RSS Feed

Category Archives: restaurant reviews

chicken and the egg – farm to table dining comes to Marietta

Posted on

chicken and the egg - chef marc taft

Executive Chef Marc Taft’s new farm-to-table concept is giving Marietta diners something to squawk about.

You may remember Marc Taft from another, decidedly different Atlanta-area restaurant – Pacci – the comfortably ritzy Italian restaurant that was located on the bottom floor of the former Hotel Palomar in midtown. Taft served as Pacci’s General Manager until the restaurant and the hotel shuttered their doors earlier this year due to foreclosure.

At Chicken and the Egg, Taft has traded his GM suit for a chef’s jacket, but his unassuming, businesslike demeanor hints at the fact that he’s still just as comfortable in the back office as he is in the kitchen. With a resume that includes several high-level management positions for some heavy hitters in hospitality, and a restaurant career that spans over 15 years, it’s no wonder.

Chicken and the Egg

Type of Cuisine: Southern, farm-to-table

Serves: Brunch, Lunch, Dinner

Menu Highlights: Fried Chicken, Butterbean Hummus, Grilled Peach Manhattan

I recently visited Chicken and the Egg just before Friday dinner rush, and had a chance to sit and chat with Chef Taft about his latest venture and his thoughts on restaurants in Atlanta.

 


Before we get started with the Q&A, Chef Taft suggests we try a couple of cocktails from the restaurant’s Southern-inspired menu.

I opt for the Grilled Peach Manhattan – a sultry concoction of peach and bacon infused whiskeys, bourbon and vermouth

My dining partner has the Dirty South – an interpretation of a dirty (gin) martini, subbing pickled okra instead of olive

 

On a scale of 1 to 10, how scary is it opening your own restaurant?

Well, I’ve opened over 30 restaurants. So it wasn’t really that scary for me. I made all my mistakes on someone else’s dime. Still, there’s a little anxiety. Before we opened, I had dreams like, “will people come?”

I eye the steadily filling tables in the restaurant.

 

Doesn’t look like you have a problem there, though.

People in Marietta have been very welcoming. There aren’t as many fine dining options as there are in Atlanta, so people in this area are appreciative. We served over 3,000 tables in August alone.

If you haven’t been running restaurants for a while you have no business opening one. It’s not glamorous.

 

What’s the best thing about being a chef / restaurateur in the Atlanta area?chef marc taft - chicken and the egg

Atlanta is still an up and coming food city. People are still learning. They’re willing to try food without being overly critical. The chef community here is a brotherhood and a sisterhood instead of a competition, no one undermines each other.

(Chef Taft briefly makes mention of two high-profile chefs – Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse whose equally high profile restaurants had relatively short lifespans in Atlanta.)

It’s because they’re not here. Atlanta holds you accountable as a chef.

 

How would you describe your culinary style?

Well, I’m a trained Italian chef. You can’t compare Italian to anything. But the passion translates to modern farmstead fare. Anyone can take flour and spices and fry up some chicken… why is it different here? It’s because we’re very passionate about what we do and we want to do it the right way. This restaurant represents that as a whole. This is the kind of food I grew up with. I’m always fired up in a positive way.  I like being the best, really.

Soon, a sampling of appetizers begins to arrive at the table:

Butterbean “Hummus” and House Made Pimento Cheese – The hummus is a delightful way to enjoy a traditional Southern veggie. The delicate flavor of butterbean is complemented by a subtle punch of garlic. Unfortunately, pimento cheese has never been a favorite of mine, and Chef Taft’s version doesn’t change my mind any.

Buttermilk Fried Oysters  – crispy fried, and perfectly seasoned

Fried Green Tomatoes – expertly accented by a small sliver of country ham, and a tiny dollop of tomato jam. However, for previously mentioned reasons, I’m no fan of the puddle of pimento cheese fondue the tomato is floating on.

 

What is the one thing you think can ruin an otherwise great restaurant?

Inconsistent food. Consistency is probably the most important thing in a restaurant. Even if you have average food, be consistently average.

Also the reception and post-meal thank you is important. People forget about the middle of the meal. They remember the beginning and the end. In Atlanta, that post-meal experience actually extends out to the valet. When I worked at Pacci, we could sometimes have an otherwise stellar dining experience ruined by valet.

 

What words of wisdom would you give to other Atlanta chefs or culinary workers?

