Varuni Napoli Debuts on April 23!

April 15, 2014 at 8:15 pm , by Serina Patrick

News from Breck at The Reynolds Group:

Varuni Napoli Delivers A Slice Of Authentic Neapolitan Pizza To Atlanta

Maestro pizzaiolo Luca Varuni creates traditional masterpieces in midtown

Veteran maestro pizzaiolo Luca Varuni and architect and developer Arturo Giancarlo Pirrone proudly announce the opening of Varuni Napoli on Wednesday, April 23. The pizzeria is a labor of love for the Italian-born owners and will showcase traditional Neapolitan pizzas in a friendly and highly interactive environment.

“We are excited to bring a true taste of southern Italy to Atlanta,” says Luca Varuni. “The authentic nature of the food, drinks and atmosphere will transport guests to the city of Napoli without leaving the restaurant.”

Maestro pizzaiolo Luca Varuni’s passion for his native cuisine and impressive training is demonstrated in the dishes he prepares. In Naples, Italy, Varuni studied under the renowned Enzo Coccia, one of the world’s foremost maestro pizzaiolo at La Notizia, the only Michelin-rated pizzeria in the world. He then went on to work in some of the top kitchens in the U.S., and abroad. Armed with a diploma in the art of Neapolitan pizza, Varuni leads a native-Italian staff trained in the traditions of this 300-year-old art.

Drawing on the culture and artisanship of Napoli, high-quality ingredients are used in each dish to create a true southern Italian feast. To maintain authenticity, the main ingredients are all imported, including Doppio Zero flour, cold-press olive oil, Italian olives, cured meats, San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. To ensure that dishes are made with the freshest produce, seasonal vegetables and herbs are locally sourced.

The pizza menu at Varuni Napoli offers signature authentic Neapolitan pies including the pizza Chiattona made with pancetta, pepperoni, mixed salami sopressata, fior di latte mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and SpaccaNapoli pizza made with taleggio cheese, oak roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffle oil and salt, and Pecorino Romano. In addition to pizzas, Varuni Napoli offers antipasto freddo, focaccia bread with an assortment of salami and cheeses and traditional cuoppo, a paper cone filled with fried items. For guests with a sweet tooth, the dessert counter features several traditional Italian desserts such as sfogliatelle, shell-shaped pastries filled with ricotta cheese, lemon and orange zest, homemade cannoli and Neapolitan baba, a small sponge cake bathed in sweet rum.

Varuni Napoli serves a variety of Italian wines, cordials and bottled beer as well as local favorite beers. A unique feature of the bar is a built-in tap for Prosecco, making Varuni Napoli one of the few Atlanta restaurants to have one.

“We want our diners to be a part of the convivial Neapolitan experience,” says Varuni. “We want them to see the artisanship behind their food before it hits the plate.”

Surrounded by exposed brick and concrete floors, guests will be treated to a fully interactive dining experience as soon as they step inside the restaurant. The open kitchen serves as a stage where Varuni’s pizza artisans create masterpieces right in front of you, even offering diners bites of their creations throughout the evening. The pizza bar can seat up to 24 guests who will be able to get a front-row seat to observe the action in the kitchen and occasionally catch Varuni singing along to his favorite Italian songs.

The walls of Varuni Napoli are lined with black and white photographs of iconic Italian artists, actors and musicians while a projector plays classic black and white Italian films. Al fresco dining is available on a tree-covered patio with soft and intimate lighting.

1540 Monroe Drive

Sweet Auburn…Barbecue With a Twist

April 14, 2014 at 10:25 am , by Serina Patrick

Lord knows I’m not a barbecue aficionado, but a recent invitation found me in the mood for smoky meat and some fattening Southern sides. LC and I joined friends SP and AA at Sweet Auburn BBQ’s newest location in the former Pura Vida spot on North Highland.

The colorful Puerto Rican decor had been replaced by gray walls, unfinished wood, vintage signs, bare Edison bulbs and other Southern acroutrements. Owner Howard Hsu did a great job in transforming the space, although I was sad to see the festive mural painted over.

We started with cocktails, of course. Tequila seemed an appropriate choice to pair with barbecue, so I requested a skinny margarita, while LC ordered their Marta Rita, a specialty cocktail made with tequila and a lengthy list of liqueurs and bitters. We decided to share the wildly popular pimento cheese wontons served with bacon marmalade and sweet Thai chili sauce, which lasted about two minutes once they hit the table.

