December 22, 2014

Favorites, 2014 Edition

A quick reflection on some favorite things in 2014. From the home-cooking files, a few dishes I was happy with. The ricotta and fig salad above hit the right notes when fresh figs were in season back over the summer.
Fried oyster and steak tartare with pickled red onions and chive oil. Made this for a dinner with friends. I stole the idea from Mike Lata's rendition at The Ordinary in Charleston.
I've gotten pretty good at making ramen and pho at home. Let's just say it's good enough to scratch that itch when I don't feel like driving up Buford Highway and I get the satisfaction of knowing I can pull it off at home. For ramen, I really like making Ivan Orkin's seafood stock version from his Ivan Ramen cookbook, which is also one of my favorite things this year.
I like Kenji's recipe for tradtional beef pho, but I also find myself gravitating to the clean, pure flavors of Ed Lee's chicken and country ham pho from his excellent book.
Domaine Olga Raffault makes great Cabernet Franc from Chinon that can age a good while. This 1990 was one of my favorite wines of the year. Great Cabernet Franc that won't break the bank.
I also reaffirmed my love for Savart's Champagne this year. One of my favorite wines. I drank a good bit of this in 2014. While it took me a while, I'm fully on board with the fact that Champagne is not just for special occasions. I drink Champagne regularly now, it goes with everything.
Summer of Cheeseburgers with my son. We had a good time, he ate a lot of cheeseburgers. One Eared Stag's Meat Stick came out on top for us, but General Muir, Holeman & Finch, and Bocado were all winning burgers.
Charleston Eats: Still one of my favorite cities to visit. So much good food, and several new places came out swinging in 2014. I made multiple visits to Edmund's Oast, The Obstinate Daughter, and Leon's Oyster Shop this year. Strong stuff. Can't wait to go back!
Beer! Drank some good beer this year. Including the cult favorites Heady Topper and Ghandi Bot. The Maine Beer Co are always solid, and a nod to my favorites from the south: Westbrook Brewing out of Mt. Pleasant, SC. It was a good year, see you in '15.

December 9, 2014

Grand Champion Bbq at Krog Street Market

Krog Street Market, I can't quit you. If I keep visiting Krog Street Market multiple times in a week it isn't going to end well for my wallet or my waistline. That being said, I was easily talked into another visit to KSM with a friend who had not yet been. This time, Grand Champion Bbq was open, having been the most recent addition to the growing food offerings. Having established themselves as a serious bbq contender in the OTP bbq scene, the outpost at KSM is Grand Champion's first foray ITP. Based on the compact size of the food stalls at KSM, we thought Grand Champion might be smoking there meats offsite and bringing it in, but sure enough, they managed to maximize their space with a decent size smoker behind the counter. The ribs and brisket were excellent, fully of peppery spice, smoke, and tender goodness. Huge sides of gooey mac-and-cheese and collards (that lacked a little oomph) would certainly feed more than a couple people.
The brisket. Nice bark, melting-ly tender, and full of smoke and pepper. Very good. It will be hard to resist return visits to Grand Champion and they are definitely another winning addition to the KSM food scene.
Despite stuffing our faces with bbq, we saved some room for more snacks at Fred's and Yalla. The smoked catfish po-boy above can be added to your list of can't miss sandwiches at Fred's. One of the keys here is the bread from jedi-bread-ninja Rob Alexander who has conjured up a respectable recreation of Leidenheimer- style french bread that makes po-boys in Nola so special.

For dessert, some more snacks from Yalla, including the pita special with sweet potato, maple labne, and cracklings. With, of course, banging fresh pita from Rob Alexander and crew. Until next time, Krog Street Market, and it won't be long...

December 1, 2014

Yalla at Krog Street Market

I think Krog Street Market is going to be problematic for my wallet and waistline. After a visit to Fred's Meat and Bread for lunch earlier in the week, I returned for dinner at Yalla on Saturday night. From the same team behind General Muir, and Fred's,Yalla is a middle eastern food stall right adjacent to Fred's. They are only doing dinner at Yalla for now as they adjust to the huge crowds at both stalls. 
Our first visit was great, though the staff was clearly struggling to work through the many variations one could make to the menu. Proteins and mains can be ordered as pitas or platters, each fully customizable with numerous roasted and grilled vegetables as well as things like labne and tahini. Each of the five dished we tried were strong, many flavors true to what I remember from my Syrian grandmother's kitchen as a kid. The falafel above offer a lighter rendition of a chickpea fritter packed with mint, cilantro, and parsley flavor.
Sabich pita filled with roasted eggplants, eggs, and pickles. This was excellent with fresh pita made just prior to service.
Blurry picture of the excellent schwarma platter with added pickles, labne, harissa and roasted onions and eggplant. I could see eating at Yalla often, with numerous options and variations there are multiple ways to approach each meal, and by today's standards, there is a good bit of value for what Yalla delivers.
One of the many cool things about KSM is that you have numerous options for dining and drinking under one roof. For example, after strolling and shopping a bit we stopped in to The Luminary for drinks and snacks before our dinner at Yalla. Good drinks at The Luminary; the smoked wings had decent smoke flavor and a curry aioli that added a nice spicy lift.

