Saturday, October 26, 2013

A visit to Chicago

A few weeks ago I went to Chicago for the very first time. Neither my sister, nor I had been there before, so we decided to meet up there. We stayed there for only one night, but we had a great time. Despite the short stay, we got a good sampling of the Chicago food.

One of the places I really wanted to try in this Midwest city was a Mexican restaurant called Frontera Grill, haha. But it's no ordinary Mexican. The owner is Rick Bayless, who has been called the Julia Child of Mexican food. He lived in Mexico for a long time, and prepares authentic Mexican dishes. Unfortunately, his restaurant is quite popular, which meant that there was a long wait even late in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner hours. Fortunately for us, there is a cafe attached to the restaurant (Xoco) which serves more street food-like versions of the dishes at Frontera Grill. So, my sister and I ate there. I ordered the suckling pig torta, and Pumpkin got the seafood caldo. My sandwich was great. I loved the grilled bread. Its crunch made it sturdy enough to hold the pile of meat that was in the middle. The pickled onion was a great addition because it cut through the richness of the meat. The sandwich came with a spicy salsa that was REALLY spicy. At first I scoffed at the warning by the server, but this is seriously the spiciest thing I've had. One drop was enough to set my mouth on fire for half a sandwich. I wish they would tone down the heat a little. Pumpkin's caldo was also hot, but in terms of temperature :P Compared to my sandwich, it was very light :) Yet, the broth was very flavorful and refreshing.

We also got the Mexican hot chocolate because I was curious what the original thing tastes like. And OMG, it was AMAZING! It tasted as rich as if you were drinking molten chocolate, but it was a lot more liquid to be simply that. However they prepare it, I can see why the Aztec rules loved it so much.

Of course, our other meal in Chicago had to be deep dish pizza. We went to a place called Giordano's that a friend of mine had recommended. We ordered the original deep dish pizza as it was our first time trying it. Pumpkin was a little worried whether the small pizza would be enough for the two of us, but as soon as we saw the pizza, we realized that there's no reason to worry. The pizza is GIANT! It's as thick as a cake. It has a crust on the bottom, then layers of cheese, peperoni and bell peppers, and another layer of cheese that acts as a top crust. Pumpkin and I ate a piece each, and we are stuffed. Rather than not being enough for one meal, we got three meals out of it over the next few days. I did like the deep dish pizza, but I prefer the thin crust ones. Sorry, Chicago...

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I love the concept of tapas: you get to try several dishes at once. Even though Eclipse di Luna is a popular place for tapas (and late night dancing) in Atlanta, I didn't get to go there until recently. I met up with my friend Ems one last time before leaving for Cleveland. We started the night with some cocktails: I had the lychee martini, and Ems got the grapefruit martini. My drink was really good. It was slightly fruity, but because the lychee has a tart flavor, it didn't taste too cloying overall.

In an attempt to find crispy potatoes (patatas bravas) as good as the ones at Loca Luna, I was really excited to try the ones at Eclipse di Luna. (Side note: what's up with having the word "Luna" in both tapas places???) There are a couple of things that must be done right with the patatas bravas. First, they need to be CRISPY on the outside, but not drenched in oil while frying. Having some good seasoning on them is also nice to have. Second, the Romesco sauce on the side needs to be both creamy and spicy. Well, I'm happy to say that the patatas bravas at Eclipse di Luna perfectly satisfied both of these requirements! :) They were as good as the ones at Loca Luna that I love so much, and I couldn't find any difference.

The other two dishes we decided to try were the fried goat cheese with caramelized onions (seen above with the potatoes) and the pulpo salteado (octopus "hash"). The goat cheese was good, but not exceptional. I guess it's hard to change its potent taste into anything else. And the taste is the reason why I got it anyway. The octopus wasn't really hashed, but that's what it reminded me of. It came sauteed with potatoes, onions, capers, peppers and lemons. The octopus itself was cooked really well and was not chewy. The poptatoes were crispy and contrasted the soft peppers and onions. And the acidity from the lemon made the dish really pleasant to eat. In summary, it was delicious!

I can honestly say that I loved Eclipse di Luna. I think I might like it even more than Loca Luna. My only regret is that I didn't know how good it was until now, when I'm about to leave the city :(

Friday, September 20, 2013

A celebration

As of two weeks ago, I'm a doctor!!!! Well, not the "real" one, the medical kind, but a doctor of philosophy: I got my PhD in pharmacology. The final requirement was an oral dissertation defense, and I passed it two weeks ago. To celebrate, I knew I had to go eat at a nice restaurant. I had wanted to try The Spence for a while now, so passing the defense was the perfect opportunity. It is owned by Chef Richard Blais, who won TopChef Masters and likes to experiment with molecular gastronomy.

