Saturday, October 31, 2009

HIghlight #252: Snack best - Restaurant: Cakes & Ale

There is a lot of good food to be had around this town. At almost every meal out, I find something to like. But it's not everyday that I end up LOVING every single bite tasted. Such was the case last night at Cakes & Ale.

I never sit at a table here, mostly because I never plan ahead when we end up here. We head in when we head in and then we wait for an opening at the bar. I don't mind because I love bar seats, especially these ones. Hefty counter slabs surround the lone bartender, who is always friendly and ready to talk about the beers on tap. If you are a cocktail person, try those. She makes great ones. I like to taste them when other orders, but I stick to my wine.

I like to share small plates off the daily menu written up on the large blackboard on the wall. This time, us two girls only wanted small nibbles. Boy, were these quality nibbles. The baked oysters were done old school with spinach soaked in cream and topped with plenty of fresh bacon bits. If you've loved the steak house versions, you'll like this one and appreciate the tremendous difference that fresh ingredients make. The gnocchi was the fluffiest I've had in a long long time. You'd think that the squid in comparison would be much chewier, but no, they were oh so tender and lovely.

To finish things off, we ordered the figgy pudding, which I've had last year around this time. I really love this. Very figgy and sticky, each bite shows so many layers flavor in the mouth. I particular like the slight saltiness at the start and the unexpected sour cream (rather than whipped cream) on top. Just lovely.

Cakes & Ale
254 W Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 377-7994

Friday, October 30, 2009

Highlight #251: Pizza party in the kitchen - Restaurant: Antico Pizza Napoletana

First of all, let me just say that pizza preference is a personal thing. No one has the right to tell you what style is better than another. You have to decide for yourself. If you want to know, you have to try and decide if you like Antico.

With that said, there are some factors that contribute to a good pie, no matter how you like it. For one, a super hot wood burning oven helps with both flavor and char. Something magical tends to happen when your pie bakes in an oven that is super heated to just short of 1000 degrees.

I have no idea how Antico beat the system to receive a permit for not one but three of these babies when other equally ambitious pizza joints cannot even manage to get one, but I am so glad that it got them. When you see the setup of this place, there can be no question that these pizzaiolos here love these ovens (the kitchen is about three times the size of the take-out and serving areas combined).

With a little advance planning, our group of 7 got to sit at the sole table in the kitchen rather than squeezing at the large communal table near the take-out counter. Beyond having more room to move around in, we also had the perfect view of the pizzaiolo in action. To further enhance our enjoyment, we brought along some of our own vino to wash down the fresh pizza.

Orders were taken directly by the pizzaiolo at the oven and were ready in under five minutes (three minutes to put together and two to bake). Chloe of Chow Down Atlanta, who had previously spent three hours here taking photos and documenting the making of the pies, recommended the San Gennaro (above) and the diavaolo (below).
After one round, all of us agreed that the ingredients here are at a superior level rarely seen elsewhere in the city. The Neapolitan style (somewhat doughier and chewier than the popular crispier types around town), however, was not everyone's favorite cup of tea. Although we all enjoyed the hot wood oven flavor and gorgeous char. I personally loved the chew and char combination. But if you are a slow eater like me, I'd recommend the diavaolo over the San Gennaro due to the San Gennaro's tendency to collect condensation of moisture released from the juicy tomatoes in the topping. Regardless of what you get though, these are quality pies.

If you are an artichoke lover, the capricciosa shows off a tasty version, fragrant and not at all slimy or mealy.

I did not expect so many choices for dessert having only heard about the cannoli. But there they were, beaming at us from the bright display fridge right near the door. We selected a nice collection, including the cannoli that has gotten a lot of press, a raspberry tart, a cup thingie with a name too difficult for me to remember, and a few other. (Disclaimer: Live to Nibble is no professional blog and I do not diligently take down names of dishes nor make any definitive comments as to their deliciousness.) We all loved the cup thing the most, but all were wonderful in a homey and rustic way (words of Gene, the man behind Eat, Drink, Man).

As mentioned above, you may or may not love the style served at Antico, but I do think you should give it a try if only to experience something made with passion by folks who grew up loving and eating it.

