Tuesday, September 30, 2008

highlight #96: More than just pizza - Restaurant: Fritti

There is one place J and I go more than any other, especially when we can't or don't want to think of a place to go. That place is Fritti.

Five minutes from our loft, there is something here to satisfy every one of our needs. Besides the superior neopolitan pizza, there are great salads for when we feel like detoxing, but even more than that there is one of the most overlooked yet great scallop dishes (cape sante) around.

Four dollars cheaper than its counterpart at sister restaurant Sotto Sotto, this ten dollar dish is by no means less impressive. Perfectly grilled to preserved the tender sweet center but charred enough to obtain wonderful caramelized flavor on the outside, this is the perfect treat either as a starter leading up to pizza or as a very light meal. The wine list at Fritti is also quite similar to that of Sotto Sotto, which puts it head and shoulders above other pizza places. Best of all, we can always walk in and get a seat. Now that's place to go back to.

309 N. Highland Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30307

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Daily highlight #95: Value for money - Sushi House Hayakawa

More than one food personality have called this tiny place in the corner of the old looking International plaza "the best." I am no authority on sushi by any means, but I will refrain from going as far as calling it "the best," as I believe such a title befits only those that approach perfection and what I had on Friday night was not quite perfection. With that said, our omakase was truly a joy to eat with some excellent dishes and totally value for money. This is not saying that the omakase was cheap at $65 for the larger format. However, considering that the four of us split two of these with only the addition of two appetizers and left quite content, it's a pretty good deal for very fresh sushi.

We started out with two daily specials before the omakase courses came. The first was a mackerel box sushi roll. Very pretty to look at, I tremendously enjoyed the delicate wrapping in both its appearance and its less assertive taste. The mackerel came through loud and clear speaking of its ample oil content. For anyone not keen on fish tasting strong, this wouldn't be a good choice. I enjoyed it for the fuller mouth feel but was rather done after one piece not wanting to weigh down my palate for some of the lighter courses to come.

Our other appetizer was miso grilled eggplant. I loved the study in both white and dark miso here. The less aggressive white miso imparted a very pleasant sweetness to the finer fibered Japanese eggplant, while the heavier and more fermented tasting dark miso boosted the umami quotient.

As we were enjoying the eggplants, our appetizer course of the omakase arrived. The simple trio included two cubes of mildly flavored tamago, slivers of sweet soy marinated mushrooms, and a light bamboo shoot salad. Everything was very light and nothing struck me as being particularly good. Perhaps my palate was just getting used to the more restrained taste after our boldly flavored special appetizers earlier.

Next up was our sunomono vinegared salad, which included on top of two small piles of cucumber and seaweed salad a butterflied shrimp, a slice of octopus, mackerel, and some clams. The salad was a bit watery for my taste, but the sushi carried a pleasant fresh ocean note. My favorite was the clam, which was just slightly crunchy and very sweet.

Half way into our sunomono, we received our sashimi plate. Immediately I noticed the salmon piece that was obviously cut in half to accommodate both of our orders. Maybe I am biased, but something like this takes some respect away from the sushi chef because instead of cutting from a new piece of salmon, he chose to serve the end piece rather than saving it for chopped applications such as in a spicy salmon roll. With that said, the salmon was very creamy and good. The other standout was the hamachi that sled across the tongue like cool silk.

Rather than moving on to sushi in a more natural progression, we received our grilled/fried course instead. The skewer was salted with a light hand and just a tad dry. The tempura on the other hand were done very well. Under the airy, crunchy and non-greasy coating were tender pieces of veggies and shrimp. My favorite was the piece of kabocha squash that was sweet and soft.

Maybe the waiter realized that we should have had our sushi before the fried course, we received the sushi plate immediately after the tempura plate landed. By this point we are starting to see that while the fishes are quite fresh, there aren't too many varieties, so each course repeated much of the previous. Here, I enjoyed the lady mouth sized tuna roll enclosing pristine tasting pieces of ruby goodness.

Arguably the most smile-inducing dish of the night was the ikura don or marinated roe. These babies glistened like jewels and were surprisingly non-salty but flavorful with a great mirin type sweetness. The rice underneath was tender but held its grain integrity very well.

We chose to get all three desserts (2 included with the omakase and one additional). The green tea mousse delighted with a lightness matching that of the meal. I particularly like the naturally sugary sweet potato pieces.

The green tea and red bean ice creams were enjoyable as well, being somewhat creamier than the usual Asian ice creams. The whole meal satisfied, but did not weight us down, so we left feeling happy and still had something left in the bank account.

Sushi House
5979 Buford Hwy. A-10
Atlanta, Ga 30340

Friday, September 26, 2008

Daily highlight #94: A truly bad meal - the Grange

I rarely write negative reviews. It's certainly not because I don't encounter less than sublime meals or that I am afraid to do so. I just would rather focus on the good and happy in my life than the forgettable. But when a meal is so careless thrown together as to make me feel angry that I had to hand over the money, I am compelled to try to prevent others from experiencing the same.

