Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bocadon't - Bocado

I stopped in to Bocado for lunch after some hype surrounding their burger. Located across from Octane on the Westside, Bocado looks relatively upscale in an area that is undergoing a very brisk and popular revival. The interior of the restaurant is pretty, although moderately generic and Swedish-furniture-company inspired.

Service was just awkward. Our waitress just lingered around our table while we were mid-conversation or even after we had ordered and had nothing else to say to her. Later, she even tried to strike up a conversation (twice) which became an even more awkward mess. Ugh.

The burger is a complete rip on the H&F Burger and they do a pretty good job at replicating that juicy bugger. They use the same fatty mix of meat (some brisket is even in there), the same bun (made by H&F), and same ingredients (American cheese and bread and butter pickles) sans grilled onions. However, the burger isn't as good.

The patties aren't the same size, so I left not as disgustingly full as I have from Holeman and Finch. I also really missed those grilled onions. You can't help but feel strange ordering another restaurant's creation. Down to the bun... Lastly, I found not one, but two large pieces of gristle in my burger.

My main qualm with the Bocado burger was the fact that it doesn't come with fries. At $9.25, this is not a cheap burger and I can't even think of a sit-down restaurant that doesn't include fries with their burger. The garlic fries that I ordered were good, but at $3.75 they netted my meal into a price range that's unacceptable for lunch. Another bit of weirdness - I had to ask for ketchup which wasn't served with the burger.

Frankly the menu, which is scattered with fancy-ish sandwiches is overpriced. Additionally, they express their cents in fractions on the menu which is annoyingly confusing at first glance.

All in all, my meal - A burger, an order of fries, and a water came out to nearly $18 with tax and tip. Lower your prices Bocado and I'll be back, but not a moment sooner.

Bocado on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jigga Wha? Jigga Q? Community Q Barbecue

It’s unfortunate that among all of the numerous barbecue joints inside the perimeter, there aren’t very many worth going to. Sadly, when asked for BBQ recommendations by others, I’m hesitant to even mention my favorite ITP que spot, Fox Brothers. While I really do enjoy their food, the quality of preparation is so spotty that you never no quite what you’re going to get when entering the Dekalb Avenue eatery. Finally, there is a new kid on the block: Community Q BBQ.

Located on Clairmont road in North Decatur, Community Q is pretty unassuming. As of right now they don’t even have a sign up for their storefront, just a banner. It was opening night, but I was literally the only customer inside. The interior space of the restaurant is typical of most BBQ spots, casual and comfortable. Low key. And, like any good Q spot, it actually smells like barbecue. You place your order at the counter and at least tonight, they have it ready for you in roughly three minutes. The two guys working there both kept up the friendly chit chat the entire time I was there and kept awkwardness at a minimum. I appreciate that.

Kins and I both ordered a rib combo plate and at $14.75, it’s a bargain. You have the option to get St. Louis cut pork ribs or beef short ribs. We both went by way of St. Louis. The meat is served with two sauces – a sweeter one and a vinegar one. The sweet is excellent but the vinegar was just too runny and I couldn't even get it to hang on to the meat. The rest of the items we ordered are as follows:

1. St. Louis Ribs – These were pretty excellent. While smoke-infused flavor wasn’t readily apparent, the ribs were still flavorful and extremely tender. Additionally the cut of meat was superb and lacked the large amounts of fat that can normally be found in most St. Louis ribs.

2. Pulled pork – This was just average. It was tender, but too dry. Nice smoke ring on it and again just the right combination of fat, bark, and lean meat in the serving. The sauce made any of its shortcomings magically disappear.

3. Brisket – This was the crowning achievement of Community Q. I would probably say it’s the best barbecued brisket I’ve ever had. Just perfect - it’s flavorful, smokey, and tender with the perfect amount of bite. Honestly, it’s incredible.

4. Mac and Cheese – This was incredible. While it doesn’t top Carver’s for me it’s up there on my list. The first thing I immediately noticed was the cream cheese base. It’s strong, but not overpowering. There’s definitely some cheddar and possibly American in this also, so it still looks orange and yellow like most mac and cheese. Additionally, they use much larger than average macaroni noodles.

5. Brunswick stew – Pretty standard fare. There’s pork, corn, tomatoes and broth. It’s on the medium side of thickness and consistency, but the flavor just doesn’t draw you in.

6. Fries – By themselves, these are just above average fries, however the seasoning is out of this world. It’s similar to a dry rub for BBQ, with sugar being the standout ingredient. They need to bottle this seasoning and sell it as it will improve most any french fry among other things. It was difficult to determine whether or not they were fresh cut or frozen, but I'm leaning toward fresh cut.

