La Tagliatella…a European Chain Comes to America

July 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm , by Serina Patrick

When this European chain with multiple locations throughout Spain and France was introduced in the U.S. last year, I was curious if this was their equivalent to our Olive Garden. Initial reviews of the pizzas were positive and photos of the interior reminded me of posh bistros in Italy, with rich burgundy leather banquettes and ornate gold trimmings.

However, after just a few short months, La Tagliatella’s midtown location abruptly closed. It was a bad omen for the brand.

Soon, I would find out for myself at a dinner hosted by the Association of Food Bloggers at the chain’s Emory Point location. We were met by the manager who seated our group at a table on the patio so we could enjoy the beautiful weather.

The first dish we sampled was Buffalo mozzarella and tomato carpaccio. Not quite a caprese, the platter was composed of fresh sliced mozzarella on a bed of grated tomatoes with basil and anchovies. Grating the tomatoes left the dish a bit watery, but the intensity of the anchovies provided a lovely contrast to the sublime cheese.

The manager stopped by to introduce himself and give us each a generous pour of wine, either the Canyon Road cabernet from California or the Ca’Del Sarto, a pinot grigio from Italy. Servers brought out La Tagliatella’s signature pizza, a super-thin cracker-like crust topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and thinly sliced fried eggplant. Once out of the oven, the pizza was drizzled with a balsamic glaze and topped with freshly shaved parmigiano-reggiano, a wonderful combination of sweet and salty flavors.

The next three dishes were filled pastas, each paired with a unique sauce. Mozzarella, tomato, and basil stuffed tortellone were served in a rich quattro formaggi sauce. The basil pesto was wonderfully herbacious, but overpowered by the sharp gorgonzola and pear filling in the pasta triangles. Although everyone agrees pasta should be cooked al dente’, the consensus among my neighbors at the table was that these were somewhat undercooked. Heart shaped pockets called cuore filled with butternut squash puree and served in a light cream sauce with tomatoes, pine nuts, and grana padano cheese, turned out to be my favorite of the trio.

Although our selections happened to be vegetarian, La Tagliatella also offers traditional Bolognese, carbonara, and signature sauces made with shrimp, Italian sausage, and pancetta. In addition to a variety of stuffed pastas, favorites like penne, linguine, and of course, tagliatelle, are available for diners to create their own classic Italian combination.

Despite the carb overload, everyone was excited when dessert arrived, a lovely square of bocconcino custard with a light and fluffy layer of cheesecake beneath it. Our Limoncello cordial mirrored the hint of citrus in the dessert’s crunchy crust.

This place has too much finesse to serve endless bowls of fettucine alfredo like one might expect at Olive Garden, but in a city with several certified authentic Neopolitan pizza places and neighborhood gems like BoccoLupo serving exceptional housemade pastas, the competition here promises to be fierce.

1540 Avenue Place at Emory Point 678-608-4210

La Hacienda…New Mexican in Midtown

July 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm , by Serina Patrick

Midtown Atlanta’s dense population of restaurants includes many of the Tex-Mex variety. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to hear the old Silver Grill spot on Monroe would soon reopen as La Hacienda, the first intown location of this small OTP chain. (Details are sketchy, but it appears there is one in Fayetteville and Newnan.)

However, initial reviews of the food were unflattering to put it nicely. I purposely neglected to mention this to LC when I suggested we dine there. It was a hot summer afternoon and I wanted to check out their rooftop patio and get a taste for myself.

Parking was easy for Midtown as the restaurant has its own lot behind the building, who’s yellow stucco exterior reminded me of a lovely hotel in Cabo. Once inside, we were impressed with the architecture and decor. Not nearly as kitschy as most Mexican restaurants, La Hacienda achieves an authentic vibe with adobe tiles, arched doorways, rustic wood tables, intricate wrought iron pieces and a reproduction of one of Frida Kahlo’s famous self-portraits.

As we climbed the stairs to the roof the temperature rose, however, there were fans keeping guests cool once we reached the top. I was expecting awesome views of Piedmont Park and Midtown, but discovered the view to be completely obscured by a billboard. No worries, soon I’d be gazing at the salted rim of my margarita glass!

