Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Paris!

No photos yet. My camera's SD card doesn't work with Jason's laptop and I failed to bring the cable. So... Please wait a few more days. But so far, we have had some amazing meals here!

L'Ourcine for lunch (Chef Daniere trained with Yves Camdeborde, who seemed to have trained every great bistro chef in Paris. Terrific pigeon with foie gras.)
La Coupole for a midnight supper (Hemingway's old hangout is just as packed today. Not mind blowing food, but solid nonetheless)
L'Arpege for lunch (I have heard it called the most exciting restaurant in Paris right now. And it really may just be! It's AMAZING what chef Passard can do with the pristine vegetables from his three gardens outside of Paris.)
La Ferrandaise for dinner (This hidden away restaurant on a small street in St. Germain des Pres is still not discovered by tourists. Cute as a button, the Ferrandaise moo moo cows on the wall look even happier than the Californian ones from the ads back home. Chef Chaignot who previously worked at the famed Bristol sent out regional favorites from Auvergne. My partridge was a game lover's dream. The full flavored meat ranged from light to very dark pink and tasted progressively terroir enhanced by color as well. Awesome!)
Thanksgiving meal tonight is still yet to be determined as our dining companion Jenna fell sick with a stomach flu... We don't feel quite right going to the special American Thanksgiving meal she planned on our own.

We are off to Rome tomorrow. Will let you know how the food situation goes there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Off to Paris and Rome

We travel a lot for work and are pretty good about mixing what we need to do with what we want to do on these trips. But once in a while, we also need just a pleasure trip. Taking advantage of time off during Thanksgiving, we are heading off on a 7 day fun trip to Paris and Rome. I may or may not post during this time. Enjoy your holiday!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Highlight 262: Sweet Melissa knows her pancakes

When jetlag woke Jason up early on a Sunday morning a few weeks back, I was not happy. I count on the early morning hours for myself, to drink coffee alone, to eat breakfast alone, to really just be alone! This husband of mine likes group activities when he is up and about. He saved himself by suggesting brunch out. I perked up. We never brunch out early. This was our chance to try something different. We showed up at Sweet Melissa around 9am and found a bustling room.

I need starch in the am so went straight for the pancakes. Crisped near the edges, the buttermilk batter remained fluffy and tender inside. With every bite, there was the distinct buttery taste. I splurged for the real maple syrup. There is really just no point ruining good pancakes with the one dimensional artificial stuff.

Jason likes his protein. He almost never deviates from a loaded omelet. This Cheddar cheese filled chubby thing was simple and to the point. My one bite revealed nicely salted eggs and full flavored sausage and cheese. The albino biscuit sort of looked uncooked. Despite the appearance, it was actually quite fluffy if not crusty.

Sweet Melissa
127 E Court Sq
Decatur, GA 30030-2521
(404) 370-1111

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Highlight #261: Beachside eating- Restaurant: Jellyfish (Punta Cana)

I couldn't leave Dominican Republic without at least trying something local and outside of the resort. So one evening, six of us walked a mile or so down the beach to the beautifully lit Jellyfish.
As expected, the relatively concise menu focused on seafood. For starters, we ordered the calamari, fried shrimp, and a sausage hash. Everything was just fantastic.

The single most precious bite was the simple looking fried shrimp. About the size of a grown man's thumb, the piping hot flesh glowed with translucency and was super light and crunchy outside. The great shell almost felt sandy like the texture of a shortbread cookie.

I ordered the impressive looking lobster. It was good, but compared to the wonderful fish dishes the others got, it was actually the dud of the evening. The flesh was just a little too hard and the butter sauce a little too heavy.

One of the best fish dishes around the table was this Dominican preparation of a snapper. The very milky flesh needed very little else and the bright pepper accompaniment really brighten up the palate.

From the very sparse dessert menu, we selected the flan. This must be the most dense flan I've ever had. It's almost approaching the consistency of a fudge. I had no idea if that is the Dominican spin on flan. I did, however, appreciate the intensified caramelization.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Highlight 260: Resort eats II

The second day, while I attended more seminars, Jason went deep sea fishing. It's not fishing season, but the boat managed to come back with one!

Then we laid around and spent the afternoon in the shade.

Occasionally we watched all the colors.

For some reason, napping all afternoon makes one hungry... By night fall, we were more than ready to hit restaurant number 2, Passion. Jason is normally game to eat anything I want to order. Everything from ant larvae to goat hoofs. But he never shares my veal, out of respect for his late brother, who did not touch the stuff. Having no one to pass some of this very tender chop to, I ate way too much. No regrets though since most of the time I don't order veal when Jason is around, knowing that I'll be stuck with all the loft over.

