Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's in a name? Cockentrice

For those of you who live under a rock, Krog Street Market opened at the end of 2014 and it has had a solid stream of ITP-ers since the get-go. With two team West Egg/Todd Ginsberg concepts (Yalla and Fred's Meat & Bread), a Hop City Craft Beer shop and beer bar, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Little Tart Bake Shop, OTP transplant Grand Champion Barbecue, and successful full-service joints the Luminary and Craft Izakaya, there's plenty of reason to stop in (and the locals have been). It's hard to go and not run into someone you know or that guy from that one place. It's also difficult to go in and get something not delicious. Most of the offerings are solid, but they come at a price - perhaps it's the high quality, labor intensive products or it's possibly the owners passing along the high rent to the customer. It's likely a combination of the two.

Also setting up shop at Krog is the Spotted Trotter - the ever popular butcher and charcuterie masters of Kirkwood. Their retail location off of Hosea Williams - a small space in a strip center with very little street-visibility - always left me wondering how they brought in customers outside of the neighborhood. But still, Atlantans continued to see Spotted Trotter products all over town incorporated into some of our favorite restaurants' dishes.

The folks at Spotted Trotter have picked up where other restaurants around town left off - using all of their own product in their own restaurant - Cockentrice. And while that sounds dirty (I suppose it is), a cockentrice is essentially a turducken with pig instead of the duck. The restaurant is attached to the back side of their butcher stand at Krog Street Market and will surely be one of the most popular spots in the market (or in Atlanta for that matter).

I haven't written on this blog in nearly a year. Cockentrice has me excited and inspired. Just go. We went on the second night of opening and the meal was one of the better ones I've had since my last post some 8 months ago - it will only get better. The space is exactly what you'd expect, modern with that sort of factory/rustic feel. There is even an elevated meat hanger overhead - in case you can't remember the theme of a restaurant by the name of Cockentrice.

The menu, as I'm sure you've figured by now, is very meat-centric. Two sections of charcuterie - one more typical, with cured meats and cheeses and one of prepared/cooked dishes cover half of the menu. The other half is more meat (mains) and four vegetable options. Side note: I miss the days of tried-and-true menu sections. You know, 'appetizers,' 'mains,' 'sides?' Like many new restaurants in town, the Cockentrice employs ambiguous,  unfamiliar headings like 'TO COMMENCE,' 'TO IMMERSE," and my personal least favorite: 'SEASONAL VERDURE & SUPPLEMENTS.' Call me old-fashioned, but why over-complicate an already complex dinner menu? Taking artistic liberties like these make ordering a chore.

Let's get into it:

Suckling pig grattons came skewered and perched atop a sunchoke puree. The baby pig hit that sluttily-satisfying porky note with a great mix of crunchy-cracklin' and melt-away belly. The accompanying mustard provided a welcome, not-so-harsh acidic touch.
Second Stanza
Another prepared charcuterie was the Second Stanza Spreadable Salami. These were setup similarly to a bilini with the spreadable salami fried off into crunchy disk. While the the textural contrast was a nice touch, I would have preferred the salami be left in spreadable form. Good looking plate of food.

Both Moses Hill and Carolina Creamery cheeses were excellent, though I wish the cheese and charcuterie sections of the menu were combined - I ended up just combining the cheeses with some culatello.
Study in Vegetables
While all of the vegetable options sounded interesting and delicious, "Our Study in Vegetables" fell flat. It was primarily some mushrooms, greens and brussels with no discernible flavor or special prep. That will not keeping me from trying some other veg options on my return.

A simple bibb salad was more successful with delicious oxtail filled croutons so as to not miss out on any more protein. The cocktails, were also weak and landed too far on the sweet side of the scale - this is probably something that has already been corrected after a couple of nights of service. Aside from those two misfires, the food was exceptional.

