couches and tables were approximately the same height. I love eating at the coffee table at home, but I don't know how I feel about doing it in public. One really unique thing was the menu. It was handwritten on a piece of cardboard that was probably cut from a box. It seems like I'm complaining about all of those details. I understand that the restaurant is new and the people running it probably didn't have too much money. However, even very simple things can be designed to be inviting rather than make the space awkward. For example, the menus could have had a few hand-drawn items on them and included a mixture of colors rather than just a black Sharpie marker.

The menu wasn't extensive, but definitely interesting. It had combinations of ingredients you don't see too often. Because the dishes were tapas-style, we ordered a bunch of things: cabbage salad with Gorgonzola, braised beef with roasted peppers, ribs with two types of marinades, rice cakes, and garbanzo bean salad.

The cabbage salad reminded me a lot of cole slaw in the way it looked, but the dressing was really unique. It had some underlying flavor that I couldn't quite place. It was probably my favorite thing for the night!

The three beef dishes were pretty good. The menu made them sounds different from other beef dishes you might order somewhere else, but I didn't notice anything too special. We got ribs cooked in two different sauces, but I don't remember what the flavors were :( Sorry :( Well, that suggests that they weren't that memorable... I do remember that one of them had acidic undertones, which I love. The rice cakes were actually great. It was the first time I've had rice cakes. They're basically ball of rice that are flattened and fried to make them crispy. The contrast of the crispy coating and the soft rice inside was really good.

Finally, the garbanzo bean salad was a little heavier than expected, but definitely flavorful.

Overall, and despite all my complaining at the beginning, I did like the place a lot. The decor needs a little more work, but it has good character. I expected a lot more creativity of the dishes based on the menu descriptions, but they turned out to be pretty similar to other places. On the bright side, everything tasted well. However, the absolute best thing about this place was the prices! Most plates were under $5, and they could easily sell for twice as much elsewhere. That by itself would make me a fan :)

Korean BBQ

We often think of BBQ as a typical American food. Each region has its own preferred species and cut of meat, its sauce, and even its side dishes. However, with the popularization of Korean culture in the US, we can now taste Korean desserts, Korean tacos, and even Korean BBQ. Thankfully, it's as easy to get Korean BBQ in Atlanta as it is to get hamburgers. Btw, can someone try to make Korean hamburgers? Wouldn't that be great? ;)

On a night when I was craving Korean BBQ, I turned to Cashew as my resident expert in Asian food to help me navigate the places on Buford Highway. Of course, she had many suggestions. After driving past a few places while trying to decide where to go, we finally stopped at Cho Dang Tofu House. An order of short ribs came with several side dishes that included kimchi, steamed veggies, sausage, bok choy, and others. The meat was as juicy and as perfect as I needed it to be. It's amazing how they can make beef taste so tender and full of flavor. Korean shortribs are one of the few things that I can eat that make me lick the bones to get every one last bit of flavor. Compared to the meat, the sides weren't that impressive. The sausage even tasted like frozen sausage that had been quickly warmed in a skillet. But hey, the sides were not while we were at the restaurant.

To complete the meal, Cashew also ordered a bipimbap dish for us. It was full of flavor and variety of textures ranging from soft rice to crunchy carrots. Together with the ribs, it made for a great Korean meal!