AA raves about the barbecue at this place, so I was excited to try the pulled pork, my go-to meat whenever I eat barbecue. I ordered it as a combo plate with two sides, bacon roasted Brussels sprouts and mac ‘n’ cheese. LC ordered a half rack of Memphis baby back ribs a’ la carte, then added jerk spiced collards and mac ‘n’ cheese on the side.

These days, it seems cocktails everywhere are served in tiny cordial glasses. They can’t be more than 6 oz. but the pricetag rarely matches the drink’s tiny size. Nevertheless, I ended up ordering a Marta Rita for my second round and discovered it’s a deceptively strong little f*cker.

Our food was delivered on paper-lined metal trays with the sides in individual bowls. Although we all ordered two sides, three of us only received one…the mac ‘n’ cheese was on backorder. So I started in on the pile of meat, artfully drizzled with a tomato-based barbecue sauce. The best part of barbecued meat is the charred, chewy bits mixed in with the tender pieces, but unfortunately, I didn’t find much of that. LC requested a bottle of Carolina style vinegar-based sauce that was much spicier, and therefore better, than the red sauce. Housemade pickles and thick, chewy Texas toast were both winners.

I make some pretty good roasted Brussels sprouts so I was perplexed by the ones served at Sweet Auburn. The sprouts were whole, bathed in a sweet bacony sauce, but were not charred as they are when roasted in the oven…perhaps they are pan-roasted. Nevertheless, they were very tasty. When our server notified us that the mac ‘n’ cheese was ready, AA canceled his order, but LC and I were sufficiently curious to eat ours even though we had finished the rest of our meal. It was almost worth the wait.

Due to the problem with the mac ‘n’ cheese, they brought us a complimentary dessert, the praline basket. It was a huge bowl made out of a thin, crispy yet chewy cookie, filled with ice cream and whipped cream. Crazy good!

I really loved the marriage of traditional barbecue with Asian flavors and look forward to trying one of the more creative dishes like the maple glazed smoked Peking duck or the Sweet Auburn taco plate.

656 N. Highland Avenue 678-515-3550

True Food Kitchen Coming to Lenox Square in June!

April 12, 2014 at 10:03 am , by Serina Patrick

Finally, a restaurant that features Andrew Weil’s healthy recipes! Here’s the exciting news from Lacey at The Reynolds Group:

True Food Kitchen to Open at Lenox Square Mall

First Location In The East Offers Healthy Food That Tastes Amazing

Fox Restaurant Concepts will open its first southeastern outpost of True Food Kitchen in Atlanta this June at Lenox Square Mall. With a menu dedicated to simple, seasonal fare and based on an anti-inflammatory diet, True Food Kitchen brings a healthy, holistic dining experience to Buckhead diners.

Named a 2013 Nation’s Restaurant News “Break-out Brand,” True Food Kitchen has seven additional locations in the Western United States. The restaurant offers globally inspired cuisine including starters, salads, sandwiches, entrees and fresh-squeezed juices, based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet for optimum health. Tailoring the menu to specific dietary restrictions and allergies, True Food Kitchen offers a wide selection of vegan, vegetarian, organic and gluten-free options, along with dishes for those following a paleo or Mediterranean diet.

“We’re excited to bring True Food Kitchen into the dynamic and growing Atlanta dining scene,” said Sam Fox, Founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts. “We strive to promote a healthy lifestyle by combining seasonal, fresh ingredients with global flavors enabling our guests to feel good while enjoying honest food that tastes really good.”

The menu draws inspiration from Mediterranean, Asian and traditional American flavors and features ingredients like grass-fed beef, sustainably raised fish and organic dairy and produce. Taking advantage of each season’s best ingredients, the menu rotates to give guests fresh and naturally great-tasting dishes that don’t require added butter, salts or fats for flavor. Unique and nutritionally dense ingredients like sea buckthorn, kale and Anasazi beans are used throughout the menu for their vitamin- and antioxidant-rich properties. Year-round menu favorites include the “inside out” quinoa burger, Panang curry and turkey lasagna.

A full bar serves sustainable, organic or bio-dynamic wines and cocktails made with fresh fruit, honey and other natural flavorings. True Food Kitchen also offers non-alcoholic “natural refreshments” including juice, herb and vegetable blends like “kale-aid” with kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger and “hangover RX” with coconut water, pineapple, vanilla and orange juice. On the wine menu, guests can enjoy a unique bottle of Fox Block, a private wine label series developed by True Food Kitchen sommelier Regan Jasper in partnership with small vineyards. Each year, Jasper picks a different vineyard and produces a unique bottle. This year’s Fox Block Nine is from Melville Winery.

