Monday, July 28, 2008

Star Provisions - I never knew I liked Po'Boys

Saturday was perhaps one of our most memorable days of Atlanta Eating...We started the day off at Star Provisions and later on to Aurora Coffee to get some work done. (and for a Sugar Mama's Cupcake) For dinner, we went to Tomo. (discussed in length in my last entry) We topped off the evening with drinks at JCT Bar.

I'm not sure why I never tried Star Provisions for more than the cheese, (I've always liked their cheese station) but I'm now officially a fan. Star Provisions To-Go is a great environment for a lazy weekend lunch. It is cute and relaxing - great place to sit outside on a nice day! Yes, it is pricier than most sandwiches, but they use the freshest ingredients and it is well worth it. There is also a farmer's stand outside that sells produce. I didn't really see anyone buy anything, but the vegetables were went gorgeous. Anyway, onto our lunch:

Shrimp Po: Loved it! I highly recommend this sandwich. I'm usually not a big fan of po-boys, but SP uses really delicious and large sized shrimp. The shrimp are lightly fried and perfectly seasoned. They could stand a lone without the sandwich. The bread was also delicious - soft and great for this type of sandwich. The tomatoes they use are organic local tomatoes.

Falafel: This was a recommendation by the guy behind the check-out register. Thank you check-out-register-guy! Yum! I'll be honest, it wasn't the best falafel I've had, but it was flavorful and I'd order it again. The ingredients - lettuce, tomatoes etc. again were very fresh adding great color and taste!

Pickles: These came with the sandwiches. Not bad and not too salty!

Cupcakes - These aren't bad. I've had better cupcakes in Atlanta for certain, (I even had a better one later that day) but the cake of the original was nicely done - light and not overly sweet! It wasn't dry, but it could have used a slight more moisture for a cupcake. What I wasn't a fan of was the whipped cream on the top. I like light icings, but whipped cream seems a bit like cheating when it comes to a cupcake. The s'mores cupcake (that I tried on a different day) was a bit dry, although I really liked the concept and the crispness of the bottom of the cake.

Ham and Cheese Spiral Muffin - It looked so beautiful that I had to buy it. It was tasty all the way through. I was not disappointed but probably will not be purchasing it again.

I'll definitely be back to Star Provisions in the near future. I'd really like to try the hot dog there. It looked great and many people seem to be getting it - maybe they know something I don't.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My New Favorite Atlanta Sushi Joint - Tomo

(I wish I had more pictures, but I didn't start taking them until half way through our meal. I really wish I had taken pics of everything else because the presentations were lovely)

I was dragged to Tomo, I'll admit that. It is in the Vinings, and I am NOT a Vinings girl - perhaps it is a misconception on my part, but it has always seemed very vanilla and nothing special to me. With the exception for a few restaurants, I've always remained inside-the-perimeter and up 85 loyal. When I do venture up I-75 too far, it is usually for a pretty specific reason. Then, I am in and out.

For those who are unfamiliar with this restaurant, it is the restaurant of Tom (short for Tomohiro, I think) Naito who has worked as a sushi chef all over the US, including working under the world famous NoBu Matsuhisa in Las Vegas for three years. Tomo is located in a Kroger shopping center. That's not what I was expecting, but most of the great sushi restaurants in the Atlanta area aren't in the most glamorous of locations. (take Circle Sushi and Tanaka for example) The restaurant was pretty small and nicely decorated. We decided to eat at the sushi bar. At first, we regretted our choice since it was pretty tight in terms of space and I wondered how we would enjoy our meal without elbowing the people next to us in the eye. It ended up being one of the best decisions that night. (eating at the sushi bar...I did not elbow anyone in the eye)

Seated next to me was a man, eating alone and reading a book about Iraq Snipers. He had a very serious look on his face. From time to time he'd tell Chef Naito that he wanted this and that. The chef seemed to know who he was. Either this guy was a friend of the chef or he was a serious foodie...perhaps critic, but if you were a critic, why would you make your presence known? Hmmm... curious.

The menu was an interesting one - very innovative and I wanted to try just about everything. When trying out a new sushi restaurant, we normally make sure to order certain specific items so that we can get an idea of the restaurant overall. We did order some of our standards, but we ended up so enchanted by the innovative menu, that we threw some of our first time visit rules out the door. One thing that I forgot to order was a roll. We generally like to try at least one roll in the line up to get a general idea. In the end, I don't think it was necessary because we were impressed with all the technique and flavor combinations in each dish.

