Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When You Wish Upon a Star... Provisions

The parent company to the almighty Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, provides some other tasty establishments all under the same roof. Provisions To Go is a longtime favorite of mine for primarily one item - The Chicken Sausage Biscuit. This breakfast sandwich is superior to all and will get its own review soon enough. PTG is primarily a lunch stand/bakery/preprepared meal stand and I have heard wide praise various items including their fried chicken, various cookies, and a bevy of sandwiches.

A few weeks ago, I set out to donate some food to the Atlanta Food Bank and while on that side of town, decided to try one of these highly regarded sammies. I opted for their rendition of a roast beef sandwich served with lettuce, a horseradish mayo, and a black pepper role. The sandwich took entirely too long to be prepared and I wasn't even there during peak lunch hours. As they finally finished making my sandwich I heard the lady wrapping my sandwich yell back to the assembly line, "Good job guys, you crushed this one," right before she called my name. Although completely unreassuring, I didn't think much of it and took it home. When I unwrapped my lunch, this is what I found:

Looks like a Wendy's buger, doesn't it?

Still, I really enjoyed the combination of simple ingredients and top quality, rare meat. It the meat was as tender and juicy as they come. While the sandwich was good, I really don't think it warranted the $10 price tag, but again, with the prestige of Star Provisions name, the prices will remain high. I just think that a simple sandwich should have a simple price. Oh, and chips are extra. Another thing that really got me was that the online menu mentioned this sandwich had sweet and sour onions. The in-store menu didn't, but I sure was craving them by the time I got there. Next time I wish upon a Star Provisions, I'll stick with the chicken sausage biscuit (only available on Saturday mornings).

Star Provisions on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 25, 2009

Seriously? Mellow Mushroom

Has anyone else seen this sign near the intersection of Juniper and North Avenue?
Are they serious? When faced with the choice between Rosa's and Mellow, does anyone actually choose the chewy/tough spring-water dough, caked on cheese, or bland sauce of Mellow? By the way I totally dig their calzones...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One (Singular Sensation) Midtown Kitchen

The first time I ventured to One I was utterly impressed by not only the decor, but also a more important concern, the food. Everyone in my party ordered fish and I distinctly remember being enthusiastic about how great the worchestire marinated tuna-steak was.

Fast forward to more than a year later and my palate and experience repertoire has grown considerably. I've tried many more things than my sheltered past permitted, have since managed to get around the Atlanta restaurant scene at a hasty rate, and developed a taste for higher quality and well-prepared food. Suffice it to say, while good, One Midtown Kitchen didn't live up to my romanticized memory.

The space is as memorable today as it was on my previous visit. Located on the very low-traffic, dead end Dutch Valley Road, you won't miss One so long as it's dark out - the exterior of the restaurant is an illuminated bright purple box. The unique design elements continue through to the interior of the restaurant with lofted ceilings, dangling, icicle-like lights, individual candles for bar seats, and other accoutrements that my limited interior design vocabulary keeps me from describing.

Once through the large and heavy metallic door you will most certainly be greeted by Bob, the maître d’. Bob is a complete joy and as personable as they come. In addition to his charm, Bob is a complete doppelgänger for Joel Godard of the Conan O'Brien Show. Aside from the looks, the voice is spot on too.

The food at One was admittedly tasty, but somewhat uninspired. We started with an order of calamari and Yellowtail Tataki. The calamari is different here; it's sliced lengthwise rather than in tubes and is the most tender cut of squid I've ever had. Unfortunately the batter really lacked crunch due to the fact that it was smothered in a sweet and spicy (and frankly generic) sauce.

The Yellowtail Tataki was pretty good and I really enjoyed the spiced peanuts on the plate. It was arranged on a bed of mango, micro-greens, and cilantro (thankfully not much). It had a really nice citrus drizzle that complimented the natural flavor of the fish.

We went on a Friday night and unbeknownst to me, that's rib night. I love my BBQ but I had strong doubts as to One's ability to make some proper 'que.
1. There was no way they were using a smoker. It's pretty easy to make tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs by baking and then finishing on the grill. However, I've come to crave the extra flavor of smoke which only so many places can do right.
2. I keep up with barbeque pretty well, especially ITP. If they've had this rib night going for so long, how come I'd never heard about it?

