Thursday, November 10, 2011

Urban PL8



1082 Huff Rd., Atlanta, GA www.urbanpl8.com

Tonight I had dinner with my friends Paul and Erin at Urban Pl8. It's on Huff Rd., a street otherwise known for it's bevy of interior design warehouses and it's intersection with Howell Mill Rd. where Figo, Bacchanalia, JCT Kitchen, etc. reside. If you turn there, you'll need to drive a little over a mile before you'll see the sign on the left. Be on the lookout, or you'll be like me and Paul and miss it the first time (maybe even the second). The restaurant itself is back off the road.

Urban Pl8 has a strange vibe going on, specifically a "paleo" vibe. If you're unfamiliar with that term, it's a type of diet that focuses on getting as close to the diet of ancient humans as possible. You know, no processed foods, no grains or beans, no food that can't enter our bodies in "its natural state."

Personally, I have no idea why anyone would want to bother with all that, but that didn't make me unwilling to try or prejudiced against the restaurant, especially since most of the menu's items are fairly healthy and reasonably affordable. Most entrees were about $15, and there's a bar for those who are so inclined. Oh yeah, and plenty of vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free options if you're on those diets.

I had the Indian shrimp with coconut and vegetables ($16). This came with brown rice, kale, sauteed tomatoes, onions, and more garlic than any dish should ever contain. I'll be tasting garlic tomorrow morning at breakfast at this rate. Otherwise, I liked the kale, enjoyed the fat shrimp and bright red tomatoes. It all came in a round, deep white bowl, Asian style.

Paul ordered the red curry tofu ($12), which is pan seared. He liked it, but didn't really expound upon it the way he does when he truly loves a dish. It comes with sweet potatoes, broccoli, basil and coconut milk. One thing you should know is there's lots of coconut on the menu at this restaurant. If you're into tropical or Asian flavors, you'll be happy. If not, you'll probably be disappointed.

But this will be far from your biggest disappointment. That will definitely be the service.

It didn't start out badly. We were seated and given menus, and quickly received our drinks from a bright, smiling female server. She did her best to explain the paleo concept to us, then she left and didn't return to take our orders for a while (probably about 10 minutes). Next it took half an hour to receive our food, and the place wasn't crazy crowded. A member of the kitchen staff brought our entrees, and then we never saw anyone again. I kept turning around in my seat, blatantly looking for someone, anyone, to inquire about our satisfaction with the meals, refill our empty water glasses, offer us the check, anything, whatever. No dice. Finally I went to the bar and mentioned our waitress had been M.I.A. for quite a while.

"What does she look like?" the pretty bartender asked. I dutifully described the long absent woman. "Oh, she went home," she said, looking vaguely disturbed.

Well, that explains it, I guess.

Another server came to our table, apologized, and took our dessert order. This was a truly intriguing dish - chocolate pudding, but not really pudding. Not pudding at all, actually. Avocado, cocoa, agave for sweetness, coconut milk (see what I mean?), and banana. No dairy, no processed sugar. It had a vaguely mousse-like consistency, and smelled like jarred baby food. Must have been the mashed 'nana. The cocoa tasted much more like carob powder to me, a substance I ignorantly purchased back in college when I was going through an unfortunate healthy smoothie phase. I'm not saying the "pudding" was the worst thing I've ever had, but it wasn't the thick, milky texture or sweet chocolate flavor I'd anticipated.

After eating the pudding, I asked for the check from the new server and presented my Scoutmob coupon, which promises 50% off up to $20.

"Oh, I see you have a Scoutmob," she says, her brow darkening. "There's a mistake on that and we've reissued it. We only give up to $15 off. It was Scoutmob's mistake, not ours."

Are you kidding me? First we wait forever to get our dinners, then our waitress flat out leaves and no one takes her place finishing up our table. Though the new girl was apologetic, and gave us the "pudding" on the house, I don't think that makes up for severely neglectful service AND failure to honor a clearly stated, well circulated coupon. I mean, it's $5 - do you want us to come back for another meal, or don't you?