The extensive leather-bound menu was impressive, offering every possible combination of tortillas, meat, and cheese from enchiladas to tacos. There is also a section of traditional Mexican favorites like carne asada and chilaquiles. In an effort to avoid the items labeled unsavory by others, I suggested we share fajitas.

We ordered the combination steak and shrimp fajitas. The great thing about fajitas is the sizzling platter comes with all of the fixin’s to make your own gringo tacos: tortillas, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and sour cream. We requested corn tortillas and jalapenos on the side.

Our margaritas were refreshing, made with fresh squeezed lime juice and agave. We nibbled on chips and their nice and spicy salsa, but our wait was brief as our fajitas arrived in less than ten minutes. Although our server had to climb those stairs repeatedly, service was swift.

As we dug into the platter of thin strips of decent steak, nicely cooked shrimp, onions, and peppers, I informed LC of our friends’ unsatisfactory report of their dining experience here. Thankfully, everything we ordered was edible.

Few meals with LC end without something sweet, so we ordered the flan. Like everything else we tried, it wasn’t spectacular, but certainly on par with most Mexican restaurants in town. I was especially pleased with the massive quantity of whipped cream.

Despite the rooftop patio’s obscured view and the average food, I wouldn’t mind whiling away a summer afternoon at La Hacienda, sipping on margaritas and pretending I’m back in Cabo.

900 Monroe Drive NE 404-941-7890

Makan Brings Asian Street Food to Decatur

July 17, 2014 at 8:04 pm , by Serina Patrick

A tasty morsel from Amy at Melissa Libby & Associates:

MAKAN BRINGS ELEVATED ASIAN CUISINE TO DOWNTOWN DECATUR

Asian Street and Comfort Food Inspired Eatery to Open July 24

While downtown Decatur has become a destination for some of the best dining experiences in Atlanta, it has yet to harness an elevated experience in Asian cuisine. At least, that is, until now. Owners Michael Lo and George Yu along with assistant general manager Damiano Pak plan to change that with their restaurant, Makan, opening Thursday, July 24. Makan (pronounced “ma-kun”) is the Indonesian or Malay word for eat. The restaurant is their effort to share the food that they love, that they grew up eating, taking it to a next level with chef-driven ingredients, a craft cocktail program and top-notch service. The cuisine is inspired by Asian street food and traditional Asian comfort food that you might find in market stalls in cities like Hong Kong, Taiwan or Seoul.

Both Michael and George grew up in the restaurant industry as the first generation of Chinese immigrant parents who owned and managed Chinese-American restaurants. They both worked in their respective parents’ restaurants, where they learned how to run a business and found a love for Asian food. Eight years ago, Michael and George met through their wives who are lifelong friends and both Korean. Since then, the two families have spent time creating recipes and ideas for a restaurant that would reflect their views of Asian comfort food and their respect for keeping traditions.

“Growing up working in my parents’ Chinese-American restaurants gave me a great understanding of the cuisine and the business, but it also taught me how it can be done differently. I lived, worked and traveled throughout Asia for three years, which inspired me even more,” Michael explains. “With Makan, we are trying to change the stereotype that good Asian cuisine doesn’t have a great atmosphere or bar program or even service. We want to show people that this kind of food pairs well with craft cocktails, beer and wine while showcasing the unique and vibrant Asian drinking culture.”

The menu, created by George (who is also the executive chef), consists of many types of elevated Asian comfort foods, all made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients including Korean seafood pancakes, Taiwanese five-spice fried chicken, shrimp and pork spicy wontons, pork belly buns, salt and pepper shrimp, pork raymun (a Korean version of ramen) and Taiwanese oxtail beef noodle soup. Makan also offers large format family meals that offer a communal dining experience while showcasing how Asian families typically eat.

“I want our guests to eat food that they would find if they were traveling through Asia and going to open air night markets, noodle stands and street stalls,” says George, “but with a service level, ingredient quality and bar program that they would only expect from any top notch restaurant. Lots of fresh, local produce. Not heavy on the sauces. And we’ll have a garden outside where we are sourcing some of the herbs and ingredients for cocktails, too.”

