Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Highlight #116: Getting in the mood - Bakery: Breadwinner

I have always known about this local bakery called Breadwinner, but have never got around to make a trip there. Lucky for me, some mystery vendor for the firm delivered a loaf of pumpkin bread to the office just in time for Thanksgiving. Let me tell you, this loaf was great. Dense and incredibly moist from loads of butter (holiday calories don't count :)), the pumpkin flavor ran deep. What really got me was a lingering smoked sweet spice flavor that made me all toasty and warm inside.

I no longer roast turkey on Thanksgiving day, so to scratch my roasting itch, I roasted a salt and pepper chicken this past Sunday. It's amazing how delicious just salt and pepper can make a chicken. The key is simply to do both a bit more aggressively than you'd think necessary. And if possible, to let the coated chicken sit in the fridge for a day or so a la the Zuni cookbook. It does wonders.

Now the reason I don't roast turkey is because three years ago I started a new tradition of ordering Greenberg's smoked turkey for Thanksgiving. If you haven't tried it, this stuff is awesome! Incredibly well seasoned and lightly smoky, it's as good the first day as the last day when I toss the carcass into the soup pot. They offer everything from baby 6 pounders up to 25 pound heavy weights. This year, I got the baby for just the four of us. Having the turkey out of the way takes so much of the stress out of Thanksgiving cooking and allows me to focus on my favorite sides.

175 Mt. Vernon Hwy., NE
Ste. E (lower level)
Atlanta, GA 30328

Greenberg Smoked Turkey, Inc.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Highlight #115: This La Fonda is not that La Fonda (Cabo San Lucas)

If the name La Fonda calls to mind the ever present faux mex neighbor of Felini's Pizza, then you need to wipe that image clean from your mind before you go on reading about this La Fonda, a place where the food is almost as awesome as the Cabo San Lucas' view of rich blue ocean under the sun.

While my mornings at the ocean side resort were spent indoors listening to conference speakers, my evenings were full of discoveries. And my first night of adventure started at La Fonda, a place taxi drivers known by name.

One look at the menu confirmed that this place is not afraid to offend some tourists. On the very first page, under exotic sides, I found maguey worms, ant eggs, and grasshoppers. Having already experienced the first and third (and liked both), I was most definitely in the mood to have some ant eggs that was said to be "better than the best caviar."

The large portioned appetizer looked innocently like little white beans. But the surprisingly large size led L to comment that he'd rather not think about the stature of the ants that these little monsters would have turned into. With that said, L and C both bravely tried spoonfuls of the stuff inside handmade tortillas and like it very much. Unlike the beans they resemble, the eggs burst easily in the mouth with little pressure like soft summer corn kernels. The butter, herbs, and lime in which the eggs were fried imbued them with a delicious tangy savoriness that most certainly revved up our appetites.

For my entree, I ordered the second enchilada verde of the day, the first being at the Mexico city airport. This one was infinitely better than the first. The shredded white meat chicken, not normally my favorite part of the chicken, soaked up plenty of flavor from chopped green chilies, onions, and were perfectly but not overly gooey from a dose of jack cheese. The sauce was my favorite part, tasting strongly of fresh tomatillos and faintly of cilantro leaves.

C's braised short rib came with a rib that was, well, not very short. :) From the one bite I tasted, the meat seemed fall off the bone tender, but I didn't get a very good sense of the tomato based sauce and can't say much other than that C seemed to have enjoyed it.

Since we were in flan country and C confessed to be a big flan fan, we ordered the special corn flan topped with caramel sauce. After the first bite, we looked at each with question marks in our eyes. It didn't taste like fresh corn or caramel, but rather like hominy congealed in a fine, but still slightly mealy state. It was not the smooth, creamy, and custardy thing that we had hoped for, but we were happy to have tried it.