Monkfish with Sunchoke Puree, Celriac disk and potato puree
The mains were all exceptional. Monkfish, cooked in caul-fat, crushed every rendition of the ugly sea-devil I've had in town. In addition to the caul, it was also wrapped in a green that provided some good texture and contrasting bitterness to the sweet, meaty fish.
Lamb Cobbler
A soul-warming lamb cobbler (I'd call it a lamb pot pie) came out, topped with buttery puff-pastry. This was cold-weather food at its best - leaving me feeling like I was wearing a lamb snuggie before braving the cold, wet elements.

The most standout dish, a beef-cheek bread pudding with pig ear salad, took the meal to the upper end of savory decadence without pushing it over the edge. Imagine a meaty take on french toast and bacon and you have this dish. The pig ear salad had a necessary touch of acid to cut through all of that salt and fat. This is the type of dish that will leave you shaking your head and thinking, "I'm a bad, bad man."
Dessert was mildly annoying - you're forced to order a "trio" of items, but with no choice. There are only three items. Our selection included a chocolate tart, gingerbread cake topped with maple-bourbon ice cream. So where was the third portion of our "trio"? Apparently, it was that scoop of ice creamthat accompanies the ginger cake. I already disliked having to order three of the only three desserts, but you can't help but feel frustrated when only two items came out.

As we finished up the meal, I couldn't help but raise the question: Would my value-oriented parents, or Atlanta diners of their generation, like this place? While it's becoming more common for restaurants of this caliber to serve everything a la carte (aka mains served without a side accompaniment) I generally feel an entree should comprise more than a single protein. Certainly, for folks like my parents, paying upwards of $20 and $30 for a single piece of fish and some sauce would not go over well...But when it comes to the dishes I tried from the Cockentrice's "TO IMMERSE" (eye-roll) section — the monkfish and the lamb cobbler both came solo — I didn't mind, because the food was excellently sourced and prepared.

Bottom line — the Cockentrice is not an inexpensive restaurant, but I believe you're getting what you pay for.

Service was excellent, if not a little slow, and they even delivered some cookies with the check. Maybe that was the third dessert? Cockentrice is shaping up to be one of Atlanta's best restaurants and it will only get better.

The Cockentrice on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Raku - Westside

Last night, I returned to Raku for what will be my third and final time for the foreseeable future. While Raku doesn't have close to the best Ramen in Atlanta, I loved having the option for a quick, late night bite. We just don't have enough options like this ITP and it was a welcome addition to serviceable "ethnic" dining not on Buford Highway. It is also extremely economical.

In the past, when I've come around 8PM, Raku has been empty. And maybe that's why I was served with a quickness on those evenings. Yesterday, both the parking lot and dining room were slammed. I'm going to keep this short - I sat for fifteen minutes without ever being acknowledged by the staff. No water. No eye-contact. No menu. In fact, I probably stood at the entryway, waiting to be seated for three minutes until I took it upon myself to sit down.

I'm an extremely tolerant diner. I've put up with hair in my food and the lousiest of service. I probably would have sat there waiting to be served or I would have gently spoken up when one of the two servers looked my way. But sitting there, at the high-bar, I had a vantage point directly into their open kitchen. And since I don't like to spend my evenings over a toilet, frontwards or backwards, I chose to do something I can't remember doing in at least ten years - I walked.

You're a fool if you think unsanitary practices don't occur in restaurant kitchens. It's the nature of the beast. In fact, the whole wearing gloves while handling food is a silly legislation (Taka's epic tweet on the matter) and rarely used in finer restaurants that can get away with it. But the amount of cross-contamination that occurred in the 15 minutes I watched that kitchen was unfathomable and stomach wrenching.

From the moment I got there until the moment I left, there was an open bag of raw, red meat siting out on the cutting board. This same cutting board was used to slice raw salmon on. That cutting board was also used to plate food going out to the dining room. You may be thinking, "Big deal, the bottoms of the plates were touching the board so as not to contaminate the top. And all the meat on the board was going to get cooked anyways, killing the bacteria." And you might be right. But then consider that the cook handling every single order that went out - that sliced the fish, that plated dishes, that handled every cooking utensil, every device in that kitchen and ever finished order, never once washed his hands. Raw meat, both beef and fish, was handled constantly with the same unwashed hands that took care of dirty dishes, contaminated surfaces and new plates to the dining room. If someone didn't get sick last night at Raku, the bacterial gods have forsaken us.