1093 Hemphill Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30318

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hightlight #250: Jewelry party - Restaurant: Fourth and Swift

Every year October brings such an overwhelming amount of fun and food (it's my birthday month), I have a hard time keeping up with the posts. This year, lovely June of June Shin handmade jewelry ( agreed to combine a mini jewelry show with my birthday happy hour. The original venue was set to be Repast, but I just couldn't work out the details with their event manager, so we switched to Fourth and Swift and what a great way to go! Everyone, from the chef to the manager to the staff, was so super friendly, we not only had help set up June's jewelry, we even got situated in the comfortable private area with a glass wall into the kitchen without any of us having ever asked for it. There is nothing better to make a party host feel good than attentive staff. I highly recommend this place for your holiday parties.
In fact, I may end up throwing my husband's company party there. We'll see if I can convince everyone to drive down.

June brought such an amazing collection, almost everyone that came bought something. Here is Jacinta with her gorgeous pink ring.

Trudie with one of her many pairs of earrings.

After the happy hour, about ten of us stayed for dinner. The deep fried Brussels sprouts immediately caught my eye on the starters menu. Proving that deep fried anything is good, these were super although without the tell tell characteristics of deep frying. The outer shell was just lightly crispy, but far from being greasy. The inside was just tender and not at all mealy. I really enjoyed the balsamic dressing, which countered the slight bitter bite of the sprouts with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness.

Look at my beautiful duck! Really nicely seared and cooked to a pink medium rare, the tangy berry infused sauce served as a great counterpoint to the natural richness of the duck meat.

We ordered no dessert because my friend Jessica kindly brought me a peanut butter caramel tart from Chocolate Pink. Everyone at the table got a tiny piece, which was just enough to covey the deliciousness of this dynamite dessert in a small package. Even though we didn't order it, Fourth and Swift does have my very very favorite ice cream, a macadamia and salted caramel brittle concoction to die for (it is unfortunately a special item only available sometimes).

Fourth and Swift
621 North Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30308-2857
(678) 904-0160

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Highlight #249: Childhood favorite found at Craft bar

Sichuan, where I grew up, is known for excellent beef jerky. Like most famous eats, there are a few variations. One version features super thin beef slices that are dried to a crisp and saturated with a hot chili oil so when put up against the light, one can see through it. It's very cool, but not my favorite. My favorite is a version that starts out in a five spice and chili infused braise and then dehydrated to a chewy but still resilient texture. And that is what I found at Craftbar. Amazing and so nostalgic. I don't know who is making it, but he/she deserves to be awarded honorary Sichuanese.

Another exceptional plate we had the same evening featured beef tongue in its best form, soft and super tender. The flavor was light yet so spot on. If you are a tongue lover, you must try this!

3376 Peachtree Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 995-7500

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Highlight #248: Hotel worth eating at - Restaurant: 700 Drayton (Savannah)

Usually I don't recommend hotel eating in America, but there are exceptions. On our recent weekend trip to Savannah, we found wonderfully satisfying eats at the century-plus Mansion at Forsyth.
It's hard to believe that such an enormous mansion was once the living quarters of a single family. Fronting the beautifully green Forsyth park, the red brick mansion looks as grand as ever in the warm autumn sun. Inside, the high ceilinged halls have been updated with a modern artsy twist. The corridors leading up to the large ballroom as well as hallways extending to all the rooms are now galleries of varying sizes. The collection of art is eclectic and cheerful. Combined with the warm lighting, the place is very cozy despite the availability of space.

The equally warm diningroom welcomed us with over sized leather chairs that I could have slept in. Our server started us with two glasses of bubbly, which he kept refilled all night. Wanting something light, I started with a fall maple apple slaw salad. Normally, I am not a fan of eating salads in restaurants. But this one sounded truly intriguing. A base of thinly sliced granny smith apples were mixed with thinly sliced cabbage, dried cranberries, and toasted pecan bits. The mix was then dressed with a maple syrup vinaigrette. On top it all sit a few intense slices of sharp cheddar. It's hard to image how the array of flavors would taste in the mouth, but it all worked! So crispy and refreshing. The restaurant kindly split the salad for the two of us, a plus in my book.

We were recommended both the mixed grill of fresh seafood and the updated duck with brussels sprouts. Between the two, the duck was the hands down favorite. While the seafood was indeed fresh in the mixed grill, they were covered with way too much butter to exhibit any true seafood flavor. The duck, on the other hand, was cooked just right to retain a nicely pink center and was balanced in sweetness and acidity. The sprouts were also a little crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, the way I really like. Then there were the matchstick sweet potato fries. Now, how could anyone not like those.