Guess you don't, and I have no problem moving on to greener pastures.

Verdict: Poor service, ho-hum food, and a coupon mishap that rubbed salt in the wound. Don't bother.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Broadway Cafe



2157 Briarcliff Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 404/239-0888

Last night my grandmother, mom and I had dinner at Broadway Cafe at the intersection of Briarcliff and Lavista roads. This is a vegetarian restaurant that includes dishes with egg substitute, fish and soy "chicken" or "sausage". The menu is all over the place - Italian pasta, pizza, Indian vegetable dishes, blintz souffles, Mediterranean fare, Southern cole slaw, "grown up mac n' cheese", Thai stir fry and English style fish and chips. While I'm generally disapproving of crazy mixed menus, I'm willing to overlook it in Broadway Cafe's case and consider it a place where anyone can find something he or she likes.

The reason I'm adopting a lenient attitude about the menu is because I had a great experience here. I chose the Mumbai vegetables ($12.95), the "chef's specialty", a blend of herbs, spices and lots of healthy stuff - green beans, red bell peppers, onions, cauliflower, tomato, red potatoes, etc. I don't know why the menu doesn't just label this as curry. It's definitely curry, and it's definitely delicious. Just the right amount of hot spicy, perfectly cooked vegetables, a smattering of fresh chopped cilantro on top. The sauce was on the thick side (a good quality), and was as good as you'd get in an actual Indian restaurant.

My mom ordered the Mediterranean platter ($9.95). This is supposed to be an appetizer, but is large enough to make an ample meal for one. Dark fried falafel, hummus, roasted eggplant and peppers, with a Turkish style chopped salad. Lots of good stuff here, and plenty of pita to pair with all of it. Everything was fresh.

We ended with another odd addition to the menu - beignets. Broadway Cafe's beignets are small, about the size of a silver dollar. When you order the dessert ($3.95), you get a whole plate full, maybe a dozen total. They are still doughy in the inside, coated with powdered sugar. They taste like they're really bad for you (read: they are heavy and sugary and addictive). Twelve sounds like a lot, but I'm telling you, you'll finish them off.

Our female server was cute and enthusiastic, but she forgot about us for a while after she delivered our entrees. Mumbai vegetables made me suck down the water, and my glass was empty for quite a while before our waitress resurfaced. There was also a young male host, who ran to the door and held it open for us when we entered and exited. Very pleasant, I'll say that much.

The decor is fairly simple - wooden booth and tables, cartoonish paintings of the New York theater district and well-known Broadway shows. Nothing fancy, just casual and unprepossessing.

Verdict: A nice neighborhood find.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft




1745 Peachtree Rd. Atlanta, GA www.tuktukatl.com

Last night my friend Valerie and I had dinner at Tuk Tuk, located in Brookwood Place on Peachtree in Buckhead. The restaurant occupies the space previously taken by Taurus, above the Viking store. (There's elevator access to the upper level.) I'd never been there before, but I knew Tuk Tuk was owned and operated by Dee Dee Niyomkul, daughter of the creators of the delicious, nearby swanky Thai restaurant Nana. With that legacy, I figured there must be some great food in store for me at Tuk Tuk.

So is Tuk Tuk on par with the grand Nan? Hmmm. No. But I want to immediately qualify that negative with a few notes:

Tuk Tuk is about half the price of Nan. Whereas I spent $26 on my entree last time I dined at Nan, I only spent $13 at Tuk Tuk, and $13 is on the high range of their menu. Tuk Tuk is doable on a regular basis/budget, while Nan is more of a special occasion or first date place.

Most of the dishes at Tuk Tuk seem simpler than the ones served at Nan. Take for example my dinner entree, Kow Mun Kai. This is steamed chicken with ginger, galanga and garlic rice topped with black bean chili sauce served with chicken consomme'.
Tuk Tuk's dishes aren't like those served at typical Atlanta Thai restaurants - they are about half that size. I got about 6 thin slices of chicken, very simply steamed, with a little ginger, about a cup of rice (noticeably garlic), a small condiment bowl of the black soy bean chili sauce, with another slightly larger bowl of the consomme. Our server encouraged me to try some of the soup by itself first, then pour a little onto the chicken. What excellent advice - the consomme' alone was top notch, and definitely added another layer of flavor to the chicken and rice. While I thought the chicken itself was too bland, I was happy with the sauces and sticky rice.

