Monday, December 17, 2012

Antico Part Deux - Gio's Chicken Amalfitano

For those who haven't heard, Giovanni Di Palma and the group behind Antico are trying to build their own Little Italy in Home Park/West Midtown. There was talk of an Antico Gelateria which would serve gelato, limoncello and coffee being built across the street from Antico but in the mean time, they've opened up Gio's Chicken Amalfitano in the large, neighboring building. So now you have choices when visiting the Antico campus.

Gio's Chicken is strictly take out for the time being with plans of a dining room being opened in early January (though there already is one behind a door to the right of the entrance). I stopped in tonight to the surprisingly empty Gio's. The menu is made up of seven choices of chicken preparation and four additional pasta options. Some of the chicken options play off of the popular pizzas next door at Antico, like the Scarpiello being a chicken version of the San Gennaro pie. There are also sauces and chicken soup available in a refrigerator to take home.
Chicken and pasta can be ordered in single (a half chicken) or family portion. Each order of chicken comes with potatoes and some bread as well making for a full meal. The menu can be seen here. We ended up getting a single order of the Sorrento Lemon chicken and the Napoletana pasta and had about half of the food leftover.

Gio's website claims, "Giovianni Di Palma has done to chicken what he's done to pizza." While the food was certainly good, that statement is a huge stretch considering that Antico is easily some of the best pizza I've ever had. You would be hard pressed to duplicate any of the pizzas at Antico, but a decent home cook could replicate if not improve upon what I ate tonight from Gio's.

The chicken was good but dried out in some parts and while the skin and drippings/sauce in the togo container were flavorful, the meat of the bird was void of much flavor otherwise. The potatoes and accompanying bread (which is essentially seasoned Antico Pizza crust) was delicious.
The Napoletana pasta was also good, but heavy on the oil. The sausage is the same stuff that's used on the San Gennaro pie and the broccoli rabe was cooked and seasoned to perfection.
So while Gio's Chicken serves some decent food, it isn't in the same league as neighboring Antico Pizza. At least, not yet. The staff at Gio's was extremely helpful and friendly which is a welcome departure compared to some of the staff often at Antico.
Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 8, 2012

King of Pops Pops Up - Queso King

I managed to drop into King (or is it Kings? I swear they're cloning tall blonde dudes with aviators) of Pop's new pop up, Queso King today. They're setup on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Lawrence during lunch hours and seem to have a new cheese based concept each week - this week grilled cheese and soup, while last week was quesadillas and salad.
It's hard to beat the deal as it's a choice of sandwich, soup, drink (including Miller High Life) and popsicle for $8. They post their menu on Facebook shortly before opening.

The food was pretty darned good - all the bread is from H&F and everything appears to be scratch made. The turkey on my Grilled Thanksgiving (brie, turkey, cranberry, sweet potato) was off the frame (and chain) and completely tender and delectable. The only unfortunate part of the sandwich was that the King went overboard with the cranberry which entirely masked all of the other ingredients on the sandwich. I happen to like cranberry, so it wasn't offensive, but I wish I could have tasted more of the individual components. The soup, while not transcendent, was also very good. 
Again, it's hard to beat this deal from one of Atlanta's local street-food mavens. Give it a try on Thursdays and see for yourself.
Apple Pie Pop
Queso King on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bantam & Biddy - Opening Review

I made it over to Shaun Doty's latest venture last night - Bantam & Biddy. Batnam & Biddy is a rotisserie (humanely and healthily raised) chicken concept in the Ansley Mall shopping center. It just opened this week, so I realize that a good bit of my complaints may be ironed out in the coming days but I left extremely unimpressed and disappointed.

I love me some rotisserie chicken so the menu reads like a great fast casual concept. There are some holdovers from Shaun's - duck fat fries, pork schnitzel and a couple of the sides but the focus seems to be on the chicken. You can order a quarter or half chicken with two sides, like your standard meat and three, or choose from a handful of entrees. 
Not being able to resist poutine, we got an order to start out the meal. Poutine is hard to mess up and this rendition was delicious, as expected. By the way, if you haven't had Fry Guy's poutine, I'd go as far as to say it's the best in the city.
We also went with the 1/4 chicken and the Chicken Penne. The rotisserie chicken was drab. There was no color or texture to the skin, much of the fat hadn't been rendered and the chicken was essentially flavorless. 
Lifeless Chicken Skin
The mac and cheese side was reminiscent of Mary Mac's version and that's not a compliment. It was completely separated with a puddle of grease at the bottom and no creamy, rich component. It was more crumbly than anything. The pickled beats and goat cheese were an excellent side, however I'd highly recommend it as an option. There was also a slice of jalapeño and cheddar (?) bread which was a welcome improvement to the typical white slice.
The "Rotisserie Chicken Penne Pasta" was also a let down. While the flavoring of the dish was good and the pasta was cooked well, there was virtually no chicken in the dish - literally about three pieces. 

