Some chefs like to keep secrets. Sometimes, the secret is a matter of kitchen technique. A French chef might not want you to know that the potatoes on the menu contain more butter and cream than potato.
If you like to eat out, I bet you often drive by restaurants and wonder if the food is any good. I do that all the time. Maybe I’ve just discovered a fantastic pita pocket sandwich in Gwinnett, when all of a sudden I spy a tamale joint across the intersection. Then it’s U-turn time.
Over the years, I’ve met a few barbecue enthusiasts, a small but vocal group, who believe that barbecue’s complexity belongs to the sides. Let’s call them the b-siders. According to the b-sider line of thinking, barbecued meats have a ceiling of greatness. Once you’ve had pretty good pulled pork, you’ve pretty much had them all.
For a good many weeks after the Nashville hot-chicken chain Hattie B’s opened just south of Little Five Points in July, passers-by couldn’t help but notice the hovering and insatiable crowd. All day and into the night, a line stretched from the front counter almost out to Moreland Avenue.
The dining world is changing. What’s driving restaurant growth in every county in greater Atlanta is not big buck, fine dining. That’s taken a back seat to eateries of a more casual sort. These are joints with a more affordable price point that still strive to serve a menu from the mind of a chef and to offer some sort of “experience.
Fifteen years ago, the Clermont Hotel was not the sort of place you wanted to stay. A room in the rundown 1924 relic went for about $150 a week around that time, as long as you were willing to risk questionable sheets and sketchy neighbors. (Suffice it to say, a local newspaper sent a reporter to stay there, not as a travel piece, but for a gritty work of undercover, investigative journalism.
The other night at Momonoki in Midtown, I sat at the tiny bar, scarfed down a bowl of barbecue eel over rice and watched the kitchen at work. On the surface, it was just a bunch of cooks assembling bowls of ramen; cutlet sandwiches; artfully composed protein bowls and delicate pastries. And yet what I witnessed was more profound, a culinary love affair.
La Imperial Tortilleria y Rostiseria (you will also find it online as Tortilleria Avorrate Imperial) is a one-stop shop in Norcross for all things Mexican. It is a tortilla and tamale factory, bakery, hot food buffet, maker of agua fresca and mini grocery.
A few years ago, I ordered a steamed lobster at a little New England fish market and ate it outside on a pier, looking out at the same water the crustacean had been pulled from. It wasn’t a luxurious meal in any of the traditional ways.
It sometimes seems that every new restaurant in Atlanta is another million dollar expansion of a restaurant group in yet another multi-million-dollar development. That isn’t quite true. With the high rent and high cost of doing business, though, it can be quite hard for a young chef just starting out today.
When it comes to dining out, few sights are less appealing to me than food-court steam tables. From malls to airports, I’ve had my fill of geriatric green beans, crusty-topped mac and cheese, soggy fried chicken. I feel nothing but pity for people whose job is to mind the hot bar for approaching customers: They see you coming, then stir, stir, stir.
Arnette’s Chop Shop is a word-of-mouth kind of place. You’d have no reason to venture this far back on Apple Valley Road in Brookhaven unless you were planning to sup here. Well, you could be dropping off your pup at the doggie day care next door. Otherwise, it’s because you’re lost. But word-of-mouth about Arnette’s is spreading.
It’s a humble little sandwich with a funny-sounding name: a portmanteau that sounds like what happens when you smash its two main ingredients — shawarma and falafel — into a pita pocket.
On the counter of Sam’s BBQ-1 in east Cobb, you’ll find a tray of fried pork rinds. Crinkly and reddish brown, they are a revelation, even to connoisseurs of pig skins high and low. A complimentary nosh for those who queue up to place an order at legendary pitmaster Sam Huff’s original joint, they are perfect just as they are: naked.
There are few restaurants less pretentious than the average American sports bar. The style is so ubiquitous and so consistent that such a sweeping generalization is possible.
There is nothing better on the menu at the Alden than the rack of lamb. The other night, as I sat eating it in full view of the open kitchen, I had to close my eyes just to contain my feelings. To borrow a line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways.