Someone made this truffle cake with a chocolate freak in mind. It's all dense chocolate and no fluff. For me, who needed a little contrast, the light cream center was a very welcomed distraction. All in all, another satisfying meal at the resort.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Highlight #259: Resort eating - Restaurant: Vento (Paradisus Palma Real Punta Cana)

(photo from resort website)After months of flying around non-stop for work, Jason wasn't too excited about getting trapped at an all-inclusive resort with a bunch of lawyers. He worried about having no escape.
When the sun came up and revealed the white sand beach and turquoise pool, he changed his mind.

The water was calm enough to swim without working too hard. The soft sand massaged our feet with every step.

Even at near capacity, the resort had plenty of places for him to hide from the world and read a book in the breeze, while I spent hours absorbing useful information at the seminars. :)

By nightfall, we washed off the sand and hit the Mediterranean restaurant at the resort called Vento. The menu was short but competent enough.

Not expecting too much from resort food, I was pleasantly surprised by the first course, a foie gras mousse. Light and flavorful, it went down smooth and worked just as well on its own as with the dinner rolls. I had a moment of let down when the rolls felt cold to my touch. I suppose there is no need for that in the tropic, but indulgence is never about need, is it?

I requested the duck as my main. Again, very flavorful even if the duck was just a little too cooked. The play between savory duck and tart/sweet apple kept me pretty content. In the next four days, it became apparent that flavor is the thing that this resort does very well. I hardly had a single bland thing on this trip, which, in my opinion goes a long way to counter the typical mass feeding blahs. When things can't be of the best execution, at least make them taste good. These folks knew their stuff.

Three of us cleverly ordered all three desserts to share. The lone peach tart turned out to be stellar, while the other two were also quite above average. I particularly enjoyed the very crumbly crust of the tart and the well balanced sour to sweet ratio.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

HIghlight #258: Cure for rainy day blues

Rainy days such as this just feels blah, especially when it happens so early in the week. Why not perk it up with something strong yet comforting. How does a simple version of 40 cloves chicken sound?

This is normally a stove top dish, but I like to leave things in the oven to free up time for other things. As such, I've tweaked this dish for oven preparation. With oven preheating to 350, I seared up two whole chicken legs (salted and peppered). Breasts are fine also, but in this house, we like flavorful meat.

Once the chicken is seared to my liking (skin side darkened, but not charred), I remove them and add in a whole bunch of garlic cloves. There is no need to count to 40, just eyeball it. Toast the cloves to a nice golden color then drop in a bunch of thyme leaves. I like thyme with chicken so in went about ten sprigs worth of leaves. Following that, a glass of white wine was also added. At this point, it's a good idea to let it reduce a bit before seasoning with some salt and pepper. This braising liquid sounds really simple, but the garlic and thyme combo does something magical in the oven, I swear.

At this point, put the chicken back in, skin side up (the underside is much better at absorbing flavors) and stick in the oven for an hour.

In the mean time, I like to cook a veggie dish with the leftover thyme and a pot of brown rice. This time, I had mushrooms and celery on hand, so they went into a pot together with a bit of concentrated chicken stock and a splash of dashi. Towards the end, I salted and peppered the softened the veggie.

The results are super comforting and really quite good for both body and soul. And you'll be amaze how many whole garlics you can eat without taking a break.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Highlight #257: Much more than just chili at Chomp & Stomp

Despite having lived 5 minutes from cabbagetown for the past four and half years, this Saturday was the first time that I made it to Chomp & Stomp, the annual festival of chili and bluegrass. Good thing I started early (around 11:15am). By the time the chili service began at noon, the line to get the "chomp" stamp was down and around the street.

Before the crowd showed up, I scouted out the chili vendors that looked most promising. Right away I saw Fox Bro., my favorite bbq restaurant. The ladies with ladles made sure I understood that their brisket chili won the top award last year. I made a note to come back.

On such a gorgeous fall day, there was really nothing better than a festival in the park. By the time I checked out all the art vendors, plenty of folks had already found spots on the lawn in front of the bluegrass band.

I don't like to wait, so while the chili vendors held back their ladles before noon, I checked out the other snacks. This retro cart was dishing out hot dogs and such. I didn't try. My precious stomach space had to be saved for the "must eats."

Before long, I locked in on one of these "must eats." Farmer Mike with his large white beard looked as impressive as his pile of pitch black smoked pork. Pieces are taken off one by one and hand shredded for sandwiches.

I took mine to a sunny spot in front of the band. Once I started chewing, the music faded into the background and all I heard was the humming of heavenly piggies. What's really exciting here was a great mix of pork fat bits with lean shreds. Every mouthful was moist and juicy. The sauce, thankfully, was also not too sweet.

After my pork sandwich, I walked down a few stalls and found my next "must eat." Initially, I didn't pay much attention to this simple vendor setup until I smelled meat charring in the pan. Then I saw the name "Grind House" and a light bulb went off. It's the new burger joint in the Sweet Auburn Market that I have been meaning to check out. They weren't serving burgers, but little sliders for $2. Perfect for a taste.

