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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Quickie - Ameer's Mediterranean Grill

Stopped into Ameer's Mediterranean Grill on Friday night after hearing a little bit of buzz about it during the week. I have to say, they kind of knocked it out of the park. We went with two shawarma plates - one with beef and lamb and another with chicken. Also started with an order of falafel.
Beef & Lamb Shawarma
The food was good stuff all around. The falafel was crispy on the outside and extremely moist (maybe just a little too much) on the interior. A great starter for sure. All of the shawarma was delicious - seasoned extremely well, tender texture and served over a bed of rice. A plate also comes with delicious hummus, pita and a large cucumber and tomato salad. It's a lot of bang for your buck and really delicious.

I would normally head to Mediterranean Bakery for my Med fix, but this is a great, closer option. I guess I'll be splitting my time between the two. It was unfortunately  completely empty on Friday night. Please show this place some love as they deserve it - Get you some.. It's located right next to Waikikie BBQ on Briarcliff.

Ameer's Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Calle Latina - More Street Food hits Decatur

I was able to stop into Decatur's newly opened Calle Latina this weekend. The concept is Latin street food with many bocadillos, tacos and arepas. Essentially, most of the items on the menu are available in all three of these forms. The space is quite small, but welcoming and the staff friendly.
Overall, the food was OK but nothing to get too excited about. The empanadas had a nice, crispy shell but the interior barbacoa pork was diced, under-seasoned and fatty. The menu promised of barbeque sauce but I found none. Would have much preferred some goat for texture and flavor but if the meat is trimmed better and sauced, it'd certainly be enjoyable. The black bean and goat cheese empanada is a drastic and delicious step up from the barbacoa.
Egg & Chorizo tacos
 The chorizo and egg taco was pretty good, but that soft flour tortilla just got lost. Throw a corn one on there and they've got a winner. The green mole chicken arepa was actually quite good. This crispy, tender arepa was on point with moist shredded chicken and accompanying avocado and tomato for flavorful additions.

My absolute favorite part of the meal is the accompanying coleslaw/salad complimentary side that comes with each order. This acid heavy delight was a welcome addition to the meal. There's also a grilled pepper or two in the mix.

Overall, Calle Latina is a nice option for the area but by no means a standout for Decatur. What Sapori di Napoli is for Neopolitan pizza, Calle is for Latin Street Food.

Calle Latina on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 18, 2013

Chai Pani - New Indian Concept hits Decatur

Decatur (neo-food capital of Atlanta) is now home to yet another new restaurant. Asheville based chain, Chai Pani, is serving up Indian street food which comes off as a great concept. It's slightly more approachable Indian than Atlanta's other Indian options and the quality seems to be fresher as well. It's nice that this place is already popular without dumbing down Indian food entirely (like Korean tacos or any other ethnic food being turned into a sandwich/wrap).

Okra Fries

There are some really nice flavors flying around at Chai Pani, but I can't see myself ever having a major hankering to go back. The chicken pakora (more or less Indian chicken nuggets) was tasty with some subtle spice, but they aren't nearly as crave worthy as some good southern-fried chicken. The okra fries are also enjoyable but no different than any other quick fried vegetable. Ever had fried Brussels sprouts or fried green beans? Same thing here. You can pretty much fry a toenail, and it's going to taste good. The best dish I sampled was Dahi Puri. These stuffed, crispy dumplings please with great texture and flavor layered at each strata.

The portions are similar to small plate servings around town and I actually prefer this as it makes sharing and trying much easier. You may feel like you're getting less food for the money, but I think the slightly elevated quality makes up for that. However, I just don't think the food is delicious enough to keep me coming back as a regular.

Chai Pani on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 4, 2013

The General Muir - Jewish Deli Comes to Town

I made it over to The General Muir yesterday for brunch and I left content and full. For those of you that don't know, The General Muir is the new Jewish deli concept by the folks at West Egg and the former chef of Bocado. It's located in a new retail district on the Emory Campus and across from the CDC.

The menu is made up primarily of Jewish deli items like bagels with smoke/cured fish, matzoh ball soup, and the "what would a Jewish deli be without a" pastrami sandwich. I got the latter and I think it's safe to say it's the best pastrami sandwich in Atlanta. But consider this - is there any competition? If you say Jason's Deli, I'll smack you in the mouth I'm Neal Diamond. The pastrami comes stacked high with some mustard on rye, as it should. Overall it's a delicious sandwich but once you've had Langer's (which I consider to be the best sandwich on the planet) to compare to, well it's no comparison at all, really. The pastrami was peppery and had the unctuous fatty flavor/bits that we all love, but could have been a bit more flavorful and certainly more tender.
The infamous Bocado burger stack is on the menu at the Muir and looking around the restaurant, it seemed to be one of the more popular orders. They've switched out the traditional bun with a poppy seed one. I also had a chance to taste the reuben which was also very good and of the same caliber as the pastrami.

One thing I was delightfully surprised by was the bakery. We started our meal with a pastry basket and got a wide sampling of what they had to offer and the Muir just knocked it out of the park. There was a sweetened yeast roll, some sour cream coffee cake, a cheese danish and chocolate babka. All items were stellar and I couldn't help myself from visiting the bakery counter after brunch to grab a black and white. The black and white was also quite good, but slightly less traditional. The cake portion was actually more tender and flavorful (an improvement) than what you'd get in New York. The icing was also less traditional in that the entire cookie was covered in the white icing first and then half dipped in chocolate. Also, the white icing was heavily and visibly flavored with lemon. If you can't tell, I'm a black and white purist but again, this rendition was probably the best available in Atlanta by a long shot.
Overall, The General Muir is a great spot for Atlanta and judging by the weekend crowd in its first week, will remain a popular destination for quite some time.
The General Muir on Urbanspoon