It’s pretty apparent that I really enjoyed the food here. To top it off, Community is ITP and economical. When asked where I would get barbecue in Atlanta, I now have a second alternative to suggest. Hopefully, if they keep their consistency up and improve their minor shortcomings, they can move up to my favorite spot.

Community BBQ on Urbanspoon

DOA, I mean DBA Barbecue

I had been to DBA before and had no real desire to come back. The food and service was below average and their constant shilling on was taken to an entirely preposterous level. I was content that my assessment of them wasn't just an off night.

Not too long ago however, I got word of some new staff and smoking techniques being employed in the kitchen. Foodiebuddha essentially dispelled these new additions from being any sort of improvement in his review of DBA. So again, I had no desire to return. Then I received this somewhat shilly email the other day:

They asked to be featured.

I had to do a little promoting myself, right?

Not one thing has changed.

So, I went back with my BBQ brethren, Xerxes, and we re-tried DBA. It's important to remember DBA, if you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. And you didn't. Again.

Right off the bat our server and makeshift host was just... intense. He was very quick and jolty and even when ordering our drinks or telling us about the specials, it was slightly discomforting. Fortunately, he was training a new girl who took care of us for most of the remainder of our visit, but I was still a little off-put from "Cokey McCokerson."

Cokey immediately told us they had an appetizer special, fried jalapeños, and that they were only a dollar, so we ordered them. These were OK. The batter was pretty tasty, but eventually the spice started to get to us when we had downed about 75% of the order. We didn't finish these.

For the main, I ordered a two meat plate ($15) with pulled pork, brisket, the grilled cream corn, and fried corn (I know, two corn sides... but how often can you get fried corn on the cob). Xerxes went the two meat route also and got baby backs (an extra $2), pulled pork, onion rings, and fried corn.

DOA. Our plates were Dead. On. Arrival. The plates were lacking (tons of empty space) and the portions were meager. In addition to the lack of food, my brisket was more like briquette. Seriously it looked just like briket. It was black and solid as a rock. With enough force, you could actually chip the plate with this "meat."

My plate - They could have put two more helpings of meat on here and it still wouldn't have been full.

The meat:
The pulled pork wasn't dry like my first visit, but it was mushy. Overcooked and not nearly smokey or seasoned enough. The briquette, I mean brisket, was pathetic. I had a tough time cutting through it with a knife and the entire thing literally crunched in my mouth. And not potato chip crunch. I'm talking gravel. Frankly if I were the server, I would have taken it back upon seeing it. Xerxes said the ribs (4 bones) showed some improvement but he was hardly blown away by them. Also, like our first visit, none of the meat came out even warm. Seriously, is that too much to ask for?

My hockey puck of briquette.

The sauces:
Table-side are 3 sauces: Sweet, Hot, and Mustard. The Sweet and Hot taste exactly the same and are of a pretty watery consistency. They rely heavily on Carolina vinegary flavor, but just don't quite achieve any sort of great BBQ taste. The mustard sauce is pretty good if you like that sort of thing but in the end, just tastes like some high quality mustard.

The sides:
While I'm afraid DBA cannot be saved, the sides truly are their saving grace . On my first visit, I had some of the best sweet potato fries I'd ever had. This time I really enjoyed both of my sides again. The creamed corn isn't creamed, but features charred corn kernels mixed with some sort of sweet cream sauce. It was darned good, but served luke warm. The fried corn is just battered and fried so you can't really screw that up, but it's only half a cob. Corn costs next to nothing. Why can't you guys serve the whole cob?! Xerxes onion rings were on point too - some of the better ones I've had anywhere.

Xerxes' plate and regal O-rings.

Seriously DBA, spend some more time on perfecting your food, and less time on your PR marketing machine. Shilling reviews as much as you have really loses you credibility among many of the influencing members of the market you're trying to pull. Emailing different blogs and Yelp members is OK but you gotta have something to back up your (false) claims of awesomeness.

D.B.A. Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 16, 2009

“Neither man or nation can exist without a sublime idea.” - Sublime Doughnuts

From the box.

I don't really like doughnuts. Most of the time, they're too sweet or just not a great balance of flavor or texture. Frankly, the only doughnuts that I've ever loved are the Super Doughnuts of my yesteryouth public school lunch rooms. Seriously, I could eat these like many people eat Krispy Kreme. I had previously mentioned Sublime in my Cypress Street review, and I will now delve into the specialities of their nondescript storefront bordering Georgia Tech.