With that in mind, the ribs were pretty good. They were fall-off-the-bone tender, and the sauce had a slightly nice kick to it. Unfortunately the only source of flavor was the sauce. I detected no flavorful dry rub or seasoning, and if they did throw it on the grill, it didn't leave much char or smokey flavor. They were served with spiced fries (again not too much flavor here) and a watermelon salad (although they called it coleslaw).

The only dish that I remembered seeing last time I was there was the Steak Frites. On my previous visit, the Steak Frites was flying from the kitchen throughout the entire course of our meal and I figured it was a pretty safe bet when placing my order this time. The steak was very tender and pretty flavorful but unfortunately overcooked. I ordered it medium rare but this is what came out.

The fries were just OK. There was too much focus on parmesan and not enough on herbs as promised by the menu. The sauce for the steak was phenomenal. I would have happily swam laps in the stuff and it completely masked my overcooked steak.

For dessert my brother and mom settled on the profiteroles. They do a table side hot fudge service which was much appreciated as it kept the melting to a minimum. I thought the dessert was pretty good but it's hard to screw up pastry, ice cream, and hot fudge.

Collectively, One was a pretty enjoyable meal, just not nearly as exceptional as I had remembered. It's hard to decide whether I should attribute this to my refined tastes, or just the actual meal at hand. Either way, I'd gladly return because in addition to good food, the atmosphere is singular and gratifying.

One Midtown Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Vortex - Double Coronary Bypass

I like burgers. A whole lot. They're probably my favorite food and I'm fortunate to live in Atlanta - the home to many variations of the classic meatwich. Some are pretty meager while others are massive and a daunting task to finish. I can usually make short work of most of the larger burgers in the city including Ann's Bacon Double Cheeseburger (definitely shrunk the last time I had it), and well...what's the point of trying to think of a burger bigger than that.

Originally, the Vortex had the Coronary Bypass. It was essentially a substantial half pound bacon cheeseburger topped with a fried egg. It never even made a blip on my radar. It just didn't seem that impressive or appetizing. But one day (and this was already a while ago) while briefly skimming the menu, I saw it: The Double Coronary Bypass.
From Vortex's menu:
Topped with two fried eggs, four slices of American cheese, and 5 slices of bacon, with two grilled cheese sandwiches replacing the buns.

It sounded like a wonderfully cardiac-arrest inducing, but filling burger and for this reason I never even tried it and usually opted for the Cowboy or Bacon Cheeseburger. However, Xerxes convinced me that I was missing out and urged that I give it a try. Much like Ann's Snack Bar's much lauded burgers, I killed that burger.

"Yo, straight up TFA killed that shit tonight for real!"

"Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiii Missy!"

I hate runny eggs, and after an episode at Flip Burger Boutique, I asked the waitress to have my egg well done. Unfortunately, I think she mistook me and had my burger cooked well done. It was a dry mess. Honestly the temperature of the sandwich ruined it for me but the promise of ingredients this good and a medium-rare patty will keep me coming back. The grilled cheese buns are the icing on this already, decadent cake. I thought it would be too much cheese, but I think the eggs divided it up nicely. Frankly, the eggs didn't bring much to the flavor party and only assisted in cheese division and making the burger even larger. The burger is damned hard to pick up and was a chore the whole way through (I didn't complain too much).

Aside from the doneness problem, my tater tots were terrible and stale. This is very baffling problem because out of the many, many times I've been to the Vortex, the tots are always so hot and fresh. But not this go-round. I will go back and give them another chance on the Double Coronary but Vortex does have some consistency issues with cooking burgers medium rare.

I was very pleanantly surprised with Kins' order. She got the fish and chips and I would most certainly rate them one of the best in the city. Aside from not being fishy at all, you get a heaping portion of four pieces for about eight bucks.