Half way through dinner, we ended up talking to the man with the book. It turns out he is a regular at Tomo and was eating at the restaurant almost every night while his wife was out of town. He knew the whole menu inside and out and was well versed in what fish was currently in season, which nights were best to come, etc. It's always fun to meet fellow foodies! We had already ordered, but after talking to him, we ended up ordering another dish that happened to be in season. (This visitor was clearly an asset to this restaurant--we joked that perhaps Chef Naito should put him on commission) We also learned that Tomo's restaurant has actually been around for a couple years. Somehow it escaped our radar until this week. That's what I love about Atlanta...there's always something new to explore no matter how long you've lived here.

Decor: Nice. Nothing to write home about, but it set a nice tone and had a modern and fresh look with appropriate lighting.

Service: Excellent. The service was professional but still personable and attentive without being obtrusive. If I had to sum up the service in one word it would be - thoughtful. There were a lot of little things they did that made the experience great - eg. a salad came with one of our orders, and the server split it just because she knew we were together. It sounds like a silly thing, but it is the small things that count, right?

One thing that I really noticed was the timing of dinner. Dishes were served with a nice progression and pace. The dishes were served one by one so that you could really appreciate each dish and not get one big hodge podge of stuff at once. You were never rushed and they always asked if they could take a dish away before they did. I could tell that the staff and sushi chefs knew everything that was going on in the restaurant so that they could make this possible and so that food didn't sit before being served. Wonderful..and they were able to do it with such grace.

We also enjoyed seeing how much passion all the servers and chefs had for the food. You could see Chef Naito hard at work and putting great detail into each dish. He is extremely personable and conversing with his customers at the sushi bar. Before speaking to him, I was a bit shy about whipping out my camera to capture his artwork, hence the missing pictures. I finely asked him and he seemed tickled that I enjoyed my meal so much. In fact, his regular customer was eager for me to snap a shot of one of his dishes as well.

Food: The food was amazing. All of the fish was well selected and the technique and knife skills were impressive. I know Soto was considered the great one in Atlanta before his move to New York, but I have to say that I even enjoyed my experience at Tomo more. (Don't get me wrong, I loved Soto) Between the two of us, we split at least 6+ dishes if not more. I can't think of a single thing that we did not like. The only dish that was not as impressive was the Yellowtail Serano Sashimi topped with a pepper slices. It was still good but I've had better. Everything else was a delight. I have to say that my favorite dish of the night was the "Tomo Urchin". It was two beautifully presented fried cylindrical pieces containing urchin. We were instructed to take the spoon to scoop up the bottom salsa-looking concoction and place it on top of the urchin before eating it. I was a bit skeptical about the combination but I was floored by the textures and flavors. I could have easily eaten an entire tray of them, but that wasn't exactly in my budget for the night.

Other dishes we tried: (no order)
  • Tempura Lotus Root: Thumbs up! Perfectly battered, evenly fried, and served at the perfect temperature.
  • Chirashi: When this dish came out, I was already feeling a bit full. We were surprised and impressed to find a generous serving of Chirashi. This is one of the dishes we measure how much we like a new sushi restaurant. Each piece was beautifully selected and cut. The mackerel skin looked as if it had been torched, adding a nice texture. The Tamago was nicely done - maybe my second fav in Atlanta. As a whole, I could not find a single thing wrong with this Chirashi dish.
  • Tomo Urchin - Fantastic! My favorite (see above)
  • Miso Soup & salad - I usually wouldn't comment on this but it was pretty good here. The soup was the first thing they serve everyone. The salad was also light and made with better quality greens than most places
  • Yellowtail Serano Sashimi - see above; My least favorite of the night, but still good.
  • I forgot the name of the dish - but it is a signature dish; Sashimi slices with dabs of urchin on the side. Great flavors and exquisite selection of fish and knife skills.
  • Sock-eye Salmon Tartar served with truffle oil - Beautifully presented and a nice addition to the meal. This was currently in season and suggested to us.
  • Sakes - There is such a nice selection of sakes here. I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. Next time, I'd like to try his sake tasting menu.
All in all, I'll be back. Tomo is hands down my favorite sushi restaurant in the Atlanta area. I still love Circle Sushi and Tanaka, esp for their price points. Sushi House Hayakawa is also another decent one. Tomo, on the other hand, is on an entirely different level. You'll certainly pay more, but it is quite an experience.