Sublime Doughnuts are special. They're boutique doughnuts. Little hand crafted nuggets of pastry. There are unique flavors and perfect preparation at Sublime that you just cannot get anywhere else. The dough is light, fluffy, and usually the doughnuts aren't on the overly sweet side. Thanks to Xerxes, I got a Groupon for half a dozen and hit them up on Saturday. Sadly they didn't have any of the chocolate-based doughnuts that I was jonesin' for. They have a deep dark fudge that I enjoy and a new black and tan (chocolate doughnut, Dulce de Leche icing) that I was looking forward to trying. Neither were in stock. Actually for a Saturday morning at 8 a.m., I found their selection to be lacking.
The six I got were:
1. Raspberry Heart (Kin's favorite) - It's a powdered doughnut with raspberry preserves. I'm not a huge fruit dessert fan, so I've never tried this one, but Kins would swear by it.

2. A-Town Cream - Again, I'm not a doughnut fan, so I'd never had a cream filled doughnut. I was hopping for a more whipped/butter cream filling but this was too sweet for me. However, I have to imagine for most doughnut eaters, it's not that sweet at all. The doughnut is A-shaped and has dark chocolate icing.

3. Caramel Apple Fritter - This one is a winner for me. The first day, I dubbed it too sweet, but the next afternoon, I killed it. Really nice flavor combination, just not a fan of all the glaze.

4. Reese's Cup - By far my favorite of what we ordered. It's just a plain doughnut with milk chocolate icing and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup crumbles. The center hole is merely hollowed out slightly, not cut off, and filled with peanut butter cream.
5. Dulce de Leche - It's a plain doughnut with caramel icing. There was too much icing on this one, but it's a pretty decent doughnut.

6. Smores - This doughnut looks awesome. It's robed in chocolate icing with graham cracker crumbs dusting the entire surface. The center, like the Reese's Cup, is filled with marshmallow cream and dusted with cocoa powder. I love how this doughnut looked and tasted, but it didn't really convey smores to me.
Atlanta, is lucky to have such a great doughnut shop and I encourage all locals and visitors to visit and keep this place churning out the good stuff. Their doughnuts are not only unique in flavor and texture, but also sheer variety. In a world filled with overrated cupcake-like trends, Sublime stands out for their unique, hand-crafted product.
All their sign says is Doughnuts.

BTW- the title quote is from Dostoyevsky

Sublime Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dining Striking out in the A

Usually, both Kins and I are completely tolerant of bad service or even bad meals. We've had our share of abysmal experiences and usually when we bring this up with the establishment's staff, they don't seem to care nearly as much as they should. This weekend we chalked up not one, but two shitty situations at restaurants, but because of some slightly swift customer service, they saved two customers.

The first situation was at Mi Barrio over in the Grant Park/Cabbagetown area. I personally think they have pretty decent, cheap tacos here and I like the smaller less crowded atmosphere of the joint too. It's completely family run with what I believe is three generations working the kitchen and the dining room. It was slammed this past Friday (something I've never seen) and we even waited a couple of minutes for a table. When we were finally seated, we got our chips and salsa right away. Then we waited. And waited. Finally a not so adept server took our order. Explaining to him what we wanted was a bit of a chore (both due to language and lack of menu knowledge barriers) and I wasn't so sure he got the order right. At least 15 minutes went by when I started to try to flag down our server to ask him what was going on. He was nowhere to be found. Finally one of the higher-ups noticed we had been twiddling our thumbs for the last 20 minutes and started asking what was going on. Our server then popped up out of nowhere and acted like he remembered our order but it was backed up in the kitchen. Sadly, this was not the case. He forgot the order and after all of this, came back and re-took our requests. It was pretty pathetic and right away the nice lady who normally works the register (she was in the kitchen that night) told us that everything was on the house and apologized profusely. Additionally, the food was rather sub-par. And that's putting it nicely. But thanks to an apology and a free meal, we'll be willing to give them another chance.

The next sordid affair occurred at Holeman and Finch. I had been craving their burger and after taking a few weeks off from it, had planned get a couple to go on Sunday (my standard procedure). Frankly my experience at the restaurant was pleasant and the same as always. Sadly when I got home, my excitement ceased. They left out our sides. I drove 30 minutes round trip and half of our meal wasn't in the bag. I called immediately and spoke to the woman who took my order and she immediately knew what was wrong and apologized but wasn't exactly forthcoming with suggestions to fix the problem. I asked her to wipe the charge off of my account and without hesitation she said, "Of course. And next time you come in, tell us and we'll give you something on the house." Despite not having half of my meal, I was pretty pleased with the results of the phone conversation. What I was not pleased with was my credit card statement. They reduced the charge by the amount of the sides, but I was under the impression that the entire meal was on them. On top of that, the burger wasn't as good as it had been in the past. It was both overcooked, and more shoddily crafted - the onions were still clumped together from the bulb and not evenly distributed and the patty sizes weren't at all the same.