Because of the importance of the occasion, I went to The Spence with my parents, who were treating me to the dinner. My parents are the "quantity is more important than quality" and "if there's not a pile of meat, the dish is not good" type of people, so I was very worried about how they'll like a sophisticated restaurant where the emphasis is on quality of ingredients and preparation. Well, my fears were founded, as it turned out, but I was determined to enjoy the dinner no matter what. I started with a drink that is not on the current (frequently changing) menu :( So, I can't remember everything that was in it or even its name :( I did remember that it contained a type of alcohol starting with "B." After a lot of googling (which did involve the search phrase "alcohols starting with "b"), I finally fount it!! It's called Fernet Branca: The waiter did warn me that the drink has a very distinctive flavor, and that was definitely the case. I can't really describe it. It's bitter and aromatic at the same time, strong, but not overpowering like absinthe. The other ingredients in my cocktail weren't as interesting, but the end result was delicious.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to The Spence was to try bone marrow - which I've never had despite being somewhat of a foodie ;) My dad insisted that he wanted fish, but didn't want to pay for the branzino. I warned him that the sashimi (of kampachi) probably won't be enough for him to fill up, but he wanted it anyway. Even my mother, who can usually try new foods without immediately hating them, was overwhelmed by the menu. Too many unfamiliar tings to her, so I eventually ordered the tagliatelle. I hoped that the flavors would be similar enough to what she's used to that she would like it. We also got the fried Brussels sprouts. I knew very well that the portion sizes would be small and the quantity of the food won't be enough for my carnivorous parents, but they refused to get anything else. My dad was SHOCKED when he saw his sashimi - simply four pieces of fish. There was nothing I could tell him about the quality to make him less mad :( On the bright side, he ate the Brussels sprouts to make up for it. I did try a piece, and they were amazing! My mom seemed to like the pasta, but I think she was also disappointed by the size. I did try a little bit of the pasta, and it was really good, maybe even a little too rich (buttery) for my taste. But I did love the buttery flavor of the bone marrow :) The description that people use, that it's like melted butter, is spot on. Imagine roasting a rack of lamb and then dipping your bread in the drippings: that's what bone marrow tastes like. Just a little salty, with a rich roasted/browned flavor. The bone marrow came with a piece of toasted bread and diced tuna. The tuna was great, but I wish there was something even more light and fresh to balance the marrow - maybe even some celery ;)

(A side note: I know that plates at the Spence are meant to be shared and that they're small on purpose. Even though Bulgarian culture is huge about sharing and family-style eating at home, the opposite is true if you eat out. My dad thinks people will laugh at you if you try someone else's food. So, we all ended up eating a single dish.)

And to finish the celebration, we ordered two desserts: the pistachio shortcake and the ricotta cheesecake. The shortcake was really good. It was point and light, with pronounced (in a good way) pistachio flavor. The whipped cream was light and not too sweet. However, I was completely blown out by the cheesecake. It was really really REALLY OUTSTANDING. It honestly tasted more like ricotta mouse than cheesecake. I've never had a cheesecake as light and fluffy as the one at the Spence. Man, I wish I could eat that every single day! It even made my dad forget that he was mad at me for taking him to this "horrible" restaurant. That's what I call a good dish :P

Global seafood kitchen

Pappadeux, a chain with locations throughout the South, claims to be a seafood kitchen that draws on many cultures. Cajun dishes (etouffee, gumbo, alligator) are prominent on the menu. There are also interesting dishes from around the globe, from Southern America to Asia. Of course, there is a fried food section. So when I friend of mine suggested that we meet up for dinner there, I was up for it.

I'm fortunate to have been to New Orleans several times, so I stayed away from any of the dishes typically associated with the city. Maybe the etouffe or the gumbo at Pappadeux are amazing, but it will be really hard to make them the same as in New Orleans itself. I didn't feel like having something heavy, either, and butter seemed to be a prominent ingredient on many of the dishes. Instead, I decided to try how good the fresh seafood at Pappadeux was.  To do that, I simply ordered the half a dozen oysters and half a dozen chilled shrimp. They turned out to be even better than expected! The oysters were HUGE, but more importantly, FRESH. The chilled shrimp was perfectly cooked, and not rubbery at all. I enjoyed both very very much. My friend only got the dozen oysters, so nothing new to describe here.

And because I couldn't be completely healthy, I also got a pina colada :) I think I've had pina colada once or twice in my life before, but I was really craving it. Just like the food, the drink was excellent. It wasn't overly sweet, did taste like real fruit, and I could taste the alcohol, but it wasn't too strong. Overall, very satisfying. Pappadeux is making me re-think my conviction that chain restaurants are evil ;)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Eating my way through Cleveland

I have exciting news: I'll be moving to Cleveland!! The date is not set yet, but tentatively, it will be in the middle of October. Luckily, I've heard that Cleveland is becoming a foody town. I got to see this for myself last weekend when I was there to look for a place to live.

As soon as I arrived on Saturday afternoon, I headed to downtown and the East 4th St. area. This is a cute area, a couple of blocks long, but lined with many restaurants and bars. You've got everything from more casual bars to upscale places. I was getting cold in the chilly northern nights (compared to Atlanta!), so I got really happy when I saw a Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon. I was craving pho anyway, and it sounded even more appropriate for the cold night. Yet, something I cannot resist when I see it on the menu is lotus root and shrimp salad. I got that first, and then I got the pho with rare beef. The salad really surprised me when it arrived. The lotus leaf wasn't shaved into matchsticks - which has been the case with all the other lotus root salad's I've had. Instead, it was cut into offset cylinders that resembled penne pasta. The other thing different from the classical version was the absence of fried crackers. I'm used to placing pieces of salad on the crackers and eating them. The crackers add a nice crunch, but the salad at Saigon was still great. It had the same flavors that I'm used to. Eventually, I also warmed up to the strange shape of the lotus root. It was whimsical and interesting, and it was easier to pick up with chopsticks. But I had to pack up most of the salad to go, and enjoy the pho. I'm not a pho specialist, but I really enjoyed the one at Saigon. The broth was flavorful and the beef was thin. My only complaint is that it didn't come with basil, but that's a minor thing.