La Fonda (Cabo San Lucas)
Miguel Hidalgo s/n between Obregon and 12 de Octubre
Cabo San Lucas, B. C. S., CP 23410 Mexico
Phone: (624) 143 – 6926 and 172 – 0176

Thursday, November 20, 2008

highlight #114: thick stuff - Restaurant: Pure Taqueria

I just had to retype this post because Blogger ate my words...

J and I tend to "happen" upon food on our aimless Sunday drives. It sounds funny, but being behind the wheel comforts him and looking out of the window relaxes me. So it's on one of these recent drives that we happened upon Pure Taqueria.

Thick can be used to describe most items of our meal. My fish tacos were battered too thickly and seemed to have been fried before I got there. The slaw that smothered the fish had been pverdressed and were topped with yet another dollop of thick thousand island type sauce.

J's chicken and cheese quesadillas turned out to be thick skinned turnovers. The white meat chicken pieces were plentiful, but not so flavorful.

In this sort of depressing economy, it's nice to see big plates, taste strong margaritas, and soak in the cheerful fun vibe. But for real taste and value, I'd still drive over to Buford Highway.

Pure Taqueria
103 Roswell St.
Alpharetta, GA 30009

Monday, November 17, 2008

Highlight #113: Birthday feasting (Part V) - Restaurant: Legal Seafood

It's a beautiful thing when people at work enjoy each other enough to share meals voluntarily, so I was quite grateful to accept an invitation to lunch with a few colleagues for my birthday. The venue was the downtown new comer Legal Seafood, which is famed for its clam chowder.

Everyone but me ordered the chowder to start. I don't dislike the chowder, but having already tried and liked it at the Taste of Atlanta event a month ago, I wanted to try something different. Instead, I ordered the fried clams. If nothing else, Legal Seafood does not cheat on the freshness of the sea creatures. Perfectly plump, the clams burst in my mouth spilling warm and briny juices that complimented the salty and crunchy crust. A lusty bite, for lack of a more refined description.

I have suffered long from an unsatisfied craving for Pearl Oyster Bar's indulgent lobster roll and immediately jumped at the opportunity to order one. As you can see, there was no shortage of lobster chunks in this sandwich and the roll was of the correct toasted hot dog type. Unfortunately, perfection was lost in the overabundance of mayo and the under participation of salt. I know I could have added some myself, but it's never the same as correctly seasoned food from the start.

We finished the meal with Boston creme pie, which was less pie and more mousse. Name aside, it was pleasurable creamy and well shy of heavy. I saw myself coming back here if only for the freshness of the seafood. Sometimes that's all seafood needs.

Legal Seafood
275 Baker St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30313

Friday, November 14, 2008

Highlight #112: Birthday feasting (Part IV) - Chongqing Hot Pot

One thing I miss the most from my childhood hometown of Chongqing is the spicy beyond words hotpot that the city is famous for. This year, with mom living in town, my birthday feasting expanded to include a homemade version of this great interactive dining experience.

Considering the husband's low tolerance for spice, we put my dual compartment pot to good use. On one side, we loaded a traditional spicy soup base made from first frying untill fragrant aromatics such as ginger, chillies, Sichuan peppercorns, and soy paste, then boiling the base with beef broth, and finally incorporating into it Chinese cooking wine and fermented soy been paste. On the mild side, we made a simple but deeply flavored chicken stock from wings.

The cooking ingredients included all the family favorites, which meant mostly vegetables. We had loads of fresh pea shoots, spinaches, bamboo shoots, and all sorts of mushrooms. To boast our protein intake, we also threw in thinly sliced fish, shrimps, and pork.