November 26, 2014

New Eats: Ribalta Pizza & Fred's Meat & Bread

Ribalta recently opened in midtown in a space that was previously a pizza joint, but Ribalta is bringing a renewed focus on pizza according to our server. Rather traditional Neapolitan-style pizza with a paper-thin crust and nice char. A solid choice in this style, though, perhaps not reaching the heights of Antico or Verazano's. However, for the price of $14-$15, a solid option if you are in the area.
Sausage and broccoli rabe. Good pie, local Italian sausage made by artisan sausage maker. I liked this one, real nice char on the crust, though it did lack a real flavor punch that one might expect considering the toppings.
In case you missed it, Krog Street Market officially opened Monday. Sure to be a food and drink destination, it is a welcome addition to the Atlanta east dining scene. Before the official grand opening, both The Luminary and Craft Izakaya opened several weeks ago. We stopped in for some bites at Craft Izakaya last weekend. The spicy-crispy tuna and quail egg above is as tasty as it is purdy. I like Craft, it's great space with enough interesting offerings on the diverse menu to keep you intrigued and satisfied.
Fred's Meat and Bread was the first "stall" to open Monday and as of now it's the only option for lunch at the Market. Brought to you by the good folks behind The General Muir, it's hard to imagine that Fred's won't be excellent. We tried a few sandwiches. All were solid, with excellent bread from Rob Alexander. The cheesesteak is a standout.
The cheesesteak. Kind of perfection. Unless you're from Philly, than you can play contrarian.
Korean fried chicken with pickled veggies.
Mortadella and bacon. Yum.
Fred's double stack with bacon and mushrooms. Not unlike the renowned burger at General Muir, this one was just a bit sloppier as we ordered it with bacon and mushrooms. A solid first experience at Fred's but that was what I was expecting. Judging by the very long line when we left, you want to get there early. When all the other food stalls open up, watch out, Krog Street Market will be jamming.

November 17, 2014

HomeCooking: November Edition

It's cold out. That's a good thing. Fall is my favorite time of the year for getting busy in the kitchen. I started getting serious about making ramen and pho last year and I now feel pretty confident that I make damn good renditions of each for a home cook. Pictured above, a riff on Ed Lee's recipe for chicken and country ham pho. Lee's recipe calls for a super clean and delicate broth that is made simply from chicken, blackened onions and ginger, peppercorns, and a little star anise. This stuff will make your kitchen smell awesome on a cold Saturday afternoon with football on in the background.
I also tried my hand again at Ivan Orkin's shio ramen. Orkin's broth is dashi-based-there's a good bit of dried fish used to make this stock. Yes, one does get well-acquainted with the frozen dried fish aisle at Buford Highway Farmer's Market when shopping for this dish. It is definitely different than the rich pork flavor of a traditional Tonkotsu ramen.There are seven separate components to this bowl of ramen, preparation is best spread out over a couple of days as you have to make an overnight dashi, a soffrito,  pork belly that cures overnight, etc. I'm not sure it's always worth it, and I was certainly  more enthusiastic about the effort it took when I first made this ramen last winter. That being said, for ramen at home on a Sunday night, it pretty much kicks ass.
I also made a few dishes from Sean Brock's first book, Heritage. I'm a fan of Brock's Charleston eateries and he certainly has cemented his place as a force in new Southern cooking over the last decade. His cookbook is massive, and beautifully laid out, though I can't say I felt the urge to make many of the recipes at first glance. Anyway, I took a shot on a couple of dishes including the hearty farrotto with kale pictured above that uses farro in a risotto-like preparation. A nice vegetarian meal option for cooler weather and farro is quickly becoming one of my new favorite grains.
Another one from the Brock book: grilled and smoked chicken wings with a burnt scallion bbq sauce. These were addictive. Grilled for a few minutes on each side, and then smoked over the same coals for about 10 minutes. The burnt scallion bbq sauce is going to be a mainstay in my house now.
Honey glaze roast duck. Another Ed Lee jam. Lee recommends scoring the skin of the raw duck and ladling boiling water over it prior to roasting. The boiling water bath releases a good bit of fat and allows you to get a nice crisp skin during the roasting process. Winner!