Needing to recover from the spell of disarray Raku put me under, I went with a surefire, nearby alternative - Antico. I can put up with the unfriendly service and intolerable customers there for that pizza time and time again.

Raku Tonkatsu & Ramen on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Response to Caren West's Facebook Post

This post on Facebook was recently brought to my attention. I hope you all will read all the comments and now read my response. If I could, I would respond on Facebook, but unfortunately, Facebook won't allow it.

Hi Caren and others. I am the "douchebag" and "imbecile" who wrote the blog post you've referenced. I'll say flat out, if I offended you, I'm sorry. While I did write a generalization (which can be and has been dangerous territory) it clearly wasn't directed at Caren, her company, or others like it. I have witnessed first hand (and from afar) the work of Caren West PR. You are one of the best in the business. I can see why you would take offense. But, the blog post wasn't directed at you or others like you.

I would also point out that I called myself out in the exact bit you quote. It is possibly/potentially erroneous and hasty. It should also be noted that in the referenced blog post, I was throwing tons of praise at Brave Public Relations as a contrast to the picture I painted. Because like Caren's company, they have their shit together, break the mold and left me impressed. I understand that by not tagging me or linking to the post, you don't want to help my numbers - and if you've paid any attention to my blog, numbers aren't exactly my drive (it's pretty inactive and not run in the most savvy of ways). But also by not linking, you've taken things slightly out of context as the people here do not see my point in the bit you did quote. It was to paint a humorous, silly contrast to the great companies (like your own) that I've encountered. Anyone who believes that I think that an entire industry's MO is to get impregnated and retire takes themselves way too seriously. The notion is silly.

So again, I do want to apologize for those that I did offend. Clearly, they aren't the type of people I was describing and joking about. I also encourage you to read the blog - not because it's awesome or accurate, but because maybe you'll get an idea of the snark and humor I put into posts. If I just wrote that the food was "tasty" and everyone was great, it'd be a boring ass blog. So I call out some witnessed negatives too - for both accuracy and entertainment's sake.

Caren you're awesome and so is your team. Oh, and I've never been rejected by a PR girl because I've never tried anything with one. I'm sure if I did, I would get rejected - you should see my mug (that's some light humor for you all).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Taste of Atlanta - My First Freebie Fest

Blogger outreach is a funny thing. Every so often, I get an email from a PR firm announcing a new restaurant or product hitting the market and inviting me to come enjoy a taste, sneak peak or sample. I have always shied away from these events as I try to maintain my anonymity and credibility through this blog. That was until yesterday. Brave Public Relations contacted me about receiving a media pass to Taste of Atlanta. After confirming that I could remain anonymous, I signed up for the event.