I (and my heart) will give Vtex another shot on the Double Coronary. The grilled cheese buns are just too good to ignore. If it's no good next time I'll walk out backwards saying,

"Its all kizza

Its always like

Na zound

Wa zee

Wa zoom zoom zee"

Vortex Bar & Grill (Midtown) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taking it to my stomach - Bacchanalia

After years upon years of wanting to experience Atlanta’s best restaurant, I finally sucked it up and blew both the bank and my foodie load at Bacchanalia on Saturday night. Even making the reservation, I couldn’t help from feeling like a baller and was having a hard time deciding whether or not I should take the imaginary Lambo or Rolls there. Honestly, I can’t remember any other dining experiences where I was impressed to this extent before even entering the building. Beyond expecting a great meal, as I do at many other fine dining establishments, I knew this one would astound and leave me dumbfounded. And really, it did just that.

The problem with my pre-dining cognition was that it created quite a bias. Much like the Milgram experiment, when food authorities tell us something is the best, we often tend to believe or at least, go along with their opinions. So in this review, I’ll try to be as objective as possible and speak about my opinions outside of my prior groupthink mentality.
A very well hidden entrance

Props right off the bat: No valet parking! I know the area that is home to Bacchanalia pretty well and I knew that parking wouldn’t be an issue, but I despise valet parking and was so enthused that I could park my own car right next to the restaurant. Once parked, finding Bacchanalia proved to be a little confusing. Even though I’m familiar with the building that it’s housed in, the main entrance for Bacchanalia is actually towards the back of Star Provisions (the owner’s ritzy storefront and lunch/breakfast stand) much like Lazlo Hollyfeld’s closet in the Val Kilmer classic, Real Genius.
"Did you wanna borrow my pajamas?"

BTW-It may be hard to tell but Lazlo was played by Jon Gries of Uncle Rico/Napoleon Dynamite Fame

I made a reservation the previous night and the only times that were available then were 6:15 and 9:30. I took 6:15. I was still a little surprised that when we showed up, it was only filled half to capacity. The dining room was another surprise. It was very pretty inside, but not quite as… swanky as I had imagined it. Also much, much smaller than expected. Maybe 20 tables total? The crowd was actually an equal mix of younger and older couples and a few small groups. Contrary to what I thought would happen, the crowd actually got older as the night went on (I’m guessing they made reservations further in advance). One family brought their crying infant. Inappropriate. The atmosphere was a little stuffy, but tolerably so and got progressively better as the restaurant became more crowded and louder. One last comment on my first impressions: Both Kins and I were wearing dark clothes and we were both somewhat shocked that the servers left us with our white cloth napkins. We are not snooty, but when you go to the fanciest restaurant in town, you kind of expect these things.

The service was excellent - informative when you wanted it to be and not pompous or stuck up like some other nicer places. When ordering a soup, the bus boys will swiftly load a spoon in your utensil arsenal without causing an awkward pause in table conversation. I only have two minor qualms; our server was a little skittish, but not uncomfortably so, and our main course took a considerably long time to come out compared to our other dishes and other tables.

Now for the food. The menu is a four-course prix fixe (with expected periodic gifts from the chef) for seventy five dollars. For the most part, I adored, cherished, and loved the food here. I savored each and every bite and was already sad knowing that my next meal would not stack up in the slightest to my current one (And it didn’t. Don’t ever buy Archer Farms brand Belgian Waffle Mix). I’m going to review both Kins’ and my food since I tried a little bit of everything and it will give you, the reader, a more comprehensive idea of what the dishes are like.

Complimentary sourdough bread is brought to the table with delectable butter. This isn’t normal table bread - it’s perfectly soft and crusty and well, just great. We both hesitantly (as to not get too full) went through three slices over the course of the meal even though I was just using my last slice to soak up various sauces.

First gift:
We immediately received a gift from the chef. Cheese balls, for lack of a better term, wrapped in pasty. Pastry and melted cheese, straight from the oven. Can’t go wrong with that.

First course:
I chose an onion risotto and the dish was outrageously well done. The onion was a flavoring agent, much like an herb, and used in a manner that was subtle rather than overpowering as onion can often be. The texture of the risotto was perfect and I loved the mix of different types of onions in the dish. The risotto was topped with some thickly sliced, fancified mushrooms that were lemon flavored - unreal and original preparation of shrooms (and I don't even like mushrooms). This was probably the most impressive dish I had the entire night and in terms of flavor, was unlike anything I’d ever had.