One non-traditional ingredient I adore in the hotpot is this Cantonese style fishball. Fancier than the normal variety, this particular kind hides within its slightly chewy fish paste exterior a heart of juicy stewed beef. The hint of sweetness contrasted so well with the spiciness of the soup base, I almost ate the entire supply. No one tried to stop me. Being the birthday girl came with certain privileges. :)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Highlight #111: Birthday feasting (Part III) Came for the poutine and stayed for the rest - Restaurant: Bureau

Within a week of our very first date years back, husband and I went on a road trip to Montreal. That trip established the framework of our relationship, in which he, who loves racing, will do all the driving, and I will plan all the fooding. One of the things that we discovered together while fooding on that trip was poutine, a crazy French Canadian combination of fries, cheese curds, and meat gravy. Our very first one was from the famed Montreal pork emporium Au Pied De Cochon, where this humble dish was elevated to new heights with the addition of some incredible pan fried foie.

It has been years since we last had a bite of this stuff, so when I heard that the new gastropub Bureau on Edgewood Ave. had some, we wasted no time heading over for a taste during my birthday week. Before I get to the food, let me just say that we fell in love with the space as soon as we walked in. The red brick walls, the hardwood floors, the high ceilings, and the natural wood divisional structures on the lower level echoed those same elements in our own home, making us wanting to put our feet up.

On the food front, we, as planned, went for the poutine as a starter along with some deviled eggs and chicken liver bruschetta. Comparing the above photo to my earlier description of poutine, you will find that Bureau substituted melted cheese for the cheese curds and put their gravy on the side. I have no problem with cheese, but it's not poutine without cheese curds, which are much milder in my opinion and melt so very differently that they don't cause all the fries to stick together. Also, I prefer the gravy on the fries, the way that it's done in Montreal, where the heat of the gravy melts the cheese curds, which in turn coats the fries. I am certainly not saying that these fries are bad, they are not (how could cheese fries with gravy be?). It's just no poutine.

It wasn't a bad thing that we got the poutine out of the way early because the meal began to climb the ladder from that point on. The deviled eggs dish, which seems to be a requisite on all gastropub menus, was creamy, but not overly mayo heavy. It was a welcomed refresher after the heavy fries.

The chicken liver, which our friends didn't eat, was excellent. Confident in its minerality, no unnecessary additions were made to mask the irony mouth feel, which allowed the natural sweetness of the liver to shine through.

The real star of the night was the pumpkin ravioli. Within the very thin and tender skins were generous pockets of smooth pumpkin puree that was doubtlessly bond together with ample cream. Dusted with nutmeg, the subtle nuttiness of the spice picked up the subtle sweetness of the pumpkin. If I was asked to guess, I'd say that the pasta skins were made from wonton wrappers, a trick I sometimes use to throw together a quick and elegant dish that often surprises pasta eaters who are used to more chewy Italian dough products.

As there was a chill in the night air, J went for the braised short rib. While this was quite a small cut for its 20 plus price tag, it was actually the right size for a meal. Attractively presented and flavored all the way through, we enjoyed this immensely and craved some good wine to go with it. Unfortunately, this is more or less a beer place with a very short and uninspired list of wines. Few places can match the Brickstore in finding that balance between beer and wine.

Not all entrees were small, K's flatiron steak was much bigger and came with a separate side of roasted potatoes. The bite I was offered was tender and glazed with sticky sweet red onions.

With its proximity to our place, the relaxing decor, the beers on tap, and the quality of food, Bureau is sure to make our list of regular rotation. I'll save room that I'd otherwise spend on the poutine for their changing specials.

The Bureau
327 Edgewood Ave. SE
Atlanta, GA 30312


Hardy from Dirty South Wine dropped off an email with some exciting news. I don't know how he managed to get such an excellent list of restaurants together, but everyone should get out there and try some!

Here are the details:


Dirty South Wine’s search for Atlanta’s best wine pairing under $25! Atlanta, GA -- Dirty South Wine, Atlanta’s top wine blog, has announced the 2008 “Riding Dirty” Atlanta Wine Pairing Challenge. Fifteen of Atlanta’s top restaurants will prepare a wine and food pairing to be served at their bar for under $25. The goal of the challenge is to showcase the restaurant’s skill and
creativity in wine pairing, while presenting incredible, affordable combinations for the Atlanta dining public.