In the words of the man with book - "The only sad part of the evening is when you're too full to eat another bite of Tomo's creations"


Another Sad Closing - Kool Korners

I tried phoning in an order to Kool Korners this week. I got off early so I thought I could make it over to Kool Korners by 3pm to get one of the much-raved-about cuban sandwiches. I seem to never make it to this Atlanta hot spot on time due to their limited hours.

Ring Ring.

Lady: Hello?
Me: Hi. Yes, I was wondering what your hours are for today.
Lady: We're closed.
Me: Oh, okay. Well, can you tell me your normal hours?
Lady: Hold on
[shuffle shuffle]
Man: Hello
Me: Yes, I was wondering what your business hours are...
Man: We're closed.
Me: Yes, I realize that, but can you tell me what time you normally are open?
Man: No. We are closed forever.

GASP! How could Kool Korners close? It was one of the hottest things in Atlanta. In all my years in Atlanta, I never made it over there in time to get one of these was my unicorn of Atlanta food, and now it seems that I will never get a chance at it. I immediately started texting family and friends who are fans of this joint. The reaction was unanimous - sadness. Kool Korners, oh why did you have to close?!?

Well, the afternoon wasn't a complete loss. I ended up trying out a pressed sandwich from Georgia French Bakery & Cafe. I'll write about it later, but it was a good find and more than a consolation prize.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Toto, I Don't Think We're in Ma Lul Ha Lu - Experience at Mung Dong Restaurant

Our visit to Mung Dong was a confusing one. To understand my adventure, rewind to two weeks ago when we were having breakfast with some of our Korean friends. They were all raving about some corn dish mixed with mayonnaise and cooked with Kraft singles. The idea was all to foreign to my Chinese-American mind. I consider myself quite open minded and adventurous when it comes to food, but corn with mayo??? with a Kraft Single? Mind boggling! It didn't sound appetizing at all, but our friends assured us that it was awesome, and I'll try (almost) anything once!

A week later, we read (on Yelp) about Ma Lul Ha Lu, which had great reviews. Oh, and guess what?!? The restaurant served this mystery corn we had heard so much about. I was sold and decided to pay this Ma Lul Ha Lu a visit so that I could see if my friends were right about corn with mayo.

As we entered the Super H complex, we could not find anything called Ma Lul Ha Lu so we called. I asked where the restaurant was, to which a man replied with a stern, "WHY?!?!?" I responded, "err...because I want to eat at your restaurant?" When we finally arrived at the restaurant, the English read, Man Doo, which we knew was a big Korean Dumpling and not fried chicken, which Ma Lul is known for. We did see a pic of fried chicken inside, and the phone number matched, so it appeared to be the correct place. We went in and were seated.

The server didn't speak English and looked a bit stressed that we couldn't converse, but she did find someone who spoke some. When we asked about the corn dish, the lady looked perplexed and suggested that we eat dumplings instead. We quickly called our friends trying to find out the name of the corn dish. Our friend could only tell us that it was part of "Anju" a general term. "We would like to order some 'anju' please." The lady, again looked confused and said..."if you want alcohol, we don't serve any." Apparently "anju" are dishes that you eat when drinking Korean alcohol. She politely explained this concept to us and we dropped the subject of the corn.

After much discussion, we learned that Ma Lul Ha Lu no longer exists. The business was bought out about a month ago. They are now called Mung Dong, named after a famous part of Korea known for Man Doo. To our dismay, they do not have corn with mayo and kraft singles, but their dumplings were pretty good. We also had the fried chicken was decent, not the best fried chicken - but still good. It was juicy and well flavored.

The place probably deserves closer to a 3.5/5.0, but the ingredients were very fresh and you can even watch them making the man doo from scratch. The servers were very nice and seem to have quite a passion for the food. I'm still looking for a place with the corn dish, but I wouldn't mind coming back here for some dumplings.

Eventful week

I haven't really been updating lately since things have been busy, but that doesn't mean we haven't been able to get out. Unfortunately (or not so unfortunately) for me, most of our activities have revolved around food events. (Okay, we did see Batman last night, but so did all of America) Like I said, we went to Food Studio one last time this week. (I've now uploaded pics) It wasn't the best closing, but I'm glad I went. Food Studio has been a place of great memories.