You’ll know you’ve arrived at I Luv Hot Pot when you see the Eiffel Tower replica out front. Strung with Christmas lights and reaching skyward, the Parisian mini-monument dominates the parking lot of a Duluth strip mall that also boasts a 24-hour Vietnamese noodle parlor called I Luv Pho and a clutter of Asian shops and restaurants. A poor man’s Vegas, open until 2 a.m.
Coca con Seta arrived at the table. A blend of meaty, sauteed mushrooms, black truffle, pickled onion, melted Tetilla cow’s cheese from Galicia and a zigzag squizzle of aioli flavored with gently spiced guindilla, a chile pepper typical of Basque cookery, covered a round, cracker-thin flatbread. I’m unaccustomed to a pizza-sized, cracker-thin flatbread as a tapa.
When I stepped inside for a recent meal at Blue India, it seemed to be more or less like many other restaurants I’ve encountered at the ground floor of a condo tower in Midtown Atlanta. Near the entrance was a short bar with curved edges, big enough for a few friends to grab drinks but quiet enough for a working lunch.
In a grocery store at the corner of Gwinnett Drive and Scenic Highway North in Lawrenceville, you can find Latvian sprats and sardines in cans; jars of Eastern European rose-hip jam; sweet, waxen green peppers from nearby Amish farms; and fluffy pita bread.
For nearly the past two decades, one Indian restaurant or another has been located at 2179 Lawrenceville Highway in the North DeKalb Square shopping center. There have been different names and different owners. There have been good years and bad years. There has been lots and lots of curry.
A couple of months ago, after picking up some groceries at the Buford Highway Farmers Market, I got a hankering for an afternoon snack and decided to drive up the road until I saw something that I was in the mood for. A bowl of pho, some Korean chicken, or a bite of nigiri at Sushi Hayakawa? No, no, nothing sounded quite right.
On a recent Saturday night, the members of an exclusive, invitation-only group called the Elite Club convened for dinner at Mission and Market. As they arrived, the valet lined up their cars one by one in front of the glittering, 30-story Buckhead tower known as Three Alliance Center: candy-green Porsche, bright red Ferrari, silver-gray Bentley, and so on.
The entertainment district adjacent to the Braves stadium known as The Battery Atlanta debuted last year, but now that the bulk of restaurants, bars and shops are open, the place is in full swing. Among the spots to have opened this season are Garden & Gun Club and Punch Bowl Social.
To be a truly fine dim sum house, you must proffer a cacophony of carts and surprises at every turn. I want the crunch of deep-fried stuffed crab claws that I can pick up and chew like chicken wings. I want rice-noodle rolls with minced pork and shrimp tucked inside their glossy, silken sleeves.
Years ago, a wise and experienced culinary adviser once explained that a club sandwich could tell you almost everything you need to know about a certain kind of restaurant.
On one side of the rectangular ceramic tray sits a mini cast-iron skillet filled with aromatic brown-stew chicken in voluptuous dark gravy; on the other, a bowl of perfect rice and peas. Where I’m from, rice and gravy like to get all touchy-feely on the same plate. So why in the devil does Ms.
Among the tenants of 5000 Buford Highway, a sprawling strip mall just north of Chamblee Tucker Road, there is a grocery store with notable selections of Southeast Asian produce and Latin American snacks. There is a homey Korean joint that makes a mean budae jjigae, the Spam- and hot dog-laden stew influenced by the tastes of American GIs stationed on the Korean Peninsula.
On a recent Friday afternoon, I wandered past the perfumed glass counters of Saks Fifth Avenue and glanced at the platinum jewelry on display at Tiffany and Co. I watched for a moment as a man considered the purchase of a bright red leather Gucci handbag for his wife. The slick, cool concourse of Phipps Plaza then led me to Public Kitchen & Bar.
It’s not very often that a staffer stops me as I enter a restaurant and asks me if I’m sure I want to be there. So I was a little taken aback by the man who confronted me as I strode into Next Door and quizzed me about what kind of food I wanted to eat.
Mulavi sits on the ground floor of a towering Midtown apartment building in a quadrant of the city known for its hustle and bustle. With its sleek brown interior and bright-orange, statement lighting fixture, the West Peachtree restaurant might pass for one of the swanky nearby nightclubs or condo lobbies.