Restaurants must choose a glass of wine from their current list of by-the-glass wines, and the food may be either a small plate or appetizer from their standard menu. The pairings will be served to the judges at the participating restaurants and will be evaluated based on three criteria: taste, creativity and value.

The judges are:
1. Matt Richardson (aka Rowdy Food)
2. Broderick Smylie (ATL photographer
3. Hardy Wallace (publisher of

All pairings will be chronicled and written up on Dirty South Wine. At the end of the challenge, an overall winner will be named, and the 2008 “Riding Dirty” award presented. Along with the overall winner, several subcategories will be announced as well.

The following Atlanta restaurants have agreed to participate:
Holeman & Finch
Woodfire Grill
La Tavola
ONE. Midtown kitchen
And the ISAW charity (International Society of Africans in Wine)

The tastings will occur throughout the month of November, and winners announced on December 3, 2008. Progress in the “Riding Dirty” Challenge can be followed at, and updates and news can be followed on Twitter under #dty (for Dirty).

With a spectacular list of restaurants, fine wine, great food, and the use of new media, “Riding Dirty” is a first of its kind event for Atlanta. For more information, please email Hardy Wallace at

Friday, November 07, 2008

Highlight #109: New article on wedding food in Atlanta Cuisine

While I get together a few more posts on birthday feasting, here is a link to my article in the November issue of Atlanta Cuisine (page 7) on our wedding banquet in Singapore.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Highlight #108: Birthday feasting (Part II) - Restaurant: Bone's

Continuing with the old school theme from La Grotta the night before, Dad and I celebrated our joint birthday (really, it's the same day. It gets even better, grandpa also shares the day) at Bone's, a place where the staff really strive to take care of every guest without hovering.

While our bubbly was being poured and my BYO bottle of Silver Oak was breathing in the decanter, we ordered some simple starters to snack on. First up was the scotch smoked salmon. Not too salty and rather lean, the flavor spoke of wild waters even though I don't know if the fish was actually caught in the wild. What I didn't taste much was the scotch, an element I was quite looking forward to experiencing.

J, as usual, ordered a salad to start. His mom taught him well about the balanced diet. My mom particularly liked the dressing, a light blend of blue cheese that didn't drown out the greens. The toasted pistachios added some welcomed crunch.

In my sneaky way, I didn't order the steak knowing that J will always go for the porterhouse and I'll get my share from his plate (he is good about sharing the tastiest bites near the bone with me). Instead, mom and I asked for the mixed grill and the king crab legs for sharing, which the staff nicely split for us onto separate plates. My mixed grill included lamb chops, pheasant sausage, and fillet (medium rare). Everything was well-seasoned, but not too salty, a problem many have reported at Rathbun Steak. I preferred the lamb to the fillet for its more pronounced earthiness. The fillet was quite tender, although still not at the juicy level of my favorite - the T Bone.
Speaking of the T bone, we had one sitting next to me in front of dad. He asked me to choose for him and I naturally went for my favorite (medium rare). In some ways I would have preferred a more crusty outer layer, but the tenderness and juiciness of the meat took my mind off that quickly. Of course, I was offered the bites near the bone from both dad's T bone and J's porterhouse and they were both as melty as I remembered. J was in awe when Dad finished the big chunk of meat in record time. Being a very trim man, I have absolutely no idea where he puts all the big meals he eats. Maybe it's link to the same good genes that prevent him from going grey at almost sixty. Let's hope I have inherited those genes.

Besides decorating our table with glittering confetti, the staff also brought out a slice of ice cream cake with two candles for our joint birthday. While I was busy looking into the camera like J asked, Dad jumped the gun and blew out the candles... Hmm... More luck to him. I guess I can live with that. :)

3130 Piedmont Rd. NE
Atlanta, GA 30305