Designed by Square Feet Studio, whose recent clients include The Kimball House and General Muir, the space features an open kitchen, a chef’s counter and a full bar with a communal table made of reclaimed wood. Chef tables are stationed in front of the kitchen pass for the ultimate viewing-while-eating experience. The lively 1,500-square-foot patio will feature custom-made cypress and steel picnic tables that encourage sharing and socializing in front of the fire pit. The design is inspired by vintage Asian artwork and the romantic yet defining period of Chinese history of the 1920s and 1930s.

Makan will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week with plans to offer a late-night food and beverage service in the near future. Also, special events like whole-animal cookouts on the patio with night market style service and luau parties are in the works.

130 Clairemont Avenue, Suite 100 404-565-4510.

Better Half…Revisited

July 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm , by Serina Patrick

From the couple that fed us wonderfully creative Latin-inspired dishes at PushStart Kitchen, this restaurant is their brick and mortar labor of love. With a name like Better Half, I thought it would be the perfect anniversary destination, however, those plans were derailed earlier this summer, so this was somewhat of a makeup dinner.

On our first visit to Better Half we were seated at a table in the back, beneath the playful mural. This time I was intent on sitting at the bar. Rather than facing shelves of liquor, the view from this bar is of the kitchen, where guests can watch and interact with chef and owner Zach Meloy while he and his sous chefs are preparing their meal.

Speaking of liquor, until recently, the restaurant didn’t have a liquor license. Guests were invited to bring their own alcoholic refreshments. Now they serve a small selection of craft beers and wine, along with a daily specialty cocktail, which was unfortunately sold out when we arrived. In lieu of champagne, I tried a glass of sparkling Argentinian chardonnay and LC uncharacteristically ordered a beer.

We decided on the black-eyed pea falafel for our first course. Served with ham hock, red onion caramel, and sorghum mayo, we enjoyed the flavors of these Southern ingredients transformed into this homey dish. Unfortunately, I found the exterior of the fritters hard to cut through.

Chef Meloy has a knack for reinventing ingredients, rendering each one unrecognizable…until you taste it. He plays with texture and shape, like the pureed black beans, and compressed pineapple that accompanied my crispy pork shoulder entree. The meat was prepared in two ways, a tender braised hunk and fried pieces formed into a crispy cube, served with charred onions, and feta.

The pork was fantastic, yet overshadowed by the spectacular griddled chicken dish that LC ordered. Flavored with bacon, the succulent chicken was served with white cheddar grits formed into squares, and pickled peaches, all atop a sweet fig puree. Amazing.

For dessert, Zach recommended the warm fried blueberry pie, with lavender ice cream, pomegranate jelly, and garnished with milk crumb for crunch…comfort food with a Southern accent.

At the end of a meal at PushStart Kitchen, the Meloys always served coconut candies that Cristina had made. They continue that sweet tradition of hospitality at Better Half.

349 14th Street NW 404-695-4547

Kaleidoscope

July 8, 2014 at 5:08 pm , by Serina Patrick

Our long overdue girl’s night out was nearly foiled by traffic, but friends SP, SR and I finally met at Kaleidoscope in Brookhaven.

My last visit to Joey Riley’s neighborhood bistro was during its first few months in business. The warm yellow walls were bare, but the kitchen was already putting out savory small plates and burgers, many dishes with an Asian flair.

Modern art with dramatic splashes of red now hangs on the walls high above the crowd of regulars. SP and I waited at the bar, starting with a couple of double mules, their take on the Moscow mule, with the addition of Maraschino, served in the requisite frosty copper mug. So refreshing, we polished them off quickly and decided to order an appetizer, the Indian curry chicken spring rolls.

Two large rolls filled with garam masala spiced chicken were delivered with a tasty cilantro-yogurt sauce for dipping. I decided to try one of their specialty cocktails made with honey liqueur and immediately realized I should have stuck with the mule, so I ordered a regular Moscow mule which our surly bartender made in a regular glass. When I asked for the copper mug, he explained he could only use the mug for the specialty drink made with the brand of vodka that sponsored it. Whatever dude, just give me the damn mug!