The next day I checked out another popular area: Cedar Fairmount. It's the intersection of Cedar and Fairmount streets, on the east side of the city, where the suburbs start. The area has several restaurants and local hang out spots. I went to one of those - Nighttown - which is also known for its amazing brunch menu. The Dublin Layer, which is a lobster and mushroom dish, has been featured on Food Network. That's actually the reason I went to Nighttown. But as I was deciding what to have, I saw the people on the table next to me receiving theirs. It's probably really delicious, but it looked simply like a stew to me. So I got the lobster eggs Benedict instead. I'm so so happy that I got it! It had huge chunks of delicious lobster, and also Canadian bacon in between the eggs and English muffin. The Hollandaise was really good, too, with a tangy flavor. And while I was enjoying the delicious food, I was also sipping on a great Bloody Mary. I think it had more vodka than mix ;) But it was perfectly spicy and flavored :)

Later that day, I met up with a friend in Cleveland, and we went to Sushi Rock, which was close to where I was staying. I ordered the Golden Dragon roll (sorry, no picture :( ). It had shrimp tempura, tuna, salmon, crab and avocado inside, and thinly sliced mango on the outside. It was topped with red roe. The roe and mango did make it look like a golden dragon :P I admit I was nervous about having sushi in Ohio, a state that is not next to the ocean, but I was pleasantly surprised. The fish was fresh and tasty. And I actually loved the combination of crispy shrimp tempura and raw salmon and tuna. After dinner, my friend and I decided to get ice cream at Mitchell's. I've read that it's a good ice cream place with interesting flavors, but I never expected to be blown away. The have a pretty long flavor list, each one sounding amazing. I somehow settled on the S'mores ice cream (roasted marshmallow ice cream with graham crackers and chocolate pieces) and lemon and black raspberry frozen yogurt. I really liked the roasted marshmallow ice cream, but it was waaayyy surpassed by the frozen yogurt. I mean, WOW! It is probably in the top 10 (maybe 5) things I've ever had! The balance of tart and sweet is so good. I can't even describe it. But I loved it so much, I went to Mitchell's the next day to get more. I didn't even try any other flavor. If you know me, you'll know that I'm the "always try something new" person. So it's a huge thing to have the same thing twice. And by the way, it was after a large dinner that made me stuffed.

So the dinner in question was at The Melt Bar and Grill. Again, it's been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network. When I went there, they had a pig roast special that included chipotle pulled pork, fried sweet potatoes, and corn on the cob. I love both sweet potatoes and corn, so having them in one dish was too irresistible. Overall, I wasn't that impressed by the meal. I guess I expected more of a grilled cheese sandwich, with lots of cheese and maybe some meat, but I got the opposite. And I couldn't even taste the sweet potatoes. On the bright side, the charred corn was amazing :) So I ate half of the huge sandwich and the corn, had a 21st Amendment Watermelon Ale and went to get some more lemon raspberry ice cream :)

Based on my short experience with dining in Cleveland, I can't wait to move there! Is it October yet?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Exotic Ethiopian

There are four different Ethiopian restaurants within 3 miles of where I live - no exaggeration. Three of them are at the same intersection, too. And yet, I have been to an Ethiopian restaurant only once in the last 11 years in Atlanta. That was a long time ago, when I was a really picky eater. Not surprise that that I didn't like it then... But now, I love trying new things, so I decided to give Ethiopian one more chance, with Snooki as my partner in crime.

When it came to deciding where to go, our thought process went exactly like this: (1) Which places have Scoutmob? (2) Which of the two options has the better reviews on Yelp? The result was Meskerem, and that's where we went. I wish looking at the menu had been part of the thought process, though. Snooki and I were hoping to see some kind of sampler platter, but there weren't any :( The closest thing we saw was a mixed lamb/chicken dish with two vegetable sides - we chose the lentils and split peas. We also got the beef spare ribs because I (goren tibs) because I thought it might be like Korean-style spare ribs. And they both came with the traditional Ethiopian sponge bread.

My first impression of the goren tibs was really got. It was brought to the table in an iron skillet and sizzling, similar to fajita filling. But unlike fajitas, the beef then was poured over the sponge bread. I guess that was good. I didn't even get a chance to burn myself on the hot skillet ;) However, once I tried the beef, I was rather disappointed. It didn't have any of the flavor of Korean beef. It didn't have any Ethiopian spices either. Instead, the only seasoning it had appeared to be salt! The char on the beef was really nice, but that's the only good thing I can say about the beef.