Before I get started with the festival, I want to plug Brave Public Relations. I have attended enough events and witnessed enough "PR Girls." If you don't know the type, these are pretty, made-up recent college grads that usually run booths at fairs around the city, waiting to get impregnated by some Buckhead execs and take early retirement as a house-wife. OK, that is an enormous and possibly erroneous generalization, but I dare you to witness these types at the next festival you attend and not have a similar thought. The reason I mention this stereotype - the girls from Brave Public Relations, unlike most PR girls I've encountered, were on their shit. There was no line at the media tent and they were quick to get me in - despite not using my name. So, props to them.
Much like Restaurant Weeks, I shy away from food festivals. Usually, the quality of food is lesser than what's served in restaurants and the crowds inspire me to hate humanity. Also, the experience usually doesn't warrant the expense. So when I was offered free admission and food tickets, I jumped on it. Here's a brief synopsis of  Taste - restaurants, cooks and food products set up booths all up and down Technology Square. There are cooking demos off to the side. 
Attendees use tickets to "purchase" food from the different businesses.Overall, I thought crowd management was terrific with very little wait time, if any at all. One complaint - food ticket sales. Taste sells tickets in multiples of 10 - I only wanted 2 extra tickets so I could try one other thing, but that wasn't a possibility.
Jim 'n Nick's Enormous BBQ Competition Sized Space
My strategy going into the festival was to try places that either I hadn't been, made an ambitious offering, or give a place I didn't like another chance. So below were the offerings and my thoughts:
The Spence offered arancini with some morcilla. The sausage wasn't readily apparent in the dish and the accompanying salad, while visually dressed, tasted of nothing. It was nice that they were freshly frying the arancini at the booth, but the dish was nothing special.
Next stop was 1Kept - a spot I had heard countless good things about from a trusted source. This might have been the best dish I had during the day - pork tenderloin, with grits, what I thought were cranberries (said cherry/orange compote on their display). The tenderloin was really fatty, but really delicious and everything melded as it should. Fat, acid, sweet, and tang. Could have benefited from some crunchy texture element. 
Since I only had one ticket left at the end, I came back by 1Kept and grabbed these deviled quail eggs. They were simple but good.
Probably my favorite restaurant in Atlanta (and one I visit with unfathomable frequency), no. 246, had what sounded delicious on paper - baked pasta with ricotta and meat gravy. And I'll admit, it was tasty - just a textural misery AKA overcooked pasta. It was just mush. But the accompanying salty bread and fresh ricotta was fantastic. This dish was clearly not representative of what their kitchen is able to achieve - which is a shame.
Another lackluster bite was served by Article 14, a duck confit slider. I'm going to say this - if you serve duck confit, there needs to be a crispy element, a fatty tender element and tons of flavor. This half-dollar sized sandwich had none of the above. It did have a nice, sweet jam/compote.

I managed to grab all of this, some free samples and witness a cooking demo in a little over an hour. I wanted so badly to have some High Road Craft ice cream (cause it's amazing) after all these savory bites, but the 10 ticket minimum purchase thing got in the way.  So clearly, Taste is an enjoyable, well-run event. What it comes down to is how much you're willing to spend on food that won't be as good as dining in at a notable restaurant?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gunshow - A New Concept that Doesn't Feel So New

I stopped into Gunshow over the weekend. For those that don't know, Gunshow is Kevin Gillespie's latest fine dining meets dim sum concept in Glenwood Park. The environment is extremely loud, cavernous and feels exactly like a pop-up, not a full-fledged restaurant. The food was good, service friendly and helpful, but in short, the only part of the equation that felt fine dining was the price.

Getting a reservation at Gunshow seemed difficult. They only had 9:30 slots open on Friday and Saturday. However, we were able to walk in at 8 PM and get a table for two with no problem.

Small plates - I love the concept. Getting to try many items that can show a kitchen's range and ability is always ideal. I'm not going to tell you how Gunshow operates (you can read that on every review of the place so far), but if you want to try the whole menu somewhere, Gunshow is a great place (so long as you brought your billfold). We ate a majority of the menu and really, that's not too difficult - the servings are small.

The reason for the dim sum/cart concept, as explained by Gillespie, is to keep things completely fresh from the kitchen. Nothing is supposedly precooked like many restaurants must do - parboiled rice for risotto was the example given in an early interview. I thought to myself, "OK that makes some sense." And I thought that until the first dish, Cuban chicken with black beans and rice, was delivered to our table - cold.

Now, that Cuban chicken was mighty tasty. Well cooked, well seasoned and nice cumin flavored rice. However, there were no twists. It was a very straight-forward rendition of Cuban food. And the serving was a single chicken thigh over just enough rice and beans to provide a pedestal for a chicken thigh. Price - $14. This is about a $5 serving at any Cuban restaurant in the city and there just wasn't anything special about the dish that warranted the price. Even if you consider the fact that everything at Gunshow is local, you just can't hit that price point. And the chicken was cold.