Other simple but pleasing dishes are the Pad Mee (sauteed vermicelli rice noodles with mushrooms, sprouts, scallions and egg), curries with your choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp, and Tom Yum Koong (traditional lemongrass soup with shrimp). These are dishes you will see at every Thai restaurant, in any city. Tuk Tuk also has some interesting, different items though, including lots of the small plates, which range from $7 - $9. The next time I eat at Tuk Tuk I'm planning to order the Kao Pad Goong Chiang, which is fried rice with diced Thai sausage, eggs, onions and Chinese broccoli ($13). We've all had fried rice umpteen times in our lives by adulthood, but not with Thai sausage. Sounds yummy.

Valerie ordered the Kanom jeen khew whan, which is basically green curry chicken with steamed rice noodles instead of just rice ($14). I tasted it and liked it, although I didn't find it as spicy as I might expect. I like my green curry with a distinct kick, and I didn't find it here. Still, the eggplant and bamboo shoots were tender, and the green curry sauce was good. Not as good as at Chaba Thai, but those of us ITP also don't have to go all the way out to Duluth for it, either.

Tuk Tuk has a very nice interior, with lots of black and white decor, boxes of Thai crackers and cookies adorning one wall, a spacious dining room, little lights that dangle from the ceiling and give the place a nice ambiance as the evening progresses. Our server, Gus, was great. He made good suggestions from the menu, smiled continuously and saw to our needs.

He did something else really cool - made me a Bangkok snow cone ($6). You read that right - Tuk Tuk has a cute, old fashioned snow cone stand where your server will create a huge snow cone (actually, it's in a bowl) just for you. The ice is topped with sweetened condensed milk and colorful rosewater, while a bevy of Thai dessert staples awaits you at the bottom: red beans, lychees, lotus and palm seeds. It may sound strange, but it was quite pleasant. Big enough for a small family to share, and not insanely sweet.

So, it's not as romantic or suave as Nan, and the menu isn't as complex or well cultivated. However, it's about half the price and you'll leave satisfied, especially if you're looking for a more fun, casual atmosphere.

Verdict: It's got that something special . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recipe: Chickpea Stew with Spinach & Chorizo


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/chickpea-stew-with-spinach-and-chorizo

Another Food & Wine gem. Chickpea stew with spinach and chorizo. It encompasses lots of food categories - the ubiquitous chopped onion, spicy meat, healthy greens, bright tomatoes, good beans - with just enough herbs to kick it into high gear. You can do without the bay leaf in a pinch, but you'll find the rosemary is absolutely necessary. As always, fresh is best if you can get it.

I pulled this recipe out of my October issue of Food & Wine back in 2005, and have been making it at least once a month during the fall and winter ever since. Being a stew, it just feels like a cold weather meal to me. The list of ingredients isn't long, and you can make it in about half an hour if you use canned (and rinsed) chickpeas instead of soaking dry beans overnight and simmering them for hours the next day. Normally I follow Food & Wine's recipes to the letter, but since chickpeas are kind of bland even when they're at their best, I haven't tasted much if any difference when I've used the canned beans.

My only other tip about this is that if you forget to cook the chorizo beforehand, you can cook it along with the onion as long as you stir frequently and don't burn it. I actually prefer to do it this way, because I omit the olive oil and cook the onions in the sausage grease instead. Make sure you get the soft sausage, in the link form, not the hard deli style chorizo. It really has a different flavor and consistency that melds well with the other ingredients in the stew.

Do yourself a favor: when you make this recipe, buy a big bag or bushel of fresh spinach, and after you make this heavy stew, use the remaining spinach in a salad the next day. That way, you can get a good contrasting use of the spinach, which is the healthiest part of the recipe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sufi's



1814 Peachtree St. Atlanta, GA www.sufisatlanta.com

On Thursday night Kevin and I had dinner at Sufi's, located on Peachtree right beside previously reviewed R. Thomas deluxe grill.