Snooki, with her mixed meat platter, had many more options of what to eat. Both the lamb and chicken were covered in a tomato-based sauce. Somehow, though, they tasted completely different. The chicken was bland, but the lamb was so flavorful! I definitely wish I had ordered it. The same thing happened with the lentils and peas too. Peas: blahhhh. Lentils: spicy goodness :)

I don't know how the things in the platter could be so different. I wish there was a little more consistency in tastes. This is one place where "hit-or-miss" appears to be the best description. The things that were good were really good. But unfortunately, getting those is all about luck. Overall, not a good place to just try new things.

As a post-script, here are some random notes. The Ethiopian bread is definitely very different. It's very moist (almost soggy), with a slight acidic flavor. I kind of like it, though. And note 2: we weren't even offered regular silverware. We had to eat everything with the bread and our fingers. That was OK while we were eating, but became a problem later when we were trying to pack up the leftovers to go. It was a pretty messy ordeal. I'm all for having an authentic cultural experience, but some things are a little hard to pass over (for example, utensils) when you're used to them since birth.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Brunch on the patio

The beginning of summer is the time of the year when we all flock to pools, parks, and patios. [Ha, they all start with a "p"] It's not too hot yet, and we're sick of spending time indoors. Well, it's been a tricky summer here in Atlanta, raining pretty much every single day for as long as I can remember. But Snooki and I had a deal for brunch, so we chose a not-too-rainy Sunday to use it. And yes, we chose to sit on the patio :) What could be better to start a Sunday that fresh air, coffee and a nice breakfast at half the price :)

The aforementioned brunch deal was for Olmsted, a relatively new restaurant in Midtown. The deal included bread and a meat platter to begin, one mimosa or bloody Mary each, and an entree. Unfortunately, we didn't think ahead and went there early on Sunday morning when you can't buy alcohol. That's the South for you... Well, the server was nice enough to let us use our cocktail credit for coffee drinks. And well, that was one of the few things about the service. It took forever to order and get our food even though the restaurant was pretty much empty when we got there. Also, we never got silverware when we were seated. We had to ask for it after the food was brought to us. By the time we started eating, it was already getting cold.

So now to the main point, the food. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't anything special either. I was very disappointed by the bread platter that we were supposed to share. I expected several types of breads/muffins/maybe cornbread/scones. Instead, we got four dainty pieces of zucchini bread. The meat platter was ok. It had sausage, ham and bacon. But it's really weird to eat greasy meat by itself. It would have been much much better with some bread.

For the entree, I got the Yet Another Shrimp and Grits, Snooki got the Eggs Savannah, and her boyfriend (BrayBoy) ordered the fried chicken. Yes, "Yet Another Shrimp and Grits" is the name of the item on the menu, and that's exactly what it was. I have definitely had much better shrimp and grits before, and I can make better ones myself. There wasn't any flavor on them. I was hoping that the name was just a joke, but unfortunately it wasn't. Snooki's  dish was good, at least. The crab and shrimp cakes weren't overflowing with flavor, either, but there was a good amount of crab meat in them. The hashed potatoes were crispy, as they should be. BrayBoy was happy with his dish, though. It was definitely a guy's portion, with a huge chunk of cornbread that was the size of half a loaf. On the bright side, he had leftovers.

I guess the best part of the meal was sitting outside. But once it started drizzling, we were ready to go and I don't think any of us would be going back.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Taste Test: Exotic Fruits

Despite my love for food, I refuse to drive for more than 5 minutes to go to a grocery store. That means that trips to the farmer's market, which is 20-30 min away, are a very rare occurrence for me. But when I go, I make it an occasion and buy a bunch of things I don't usually get. At my last trip to the Asian farmer's market in town, I decided to try fruits that I have never had before. I went all out and picked some things that I hadn't even heard of and some fruits that I have always wanted to try. My selection is pictured here:

Top (left to right): Thai guava, zapote, cherimoya
Bottom: dragon fruit, kumquats

The first to go were the kumquats. I don't know if the rinds are edible, but I did eat them. The kumquats did have a pretty acidic flavor, reminiscent of oranges, but a lot more acidic. The rinds weren't bitter. I found this fruit very refreshing and delicious. I loved how they little pieces exploded in my mouth after biting into them.

I was very curious about the zapote and cherimoya because I had never even heard of them. So, I cut into them the first day. The cherimoya was soooo good! I read that it's also called a custard apple, and I see how it gets its name. It is very soft and melts in your mouth. The taste is sweet, but not cloying. It does feel like eating pudding, but with even better, fresher taste. Unfortunately, I was kind of disappointed from the zapote. The one I had was half ripe, half too hard. I couldn't even cut into the unripe part, and the rest was on the point of being mushy. The taste was kind of bland too. But I made the best of it by mixing it with the cherimoya in a fruit salad :) The two different tastes balanced each other very well. In the picture above, the cherimoya is the white mush on the bottom, and the zapote is the orange pieces.

(Important note! I did look up all fruits before I tried them. Turns out the seeds in the cherimoya contain toxic compounds and are inedible. I made sure to remove all of them. If you do decide to try any unfamiliar fruit, please look it up before tasting it.)