We also attended the Yelp event at Table 1280, which was pretty fun. (my first Yelp event!) The weather was perfect that day. We were greeted by the very spirited Deanna from Yelp, who organized the party. Yelp and Table 1280 were great hosts...they kept the drinks and food coming and had little activities on the sides to keep the party going. It was pretty fun to see some of the Yelpers live in person, although I'll have to admit I didn't really advertise who I was. Exhausted from my long week and not feeling as sociable that day, I sat back and observed a bit more than I normally would have. I hope to meet more people at the next one. It was an awesome event though and it was a great mix of people.

We also took the opportunity to get some dessert at Table 1280. (even though we had already eaten dessert at the party) Yum! Table 1280 generally has delicious and innovative desserts. The current pastry chef is Chad Guay, one of my favs in Atlanta! The dessert menu is always changing here, but we had the: Peach Upside Down Cake, Basil Ice Cream, Sweet Tea Reduction; and the Roasted Plum Turnover, Fromage Blanc Sorbet, Candied Ginger

I'll write more later about some of our other restaurant visits later...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Good Bye Food Studio

I haven't written in a while, but we've been to a few new places within the last couple of weeks.

We also dined at Food Studio this week to pay one last visit before it converts to a event-only space next week. I hate to say it, but the food was pretty disappointing (at least disappointing for the Food Studio) - a weak last hoorah. I can't really think of anything that really stood out, although they were offering an attractively priced price fixed menu. I won't comment on the different dishes since this restaurant will not be around soon, but here are some pics of the food.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Cross-Eyed Cat : Gato Bizco Cafe, A Review

How do I describe Gato Bizco Cafe? Tex-mex meets Crunchy-Granola = Great food and great people!

One sunny weekend noon, my friend and I decided to go to a brunch joint that neither of us had tried. Gato Bizco Cafe is located in the Candler Park area right across from the original Flying Biscuit Cafe. I'm not sure why I'd never been to Gato Bizco, which according to Babel Fish means Cross-Eyed Cat. I suppose it had something to do with the fact that I never noticed this small eatery until I read about it online. (online has really changed the way I eat)

To be honest, we were a bit apprehensive about the place, the reviews were pretty good for the most part, but there were the harsh ones as well. Also, the logo of the cat wasn't exactly inviting. The wait was longer than we had anticipated, but we were finally seated by who we believe was the owner, a nice bearded man. The place is very relaxed and all the people are very down to earth. There are people outside waiting for a seat, but you don't get that chaotic rushed feeling of many of the other hot brunch spots in Atlanta.

Service: It was the owner (again, pretty sure, but not certain) who took our order. He's a really nice guy who looks as if he was plucked straight out of the 70's. He even took the time to sit down at our booth to answer questions about the menu. Very helpful! The thing that really sold us was when he pointed out that we could basically order anything we wanted, however we wanted. It's written on the menu itself. He's pretty interested in making sure that all his patrons have a great experience, and for that, I'll be back soon.

The food/drinks: Even though the atmosphere is pretty laid back and you never feel rushed one bit. The cafe is pretty small so the service is quick and the food comes out fast, hot, and fresh. It was also incredibly impressive that the owner was there the entire time. Here's a run down of what we got:

  • Yum! I'll have another:
    • Orange juice: Fresh squeezed and delicious
    • Coffee: I didn't have any but my friend said it was pretty good
    • Huevos Rancheros: I went with the huevos since I had read so much about it. It isn't your traditional huevos rancheros, like I've had in Mexico. However, this dish is phenomenal. The flavors were nice and there was a good balance between all the ingredients. It was also well presented, something I wasn't expecting. I couldn't stop eating it. It lived up to the hype on Yelp. (a rarity) I highly recommend this dish, just don't expect traditional huevos.
    • Sweet Potato Pancakes: Yum! It is really delicious. I only wish I had had more room in my stomach. I'd never thought to mix sweet potato into a pancake, but it works very well. (This is coming from a girl who doesn't fancy sweet potatoes)
    • French Toast: This is what my friend had. It was pretty good. (get some pecans on it too)
  • Could Be Better:
    • The grits: I got cheese grits. I always get grits at a breakfast place, but if I go back, I'll be skipping this dish. Grits are not the Gato's forte, but hey, that was just one dish out of the bunch.
All in all, this definitely goes on my list of favorite brunch spots in Atlanta. The service is spectacular, there's a character and warmth about the place, and I really enjoyed my food. I'll be back.