Being a slider, there was no choice for doness and the slider came preloaded with cheese and pickles. The ketchup was my addition. For a small piece of meat, this was really juicy and worked well with the soft roll. The pickles help to cut through the fattiness a bit. It reminded me of an in-n-out burger. The only area for improvement was the salt level. The patty tasted bland without the ketchup, cheese, and pickles. Perhaps a personal preference, but I like my patty seasoned. Not so seasoned like a meatloaf, but definitely salted.

Of course, I had to get some chili. Fox Bro.'s winning brisket chili was indeed good, in an assertively spicy, tangy, and greasy way. It's not one that I can put away by the large bowlful due to the large amounts of rich brisket chunks, but I also didn't have to worry about popping Beano (no bean inside).

Chomp & Stomp exceeded my expectation by a mile. I'll definitely be back next year and it won't be for the chili alone either.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Highlight #256: Wholesome goodness - Restaurant: Ria's Bluebird

I often think of Ria's in the summer time because of the patio. But after a massive mosquito attack there this past summer, I was scared to visit until Jenna proposed it for our ladies lunch this week. Fall is the perfect weather to be out on the patio. The mosquitoes are DEAD! And the cool air is blocked by the see through plastic curtain. Finally, I can just sit and enjoy my food. And enjoy I did. This is not earth scattering stuff, just simple and wholesome things. My turkey melt was full of not too salty turkey slices separated by fat chunks of avocado. No fries to choose from on the sode, so I got the sweet potato and felt quite healthy.

Ria's bluebird
421 Memorial Drive SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
(404) 521-3737

Friday, November 06, 2009

Highlight #255: mixing of cultures

This past weekend I was served a chicken & sausage gumbo at the home of Louisiana native. I've had real gumbo before, but never with a scoop of potato salad on top. A little research revealed that it is actually the preferred the way for many natives who cook and eat gumbo at home. Although at the restaurants, it is never served that way. However, potato salad is almost always found on the menu and can be ordered for that purpose. A little further research traced the origin of this practice to the influx of German immigrants to Louisiana in the 18th century. Very interesting! As for taste, it was good, but not indispensably good. The gumbo didn't cry out for potato salad the way it did rice.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Highlight #254: Fun people+awesome food+cult wines=one heck of a party

We all know or at least heard of those special people who throw amazing parties. It's an art, not a science. Every year I look forward to Christie's parties (previously documented here and here.) The woman has a knack for putting together a guest list that ensures fun for all. Having worked and played with her for some years, I know from experience that she is one cool lady. But I am certain even readers of this blog would get a sense of this woman's fun loving nature, if only judging from the coolness of her friends. :)

Christie has a thing for supporting the High museum and its wine auction. In return for her generosity, the High provides the forum for her butt kicking parties. This year, the venue was the Wisebram's beautiful home in Vinings.

After days of continuous rain, we were blessed with a bright sunny day perfect for appreciating the beautiful fall colors from the Wisebram's lovely back deck.

Of course, it's not a wine party if there is no wine, so we started things off with Iron Horse bubblies and a three liter bottle of 2002 Au Bon Climat Hildegard white blend. This blend had great acidity and a surprising whiff of yeast amidst the vanilla. The mouth feel was smooth and it tasted faintly of tropical fruits and buttered toast. The yesty nose made for a great champagne alternative.

There is nothing quite like a roaring fire on a fall deck to bring old and new friends together. Something about warmth in crisp air gets into everyone's spirit.

Before long, people started to goof off. (lovely host on left)

Inside, the Muss & Turner chefs churned out artful nibbles for the hungry guests.

For those who cannot wait, there was a fully loaded charcuterie board for sampling. The chorizo, whose spiciness excited our waiting palates, attracted ample attention.

Every few minutes, the ultra friendly servers came by with a new creation from the kitchen. Here we have a white anchovy on black pepper cracker with cornichon slaw, all nut free to put a smile on Robert's face. It was my first bite at the party and its briny and acid nature really whet my appetite.

What I tasted next was one of the simplest but most exciting bites of the evening. A tender endive leaf held together cubes of vanilla roasted pears with Gorgonzola & aged balsamic. The ingredients were of superb quality and worked together like a charm. I am determined to reproduce this for home consumption this holiday season.

No successful party is music free. And live is always better. Christie had the great fortune of living her early party days during one of the most happening music eras and we all got the benefit of that sound this evening. :)

After the early warm up, we got into serious wine business. Dick Denny, our wine master for the evening, gave an introduction to the large list of wines (18 wineries/vineyards were featured and this doesn't even include the different varietals) we'll be tasting as the evening progressed.