At that point I was also anxious to try the dragon fruit. Just like I had heard, it looks pretty, but it has a very mild taste. It indeed is pretty, with its black seeds and bright magenta outer pulp. The texture has some bite to it, it's not all mushy and soft. So I added it to my fruit salad to add almost like a little crunch to the soft cherimoya and zapote. The final product was delicious!

A couple of days later I tried the guava as well. The Thai variety has white flesh, while the Mexican variety is pink. The Thai guava didn't impress me at all. It was very bland, with a slightly tangy flavor. I was hoping to something sweeter and resembling the guava candy they give out in some Asian restaurants. I just want to point out that my guava was ripe to the touch, so the lack of flavor is not due to it being unripe. But now I'm really curious to try the pink guava, which is supposed to be sweeter. Maybe I'll pick it up during my next trip to the grocery store, along with more cherimoya :)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Seafood Streak

Pumpkin was in Atlanta recently! And the only reason I was excited about that was because she had said she would go eat crawfish with me ;) I had coupons for both Crawfish Shack and Fontaine's Oyster House, so we made a seafood weekend out of it. We went to Fontaine's on Friday and Crawfish Shack on Saturday.

I've been to Fontaine's several times, but every single time I order the Hot combo platter. You get one pound of shrimp, one pound of snow crab legs, mussels and clams, and one dozen steamed Gulf oysters. Well, we always ask if we can get the oysters raw rather than steamed. Every time they say, Let me check with the kitchen. They have been able to accommodate our request every time :) But now to the food. My favorite thing on the platter are the shrimp because of the spices they are cooked with. Most pronounced of these is cumin (I think), and it gives them a flavor I normally associate with my mother's meatballs rather than shrimp. The crab legs are generally of great quality and taste fresh. I don't think Pumpkin enjoyed them too much because of how hard they are to crack. She needs more practice! And even though she was afraid that we didn't get enough food, we were both stuffed by the end. This platter is a perfect portion for two people.

The very next day we were ready for more food at Crawfish Shack, and Snooki tagged along as well. Of course, we got crawfish (3 lb of it!). Snooki wasn't too eager to eat the whole crawfish, so she opted for a shrimp po-boy.  The coupon I had required us to spend at least $45, and we made up the balance by loading up on sides: Cajun fries, sweet potato tots, herb-roasted red potatoes and corn nuggets. The crawfish was fresh and spicy - just the way it was supposed to be. The "Cajun" fries, though, had NO seasoning on them, not even salt, let alone Cajun spice. Well, maybe a tiny bit of salt, but you get my point. They were so plain, they were impossible to eat. But we were too lazy to return them and had plenty of other things to make up for the fries. The roasted red potatoes were also rather plain. The only seasoning they had was a little butter on the bottom of the dish and hard to get to. The sweet potato tots, though, were just what I expected from them and still retained their flavor after frying. What I was really impressed by were the corn nuggets. I LOVED them. We couldn't imaging what they would be before ordering, but I'm SO glad we got them. They remind me a little of arancini balls, but with corn instead of rice and flattened. The corn kernels are still whole inside and so sweet when you eat them. And overall, all the fried sides did help to counteract the spicy crawfish :) 

Friday, May 3, 2013

IP restaurant week: part 5 + 6

Yup, it's that time of year again: Inman Park restaurant week!!!! You have no idea how excited I get about it. As before, I went to TWO restaurants :)

First up: Pure Taqueria. The main reason I wanted to go there was the ceviche appetizer. I was so nervous they might run out of ingredients to make it, we went there on Monday night - the first day of restaurant week - at 6 pm. Well, it paid off because I did get the ceviche :) Like all the Pure ceviches, it had an innovative presentation with both a tortilla and a plantain chip. The ceviche was a little salty, but very refreshing.

For the entree, I ordered the trout with corn cakes and guacamole. It had too many things I love to pass over: corn and guacamole. The salty theme continued on the trout, but the cakes and guacamole were perfect. The trout was crusted in chile, so there was a little bit of heat to the dish, but it wasn't overwhelming.

Finally, I had the pineapple flan for dessert. It was soo soo good! Sooo smooth, you couldn't even feel it. At the same time your tastebuds detected a rich flavor of pineapple with a hint of nutmeg. The nutmeg was really a great addition. The topping of caramelized pineapple also went great with the dish. Somehow, the rich syrup cut through the flavor of the rich custard to make for a great combination that did not feel cloying at all. This flan was one of those desserts where you say "no, I'm too full, I can't eat any more," but then you have one bite and the rest is gone before you even realize it.

For the second installment of restaurant week, we went to Rathbun's. Note, this is different from Kevin Rathbun Steak. It had been a long time since I'd gone there, but I quickly remembered why I love the place. I love the atmosphere of a remodeled industrial space (read: cold concrete) and Southern hospitality meet to form a sophisticated, but warm place. And the modern American menu is always exciting and unique. I started with the pork and fennel crepinette (sausage) with mashed potatoes and arugula salad. The sausage was probably the best, moistest sausage I have ever had. It was delicious. However, I could not taste the fennel in it at all, which is surprising because fennel has a pretty strong flavor.

The choice of an entree was very difficult, but I settled on the tri tip steak with potatoes. Expecting a square meal? Thing again. The steak was perfectly tender and seasoned. It was topped with a chimichurri-like sauce that also went very well with the herbed potatoes. I guess I liked the steak so much, I forgot to take a picture of it...