You'll begin your meal with traditional Persian bread (sort of a thicker, less butter, rectangular version of Indian naan), with a plate of various side items like sliced radishes, fresh mint and basil, good quality, firm feta, and olives. The restaurant is dimly lit, so be sure not to mistake the large pat of butter with feta. I've done this on both trips to Sufi's, and it's an unpleasant experience. I'm not even sure why they include butter - the bread doesn't need it, especially if you order one of the yogurts as an appetizer. The yogurts ($6 each) come with either grated cooked beets, shallots, spinach, or Kevin's favorite, cucumber and herbs. It's a nice way to lighten up your bread and prepare you for your entree.

We also had an order of dolmeh, grape leaves stuff with rice, ground beef, chives, tarragon, parsley, cilantro and raisins ($8). Not the best dolmeh I've ever had, but still at least average. It contained too much of something bitter . . . maybe tarragon?

I chose one of the specialty dishes, Zereshk polo with chicken ($18). You'll see in the pic that it comes with the usual big portion of saffron basmati rice, but in this case it's mixed with barberries and more saffron, almonds and pistachios. If you've never tried barberries, the flavor is very similar to cranberries. While I like cranberries, this is what throws me off about the dish. The tender chicken is very good, but it's overwhelmed by the tartness of the berries. Even the extra dose of saffron doesn't save it. I'd give this dish about a 7 of 10.

Kevin got another speciality dish, the ghemeh badenjoon ($16), which is chunks of lean beef in tomato sauce, split peas, sauteed eggplant and onions, on saffron basmati rice of course. This is a similar concept to the Turkish Iskender kabob, with a couple more vegetables. It's a pretty heavy dish, a good choice during cold weather.

This was our second dinner at Sufi's. When Kevin and I ate here before I had the koobideh kabob, which is 2 beef kabob skewers alongside a large plate of rice. The beef is quite good, but not as rich and flavorful as that of previously reviewed Darvish in Roswell. However, you have to weigh this against the slow-as-molasses service you'll probably get at Darvish. If your goal is to eat the best kabobs in Atlanta, trek out to Darvish and plan to stay a few hours. If you want 2nd best kabobs (which is still pretty good) and faster service, try Sufi's.

Vegetarians can select from a variety of meatless rice dishes, ranging from sweet (black cherry) to nutty to substantial (dill and protein-packed fava beans). Rice dishes are only $6, and between that and the free bread you should have a fine meal.

Nice atmosphere. Lovely copper-hued walls, burgundy fabric-covered booths, and small pillows, but no flat platforms for seating or huge rugs hanging from the ceilings. If you think Darvish is "overdone" in terms of decor, you'll enjoy Sufi's elegance.

Prices listed above are on par with other Persian restaurants in the metro area. Persian dining isn't ever the cheapest available option around, but this type of food has a personality all it's own that shouldn't be missed.

Verdict: Good stuff. I plan to make it a semi-regular dinner choice.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Recipe: Pancetta-Wrapped Roasted Turkey


http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pancetta-wrapped-roasted-turkey

Here's your Thanksgiving recipe # 2 for this year, and it will put any plain ole' oven roasted turkey you've made in the past to shame. It has a hint of sweetness, a noticeable measure of spice, tender poultry and lip-smacking, fatty pancetta. If your favorite thing about Thanksgiving turkey is the fragrant, flavorful skin, then you'll be head over heels for this version.

Think that making a whole turkey is too daunting a task, will require too much time or simply produce more food than you need? You don't need a special occasion (or 4 hours) to make this recipe if you make a few, easy revisions. Kyle and I have made this several times when we've hosted another couple for dinner, and we've found that two one-pound breasts, 1/3 of the quantity of each ingredient in the rub, and 1/4 pound of pancetta will suffice. In this case, I only brine the bird for about 3 hours. This means that you can place it in the fridge to brine (using only 1/3 of each of the brining ingredients) at lunch, and still have plenty of time to get it ready for a 7pm dinner. That's because you don't have to roast it for nearly as long - an hour and a half should do it.