In addition to its healthy dining efforts, True Food Kitchen also strives to be an eco-friendly restaurant. Each location is Green Restaurant Certified and uses compostable take-out packaging and menus printed on paper from renewable resources. The dining room also features chairs made from recycled plastic soda bottles and reclaimed wood floors.

Best Tacos in Town…the Original El Taco!

April 10, 2014 at 11:13 am , by Serina Patrick

Recent years have seen a proliferation of authentic taco joints in Atlanta, making the trek to a rickety taco stand on Buford Highway no longer necessary. And chances are, you won’t have to take Spanish lessons to place your order either.

In fact, we can drive just about a mile to El Taco and order tacos with chorizo or pork carnitas as good as any I’ve had in Mexico. Like our other neighborhood haunts, I rarely blog about El Taco these days, otherwise, there would be a weekly El Taco segment. However, after our last two visits, I was compelled to proclaim their tacos the best in Atlanta!

To be more specific, it’s one particular taco that has earned my devotion…the smoked chicken taco. Wonderfully smoky chicken, spicy fried jalapenos, house-made guacamole, and cilantro are drizzled with crema and wrapped in soft tortillas…LC and I always order corn instead of flour. On our last visit one of the chalkboard specials was a duck confit taco with mango chutney that I couldn’t resist.

Our visits to El Taco wouldn’t be complete without their awesome grapefruit margaritas and an occasional extra shot of tequila on the side. Lately, we have ordered the small sides of queso and guacamole with a few chips instead of devouring a whole basket before our tacos arrive. Grilled jalapenos compliment the cheese and find their way into our tacos as well.

We’ve also become addicted to their Mexico City grilled corn. The first time we ordered it on the side, I was expecting corn on the cob, but instead, it was served in a dish mixed with cotija cheese melting among the charred kernels…just terrific!

If we don’t win a free dessert when they spin the big wheel (which we never have, by the way), we may order the coconut flan pictured here. It’s creamy with just a hint of coconut and served with a chewy macaroon.

Feeling adventurous? You can still find plenty of authentic tacos on Buford Highway, from El Taco Veloz to El Senor Taco, but if you don’t speak Spanish and you don’t mind spending a little extra, traditional Mexican style tacos are abundant and closer to home than ever.

1186 N. Highland Ave. NE 404-873-4656

The Courtside Grille…Shrimp Wrap Challenge

April 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm , by Serina Patrick

Located inside Atlanta’s most prestigous athletic club, Concourse Athletic Club, The Courtside Grille is open to the public, serving everything from burgers and fries to grilled mahi mahi. They even have a full bar! What could be better than an ice cold beer after a spinning class or tennis match?

I often order their chunky, spicy turkey chili, chicken salad, or BLT, but on occasion I stray from my regulars and try something more creative like the shrimp wrap with guacamole that my colleague MC invented. With that said, this item is not on the menu, but they are happy to make a wrap any way you like.

My sandwich is made on a spinach wrap with grilled shrimp, Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato, with sweet potato fries on the side…ironically, the exact same thing I ordered at Taco Mac last week. Needless to say, I felt compelled to compare the two, so here goes:

It was difficult to find the shrimp inside the wrap at Taco Mac since they were chopped. The Courtside Grille uses whole large shrimp so you get a big piece in each bite. On the somewhat negative side, the grille uses guacamole from a supplier rather than making it in-house like Taco Mac. Normally this would offend me, especially since I love guacamole and claim to make the best (here’s my recipe…you’re gonna need it!), however, when used as a condiment inside a sandwich, you really can’t tell the difference. I chose the spinach wrap specifically because the plain white ones get a little soggy, which is how I would describe the wrap at Taco Mac. The Courtside Grille included diced tomatoes in my wrap, which I prefer to the pico de gallo that Taco Mac used in place of tomatoes.

The fries at both establishments were very crispy and delicious but I have to give the slight edge to The Courtside Grille. Even though they are cut a little thicker, they serve them with apple butter for dipping!

Ultimately, The Courtside Grille scores a couple of extra points with the whole shrimp and apple butter, winning the shrimp wrap challenge!

8 Concourse Parkway 770-698-1650

Savor Wine Boutique Now Open!