As mentioned prior, I realize this is the opening week and they could easily tweak a few things and have some more successful food. It's with this review that I hope they do, because I do like the menu and concept. Kins summed it up best after we finished, "This is all stuff we could make at home, but better."
Bantam & Biddy on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Optimist - America's Best New Restaurant?

If you didn't catch wind of it, Esquire Magazine named Ford Fry's latest, The Optimist, the "Best New Restaurant in America." If this is America's best, well then Amurica is facing more problematic times than the presidential debates would let on. I'm no longer standing on my chair screaming, "USA! USA!" Needless to say, my meal last night at The Optimist left me an enormous pessimist. In fact, it was the worst meal I've ever shelled out one hundred bones for. Putting my credit card down, I felt duped and knew that I could get much better meals in Atlanta for much less money.
If you're reading this review, well then you have certainly heard about The Optimist. You've heard about its gorgeous dining room and inviting bar(s). You've heard about the masterfully appointed lighting and stylishly tasteful touches. And all of these things are absolutely, in the fullest sense, true - the design team for this restaurant knocked it out of the park. And perhaps you've heard about the food. And that's where I'm taking a stand - if you heard wonderful things about the food at The Optimist, you heard wrong.

If I had to sum my meal up at The Optimist in one, brief phrase, if would be, "Nothing tasted like anything." The dishes overall were devoid of any flavor with the exception of a salty Monkfish entree. I adore the scope of the menu and had a hard time deciding on anything because everything sounded so interesting, refreshing or delicious. The service, I should mention, was flat - not particularly friendly and nobody ever came to check on us after we got our food. 

The Optimist has fresh oysters on the regular and I feel like oysters are omissible from any review. The truth is, if you have a fresh product and a good shucker, oysters are going to be good. And they were. We also ordered the $9 cup of gumbo. With ample amounts of seafood (including a crab claw), I suppose they can get away with the price. The broth was nothing special, however, and lacked thickness and depth of flavor. The accompanying "Potluck" garlic bread was absolutely unnecessary and didn't even deserve to be called garlic bread.

The mains were the real let down of the evening. My monkfish entree, with a tomato broth, pickled fennel and hen of the woods mushrooms was simply not good. The monkfish was cooked appropriately but the accompanying broth tasting like nothing but salt with no tomato flavor. In fact, after a few bites, I couldn't eat any more of it. The pickled fennel kept to itself and didn't compliment the dish in any way while the the hen of the woods mushrooms were kept to a minimum - there was only one in the dish.

Kins ordered the yellowtail tuna dish which was supposed to feature a charred octopus & potato salad. The yellowtail was cooked properly with a nice sear to the outside. The potato salad was even interesting - fried rather than boiled (think well cooked home fries). However, the charred octopus was much like the mushrooms in my dish - non existent except for one, measly piece. I'm sorry, but when you shell out $26 for a dish, there needs to be more than one bite of the ingredients mentioned on the menu. And like the monkfish entree, this dish didn't really have any flavor. The corn milk hushpuppies fell into the same category of everything else - no flavor. They were also entirely too dense - hushpuppies from a modest fish shack are worlds better.

Nothing at the Optimist was revolting or inedible. The problem was that nothing tasted great or even good. While a modest home cook may not be able to prepare a piece of monkfish to perfection, they could surely impart more memorable (or in this case, existing) flavors. The best bite I had all evening was the complimentary bread - fluffy, buttery and topped with some quality salt, it was a nice bite to kick off what I (at the time) suspected would be a great meal. But alas, it was the only bite I fully enjoyed for the rest of the evening. I began wondering if I had burned my tongue severely on the gumbo because after that, I didn't taste much of anything.

P.S. The valet parking here sucks - they have a huge lot, with tons of empty spaces, yet it took us about 10 minutes to retrieve our car. When will restaurants stop using valet?

The Optimist on Urbanspoon