Our meal at the Grange, which took over the old place of the Angel in Decatur, happened on a good Tuesday, when J and I wanted a beer to celebrate a small victory. The beer was great, but everything went down hill from there. J's caprese salad had terribly mealy tomato slices that even looked embarrassingly mealy like an overripe watermelon. My hummus was watery and accompanied by stale pita. Then came the major offender. The fish & chips (above) not only smelled and tasted over fried, the much too brown batter held within gray flesh that flaked unattractively in the way of freezer burned old fish. It was so bad, even the starving J couldn't quite stomach much of it.

I don't know what possessed us to order dessert. Maybe J just didn't want a happy night to end on such a bad note even though I never complained a word in an attempt to keep his good mood going. The waitress highly recommended the brownie with ice cream, so we got that. Big mistake, although I really don't know if the other choice would have been any better. Besides the hard crusted brownie, what really made me sad was that even the store bought ice cream was full of ice crystals. Really, the whole meal was just sad.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Daily highlight #93: Ipoh Hor Fun (Singapore)

It's a myth that great hawker food can only be found in open air hawker centers. One truly excellent Ipoh hor fun and white chicken combo can be found in a clean and bright air-conditioned space right next door to my wedding makeup artist.

Yi Bao came out of Malaysia and brought with it one of Malaysia's most well known regional cuisine from Ipoh. The super silky and smooth hor fun is much more refined in texture and delicate in seasoning than its darker and chewier cousin in the Char Hor Fun (stir fried Hor Fun) of Kokkien. Here, the gravy gently coats the soft hor fun and lets the tender white chicken shine with its own merits. I am not normally a white chicken kind of girl, but this version actually has flavor!

Yi Bao
31 Lorong Liput
Holland Village

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Daily highlight #92: Popcorn, take one, take two - The Porter

For me, Shaun's holds the golden standard for many things. Just off the top of my head, it's my go to place for duck fat fries, fluffy yet crispy fish & chips, and sinful chicken liver fettuccine. But last week, in a head to head bar snack contest, a new comer defeated Shaun's curry popcorn (above) by a good mile.

This new comer does not bill itself as a relaxed yet classy dining spot in the same category as Shaun's. In fact, it's anything but. What we are talking about here is a beer pub, a beer pub with bar snacks. And snack we did. The salt and vinegar popcorn caught our eyes and we ended up with a big Sunday afternoon TV marathon watching bowlful. The salt was rather muted, but the vinegar, oh boy, the vinegar in its pulverized powder form, just went straight up the nose. Like a great bag of wasabi peas, the burn just drove me right back into the bowl handful after handful. Awesome stuff!

The Porter
1156 Euclid Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30307

Monday, September 22, 2008

Daily highlight #91: 100 years of murtabak - Zam Zam (Singapore)

Zam Zam, an institution in the area of Singapore known as Arab street, has stood at the same street corner for exactly 100 years. It saw Singapore through colonial English rule, Japanese occupation, as a part of Malaysia, and into its own republic. Despite all the changes that have happened around it, time seemed to have stood still within its walls.

Day in and day out the same mutton murtabak fried live on a large griddle inside the front window drew regulars and tourists into this humble two story building. Standing there with my face pressed against the glass and greasy fume permeating through my hair, I simply could not turn my eyes away from these quick hands flipping roti loaded with fragrant mutton bits and running eggs on the hot griddle.

It's a beautiful thing when a girl gets exactly what she wants. And what this girl wanted was the ten dollar bigger than my head mutton murtabak (don't worry, I had two growing boys to help me with it), which came with two curries for dipping, one more spicy than the other. Can you guess which one I have my spoon in? :)

Perhaps not the best choice of food the day before the wedding, but then again I am not known to give much weight to such considerations. Happiness rules on all days and happiness at Zam Zam meant dipping pieces of flaky on top and chewy in the center roti pregnant with garlic and onion infused mutton mince into spicy and creamy curry. A plate of curried lady fingers (slender young okra) rounded out a perfect meal.

Daily highlight #90: Hitched ... and Roasted Pig article in AC

So it's official . . . well at least it's official on the other side of the world. We have been back from our honeymoon in Bali for a week now, but have decided to use the time to plan a redo of our condo. After all, this is as good a time as any for a fresh start.

We actually had a fantastic time at our own bash and ate some pretty awesome food before, during and after the wedding. Here is a photo of my adorable flower girl offering us her depiction of the ceremony.
In her version, the bride is about twice the size of the groom, but then again, she is much prettier. :)
While I get my food posts together (there are way too many), check out my article on roasted pigs in this month's Atlanta Cuisine.