April 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm , by Serina Patrick

Grape news from Jennifer Dunaway PR:

Savor Wine Boutique “Uncorks” a New Wine Experience with Opening in Kirkwood Station

New Wine Specialty Shop Brings Artisanal Wine, Custom Tastings and Unique Events to Atlanta

Savor Wine Boutique has opened its doors in the mixed-use development of Kirkwood Station. Owners Kyla and Gregory Cox have curated a unique collection of artisan wine (small batches by independent producers) and allow guests to “try before they buy” at weekly educational tastings, classes and special events. Operating hours are from 11:00a.m. to 8:00p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12:30p.m. to 6:00p.m. on Sundays and closed on Mondays.

Located in Atlanta’s historic Kirkwood neighborhood, Savor Wine Boutique is nestled amid an assortment of galleries, boutiques, restaurants and spas, only 5 miles from downtown. Kyla is bringing her expertise from creating and producing popular local food and wine events such as the Buckhead Wine Festival, Chefs in the City, Inside the Cellar and the Organic Wine & Food Fair, to a storefront to meet the demand of event attendees over the years who wanted a place to enjoy her great selection of event wines year round.

Cox plans to use the shop as a place to introduce new wines and products to both novices and wine aficionados, as well as a home for creative culinary events. “We’re thrilled to have found the perfect space to host regular tastings and more intimate gatherings. You can expect to see many of the local, national and international wine experts and Sommeliers that have led seminars and tastings at my festivals and productions now doing so in the store on a regular basis, just on a smaller scale. Savor Wine Boutique provides an excellent opportunity to have more fun with wine- all year long!” noted Kyla Cox.

The customer-centric retail store specializes in affordable artisan wines that are not mass-produced or readily available in grocery and package stores. Customers will discover a diverse selection of fair trade wines, organic, vegan and biodynamic wines, along with global wines from lesser known producers in renowned wine regions such as France, Italy, Spain, South Africa and South America.

1963 Hosea L. Williams Drive, Suite R-103

Game Night at Taco Mac

April 2, 2014 at 10:06 am , by Serina Patrick

With UK still in the NCAA tournament, LC and I met some of his college friends at a Taco Mac somewhere in the suburbs (frankly, once I’m OTP, I’m utterly lost) to watch the game.

Taco Mac has an extensive menu of bar food and an impressive, although somewhat daunting, beer list. Unable to choose something experimental on short notice, I started with a Guinness draught. Then everyone reviewed the food options, from their Tex-Mex specialties to burgers. I noticed a shrimp and guacamole wrap among the sandwiches and paired it with sweet potato fries, the same combo I request at the Courtside Grille at Concourse Athletic Club, so I decided to compare the two.

Despite my subtle suggestion of the Buffalo chicken flatbread, LC couldn’t resist the wings, but wisely chose the healthier baked version with habanero and lemon pepper sauces, and celery instead of fries. He started with a cup of chicken tortilla soup which I planned to share, much to his chagrin. Handcut tortillas added crunch and substance to the tasty soup. The fresh sliced avocado was a nice touch.

I substituted tomatoes for cucumber in my wrap, and added pepper jack cheese. It was stuffed full of the above, plus chopped shrimp, lettuce, and guacamole, which the menu confirmed to be housemade. Their sweet potato fries were thin and crispy. Someone at the table ordered a raspberry infused Abita Purple Haze and let us all have a taste. That was my next beverage.

My wrap was pretty good, although I would have preferred whole shrimp. The habanero glaze on LC’s wings wasn’t spicy at all…I believe it was mistakenly regular barbecue. All in all, it was a good dining experience, especially for a busy sports bar.

But how would Taco Mac’s shrimp and guacamole wrap rank compared to the one at the Courtside Grille? Check back in a couple of days for the winner!

Paddy’s Irish Pub at Chateau Elan

March 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm , by Serina Patrick

The UK game was scheduled to start immediately after my massage, so we decided to try another of the resort’s restaurants, Paddy’s Irish Pub. Not exactly a sports bar, there was only one TV. However, it was by the fireplace and we had it all to ourselves, so we ordered a couple of Guinness draughts and waited for the excitement to begin.

It was also time for lunch. Following our healthy spa breakfast at Fleur de Lis, we both wanted to stay on the lighter side, so we decided to split the salad with bacon, apples, and goat cheese, and the BBQ pork sliders with slaw and crispy onions. Bacon and pork is light, right?

The salad was made with fresh field greens and served with a great honey balsamic dressing. We loved the sliders as well, their cute little buns secured with toothpicks. The crispy onions and crunchy slaw were great contrasts to the tender pork. As the Wildcats played one of their best games of the season, we managed to polish off both plates. A second Guinness was in order.

UK won the game! To celebrate, we ordered the bread pudding with bourbon sauce…so much for keeping it light. The decadent dessert was presented with whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries.