Jason picked the dessert because he wanted something tart and fresh. These were super plump berries. A little sweet and quite a bit of tart. Nice with coffee, but not quite like chocolate or ice cream if you know what I mean. :)

700 Drayton
700 Drayton St.
Savannah, GA 31401
Tel: 912.238.5158

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Highlight #247: A revived institution in Savannah - Ice cream parlor: Leopold's

Leopold's first came to exist in Savannah at the beginning of the last century with the arrival of three Greek brothers. Peter, the middle brother, passed the shop down to his son Stratton. After some years of operating the storied ice cream parlor, Stratton closed it down to head to Hollywood to pursue a career as a film producer. Savannah mourned the lost.

Decades and many hit films later (e.g., MI 3), Stratton came home to Savannah in 2004 and reopened his family's ice cream parlor. The marble counter and soda fountain all came from the original shop as well old photos decorating the front wall. but right next to those hung movie posters and movie star photos from films Stratton worked on.

From the two dozen or so ice cream flavors, I chose my favorite, pistachio, which showed much old world wholesomeness, from the pale green color to the plentiful nuts. The pistachio flavor was pronounced yet not artificial.

Jason had an old fashioned malt with chocolate ice cream, a reminder of the good life in historical Savannah.

212 E Broughton St
Savannah, GA 31401-3402
(912) 234-4442

Friday, October 16, 2009

Highlight #246: Not the Italian grandma's pasta with meat sauce

You may have noticed from my handful of posted home meals that I am not a recipe cook. Cookbooks I like. I look through them for inspiration, but when I am in the kitchen, I can't be bothered with words. I just go.

Ground chuck was on sale at Whole Foods, which was perfect for something saucy to chase away the chill brought in by the recent drizzly weather. I like to brown my ground meat by first salting a dry hot pan. This way I get a very nice salty crust on the meat without any additional oil. Breaking the ground into bits also encourages browning and prevents steaming in meat juice, which is yucky. To cook for two, I use only half lb of ground and the bits fit perfectly in the medium sized pan. But if you use more, you may need a bigger pan or do in batches.

When the meat bits are well browned, I remove them and use the rendered fat for browning half of a large onion and two cloves of garlics. If some bits of meat refuse to get out of the pan, I just leave them and not worry about it. :)

After some good caramelizing of the onion, I put in a spoonful of Italian seasoning to toast and then pour in a can of tomato chucks along with two to three leaves of chopped basil. I am always sipping wine while cooking, so in also goes a quarter of glass of what I happen to be drinking. This time a rioja. Salted and peppered to my liking, I let the mix come to a boil and then leave it on simmer for an hour or so.

This is a great thing to do when I have some work to do in the mean time. There is a certain warm happiness that builds in the house as the smell of meat sauce fill the rooms.

Twenty minutes before eating, I put on a pot of water and salt it aggressively. In goes some dried pasta. I like the hefty and chewy kind with a shape that holds on to some sauce. Just before perfectly al dente, I dump the pasta into the hot sauce (adjusted again for salt and pepper first) and finish the cooking in the sauce pot.

With some roasted asparagus, this makes a very comforting cool night dinner.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Highlight #245: One closed, but another still going strong - Restaurant: Blue Fin Sushi

We drove up to Suwanee for Yasu, only to find the restaurant papered up. Disappointed, we turned back towards Duluth and dropped by Blue Fin Sushi. Not only was it still there, the food we got were awesome.

First, we received some glorious sashimi. The Uni was particularly buttery. The clams and scallops were also refreshingly cool and sweet.

The garlic baked clams were as big as my palm and very plump.

But best of all was the enormous tub of champon. When I say enormous, I mean the size of a family size serving bowl. When it come to the table, my husband and I just had to laugh. Champon differs from regular ramen in that it uses a much thicker and more chewy noodle. The soup is also particularly sticky and dense from long hours of boiling chicken and pork bones. The toppings consisted of a mix of pork and seafood lightly pan fried in lard. Very heavy, but so intensely good. We haven't seen this dish much in Atlanta and were super happy to eat it.

Blue Fin Sushi
2863 Peachtree Industrial Blvd
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 232-5004

Monday, October 12, 2009

Highlight #244: Simply perfect - Restaurant: Watershed

No fries, no salad, just one perfectly grilled cheese sandwich to satiate the child within. Watershed's modern southern lunch is simply perfect.

As is the best chocolate cake in town.