SR finally arrived and we decided to move to a table on the expansive patio. Problem is, the tables and chairs are black wrought iron. If you spill something (like ketchup), it falls through the holes onto your clothing, and what’s worse, the chairs are uncomfortable, creating a grid pattern on the backs of your legs if you are stupid enough to wear shorts (like me). Nevertheless, the weather was great and so was the company but we were getting a little hungry. SP and I decided to share the pork tenderloin and the chicken panang curry.

Although it was already summer, Riley’s pork entree sounded like a straggler from his winter menu, paired with Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes. Despite the lack of seasonality, the depth of flavor was fantastic, due in part to the country ham broth. However, the meat was a bit dry.

The curry dish was well-executed. Simply served with a scoop of steamed white rice, the sauce was rich and creamy, but unfortunately not spicy. Sliced fresh jalapenos would have been an easy remedy.

Aside from the minor service and seating issues, we enjoyed our visit to Kaleidoscope! I would return just for the pork dish…maybe in the fall.

1410 Dresden Drive NE 404-474-9600

Old McDonald’s BBQ at Lake Lanier

July 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm , by Serina Patrick

Near the entrance to Lake Lanier Islands there is a BBQ dive called Old McDonald’s Real Pit BBQ. For years I thought I might find a big smoker and a redneck serving pulled pork on paper plates behind the sign with enormous red letters, but recently discovered there’s a cute brick and mortar restaurant with tables, chairs, and a collection of pig memorabilia just around the corner.

Guests order at the counter from a menu of standard meats and sides. Ribs, chopped or sliced pork, chopped beef, and smoked chicken are available as plates or by the pound, ideal for picnics at the lake.

LC and I stopped by on our way to the houseboat and picked up a few plates, two chopped pork and one smoked chicken, with a variety of sides. Each plate also came with a cup of Brunswick stew and Texas toast. If we loved it, perhaps we would get a few pounds for the 4th of July.

Turns out the standard fare was…just standard. We are partially to blame as we failed to request anything spicy, however, the pork lacked the wonderfully charred and chewy bits that I craved. Although I would have preferred chopped chicken, the quarter smoked bird was tasty. Both would have benefitted from a spicier sauce.

Mediocre sides included soupy slaw, chewy corn, and thickly battered fried okra. Green beans and mac ‘n’ cheese were better choices. LC had apparently eaten there before and liked the stew, but it failed to impress me. However, the Texas toast was awesome.

Although we didn’t order Old McDonald’s BBQ this 4th of July, we would certainly consider it for small parties in the future. They also offer catering if the party isn’t so small.

5774 Holiday Road, Buford 770-945-8608

True Food Kitchen Preview Lunch

July 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm , by Serina Patrick

The opening of True Food Kitchen was particularly exciting to me because it’s a concept that features recipes of my favorite bearded health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil. Dishes are composed of ingredients found in his anti-inflammatory food pyramid.

Originating in Arizona, where Dr. Weil resides, the small chain with a health conscious menu has recently expanded to Houston and now to Atlanta. There are numerous gluten-free options, as well as vegetarian dishes, like the spaghetti squash casserole and “inside out” quinoa burger.

“With the opening of True Food Kitchen in Atlanta, we hope to inspire healthy living and an enhanced focus on nutrition,” said Dr. Weil. “Our menu, based around the anti-inflammatory food pyramid, will teach guests that fresh, nutrient-rich food is delicious and accessible.”

I brought along my friend and neighbor LG to sample some menu favorites at the Lenox Square location’s soft opening. The restaurant is on a corner with lots of windows, allowing natural sunlight to flood the space. Dark and light wood tones are puncuated with bright pops of color.

We chose lime green vinyl seats at the bar where we were greeted by the super-friendly bar staff. There is a long list of natural refreshments like flavored teas, antioxidant elixirs, juices, and cocktails. Cocktails at lunch? Why not! Especially here, where they are good for you! I started with Spontaneous Happiness made with ginger and vanilla infused shochu (a popular Japanese liquor), St. Germain, and fresh lime juice. LG ordered a Blackberry Smash made with Bulleit Bourbon, blackberry juice, black tea, honey, and lemon.