Kins ordered the crab fritter. Hands down the best crab dish I’ve ever had. I’m not too crazy about crab or other shellfish, but I could eat this happily everyday. It comes in ball form and features some sliced avocado and fruit (I don’t remember what kind) in a Thai pepper sauce. The sauce is amazing and is the most pleasant use of heat I’ve ever experienced. It gently hits you right in the back of each bite – a little follow up of spiciness. So brilliantly done!

Bacchanalia had us completely hooked from this point on and we longingly awaited each subsequent course.

Next gift:
A sipping portion of celery or possibly fennel soup topped with apple and some infused oil. I don’t even like celery, but this was simple and tasty. I’m pretty sure apples were a featured local ingredient of the night as they were featured in a number of things on the menu and in all of the remaining gifts.

Main course:
I ordered what was essentially a pork medley. I would have honestly gone with the red snapper or the lamb, but the sides were real turn-offs for me. My dish featured pork tenderloin, house-made sausage, and braised pork belly. This dish was pretty disappointing (for the standards I had going into the meal and coming off the appetizer high). The pork tenderloin was cold and overly salted. The sausage was interesting in that it was very loosely packed. It just fell apart upon first chew, but was under-seasoned in my opinion. The pork belly was awesome, but how do you screw up pork belly. The best part of this dish was the Vidalia onion purée/young vegetable/house-cured bacon bed that the pork was resting on. I savored as much of the remaining broth as I could by sopping it up with my last slice of bread. I’ve had a dish very similar to this at 4th and Swift (3 Little Pigs) and the pork was arguably prepared better than Bacchanalia’s.

Kins went for the Lobster. Admittedly, I don’t have too much experience with Lobster and the dish did nothing for me and judging by her reactions, I think she thought it was only O.K. I didn’t even touch the cucumber and fennel salad that accompanied it.

Cheese & Contrast:
I opted for the gouda which was served with a crunchy green bean salad speckled with bacon and hazelnuts. This course was a great success with because of both the flavor pairings and quality of ingredients.

Kins opted for the Brie. Enticing me by telling me it smelled, well... bad(she’s quite the saleswoman), Kins offered me a taste. I didn't think it was as bad as her initial reaction let on, but I’d be the first to tell you – it was some stanky cheese! This is not the sweet, buttery brie I’m used to from Publix.

Third gift:
Mini apple smoothies served in mini highball shot glasses with rims dipped in sugar and salt. Very tasty, especially the sugar and salt rims but the texture was a little odd in that it was not as creamy as I anticipated. It was served with a lime leaf-shaped shortbread that was the perfect compliment. Not wanting to let any of it go to waste, we both made loud straw slurping noises when we hit the bottom of the glass. A touch of class we are!

Churros with what I now have come to find out was Mexican sipping chocolate. Whoops! I thought it was Mexican dipping chocolate and treated it as such. These were kind of under-whelming - they were just too crispy and not doughy enough. I attribute this to their thin size, but I can get better churros at La Churreria on Buford Highway. But not better sipping/dipping chocolate. This was kind of a throwaway effort.

Kins went for the apple buckle and it was beautifully plated. It had a butterfly like sliver of apple shooting out of the top and the plate featured perfectly circular dribbles of sauce. The flavor was uniquely delicious and the crust was crumbly perfection.

Final gift:
Mini cookies from the pastry chef. The first was a double/chocolate truffle and was just OK. It was rolled in sugar and tasted like your run of the mill truffle. Albeit a very rich one. The second was an apple cookie topped with an apple gel, for lack of a better term. Also very tasty. But the real joy in this round of gifts was the lemon brownie. Mind-numbingly wonderful blend of flavor and texture. They should most certainly make this a larger portion and make it a permanent fixture on the dessert menu.

Overall, Bacchanalia is the nicest dining experience I’ve had in Atlanta, or ever. I think it’s minor shortcomings can be overlooked because the meal was that satisfying. My main course was unacceptable for the $75 price but that’s my only real complaint.