For dessert, I continued the custard theme and got the sour cream creme brulee. I was convinced it would taste just like any other creme brulee, but I was happy to be mistaken. I could actually detect the sour cream in the custard - it gave an interesting tartness to the creme brulee that was very unexpected, but wonderful. The cookie on the side was just blah, though. I could have gotten a better chewy cookie at many other places. In the background of the picture you can also see my co-worker's chocolate cupcake with coffee oreo gelato. I loved the rich cupcake, and he was also very happy with the gelato.

Yet again, I wasn't disappointed with Inman Park restaurant week. Now I can't wait for the fall to do all of this again!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chirashi Cravings

Despite living right next to a sushi restaurant, I can go for months without having sushi. Then, all of a sudden, I go on a sushi binge. This time, I didn't simply crave sushi, but chirashi. Do not confuse it with sriracha! Sriracha is the Asian hot sauce, and chirashi is a fish-and-sushi rice dish. The reason I love chirashi is that you get plain fresh fish without any sauces to hide its taste. If the fish is not the best quality, you'll notice it right away. And I prefer chirashi to sashimi or nigiri because you do get some fix-ins in terms of vegetables. Plus, there's plenty of rice to fill you up if you're really hungry.

In the last couple of weeks I had chirashi from two different places: Zuma at Toco Hill and Sushi Itto. I've been to Zuma multiple times, trying many of the rolls and the bento box, but this was the first time ordering chirashi. It came in a HUGE bowl with the sushi rice completely covered by lettuce and then the sashimi on top. The fish selection consisted mostly of tuna and salmon, with a few pieces of white fish mixed in. While the fish was fresh, eating it was a little challenging because of all the lettuce.

In contrast, the chirachi at Sushi Itto is exactly what I want from chirashi: mostly sashimi and rice, with a few vegetables for crunch. And look at how pretty it looked!! I almost didn't want to eat it. Almost ;) The fish (tuna, salmon, what I guess was tuna belly and white tuna) was sooooo good and fresh. It all just melted in your mouth. I don't love salmon, but I couldn't get enough of the salmon in the bowl. And despite it being sliced so thin, there was a substantial amount of fish in there. My only tiny complaint about this dish was that it was hard to squeeze the small lime slices. But who cares about limes when there's delicious fish to enjoy?!?!

So how exactly do you eat chirashi? I'm sure everyone has their opinion about what is THE right way. I say, stop worrying too much about being proper and just enjoy the dish. Unless, of course, you're trying to impress some native Japanese people for some reason ;) In which case, don't order the chirashi ;) Anyway, I like to mix all the ingredients, bipimbop-style. I also add some soy sauce to the rice. I don't spread the wasabi around the bowl because I can take wasabi only in tiny fractions. Instead, I add just a little bit of wasabi to a side bowl with soy sauce and use it for dipping any bites that might need a little more soy sauce. Another common way to eat chirashi is to alternate fish and rice bites, dipping each in a side bowl of soy sauce. Someone likened this way to eating Thanksgiving dinner: you don't shove turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes in your mouth all at once; instead you take a bite of each in turns. I guess I like the mixture of textures I get from mixing fish, veggies and rice, so I'll keep using my method :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sunday Supper, part 2

My first experience with Sunday Supper at JCT Kitchen came about a year ago. After saying a thousand times that I want to go again, we finally made it back there, using Bulgaria's Independence day as an excuse. Even though she's not Bulgaria, Snooki also tagged along.

As before, the table shared biscuits with apple butter and brown butter, a large salad and deviled eggs. And after what seemed like an eternity, we finally got our entrees. JCT Kitchen, you need to get your act together because it's not OK to make people 30 min after the salad to get their meals. I suspect our dished were just waiting on a counter somewhere because they were cold by the time we got them. Everything was still delicious, but I know it would have been a lot better if warm. Oh yeah, here's what we ordered: I had the pan-seared steak with mushrooms, Snooki had the pork tenderloin, my dad got the grouper with beets, and my mom ordered the fried chicken with cornbread. It's funny how it works out this way so many times, but I liked Snooki's dish (the pork) a lot more than my dish (steak). The pork was very tender and moist compared to my dry cold steak...  At least the mushrooms were great...

I think my favorite part of the Sunday Supper are the sides, especially the mashed sweet potatoes that we had last time. I've been dreaming about them! Well, day-dreaming ;) But they didn't have them on the menu this time! I'm outraged! Now I'll have to figure out how to make them myself. In the meantime, we had to choose something different and settled on mac and cheese, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms with Parmesan. However, our not-so-good waiter brought us mashed potatoes instead of mushrooms. Thankfully, he let us keep to potatoes and brought us mushrooms in addition to that. So in the end, we got a free side out of it :) Plus, the mushrooms turned out to be different from what we expected. We thought that they'd be sauteed mushrooms with cheese on top; instead, it was a mushroom risotto with cheese. It wasn't bad, but not the deliciousness I was waiting for. As to the other sides, the mashed potatoes were good, albeit too greasy; the Brussels sprouts were cooked perfectly, not bitter at all, and the mac and cheese was spectacular - very, very cheesy and with huge chunks of pancetta. By the way, if my parents like the Brussels sprouts, they must have been good. My dad especially is not too eager to try new foods.