Then came what Gunshow calls "Assorted Savory, Spicy, Crispy and Crunchy Snacks. This was delivered in two forms. 1. Some cubed melon with duck pastrami (smart combo) and 2. a Hopping John type of fritter. The Hopping John fritter was completely comforting and delicious. It was approximately the size of a golf ball. Price - $5. That's flat out criminal anyway you look at it. If there were three balls on the plate, maybe they should be able to charge $5. OK, I'll stop harping on the price now.

A "Closed on Sunday" chicken sandwich was a take on the Chick-fil-a sandwich. Again, delicious with a pillowy soft sweet roll bun (they called it a biscuit?), but extremely simple and straightforward.

Smoked Lamb Leg with Pea Ragout

There were three savory dishes that standout in my mind as excellent. A smoked lamb leg with field peas. The lamb was exceptionally tender, flavorful and the field pea ragout cut through the unctuous lamb with acidic precision.
Country Breakfast
The country breakfast consisted of grits with chicken and bacon gravy, some pickled tomatoes and a poached egg on top. This combination is delicious but the yolk of the egg was gelatinized and overcooked, not runny. Again, not exactly fine dining execution.

Lastly, a wild mushroom tart was obnoxiously delicious. The entire top portion, which included figs and cheese, had a sweet and sour finishes that cut through the fatty cheese and butter crust much like the lamb dish.

If you didn't notice by now, vegetables are extremely underrepresented at Gunshow. The color green is often used as a garnish, not an accompaniment. Plan on a meat-centric meal.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Dessert we had a peanut butter and chocolate dish that was simple and kind of a throwaway. The sticky toffee pudding, however was phenomenal. They used fig instead of dates to cut the fat again (seeing a theme yet?) and it was finished with some bacon and Morreli's Salted Caramel ice cream. I know that bacon and salted caramel are buzzwords and easy sells, but the dish would have probably been better with plain, ol' vanilla.

Did I like the food at Gunshow? Absolutely. Did I enjoy the experience? Yup. Am I being hyper critical? Yessir. But the bottom line is both the pricing and execution need serious tweaking. A $50 meal should not only be delicious and close to perfect, it should also be moderately filling. I applaud Gillespie's concept - local food prepared as freshly as possible and sold to you by cooks, not servers. I also love trying new items and the option of an ever-changing menu. Ultimately, Gunshow comes off as a pop-up, not a destination fine-dining restaurant.  I know the ingredients are expensive and the preparation is time consuming, but the overall experience at Gunshow doesn't equal the cost.

Gunshow on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Drafting Table - The Pastrami Sandwich that Crushes

Looking for something simple, inexpensive and close to home, we chose to try out The Drafting Table last night. It was not my first visit to the space however - roughly a year ago this space was Hill Street Tavern. Hill Street was certainly "tavern" fare and the food was actually pretty good - they were known for this ridiculously luscious flinstonian pork chop that would put you to sleep after three bites and some decent wings. I'm pretty sure much of the ownership and staff is the same at Drafting Table and this isn't a bad thing.

Prior to going last night I looked on their website and the overall feel was an inexpensive farm-to-table (yes, that warn-out phrase) concept. They had typical bar food for apps, a few sandwiches, an extremely popular 50/50 (half bacon/half chuck) burger, and then some more sophisticated mains. The great thing about the mains was that they topped out at $20 with most hovering around $15. That was enough to get me in the door as I wasn't really in the mood for bar food or breaking the bank.