The other thing I would change about this recipe - and this tip applies regardless of whether or not you use a whole 13 pound turkey or a couple of breasts - is that I wouldn't add the pancetta until the last half an hour of roasting. Why bother with it so early on, when you have to worry about getting the foil on top just right and risk burning the pancetta to a crisp? If your pancetta is thin sliced by the deli, it will easily cook up to a soft, barely crisp texture in half an hour.

And as you can see from the picture, you can't beat this recipe for presentation. It's super cool looking, so make sure you make a prominent space for it in the center of your dinner table, or parade it out from the kitchen under your guests happy noses before you slice and serve. This will give them a few minutes of gleeful anticipation for their upcoming main course.

Verdict: Another fabulous, easier than it looks recipe from Food & Wine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coast Seafood & Raw Bar



111 W. Paces Ferry Rd., Atlanta, GA http://www.h2sr.com/

My grandmother and I had dinner at Coast Seafood & Raw Bar on Sunday night. Coast is located right across from the St. Regis hotel in Buckhead, near the intersection of W. Paces Ferry and Peachtree Rd. Coast is in the restored house structure formerly occupied by Home restaurant. Outside is an elevated white patio with 6 tables or so, warmed on Sunday by heat lamps. Inside is a dimly lit but cute dining room with more space - bright blue accents on the walls, sculptures of fish, frameless paintings of the seashore. It might sound corny, but it was actually quite tasteful.

We started with the chilled smoked salmon dip ($8), which comes with an ample supply of lightly toasted pita chips. This stuff is addictive. Not too chunky, not too smooth, and not overly fishy. Just right.

Grandmother ordered the BBQ Jumbo Gulf Shrimp ($9), served with a buttermilk biscuit. This is an appetizer, but my grandmother rarely eats more than 8 bites of any meal nowadays, so it was pretty much the right size for her. The dish included 6 appropriately large shrimp in a heavy, dark sauce, and a decent looking biscuit. She liked it all very much.

I ordered the blue cod, blackened, with a side of spring onions and sauteed spinach. This was from the fresh catch portion of the menu, which offers 7 types of fish or shellfish served pan-roasted, grilled, blackened or "naked". At first I thought the cod was too blackened - meaning the seasoning was overkill. Then after a few bites I started to really like it, and finished it with relish. I also loved the spinach, laden with small slices of garlic and fantastic with the greens. Well worth $15.50.

One thing I liked a lot about Coast was the selection of sides that are available with the entrees in the fresh catch section of the menu. You have your choice of french fries, cheese grits, red beans and rice, cole slaw or spring onions and sauteed spinach. For a $1 upcharge, you can have green beans, Brussels sprouts, baby squash, roasted baby vidalias, mashed potatoes and mac n' cheese. I've already mentioned that I thought the spinach was excellent, but I'm also thrilled to find Brussels sprouts on the menu. I love them, and almost never get a chance to order them when dining out. The roasted baby vidalias make excellent use of a local and famous onion. Most casual/semi-casual fish restaurants would settle for only offering cole slaw, fries or other potatoes. Kudos to Coast for providing a few more interesting options.

In addition to the above, Coast also offers baskets of fried fish with french fries, specialty entrees complete with sides, sandwiches and a decent number of starters. If you can't decide what you'd like, you could always order the seafood tower, which comes with chilled lobster, shrimp, clams, oysters, crabmeat and ceviche ($35 for 2, or $19.50 for a half portion).

Service was unremarkable. Polite, but not cordial.

I was surprised by how much I liked Coast. I used to consider Atlanta, a landlocked city, to have a very limited number of good seafood options. Lately, however, I've been getting really great fish all over town (examples: Empire State South, Grace 17:20 and Miller Union). Each of the aforementioned restaurants had better fish than what I ate at Coast, but they were also notably more expensive. Given the price, I think Coast was a great value.

Verdict: A good pick for moderately priced seafood.