And at the end of the meal came the dessert - caramelized pear pie. We were all complaining (in a good way!) how stuffed we were after the side overload. I was even telling myself that I'll have only a couple of bites of the pie. But boy oh boy! This pie is one of the BESTTTTT things I've ever had. The pears were soft and gooey, they were fragrant with warm spices (cinnamon, etc.), there was a little bit of custard, and the pie was sooo flaky and soft to the fork. It probably took me all but a minute to devour a pretty huge slice! At some point I did remember to stop for long enough to take a picture... It doesn't look that impressive, but you all should be jealous that you didn't try it. Well, that pie made us all forget about some of the mishaps earlier during the dinner :) And yes, it's up there on my list of amazing foods, right next to the French Toast at La Boulange :)

Mardi Gras

A friend of mine recently moved to Baton Rouge, LA, to work at LSU, so my roommate Snooki and I went to visit her at her new house. And it just happened that Mardi Gras was going on at the same time. You know, no coincidence at all ;) But in between the parades, Bourbon St and driving around to find a parking spot, we got to enjoy some awesome Louisiana foods.

It was Snooki's first time in New Orleans, so she had a long list of things to try. Thankfully, every touristy place in the French Quarter has a New Orleans sampler platter. This one came with gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and jambalaya. One time that was missing was the rice and red beans, so read the menu carefully to make sure you go to a place that has all four! Anyway, Snooki loved the gumbo, but didn't enjoy the etouffee too much. She is freaked out by the crawfish even when they're cleaned up ;) But she likes shrimp... Go figure... That first night I had a proper fried oyster po-boy because getting a po-boy from a BBQ place doesn't really count. This one was really really good. The oysters were crispy on the outside, but not overfried. And the fries were surprisingly good. However, nothing was better than my bloody mary which had the perfect amount of kick to it :) Sorry, though, I don't have pictures from the dinner.

We finished off the night in Baton Rouge at a local beignet spot. By the time we got there it was already 2 am, but why not have some sugar, right? They are known for the "Finger" beignets. Sounds creepy, but all it means is that they were fried in long, thin streaks. The larger surface area-to-volume ratio makes them very crispy. We also got their traditional beignets which are bigger and not as crispy as the ones at Cafe du Monde. On the bright side, they were completely free because the store owner was an incredibly nice Southerner who was impressed that it was Snooki's first time in NO. Oh, and he made us try the hot chocolate! After many refusals (after all, it's not wise to have sugar AND caffeine at 2 am), we did each have a sip. And I was glad we did because it was great! And we didn't have to worry about not being able to sleep after all; we passed out as soon as we got to my friend's house.

The next day was extremely hectic and we didn't have a real meal until 9 pm. We did each have a snack during a parade we saw, but our major source of calories that day was beer ;) Not surprisingly, we were starving by dinner time at stopped to eat at the first restaurant we saw after getting to the French Quarter: Corner Oyster House. I skipped the oysters and went out on a limb and decided to try something different - alligator picante. Well ,i can tell you that everything does taste like chicken... The meat wasn't too flavorful and it was quite dry. The spicy sauce was much better, though. And I was so hungry that I ate the whole thing despite the inferior quality ;P

On our last day there, we woke up semi-early and had brunch at The Chimes, a place right next to the LSU campus. I was really happy when we got a table after only about a 20 min wait. Some of our friends decided to get the fried bowties and artichoke dip for appetizer. Yes, bowties as in the pasta. I admit I wouldn't order something like that because I can't image what fried past would taste like... But I'm glad they did because it was really good! That pasta was very crispy, but not completely stiff. The dip was just a regular dip, but overall the appetizer surpassed my expectations. For my entree, I had the crabcakes. That was a great choice because they were amazing!!! They had a good amount of crabmeat, were moist, and a little spicy. The potato hash lived up to the high standards set by the crabcakes, too - crispy and with a little kick. I even liked the grits even though I'm not a huge grits fan. Unlike most grits out there, these tasted like corn :) Again, I ate the whole thing. I guess the best way I can summarize this trip to New Orleans is "overeating on delicious food." Mardi Gras, what?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Elegant Buffet

Elegant buffet? Huh? That can't exist. Right? Well, turns out it's possible, in Las Vegas of all places.

Buffets have been a part of Vegas history from its initial days. People who went to Vegas didn't care what they ate as long as it was enough to get them through a night of gambling. Thankfully, all of this has changed. Together with the sophistication of the city, the buffet has been revamped. A perfect example of this is the opulence of the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar's Palace.

How many times have you had to wait for 2 hours to get into a buffet? Well, you better be prepared to do that at peak times at Bacchanal. But once you get in, you forget about the wait. The chic modern decor, the subdues lighting, the delicious food scents wafting through the air - they all make you want to dig into some food. But hey, slow down! [Record scratch noise.] You need to wait in another line for seafood! Yes, that's right. That's why my boyfriend (Rusty) and I started with the Asian section that was less busy and got some sushi and dumplings. There was nothing too special about the sushi, but it did fill our starving stomachs a little bit. Then we were ready for the seafood!

