Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dare to be simple - Restaurant: Watershed

Many menus today are so verbose, I sometimes wonder if I am being charged by the word. Perhaps I am. After all, someone has to pay for the PR firms and menu consultants to generate the right prose. Considering the trend, it was so refreshing to read the simple, almost sparse, menu at the restaurant I call "the happy place."

Watershed is its name (after a song by the Indigo Girls to which one of the owners owes her fame) and the nationally acclaimed Scott Peacock its chef. Walking into the restaurant, you would hardly suspect its pedigree. Housed inside a former gas station, the restaurant was awash in sunlight on a Saturday morning. A few pink tulips provided the only pop of color against the soothing pistachio walls. The lunch menu was fittingly simple, mostly sandwiches and salads. I picked the roasted pork and chicken salad sandwiches to share with mom. I can't describe the meal any better than what Watershed already says on its website. "The food is fresh, wholesome, and soul satisfying . . . Chef Scott Peacock's dishes will take you on a fresh culinary journey or bring you back to the comfort and warmth of your grandmother's kitchen." The only problem I had with this description was, well, my grandma was not Edna Lewis. Maybe a Chinese version of Edna, but not Edna. I had no mayo in my diet growing up! Don't you feel sorry for me now? :)

I never skip dessert at Watershed . . . or anywhere else, come to think of it. The point is when the menu says "very good chocolate cake," it does not kid around. Watershed's chocolate cake is among the best if not the best I've ever had. Except, this time, we didn't get the chocolate cake. J beat me to the punch and ordered "fresh baked cookies and milk." I am all for simplicity, but cookies and milk? A little too simple, maybe? Well, he was right and I was wrong. The cookies were the best, THE BEST, cookies ever!!!!! Just very very slightly crispy on the outside and impossibly warm and gooey on the inside. I ate mine and my dad's and wanted MORE! That's really saying a lot, because I am the nibbler and I really nibble when not faced with these cookies!

406 West Ponce De Leon Ave.
Decatur, GA 30030

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy 2nd Anniversary! Restaurant: Repast

While everyone is out celebrating love this Valentine's day, Repast, my favorite neighborhood restaurant is simultaneously celebrating its 2nd anniversary. My calling Repast a neighborhood restaurant may be inaccurate considering that it has garnered numerous favorable reviews in both local and national prints. More recently, the kitchen has also housed one of the new Top Chef contestants. I call it a neighborhood restaurant only because, well, it is located in my neighborhood, in the next building from my loft to be exact, and because Joe, the ever present half of the husband and wife team, never fails to make me feel at home.

Neighborhood or not, the food at Repast is consistently good. My friend J had long ago crowned the pork belly scallop preparation shown above the best that she has ever tasted. A half portion of this generous dish is shown in the photo. You know a restaurant is special when the server goes out of his way to separately plate a split portion without having been asked.

Taste wise, this dish is awesome in a number of ways. First, it has pork belly. That fact alone is enough to make me drool. :) The fatty rendering from the caramelized pork belly provided an excellent coating for the lean scallops. In my opinion, the scallops really benefited from the glistening fat coating because, in combination with the tender scallop flesh, the whole fat coated package took on a mouth feel shockingly similar to that of creamy lard. And yes, having grown up with a Chinese grandmother who loves to render her own lard, I do know what creamy lard feels like in the mouth. :) What's also excellent are the accompanying shiitake mushrooms, which provided a deep flavor and chew that contracted well with the scallops. If I am not wrong, the mushrooms were cooked in soy souse from their dried form. My mother uses this trick to coax flavors out of dried shiitakes in hotpots while preserving their shape and chew during long stewing. Perhaps the Japanese half of the husband and wife team contributed to this aspect of the dish. For the health conscious, there were also a few baby carrots that added some color. All in all, this was a perfect dish for those near freezing days we've been having.

620 Glen Iris Drive
Atlanta, GA 30308

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Show a little love for Hue - Restaurant: Huong Giang

Buford highway is peppered with dozens of Vietnamese restaurants. Walking into any of them, one is practically guaranteed to score a bowl of pho, the noodle soup that has come to represent the nation. Huong Giang used to be one exception, where dishes tend to stay true to the flavors of Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Instead of pho, there was bun bo hue, a thicker and rounder rice noodle served in a red broth bursting with notes of lemongrass and red chilies. Unlike with pho, where one gets to pick the additions like beef, seafood, etc., Huong Giang's bun bo hue came standard with slices of beef, poached cubes of pork blood, and sliced pig trotter for protein, and amaranth leaves and thinly sliced banana blossom for fiber. In a sea of restaurants offering a largely standard Vietnamese menu, I admired HG for doing something different, and doing it pretty darn well.

Imagine my surprise and disappointment a few days ago, when I returned to HG to find a banner outside and a special menu on each table claiming that pho is now being served. It seems that the restaurant had finally gotten tired of customers asking "where is the pho"? Luckily, the old menu is still intact for those who want to try something different. The bun bo hue was still as excellent as ever. Assertively flavored with lemongrass and chilies, the broth nevertheless managed to extrude a long cooked beefy essence. The generous helpings of pork trotter slices and congealed pork blood added contrast in texture and offered a chance to boast both collagen and iron level for skin beautification, as my Chinese doctor mother used to say.

Another specialty that should not be missed is Banh La Cha Tom, a flat rice flour cake steamed in a banana leaf. They came in a pack of ten. The unwrapped cake was as pretty to look at, studded with bits of ground shrimp and pork, as it was good to eat dipped in a sweet and slightly tangy sauce. The whole eating process was addictive if one is fond of the gelatinous texture.

All in all, while Huong Giang had caved under the pressure to join the pho camp, its hue specialties remain the draw for food lovers.

Huong Giang
4300 Buford Hwy.