263 Decatur St NE
Atlanta, GA 30312
(404) 546-1150

Friday, October 09, 2009

Highlight #243: Copycat - Restaurant: Murphy's

The thing about good ideas is that they spread. Remember that fig/procuitto/balsamic pizza at Stella's this summer? Well, now there is a flatbread appetizer looking just like it at Murphy's. I prefer the chewier pizza crust to the cracker like flatbread, but the idea is still a good one.

997 Virginia Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 872-0904

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Highlight #242: A forgotten gem - Restaurant: Anis Bistro

With new restaurants opening on a weekly basis, the news sources have little incentive to revisit neighborhood oldies. That's a shame because there is definitely something to be said for a place that not only survives but gains and maintains regulars year in year out. In my neighborhood, there is Wisteria. In the quiet stretch of Buckhead off of Pharr road, there is Anis Bistro.

At the bar, there is always a group of french speaking patrons, eating bistro favorites, talking to each other, and watching French TV programming. In the summer time, the shaded patio is where the action is. On this cool drizzly evening, we opted for the smaller dinning room inside, where the lighting is warm and hand drawn map on the wall unmistakably says France.

Our table of four shared a salt cured salmon. The jewel colored salmon was cool and supple. Salted, but not too saturated, I was still found the bursts of salt from the capers welcoming.

We also shared the special of escargot in a tomato spiked cream sauce. It was different and interesting. But because escargots are really texture eats and do not absorb flavors well, my preference remains with the classic preparation involving drenching in hot butter, garlic, and parsley.

When the menu says short rib, it means a whole head size chunk of it. A sharp knife is provided, but was not touched. Fork tender, pulling this baby apart by the forkful was a decadent exercise. The polenta had a sandy texture, but not unpleasantly so. Lovely dish!

Our server recommended the creme brulee and she was right on the money. With every bite, I could see an abundance of dark vanilla specks and the flavor confirmed it. The flourless chocolate cake on the other hand was just a little dry.

Anis Bistro
2974 Grandview Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30305-3214
(404) 233-9889

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Highlight #241: So begins birthday month - Restaurant: Pricci

The month of October has an eternal theme - feasting. Yes, eating is something I do every month, but October, being birthday month, is particularly food filled. This October started off strong with lots of friendly dinners on the agenda. First, we were off to Pricci with a couple of friends.

Parents of three, our dinning companions never can wait to start some adult conversations. In the midst of so much talking, I completely missed the chance to take photos of the prosciutto pizza and fried calamari. But even more importantly, I forgot to take a photo of the house bread with a superb goat cheese marinara dip, which was so tangy and good, I could seriously have made a meal of it.

I did, however, manage a photo of my rabbit agnolotti special. Seriously yummy was this super creamy, buttery, and intensely meaty dish, I had all my neighbors digging in.

We shared two sweets, a pair of hazelnut bars and a zuccotto. As one of my dinning companions noted, the zuccotto was a bit of a let down, looking so grand and then tasting so . . . fluffy? The cake shell was just a little bland and so was the cream filling. The dried fruits were a little odd as well. But we all agreed that the hazelnut bars were decadent, rich and dense, it had lot of hazelnut flavors going as well. Two bars were more than enough for three stuffed adults and a nibbler.

500 Pharr Road
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 237-2941

Friday, October 02, 2009

Highlight #240: The best party of the year - V. Sattui

In 25 years, Dario Sattui went from borrowed equipments and a living room distribution to owning one of the most beautiful vineyard/winery in Napa. So when he invited us to an anniversary harvest ball, we couldn't say no.
The place was decked out with lights and champagne free flowed everywhere.

We took our drinks down to the cellar to check out what's to come in the near future.

Our beautiful place setting included 10 wine glasses, hinting at the over abundance of wine to come.

The menu was designed and executed by Michelin chef Stefano Masanti of Madesimo, Italy, who flew in with his team of 7 for the event.

A trout carpaccio started the eating. We drank an off dry gamay rouge with this. Pretty on pretty.

Followed by a pike burger paired with V. Sattui's 2006 Napa Valley Chard.

The savory courses climaxed with a super tender beef cheek. Served with it were V. Sattui cabs from 2005, 2004, and 1995 (the 25th year vintage).

A team of musicians and comedians entertained throughout the meal.

We finished with chocolate gelato served with three sauces that came in a 25th anniversary bottle box, which was subsequently filled with a bottle of port to take home.

After the food, we went on to dance the night away in one of the tasting rooms and drank even more V. Sattui wines.

This was definitely the BEST party of the year!