Among the nine starters I was most interested in the caramelized onion tart with smoked garlic, black fig, and gorgonzola, however, LG dislikes onions so we chose the chicken chopped salad to share. A composition of fresh field greens, organic chicken, chewy cranberries and dates, crunchy jicama, manchego, farro, and almonds lightly dressed with champagne vinaigrette, the portion was easily entree size. Delicious, however, don’t confuse healthy with light. There were several hundred calories worth of nuts and dried fruits in this tasty salad.

For her entree, LG ordered the chicken sausage pizza with a gluten-free crust. Topped sparsely with tomato, fennel, and fontina, her pizza was thin and crispy. I snagged a piece and found it somewhat bland, attempting to fix it with red pepper flakes and parmesan.

LG noticed a bartender flaming a strip of orange peel and inquired. It was the Ginger Margarita, made with Hornitos Anejo tequila, St. Germain, ginger, and agave. We ordered two. Perfectly refreshing!

I decided to try the red chili shrimp, an Asian-inspired noodle dish with gai lan (Chinese broccoli), spinach, and shiitake mushrooms. A generous quantity of succulent shrimp with earthy mushrooms were served in a somewhat salty soy broth, fragrant with ginger. I was expecting it to be spicier, again making use of the red pepper flakes.

Although our complimentary lunch included just one dessert to share, our thoughtful server allowed us to try two, so LG got her flourless chocolate cake, which was devine, while I ordered the strawberry rhubarb crisp, a modern cobbler strikingly similar to the apple cranberry crisp my Mom and I make for Thanksgiving every year, using an Andrew Weil recipe.

I loved this place. The staff seems to truly embrace the philosophy of the restaurant. I’ll be back for another Ginger Margarita and more healthy dishes like the grass fed bison burger, panang curry, edamame dumplings, and that elusive caramelized onion tart.

(Dr. Weil’s quote from The Reynolds Group)

3393 Peachtree Road NE 404-481-2980

Cocktails and More at The Lawrence

July 1, 2014 at 10:18 am , by Serina Patrick

Since my last visit to The Lawrence, the restaurant has gone through several chefs, and lots of drama among the partners. Thankfully, things have settled down. Mark Nanna has been running the kitchen now for over a year and Eric Simpkins is still managing the cocktail program, shaken and stirred by a rockstar bar staff.

MB and I decided to meet there for cocktails and some casual grazing at the restaurant’s inviting bar. While I waited for her to arrive, I ordered a placebo, a deceptive monicker for a potent concoction of tequila, lemon juice, honey syrup, ginger syrup, a dash of Amaro CioCiaro (Italian orange bitters), and a splash of Mezcal on top.

She ordered a mojito and we decided on a couple of snacks, roasted oysters flavored with sriracha butter and scallions, and earthy black-eyed pea and bacon hummus, which we spread thickly on crusty grilled bread. Chef Nanna stopped by to chat briefly before we ordered another round of cocktails.

Although not ravenous, we decided to share the roasted pork entree plus a side of crawfish mac ‘n’ cheese. The tender meat was accompanied by refried black-eyed peas and smoky collard greens, for a modern take on traditional Southern fare. A ramekin of creamy mac ‘n’ cheese was baked with bits of crawfish meat and topped with crunchy bread crumbs.

Then chef Nanna surprised us with a lovely and refreshing sorbet made with strawberries with a hint of jalapeno.

Everything was terrific!

905 Juniper Street 404-961-7177

Atlanta Street Food Festival Returns July 12!

June 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm , by Serina Patrick

News from Denise Flinn Romeo, President of the Atlanta Food Bloggers Society:


Atlanta Street Food Festival Returns to Piedmont Park on Saturday, July 12

Third annual event offers food and fun in support of the Giving Kitchen

For the third year, Atlanta’s food truck fanatics can experience a day dedicated to the city’s finest food truck fare as the Atlanta Street Food Festival rolls into Piedmont Park on Saturday, July 12, from noon to 8 p.m. Renowned as Atlanta’s first and only event dedicated to street cuisine, the Festival is proud to announce that a portion of this year’s proceeds will support the Giving Kitchen, the beloved culinary charity with the unique mission of providing crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community facing unanticipated hardship.

The Festival offers event goers the opportunity to enjoy a variety of Atlanta’s best and favorite food trucks, local merchants and artisans, and music from some of the area’s favorite performers. More than 40 food trucks, including Champion Cheesesteaks, Yumbii, Ibiza Bites, Mix’d Up, Vietnamies, Angel Fire BBQ, and Masala Fresh will gather for the occasion.

