Thursday, July 30, 2009

Highlight #198: Thick and fluffy - Bakery: Alpine Bakery

I try my hardest to avoid going OTP during rush hour, but sometimes I fail. After my necessary errand, rather than rejoining the traffic to come back to town, I took a detour to visit Alpine bakery, a place I heard many good things about.

Because most things I heard in connection with the bakery involved some kind of bread, I was surprised to find primarily cakes and pastries on offer. The selection of bread was restricted to a basket set on top of the large display case showing off some pretty tantalizing looking cakes. I picked out a medium sized garlic loaf and asked it sliced (I like to freeze my bread sliced for easy toasting through the week). Rather than using a machine, the guy serving me took a knife to it and gave me hefty slices. Nice!

Rather than the crusty and holey type I was expecting, I found fluffy and squishy slices. With a little toasting, the first slice was perfect for easy spreading. I am thinking this would be great for a artisanal twist on the classic soft tomato sandwich. I bet it'd press well for pan toasted sandwiches too. An idea that I should test out soon.

Alpine Bakery
295 Rucker Rd
Alpharetta, GA 30004-6678

Monday, July 27, 2009

Highlight #197: Second breakfast - Restaurant: Ria's Blue Bird

I don't know about you, but this nibbler needs to nibble immediately after rolling out of bed. So when I make plans to meet friends for breakfast, I am really just arranging to eat for a second time in the AM, which, during the weekend, is perfectly acceptable. :)

My first at home breakfast was sweet from honey, so when I got to Ria's, I was ready for salty. Our server never told us about the brunch special, but because I happened to check the website before our 9:30 meet up, I asked for the lamb Benedict special and a biscuit as my side. At first, I was a little disappoint that there were no English muffin bottoms, which I love. When I heard potato cakes, I thought hash brown. I know many out there love hash brown, but it's just not my thing. But no, what I got were pan fried cakes of creamy mashed potato! Now, that's cool. :) Above that, there were the plentiful tender lamb slices, savory from a light pan gravy. Everything really hit the salt spot. The only less than stellar component of this plate was the biscuit. Perhaps my standard rose dramatically since the excellent biscuits I've recently indulged in on our trips to Charleston and Asheville, but this one was just not flaky or fluffy. Then again, I had more than enough food to keep me happy.

Ria's Blue Bird
421 Memorial Dr SE
Atlanta, GA 30312

Highlight #196: Small town charm - Restaurant: Smith House (Dehlonega)

Spending this past weekend without the darling husband really made me miss our fun day trips. It's simply impossible not to have a good time with the man when he is the kind to suggest a large bowl of ice cream right before dinner. With folk music in the background, lazy late afternoon sunlight on our faces, it was easy to imagine living a quiet small town life during our recent trip to Dehlonega.

After ice cream, we were hungry for salty stuff and headed to the subterranean Smith House inside a large residence that also is the site of a deep gold mine, which can still be viewed through protective glass in a room next to the dining hall.

Food is served family style here. Arriving at 7pm, we were considered late diners (the place closes at 8pm) and got to start a brand new table. As soon as we sat down, we were asked by the super nice server to order our drinks. No sodas or alcohol here, just variations of ice tea and lemonade. While we waited for our sweet tea, a basket came hot with dinner rolls and cornbread. The cornbread was crusty and salty in the proper southern way.

Then some company arrived at our table. A jolly party of four retirees enjoying life away from the city. They were funny folks and got us laughing quickly. I still remember one joke that came up after a short discussion of whisky between one of the older gentlemen and my husband. "My uncle drank so much in life, when he was cremated, the fire burned for three days before it could be put out." Doesn't sound so funny now, but it was seriously laugh worthy at the time.

Then our food came on a big cart and everyone got down to serious business. There were large platters of fried chicken, fried okra, green beans, sweet potato, mashed potato, Brunswick stew, collard greens, country ham, and a bunch of other stuff I can't recall now. The photo shows but a very modest first plate that I gathered in an attempt to pace myself. There was so much food, modesty soon went out of the window. My definitely not food focused husband was the first to comment on how good everything tasted without excess use of butter or other grease. In fact, nothing was overly salted either. It just all felt fresh and wholesome, like eating at my mom's house, even though my mom cooks nothing but Chinese, the philosophy of clean cooking is most certainly the same.