Side Notes:
What I genuinely appreciated about Bacchanalia was that it wasn’t hoity-toity, flowery food. Sure it was pretty, but the focus was on taste and not entirely on presentation and I feel that many upscale restaurants fail on this front. They’ll give you small portions with exotic looking plates painted with brightly colored sauces. But do they really satisfy your mouth and stomach, or just your eyes? The plating and image of the restaurant was an afterthought and the food shined because of this. They gave us hearty portions of the most delectable vittles and for that, I thank you Bacchanalia. We left happy and extremely full.

As for the price - I knew how much the bill would be but seeing it was still shocking. With other fine-dining meals in the city marked with $20-$50 price tags, $75 is stratospheric in comparison. Is it worth it? Is a Mercedes worth twice as much as another luxury sedan? Is that pair of designer jeans really that much more fashionable than the GAP pair? I guess that judgment is only to be made by the consumer. Both Mercedes and Diesel Jeans seem to be doing just fine. To put things more in perspective however, you cannot get this quantity (4 large courses) of quality food for seventy five clams anywhere in Atlanta. That being said, I would return to Bacchanalia and find it completely acceptable and fitting for special occasions even if the bill hits you right in your satiated stomach.

Bacchanalia on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Adaptation FTL - Pork Chops

It's pretty difficult to ascertain whether or not I just flubbed this recipe entirely, or messed it up because I was adapting the ingredients I had to the recipe. Tyler Florence's Pork Chops with Apples and Raisins seemed easy enough. I brined the beautiful pork chops (boneless - unlike what the recipe calls for) I got from Dekalb Farmer's Market and followed the instructions pretty much to the T. The searing stage looked pretty darn good and the apples came out very well, if not a little too sweet.

But the end result was a tough, overcooked pork chop that I wished I had just cooked in the pan all together. I reduced the roasting time in the oven, because of the size variance, but it obviously didn't make a difference. While I don't watch Florence's cooking ramblings often, I have to believe the dry chops were all my bad. Hey at least the green beans were good - Thanks Kins. Sigh...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's a Yakitori Jinbei?!

I always feel lost in Marietta. Everything always seems so spread out. I often get Cobb Parkway, Concorde Road, Cumberland Boulevard and the other main drags mixed up. But, once you do learn to navigate your way around this north-western 'burb, you could find yourself feasting on some of Atlanta's better grub. They've got great pizza, BBQ and Japanese among an even wider variety of joints that I've never even had the opportunity to try.
I'd been wanting to try Yakitori Jinbei for some time now but again, either couldn't find it or was enticed by some of the area's other restaurants. After a very long, exhausting day with Kins, we finally made it to this small spot in a strip shopping center off of Cobb Parkway.

As the name suggests, Yakitori Jinbei specializes in yakitori (essentially Japanese kabobs). But they also have a full and stocked sushi bar and many other Japanese specialities that you may be hard pressed to find at other Japanese spots around town. We went for both the namesake yakitori and the tonkatsu ramen. We also ordered a simmered pumpkin appetizer special that was just... bland. But props to Jinbei for providing us with complimentary edamame upon being seated, rather than charging for it.

The yakitori was offered in two varieties, salted or sauced and we opted to get both. Jinbei asserts they use fresh, young chickens from their own farms and cook them over a traditional charcoal grill. The salted meat just seemed plain to me, and while I much prefered the sauced rendition, I felt the yakitori fell short in my book. Also, I'm not convinced the salted version was prepared on charcoal but it was readily apparent that the sauced version was.

Difference in char between salted and sauced versions

I really enjoyed the tiny vegetable arranged on the sauced skewers and they provided some nice contrasting flavor and texture.

The tonkatsu ramen was exceptional. I put this among my top 3 soups in the city. I believe tonkatsu implies that the pork should be fried, but it was roasted as the menu indicated. The broth was creamy, but not heavily so and extremely flavorful. The noodles were perfectly al dente and provided the perfect textrue. Green onions and seaweed adorned the top of the dish and only added to the soups wonderfullness.
I definitley plan on returning for the ramen and to try some other unusual dishes and sushi. That is if I don't decide to try one of the many new, delicious places that Marietta seems to keep nurturing.

All photos in this entry shot by the lovely Kins

Oh and in case you were wondering what the title is all about:

Yakitori Jinbei on Urbanspoon