I think most people would find my experience at Mi Barrio a little more unforgiving, but they are a small family business and handled the problem on their own as soon as they knew about it. The H&F thing pisses me off a bit more because they didn't comp the whole meal, they're a bit more upscale, and I had to go out of my way to pick up the food.

But hey, at least they apologized which is more than I can say for a lot of other restaurants. This is why I'll return, hesitantly, to both establishments.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chef Liu - Downgrade

Today was a sad day for Chef Liu. We always had great experiences at their former location in a trailer-style building in the middle of a parking lot. Frankly, I liked the location because it was unique and comfortable. The trailer version of Chef Liu was quaint, had great food, and service was always quick and friendly and I had some of the most enjoyable and nostalgic meals here. I always loved watching the steam rise off of the food in the natural sunlight that came through the sliding windows/doors. In the past few weeks Chef Liu has picked up and moved into one of the commercial spaces in the shopping center that's parking lot used to house the previous incarnation. I was happy for them and thought they were moving on up, but our experience here this past Sunday left me longing for their former residence and quality I had come to know.
The wait begins and so does the aggravation.

When we got there, we weren't exactly sure if we were to seat ourselves or not. When we asked someone at the desk, a waitress frantically grabbed two menus and plopped us down at the nearest table. We discussed and chose the items we wanted, and then waited. And waited. And waited. I'd say 15 minutes passed where literally nobody ever came to our table. During this time, we witnessed people coming in and a wait que building. These people were never addressed. Not a "Hello" or "We'll be right with you!" Nothing. We watched, one by one, as the frustration built on each patron's face. Seated customers were steaming from lack of service as were the ones waiting and not being taken care of. Quite a few people walked out. Finally, one of the servers recognized that we hadn't been helped and as he started to head our way, was grabbed by another server to help out with whatever problem she was encountering. Another five minutes passed and it wasn't until a kind woman seated behind us literally told a waitress to help us, that we were finally tended to.

We ordered the soup dumplings (our staple), the fried pork buns, the twisted cruller, and the lamb skewers. The lamb skewers came out in literally 60 seconds flat. They were warm but not and my guess is were part of someone else's order and were sitting there. They were just OK this time. The flavors just weren't there, and they were just warm, not hot. We finally got some water at this point after I asked for it.

Next up, and about five minutes after we finished the lamb, were the pork buns. These were pretty good and fresh. Frankly, I'd skip the fried option next time since it didn't add much in the way of flavor or texture, but still they were darned good. The dough was perfectly sweet and airy and the filling was decent.

Pork Bun Cross-Section

Fortunately the soup dumplings arrived as we were finishing. The good was they were tasty. The bad was that the skins were sticking to the steamer and breaking before we could get them into our spoons. Which results in lost soup. We never had this problem before at the old Chef Liu, so it wasn't due to lack of chopstick or spoon skills. It was pretty upsetting that we lost the precious broth that makes the dish so special in the first place, but the dumplings were still a success in my book.

The culprits of lost soup and some sort of mystery meat?

I actually liked the way that we were served (minus long breaks) rather than everything coming out at once. Since we were sharing each dish, it gave us time to enjoy each one while it was hot and not feel overwhelmed with all of the food that can, and usually does, pile up on our table. However, the last item was served at the complete wrong time and really just finished off a bad experience on an additional sour note.

After about another five minute break in service, the twisted cruller was brought to our table. The only thing that makes up this dish is fried, salty dough. And it's really good. However, I didn't like that we were getting bread as our last course. It should have been first and if not that, at least second. But we were eating it as our fourth item. In addition to the timing, the bread was entirely too greasy. I literally watched the grease poor down Kins' hands and wrists. Unacceptable.

Sadly, the meal wasn't enjoyable at all. The service was abysmal and the food just wasn't good. They get one more shot from me. There are just too many other places I have yet to try on BuHi to put up with this inexcusable service.

Side note: While we were waiting, one couple that sat themselves brought in a toy dog. And sat with it. At the table. They were either too stupid to know this was wrong, or just didn't care (I'm siding with didn't care). Mid-meal the girl sent her boyfriend to fetch some Evian from the car mid meal. Pretty sure the dog is treated better in that relationship. Seriously people? And why didn't management ask her to leave her dog outside?!

Chef Liu on Urbanspoon