Even though we've already had dessert, who can say no to warm yellow cake topped with fresh strawberry sauce and homemade soft serve? Unlike most strawberry sauces, the berries in this one were not cooked to obliteration and still retained texture. The slight tartness was super with the soft serve. The yellow cake was decidedly simple but quite eggy, the way I like it.

The sun was still out when we finished, perfect for enjoy a bit of quiet time on the porch rocking away.

The Smith House
84 South Chestatee Street
Dahlonega, GA 30533

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Highlight #195: sweet source close to home - Bakery: Desserts by Latrell

Somehow I lost my typed text to this post. Too lazy and mad at myself to redo, I'll just say that this red velvet slice was light yet moist and the icing was not leaden while tasting distinctly of cream cheese. Simple and good is what I am saying.

Desserts by Latrell
581 Edgewood Ave SE
Atlanta, GA 30312

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Highlight #194: what's not to love

Normally I am not a fan of Godiva. But how does one resist such cuties? Check out these smile inducing ice cream parlor truffles the next time you pass a Godiva counter. Better do it quick though, they are limited editions. I have tried two out of three and the mint chocolate is pretty great.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Highlight #193: Great lunch spot - Restaurant: Waterhaven

The name sounds funny. It makes me think of Kevin Costner's horrible all brown movie Waterworld. But waterhaven is not brown and there are no men covered in fishscaled leather walking around. There are, however, plenty of seating outside in the shade of tech square. We parked ourselves there and got an excellent lunch.

What you can't see that well in the back of the above photo are the fried green tomatoes. I am always wary when ordering it because it so often turns out soggy or bland. These were none of that. Super crunchy and salted just right, even the one that grew up on fried green tomatoes loved them.

In the foreground is the daily flatbread. While it looks slightly thick in the photo, it was in fact rather thin and crunchy throughout. Evenly covered with cheese and olives, it was easy to put away despite the large size for an appetizer.

Here is a perfect example of lost perspective in photos. This salad was, in life, the size of my head, but appears puny here. The dressing surprised me. The menu said only buttermilk, at least that's what I read without reading too carefully. What I didn't expect was the powerful dash of curry powder in the buttermilk. It wasn't a problem as I love curry and have used it on my own seared salmon before. It was only surprising because my first bite was of an apple chunk and I had not thought about pairing apple with curry. Once I got acquainted with the curry, it was a pleasure to eat.

I was had at the first utterance of "icebox pie." I love that term! Something chilled and old fashioned, perfect for a summer day lunch. As the name promised, the little wedge was cool and light, anchored by a denser cookie crust. It was the perfect ending to enjoy while watching the lively square that never got too noising to disturb our lunch.

75 5th St
Atlanta, GA 30308-1019
(404) 214-6470

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Highlight 192: Lowcountry charm - Restaurant: 82 Queen (Charleston)

Michael and Jane Stern wrote a few of my favorite books on road food. Back in the 70s when "foodie" was a term foreign to most Americans, the Sterns were already driving across the country tasting and writing about their beloved "American" food along the highways. Today, they have a website dedicated to these eats. Most of what they seek out and recommend are specialities from diners and other hole in the wall establishments. So when I came across this "too fancy" recommendation and read Michael's review that claimed 82 Queen's shrimp and grits as the "best," we had to go there. I mean it beat out the highly regarding Hominy Grill and Jestine's Kitchen, both Charleston favorites.

We ran through what appeared to be a monsoon to get inside the cozy bar of 82 Queen. An excellent dirty martini almost got us to forget about our wet clothes before we came to the realization that to get to the dinning room one must cross the courtyard, which is of course uncovered. While we sipping on our drinks, we watched the dripping servers make trip after trip delivering food covered in trays in the pouring rain, looking completely calm and unaffected. Crazy!

When our turn came, the hostess walked us out into the wetness and slowly up the stairs to the 2nd floor dining room. I was getting drenched so quickly, I almost shoved her along to move as fast as possible. Once inside, it was all much better, especially when the she crab soup came.

Full of cream and heavy with roe, it was heavenly on its own, but was even better with a liberal splash of dry sherry, which came on the side. Luckily I got my fill before Jason went too far with the sherry. Perfect for dipping were these Cheddar chive mini biscuits.