Making something out of nothing is what creative types do. There is a thrill about starting from zero, but it can also be paralyzing. Hemingway understood that about the writing process, calling the challenge of the blank page “the white bull.
Okonomiyaki is the sort of food that inspires unreasonable, outlandish devotion. It is most commonly described as a Japanese pancake, a flat concoction of cabbage and batter cooked on a griddle and topped with various meats and a distinctive sweet and savory sauce.
There’s no need to look around for Thai starter staples like a green papaya salad or satay when the Nam Prik Ong platter is an option. You dunk this spread of crispy lotus chips, curly cue pork cracklings and fresh cucumber slices into a chunky dip of chiles, ground pork and roasted tomatoes.
At Wicked Sushi & Grill, you can get your sushi rolls cold, deep-fried, baked and flambéed. Some have foreboding names (Black Widow, Rattlesnake, Heart Attack). Others riff on nearby landmarks (Mall of Georgia). These rolls with the mock-provocative names and alternative techniques are the handiwork of chef-owner Rex Jeong.
The Casablanca bowl at Recess is a perfect little name for a perfect little dish. Not that it has much to do with Moroccan food. Outside of a few spices that season a bright orange smear of pureed carrot, the contents of this bowl would likely be hard to find in the Old Medina in Casablanca.
On Friday night at Mary Hoopa’s House of Fried Chicken and Oysters, I could detect a certain kind of fear in the eyes of the man standing behind the host stand. The front of the restaurant was packed with customers: two couples with strollers in tow, a gaggle of teens hanging irritatingly in the way of the door, a three-top here, a four-top there.
Colonel Sanders had his original recipe. The peeps at Ponko Chicken have theirs. Twenty years ago, sisters Reiko Clark and Maggie Antoine opened a Stone Mountain restaurant called Food Ease, where they developed a following around Antoine’s panko-crusted, sweet-soy-sauce-drizzled “Amer-Asian chicken tenders.
Back in January, when I started exploring the plethora of new taco places turning up all over town, I felt that Taco Cantina in the Old Fourth Ward had considerable potential. Here was a chef from Zacatlan, Mexico, who had found success at his original location in Smyrna, raising the taco flag on Boulevard. And it was just down the street from my home in Grant Park, too. Que bueno.
There are currently 16 restaurants at The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park. While the cuisine varies, each eatery is vying for dining dollars, especially when the entertainment district fills up on Braves game days. On a recent Saturday evening, despite the Braves being out of town, The Battery was hopping.
Before driving to Miss Gogi in the Peachtree Pavilion strip mall in Doraville, I tried to do a little research. I knew, of course, to expect the salty sweet pleasures of tender bulgogi, the Korean barbecue dish referenced by the name, but I wanted to figure out what they were doing differently. You see, Korean barbecue restaurants are thriving in metro Atlanta these days.
My dining companion and I had wandered in from a rainy weekend day to this modest strip mall joint in Doraville. It is a well-lit, very clean space full of long tables for sharing, but nothing to write home about in the interior decoration department.
How do you take your coffee shops? Do you like dark lairs with sputtering espresso machines and spiky baristas? Or do you prefer bright, sunny rooms with marble counters, smart wine lists and chefs who aim to create thoughtful, handmade food? If you belong to the latter camp, Mourning Dove Cafe might give you reason to coo.
The first time I sat down to lunch at Tortas Factory del D.F., I wondered if there had been a mistake. My little lunch table was covered with orange cafeteria trays, disposable plates piled high with each dish, and little, bright cups of salsa. I hadn’t even spent $20.
“My taste buds are going crazy!” said one of my dining partners as we stepped outside Noona and onto the sidewalk in the burgeoning Parsons Alley development in downtown Duluth.
Few things are more satisfying than going out to eat and loving every single dish. (Well, duh.) Unfortunately, delivering a meal that’s impeccable from start to finish is a rarity, and about as easy as performing Beethoven’s Ninth.
We didn’t need the lamb shank. We had already eaten plenty. It would have been smarter to take a walk. Or spend the remainder of this sodden Sunday afternoon dozing off with a good book.