Chateau Elan never fails to impress. From its tranquil spa retreat to rustic French-influenced winery and restaurants, the resort feels like a world away from the city, but is less than an hour by car. I look forward to returning soon to experience more first class service, fine wines and gourmet cuisine.

100 Rue Charlemagne Drive, Braselton 800-233-9463

Fleur de Lis at Chateau Elan

March 26, 2014 at 8:17 pm , by Serina Patrick

LC and I had the pleasure of visiting Chateau Elan last weekend. Our whirlwind trip began with a ride on a luxurious Cooper Global minibus to Philips Arena to see Sheryl Crow and George Strait in the resort’s party suite.

The following day we had massages scheduled in the afternoon so the morning was free to have a relaxing breakfast. The buffet at Versailles was just downstairs, but I didn’t want to make my own toast or wait in line for an omelette, so we took the shuttle to the restaurant at the spa, Fleur de Lis.

My Mom and I used to drive to Chateau Elan, get massages, then enjoy lunch at Fleur de Lis in our robes. What could be better? That was a few years back. Since then, the tiny space overlooking the golf course has been beautifully renovated. Unfortunately, LC and I were fully clothed on our visit, choosing a table by the window, and although the day was somewhat dreary, it was still lovely to see the ducks on the pond.

The space was refreshed and so was the menu, with the focus still on healthy food, each dish listing calories, protein, carbs, and fat. Our server brought coffee and milk as we debated over the Georgia shrimp frittata, egg white omelette, or sweet potato and smoked bacon hash, among other tempting plates.

LC decided on the egg white omelette with turkey bacon, spinach, tomatoes, onions, peppers, with the addition of feta cheese, coming in at 305 calories not including the cheese. It was served with a chive potato cake. Both were delicious.

I chose the sweet potato and smoked bacon hash sauteed with onions and peppers, served with two eggs over easy. I added a side of turkey bacon, easily pushing my 356 calorie count over 400. Some of my diced potatoes were a bit undercooked, but my eggs were perfect, with soft yolks. Neither of our breakfast entrees included toast but we didn’t miss the additional carbs. It would have been ideal with a mimosa, but unfortunately, it was Sunday before 12:30, so no mimosas for me.

We left feeling satisfied, not uncomfortably stuffed as we often do. I look forward to returning soon, but next time I’ll be wearing a robe…and nothing else.

100 Rue Charlemagne Drive, Braselton 800-233-9463

Prime Time at New York Prime

March 23, 2014 at 7:18 pm , by Serina Patrick

Enveloped by the aroma of cigars, I arrived at New York Prime to meet LC and some business associates for dinner. I found him at the bar with a martini in one hand and a business card in the other, discussing transportation with a woman wearing an inappropriately short skirt. Welcome to Atlanta’s good ole boys club.

I was a deadly combination of hungry and cranky, prompting LC to act quickly and get a booth, complete with white tablecloth and a gentleman waiter. The immediate delivery of a glass of prosecco soothed my nerves as we perused the menu of steaks and sides, circa 1990. Shrimp cocktail? Check. Loaded baked potatoes? Check. Naturally, we would wind up getting both.
But first, chilled oysters on the halfshell for LC, his colleague MF, and business associate RC visiting from Boise. None for me as I, surprisingly, dislike eating things that look like snot and taste like brine. However, I did share the plate of four enormous shrimp served with tartar and cocktail sauces. Another glass of prosecco and some lively conversation made me forget about the smoky atmosphere.

Our curiosity got the best of us as we couldn’t resist the thick cut bacon appetizer. At only $6, it was the least expensive item on the menu, and likely the only new thing added in the last decade. I chuckled when it arrived, literally one slice of cured pork belly, cut about half an inch thick. We divided it with knife and fork and devoured it in seconds.

LC and I shared a petite filet, cooked medium. Everything there is a’ la carte, so this is where the colossal baked potato comes in. We joked with RC about its origins in Idaho as our server loaded it with butter, sour cream, bacon bits, and chives tableside. Service was formal and well-executed. Our steak was nicely charred on the outside and wonderfully tender inside. New York Prime has perfected the technique for cooking steaks, and clearly use only the highest quality beef. As for the potato, it was the size of a child’s head. Despite the nearly half cup each of butter and sour cream, it could have used more of both.

If you’re a meat and potatoes kind of guy that enjoys an occasional cigar, New York Prime is for you. If you’re a gal that thrives on variety, it’s not on the menu here, but you may find it at the bar…a variety of wealthy men that is.

3424 Peachtree Road NE 404-846-0644

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