I haven't seen this kind of line up at a private event since those eight hour Sundays I spent at the AIA trying to pass the International Sommelier Guild's levels 1&2 certification. And there is not even a teacher here to remind me to spit. :) (Btw, I highly recommend this course at the AIA to anyone who loves wine. Yes, eight hours every Sunday for four month does sound like a big commitment. But you walk away with such a new perspective on drinking wine, it forever changes the way you learn and taste. The most empowering thing I learned is that the whole tasting experience is personal as each wine is different and ever changing. Despite what the experts may say, no one can tell you absolutely what you should smell, taste, or love. You get to decide. Cool, no?)

For precisely this decide-for-yourself reason, Dick particularly encouraged a blind tasting of the 2007 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir and a Dunah, both from Russian River (KB is about three times the price of the Dunah). I did the tasting. Price aside, my preference was for the KB. The earthier and more barnyardy nose, baked fruits, and heavier body weight were very attractive to me. But for those who prefer a more herbal nose and a less rich style, the Dunah had great refined red fruits and a nice lingering finish.

The Muss & Turner chefs stopped working temporarily to enjoy some sips. Chef Chris Hall and the Muss & Turner folks are close to finalizing a new restaurant in the midtown area. Let's all hope that they pull through soon. These are very fun folks to hang out with and they make unpretentious good food.

Soon it was time to eat again. Here is a seasonal scallop on sweet potato puree.

Another crowd pleaser was this pickled shrimp and local rattlesnake bean topped with a bacon concoction.
But my favorite of favorites was this extra smoky and creamy smoked north Georgia mountain trout with apples. Normally, fish does not stand up well to the stronger red wines, but this smoked trout was mighty enough to stand shoulder to shoulder even with the syrah lot.

The most wonderful pairing of the evening was this duck confit in herbed crepe with macerated blueberries washed down with the Kosta Browne. The duck's earthiness sought out its counterpart in the wine and validated the classical marriage of duck with pinot noir.

A little spontaneity in the kitchen by chef Hidinger proved that more is sometimes just more. What you see here is a spoonful of sinful pleasure. Can you say bacon, cream, and foie gras in the same sentence without going breathless? I think not. :)

Side effects of the sinful spoonful included uncontrollable hugging of the chef. Totally involuntary!

Let's just say that I dripped all over myself eating this slider and didn't even know it. The tangy and sweet sauce really hit the spot and benefited from the sinus clearing qualities of the red onions. Along side the slider, I tried a pair of syrahs (the 2004 Dutton Estate and the Qupe from Santa Maria). The Dutton had some great dark fruits, soft spices, and felt velvety smooth. The Qupe on the other hand, was a bit hot and brooding. I didn't have enough time for it to sit in the glass, so never found out if it mellowed out more later. At this point, I had a short exchange with Dick, the wine master for the evening, who asked what I was enjoying. I shared with him my preference for the Dutton and he had the best response "oh good, that's the one with my name on it." Sure enough, a close inspection of the label revealed "Dick Denny Cuvee." Nice!

Around dessert time, a pair of Colgins were popped open. Being one of the original cult wines, they are hard to get, so I have never had the pleasure of tasting either. Needless to say, this was a treat. First up was the 2005 IX estate syrah. Maybe because it didn't get a chance to breath before being poured, the nose was a bit closed off initially. But one thing I could tell immediately was a nice balance. I really wish we had more time to sit with this to observe the changes in the glass, but I had to enjoy the stewed berries that just began to bloom quickly before the next one was poured. I did, however, pick up a faint note of licorice at the end. For some reason though, the finish on this wine dropped off abruptly.

The 1998 cabernet sauvignon from Herb Lamb estate had a pretty distinct green vegetable nose (maybe that's why the herb lamb name? :)). This was not a heavy bodied wine and also had a nice balance. But yet again, the finish closed off fairly fast and left me somewhat wanting. I am wondering if I am really missing something here by getting such a quick snap shot of the wine and no observation of development. It reminded me of an article on David Doyle, the owner of a $40 million cellar. In the article Doyle said that one major draw back of severely inflated wine prices is that even collectors feel that it requires a gathering to warrant tasting of a great wine. But in doing so, no one gets to experience what's truly beautiful about a wine, its ability to morph over a period of time.

Wine aside, we got some excellent desserts. I am glad that Jenna took this photo before I started licking off the milk chocolate mousse with macadamia nuts and sea salt flakes (not pretty).

Also passed around were these cubes of pumkin cake with pumpkin frosting. I love moist cakes and these were right up my alley.

I am not a big peanut butter fan, but these truffles were nice and not at all over powering. It must have been the light salty notes that drew me in.

We opened and finished every single bottle of wine (not all shown). Luckily, not a single bottle was corked.

We certainly look happy by the end, don't we?

Thanks to all these wonderful folks for making this special evening happen (left to right: Woodie and Steve Wisebram, Christie, Marg and Dick Denny).