November 11, 2014

Lunch at Ah Ma Taiwanese Kitchen

I'll admit it, I don't eat a lot Taiwanese cooking. In fact, after the conversation we had at lunch, I don't even really know that much about Taiwan. That being said, I stopped in for lunch at Ah Ma Taiwanese Kitchen, the fairly new Taiwanese restaurant on Monroe in midtown. Ah Ma means grandmother in Taiwanese, and there is a nod here to simple, family recipes and street food of the common people. We sampled seven or eight dishes, and each was solid, if slightly understated in flavor and wows. The Lu Rou Fan bowl above  features slow-cooked pork, mushrooms, cilantro, and a soy-braised egg. A solid, seasonal fall dish to me, and a nice buy at $5.50.
Shrimp bao with remoulade and pickled vegetables was a standout. Hard to go wrong, though, with crunchy fried shrimp, pickled veggies, and a spicy remoulade.
Beef tongue bao was also a standout. The tongue was fall-apart tender in a rich, hoison-like sauce.
Slow cooked pork belly. I like my pork belly cooked to show a little more color, but this was fresh and tender and tasted like pork, in a good way.
Salt and pepper chicken. Eh. I was thinking about the chicken nuggets mu kids ate when they were young. Fun, but not enough salt or pepper to live up to the name.
Egg pancake roll. Tortilla wrapped around a soft scrambled egg, mushrooms, and cilantro, with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce. A fun bite. The nice thing about Ah Ma is that the small plates and baos, which make up most of the menu, are all fairly-priced in the $4-$7 range. This means means you can go with a couple people and devour a large sampling of the menu without breaking the bank. I enjoyed all of our bites, and will definitely be back for another visit to try the rest of the menu.

November 6, 2014

Toronto Eats: Bar Buca and Momofuku

I recently spent some time in Toronto. While I was there "working," I did find the time to eat some good food. Toronto is huge, like the third largest city in North America behind NYC and LA, and it feels distinctly like Manhattan in many parts of the city. As such, I was in decision-making-overload trying to decide where to eat with the countless options. By chance, the first night in town I happened to walk upon Momofuku Toronto, and since I have been meaning to eat at one of David Chang's restaurants, this sounded like a good option. Plus, it was freezing, and ramen sounded good. I was dining solo, and I ordered a lot of food at Momofuku, prompting my server to say, "That's a lot of food, is that ok with you?" The Momofuku ramen was as I had hoped it would be, a very good bowl of ramen. Not life-changing, but a rich, almost-too-salty (as Chang says it should be), with a pork broth with a background sweetness. The fatty pork belly melted as it should, and there was a few pieces of tasty bok choy that I think was pickled. A good bowl, and perfect on a cold night.
This was a fun and addictive dish at Momofuku: Noodle-like roasted rice cakes with a crispy exterior tossed in a spicy chili and garlic sauce, topped with the ubiquitous scallions, and toasted sesame seeds. Popped almost all of those in my mouth.
I also tried the Momofuku spicy-grilled chicken wings and the brisket buns pictured above. The brisket buns weren't really anything to write home about, but that didn't dampen the experience too much. I'd definitely go back to Momofuku if I was a local, and the local appear to come out as the place was packed from 5:30 on.
The next day for lunch I took a tip from Bill Addison and tried Bar Buca, tucked back on a side street just outside the Fashion District. Baby octopus at Bar Buca. I'm glad I did. Bar Buca is open 7am-2am every day and features everything from an espresso bar to lunch, dinner, and a comprehensive wine program. The food menu mostly features small tapas-like plates. The dish above was a skewer of baby octopus and soppressata over whipped potatoes that were creamy and thinned to point of being sauce-like. Just a killer little dish if you are an octopus fan.
Another hit from Bar Buca: Involtini di molanze: rolled eggplant stuffed with ricotta and prosicuttio, with stracciatella and red gravy. A wow dish. Not unlike the flavors might find in eggplant parrmesan, but even richer. Of the five restaurants I visited in my 48 hours in Toronto, Bar Buca was an easy favorite. I left wishing there was something like it in Decatur or Atlanta. More from Toronto later.

October 31, 2014

Day of the Dead Drinking with Casa Noble

 I was invited to try Casa Noble tequila and create a cocktail celebrating the Dias de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. A festival with ancient Mexican roots that blends Catholic rituals with pre-Hispanic beliefs about the after world. In case you weren't aware, the festival is celebrated Nov-1-2 each year, right after Halloween.
I took a shot at making a cocktail using the very smooth and tasty reposado from Casa Noble. I tried a few things and came up with the following unnamed cocktail:

2 oz Casa Noble tequila reposado
1 oz. fresh lime juice
.5 oz. Agave nectar
.5 oz Aperol
A slice of hot chili
A pinch of Lapsang Souchong infused salt

Added the ingredients to a shaker and poured over ice. The pinch of tea-infused salt is best on top of the ice in the glass. It was a fun drink, a little hit of spice, and a nice smokiness from the tea. I stole the idea for the tea-salt from (what I think) they use on the Unsung Hiro at Miso Izakaya. Anyway, it was a fun drink.


October 28, 2014

Eating Around, October Version

Just some recent highlights of eats around town...I've been visiting One Eared Stag with more frequency the past six months. It never disappoints. Above is the hot chicken nuggets and pickles on white bread. An ode to Nashville hot chicken and good spice here.
More fried chicken...this time Makan's Korean Fried Chicken, available only on Wednesday night. This is a nice rendition of Korean fried chicken, crispy, spicy and guaranteed to get you messy.
What? You want more pictures of chicken? The tasty chicken wings from a dude-date for lunch at Nam Phuong.
Also from Nam Phuong, the best shaking beef. Wow, good stuff.
Back at Kimball House a crispy duck leg hit the spot.
As did the sunchoke risotto with wood sorrel and truffle jus. Love Kimball House, but who doesn't?