Rusty and I were at Bacchanal at a particularly busy time, so the seafood line was winding all the way to the back of the buffet, past most of the other sections. While waiting, we were often tempted with Mexican (Rusty said the tacos were delicious), carved meats, breads, deep-fried baskets, etc. Well, we made it to the seafood without too much damage to our hunger, so we loaded up on seafood. There were all types of clams, mussels, shrimp, fish, steamed and cold oysters and crabs, ceviches, shooters, etc! And yes, we got a little of everything :) The appearance was often deceiving, and the things I thought I would love were a little bland. Overall, the food was liking spice, but I do tend to like more spice than the general population. Still, there was a lot of amazing food to make up for the blander one.

The next stop was the "potatoes and meat" section. I call it that because it had many types of meat and all the typical sides they would go with. Rusty and I tried the lamb chop, ribs and chicken wings. The sides we had were mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, corn on the cob, and cornbread. I absolutely loved the chicken wings! They were spicy and herby (because of added cilantro). The cornbread was also really good. The rib and lamb chop were cooked perfectly, but were a little on the bland side again. The mashed potatoes were really really creamy :) However, the mac and cheese had a weird, grainy texture despite having a ton of cheese in it. I don't like buttery corn on a cob, but I think other people would have enjoyed it. Oh, we also got wagyu beef sliders. They were sooo moist and well-flavored! I wish I wasn't that stuffed because I wanted to eat several of them.

Finally, even though we could barely walk, we had to try the dessert. There must have been about 100 options just on the dessert display. There were soo many things that we wanted to try! We had to settle for a key lime tart, pecan tart, tiramisu, red velvet cheesecake, chocolate peanut butter cupcake, chocolate creme brulee, and vanilla and espresso ice cream. I LOVED the key lime tart. It was tart and just enough sweet :) Also loved both types of ice cream, especially the vanilla one. The vanilla flavor was so rich, but not overwhelming. All the other desserts were also good, but not as amazing. And it says a lot if I enjoyed them after all the savory food before that ;)

There were definitely hits and misses at the buffet, but the overall experience was very good. Most of the time I forgot it was a buffet. Vegas is going in the right direction with its food scene. Another development are the many elegant restaurants, many of them run by celebrity or award-winning chefs. But those will have to wait until my next visit to Vegas :)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wolfgang Puck Cafe

Wolfgang Puck. I always twist my tongue when I try to say his name, but I've wanted to eat in one of his restaurants for a long time. This opportunity finally came up to us when my family and I went to Downtown Disney during our annual Christmas vacation. To keep it on the cheap side, we had lunch at the cafe.

After several large meals around Christmas, I kept my lunch light with the Big Kahuna sushi. My sister (Pumpkin) had the same idea with a Greek Shrimp salad. My mother ordered the Chicken Aioli sandwich, and my dad got Chicken tenders.

My sushi was really great, with fresh seafood and a nice spicy sauce on top.

Pumpkin's salad looked delicious, too. The feta was moist and creamy, resembling a little Bulgarian-style feta. It was definitely not the dry crumbly thing they sell in grocery stores and call feta.

I also really liked the chicken aioli sandwich. The chicken was very tender and moist, and the aioli wasn't overpowering. The fact that the chips were sprinkled with Parmesan on top was a nice touch to transform them to something more special.

I'm not a big fan of chicken tenders, but the side Ceasar salad that my dad good looked really good. It even had bruschetta on top.

This was a satisfying lunch, but I didn't think there was anything special that could have been made by a famous chef. I sure hope the full restaurant is better than this.

Bad Dog Tacos

I love cooking, so I bring my own lunch pretty much every day. I do save a lot of money and eat nutritious meals, but I also miss out on eating at some of the good lunch spots around town. There are several places around Emory that are pretty good. And I didn't even notice that a new one had opened: Bad Dog Taqueria. As with pretty much every new place in Atlanta now, they use local ingredients and claim to prepare everything fresh. Hey, this fad is fine by me.

I went to Bad Dog with a couple of my labmates, and we started by sharing the chips and salsas. This is probably one of the best deals I've seen around. The chips are a mixture of corn tortilla chips, plantain chips, and yucca chips (I love yucca!). And to increase the variety even more, there are three different salsas: salsa fresca, plantain pineapple serrano, and fire-roasted tomato. Oh, and a generous portion of this goodness is only $4!

For lunch, I ordered the We've Got Seoul and Skinny Bitch tacos. By the way, I love restaurants with character like that. The Seoul taco had Korean BBQ pork and kimchee slaw. And the Skinny Bitch was made with grilled mahi mahi. When they arrives, I couldn't wait to dig in. The grilled flour tortillas (corn tortillas available upon request) and overflowing filling made them look very appetizing. Unfortunately, they both tasted ok, but I was expecting a bigger punch of flavor, especially from the Korean BBQ. Instead, I could feel the texture of the slaw and mayo, but not much else.

Still, I like the idea behind these tacos. The quality of the ingredients was obvious. I want to give Bad Dog tacos another chance. Maybe some of the other tacos will live up to the character/flavor that their names suggest.