Upon arriving I glanced over the menu - all bar food. Apparently last night they implemented a menu overhaul which now primarily consists of sandwiches, burgers and pizza. I know, I'd shudder at those options too and sat miffed for the first 10 minutes. My attitude did a complete 180 when the food arrived.
The 50/50
Really not in the mood for a burger or red meat, I ordered a Pastrami sandwich. What's that you say? Pastrami is red meat? Whoops. Kins went for the touted 50/50 burger and she wasn't sorry either. While not the biggest burger in the town, the thing was flipping delicious. I kind of think 50% bacon of anything is a bit much, but somehow the flavor of bacon was more subtle than I would have expected and resulted in one of the better burgers around town. The accompanying fries were excellent - hand cut and on the thick side with a very crispy exterior which broke to the creamy potato innards.
The burger was enough to impress me, but the Pastrami Sandwich (it deserves to be capitalized) was outrageously good. I know this is a strong statement, but I think it's the best Pastrami (and brisket for that matter) in Atlanta by a long shot - better than General Muir or even the great BBQ options (I think Community Q has the best brisket) around town. The pastrami is smoked/cooked for 12 hours and extremely tender (which is where General Muir falls short) and beautifully seasoned with some unctuous pepper punch in each bite. White cheddar is subbed for the more traditional swiss, and a fresh poppy seed bun replaces the ever-so-common rye -  both welcome and improved departures from tradition. Oh, and there's some grilled onions and mustard in the mix too. The sandwich came with pasta salad with a $3 option to add fries. Drafting Table, do yourself a favor - take the pasta off altogether and serve fries or any option of side with your sandwiches.

A few complaints. The Drafting Table is extremely convenient for us to get to. It takes all of five minutes. But the truth is, it's not in the best location and certainly not one people frequent to dine out. We sat outside and within five minutes there was an enormous altercation between a vagrant and a customer that could have very easily ended in a fist fight. That was not inviting. The location also killed off the restaurants original concept and intentions. According the waiter, the menu change was a result of the fact that nobody in that area is interested in farm-to-table (aka higher price point) food. I actually think that the type of customers that would be interested in that type of menu probably have no idea about The Drafting Table altogether. Hell, I thought it was mainly bar grub before even looking at the menu online. Lastly, similar to Hill Street Tavern, this place has a very vague feel - in terms of customer base and atmosphere.

Overall, the food and service at The Drafting Table was excellent. I'd certainly brave the downsides to grab another Pastrami Sandwich.

The Drafting Table on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Villains Wicked Heros - Out the Gate

Stopped in to newly opened midtown sandwich spot Villains Wicked Heros yesterday. The project is headed up by some of the folks behind Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Flip, and HD1. Housed in the former location of Little Azio, the shop definitely has a similar feel to Grindhouse with the villain theme playing out in the atmosphere (not to worry, the folks are nice but looks like a humorous interpretations of bad guys headquarters) and menu items' names - Clubber Lang (Italian beef), Montogomery Burns (ribeye steak), and Rasputin (fried chicken livers) are a few of the options. I get the impression the shop is trying to take over where Superpan left off but with a wider range/influence of sandwich options.
Your waiting number - a much welcomed change from the floppy top heavy signs places normal give
The sandwich choices sound great, and for the most part original with the menu leaning a little bit to the unhealthy side. It's heavy on pork, beef and fried items. It's nice that they go the extra mile in side options with their own veggie chicharones (tastes like heavily seasoned veggie chips), two soup options and a handful of vegetable sides.
The Odd Job
We settled in with the Odd Job (Korean fried chicken) and Kingpig of Crime (porchetta). The Odd Job was nice overall with some nice flavor and textures including a delicious pear slaw. Touted as double fried and extra crispy, the breading was soggy and didn't adhere to the chicken which seems to be a problem that plagues Atlanta.
Soggy breading separation
The Kingpig of Crime was also a tasty number but light on the pork and heavy on the arugula. The menu also mentioned that it featured crispy skin but I found none. The thing I couldn't help but thinking while eating was - "I can get a much much better porchetta over at No. 246 for the same amount (maybe even less?) of money and it comes with fries."
The Kingpig of Crime
Also it appears from our two orders that all the sandwiches come on a baguette/hero roll. Some different options there might add to the appeal.
One of the healthier options - a Kale salad topped with some uncooked ramen noodles
Villains is going to establish itself as a good lunch option for the Midtown crowd. Slightly pricey sandwiches but inexpensive sides help make up for the expense. Nothing struck me is outstanding, but everything tasted relatively good with easy to correct faults and a fairly wide variety of options. Keep in mind, this is their first week open so they will work out some kinks along the way.

Villains on Urbanspoon