After the soup, we split a crab cake. Having grown up in Maryland, where crab cake is a religion, I'd say that this is pretty up there in terms of quality and percentage content. The "cake" was short on bind agents and fell apart easily to show off lot of big crab chunks. What really put it over the top was the creamy sauce. Again very rich, a theme of this cuisine.

We got our mains in half portions, but looks didn't reflect that fact at all. Without me saying you can probably already tell the cream and butter content in that grits. It stayed soften and loose for quite some time. The shrimp surprised me. They looked and tasted of bbq sauce, a very very good one, but nonetheless different from the transitional preparation. Had I not expected a comparison with my favorite in the atl from JCT kitchen I would probably have fully embraced these. But the slight sweetness got me off guard.

Now here is what really blew my socks off. This jambalaya was so full of shrimp, crawfish, sausages, etc., I couldn't even get just a bite of rice by itself. The best part was that the sausage, rather than being added in chunks, were cooked into the rice, so every forkful was imbued with intense sausage flavor. We ate so much to only find the plate looking almost exactly like it arrived. The leftover went back to the hotel with us and became breakfast when we really saw the binding Cajun butter in its solid form. Let's just say we were glad that the dish didn't come with a nutritional chart. :)

According to the server, the owner's wife used to be the pastry chef at the restaurant, but now only makes a single thing on the dessert menu and that is this peach cobbler. Let me first say that I am no huge fan of cobblers, but I do love ice cream and found this topper very pleasing. The warm bottom was good, but not something I would dream about like the jambalaya.

82 Queen
82 Queen St.
Charleston, SC 29401

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Highlight #191: The dependable - Restaurant: Aria

Despite the economy, a fair number of new places have opened, some with much buzz. We are all for trying the new, but when a true occasion comes up and nothing short of a great meal would do, we head to the old dependable. And there are only a handful of those. This time we wanted a bit of privacy and not too much meat, so we ended at Aria.

Aria is not our normal hunting ground. Not that the food isn't good. It's just that we don't normally mingle with the Buckhead crowd. But it's perfect this day when we showed up late without a reservation and just wanted a cozy table in the corner.

Having just ate a big snack, not knowing that this dinner was coming up, I picked out the lighter items from the menu. The above appetizer starter was fantastic despite the difficult to maneuver vessel in which it was served. I particularly liked that the lobster meat was slightly warm, rather than chilled, which complimented the equally warm and intensely umami pea puree.

The main of seared scallops echoed the sweetness of the lobster earlier. Really good scallops don't need much else and not much were done to them in this case. Great showing of restraint.

Between the two of us, Jason is the chocolate dessert fan. Without looking at the menu, he asked for the Valhorna chocolate creation that used to be served there. Our server suggested the chocolate dome instead, but brought us one more, the mousse. I ended up liking the freeby much better for its lightness and hints of hazelnut. The dome was somewhat difficult to eat due to the hardness of the shell. Both desserts were more or less predictable, but were all tasty.

490 East Paces Ferry Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 233-7673

Monday, July 06, 2009

Highlight #190: We have caught the weekend travel bug - Restaurant:

Ever since I finished up the case that occupied all of my weekends, we have been going places. This time Greenville, on a whim. The cute downtown was vibrant on a Friday night. There was even an outdoor concert between buildings with a beer stand in front. A great idea!

We walked around some and then looked for the all important food. Soby's was described to me as modern southern. I used to be skeptical of that term until Watershed was coined as such. I can certainly do with more fresh looking greens and less grease. The ultimate plus was a two top bar table right in the middle of these french doors that opened into the busy street. A perfect spot to enjoy the breeze and people watching.

What you see above is my favorite plate of fried green tomatoes. I am normally not the biggest fan as I find the breading soggy and the tomatoes bland. These were super crispy and the sauce was awesome. A little tangy and maybe a little mustardy? Also perfect were the fried sweet potato curls. Pretty and tasty.

We were told that the hush puppies are their best seller. They were indeed quite good. a little sweet with a good rough texture and big kernels of corn. Butter on the side makes everything better.

While beautiful, these non-southern seared tuna things weren't the best. Mostly it's because the pita pieces were hard enough to chip a tooth. The pea puree, however, was very nicely seasoned.

These deviled eggs started Jason's new obsession with this egg preparation. A good dose of mustard in the very smooth filling distinguished these from primarily mayo laden versions. The ham also gave them a nice salty kick. These were the perfect snacks for a summer evening. Happy days.