New this year, the Atlanta Street Food Festival app is available through the Apple AppStore and Google Play. Once downloaded, smart phone users can view featured menus, peruse the entertainment schedule and upload photos of their favorite food truck fare.

MARTA again serves as the presenting sponsor of the Atlanta Street Food Festival along with sponsors Atlanta Home Improvement, EBlu, the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Braves, Sweetwater Brewing Company, the Georgia Aquarium, Foodie Fun, Yelp, Atlanta Eats and Lethal Rhythms Entertainment.

Tickets are available for purchase online at atlantastreetfoodfestival.com. Guests who purchase their tickets in advance will receive a discount wristband which offers patrons one dollar off each menu item over six dollars. Kids 12 and under are free. An individual adult pass is $10.50 and a group of four adults can purchase tickets at a group rate of $25. Additionally, advance day passes for rides are available for $10 through the website, for those who wish to enjoy a more cost-effective experience along with shorter festival lines. Guests are encouraged to use MARTA public transportation to travel to and from the highly anticipated event.

For more information and to see the full list of participating food trucks or become a vendor or sponsor, visit atlantastreetfoodfestival.com. Stay up-to-date with the Festival’s latest details on Facebook or by following @StreetFestATL and with the hashtag #ASFF14.

Chow Bing…Healthy Chinese!

June 25, 2014 at 11:25 am , by Serina Patrick

Chinese food. I know what you’re thinking…cloyingly sweet sauces, loads of sodium, questionable meat. Well, that’s all changed with the arrival of Chow Bing!

Enthusiastic owner Gary Lin joined the Association of Food Bloggers as we sampled our way through the menu of familiar, and fusion, Chinese dishes made with all-natural meats, sustainable seafood, and locally sourced vegetables, whenever possible. Lin doesn’t use MSG or sugary, sodium-laden sauces but rather relies on the flavors of the freshest vegetables and highest-quality meats and seafood.

While we waited for those stuck in the brutal Buckhead traffic, someone noticed boozy bubble tea on the menu. Guests can choose any flavor of bubble tea, which is simply iced black tea with tapioca spheres, and add whichever liquor they prefer. I chose coconut bubble tea with rum…an Asian daiquiri of sorts!

We selected a couple of appetizers to share, the wonton nachos and Sichuan wings for the fire-eaters at the table. I fell in love with the nachos, crispy fried wontons topped with chicken, black beans, tomatoes, jalapenos, cheese, and spicy cilantro sauce. The wings, described as tongue-numbingly hot, didn’t disappoint.

Lin was eager for us to taste the chicken tenders and pan-fried dumplings, both made with Springer Mountain Farms chicken. Stuffed with seasoned chicken and scallions, the dumplings were light and flavorful. The prices at Chow Bing are remarkably low with each appetizer coming in around $5.

Already full from the assortment of starters, I decided on the roast pork platter with brown rice. Rachel of Me Myself and ATL ordered the same, but with lo mein noodles. Lin’s signature dish, Chow’s chicken box, was a popular choice among the bloggers, as was the traditional kung pao chicken. None of our entrees were more than $9, and Lin offers the unique option of serving any of his platters burrito style in a large flour tortilla.

All of the entrees were beautifully presented. My roast pork was as good as the best barbecue I’ve eaten, with lots of chewy, charred bits. Lin explained that most of the meats are roasted, not wok fried, so there is less oil. Slices of fresh jalapeno and the generous handful of cilantro reminded me of Vietnamese cooking. Lin brought over a ramekin of his spicy cilantro sauce, the same one that was drizzled on the nachos. I could drink this stuff! But instead, I ordered another boozy bubble tea.

Owner Gary Lin is excited about serving his customers “responsible Chinese food”, adding that “the heart of Chinese cuisine, fresh protein, vegetables, and healthy rice, is what Chow Bing delivers in a fast, affordable setting.”

Chow Bing is redefining Chinese food in Atlanta, one tasty platter at a time.

3330 Piedmont Road 22B 404-816-8008

Chow Bing on Urbanspoon

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