Focus on having integrity and doing the right thing. All the other stuff will come. Be a student of the trade every day. If you’re willing to expose your weakness and surround yourself with people who are stronger than you in that area, you’ll keep progressing. Once you think you’re too good, people will start to pass you by.

 

For our entrees, I order the evening’s special: sous vide duck breast served with a crab cake, fennel slaw and a brown mustard jus; and my mate orders a Southern classic: fried chicken with mac and cheese and braised greens. Both entrees are good, but the fried chicken and accompaniments are the clear winners. The chicken is delicious from crust to bone – the restaurant takes the time to brine the chicken before cooking. The mac and cheese includes 6 cheeses: 2 different cheddars, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream cheese, smoked gouda, and Monterey jack. It’s so sumptuous, I briefly consider bathing in the stuff. The braised greens are a savory, slow-cooked mixture of kale and collards. While the duck breast has good flavor, I find the texture of the flesh a bit chewy and the skin a bit under- seared. As a result, the fennel slaw and crab cake receive most of my attention.

A trio of desserts rounds out the meal. First, fried peach handpie served with boiled peanut and sorghum ice cream. For me, the dessert conjures memories of childhood trips to the country which often included a stop to procure fried pies and boiled peanuts from some roadside shack. Definitely a creative interpretation of 2 off-road Southern favorites. A second dessert of banana pudding was solid version of the sweet treat, attractively served in a jelly jar with a thick slice of caramelized ‘nanner. My favorite dessert, however was the rhubarb streusel tart – chunks of brown-sugar-sweetened rhubarb peeking out of a flaky, buttery, pastry crust. Mmmm.

Before the meal ends, I ask Chef Taft one final question.

 

What do you want to be remembered for, what epitaph would you like to see on your headstone? 

My philosophy in life is that it’s not about work, money or the things we have, it’s how you live your life and what impact you have on people while you’re here.

 

cheers,

k

 

Chicken and the Egg

800 Whitlock Ave.; Suite 124

Marietta, GA 30064

http://www.chickandtheegg.com

 

Disclosure: My meal was comped by the restaurant.

Advertisements

smashburger arrives in atlanta

Posted on

smashburger logo

If you were to count up all the burger restaurants in Atlanta on your hands, you’d quickly run out of fingers. It seems that burger fever has taken over the city, and Atlantans just can’t get enough beef. Denver, Colorado-based Smashburger has no complaints about the phenomenon at all, however. Smashburger opened its first Atlanta location last week, and I had the chance to get a sneak preview of what Atlanta’s newest burger concept has to offer.

On the surface, Smashburger seems to have all the right elements for success:

A founder who invented the stuffed-crust pizza and the McGriddle,

A cooking process that ensures a consistent burger every time,

A menu that offers a variety of high-quality ingredients along with regional specialties,

and a restaurant concept that strikes the right balance of decor, location, and service.

“We want to bring the burger back to the forefront of American dining,” shared Tom Ryan, Smashburger founder. I spoke with Tom during Smashburger Atlanta’s Blogger Bash last week. Tom, who was once head of R&D for burger behemoth McDonalds, is certainly no stranger to the field. “Our goal is to provide a total family experience, a place where everyone will find something they love. We’re known for our burgers, but we have salads and chicken, kids’ meals, split and grilled hotdogs, even fried veggies!”

In each of its restaurants, Smashburger features a local burger on the menu that speaks to the flavors and tastes of the region. The appropriately named ‘Atlanta Burger’ comes topped with peach bbq sauce, fresh sliced jalapenos, Vidalia onion slaw, and Wicked Pimina Cheese from Rome, GA.

the atlanta burger smashburger

I sampled the Atlanta Burger and several other selections from the menu, but was most impressed by:

Smashfries – Two versions are offered. Sweet potato and original. The latter come topped with rosemary, parmesan and olive oil. Both are absolutely delicious!

The Tom Burger – It’s not on the menu, but it’s founder Tom Ryan’s favorite way to top his burger. Simply a Smashburger topped with a fried egg and American cheese. I was skeptical until I tasted it. The cheese melts to a velvety-smooth creamy texture, and the richness of the egg along with the fresh-tasting burger… sinfully delicious. Definitely not something you should eat often. But give it a try just once, and thank me later.

ksolo smashes burger

I even got the opportunity to try my hand at the Smashburger method of cooking up a perfectly juicy hamburger, which involves pressing down on the burger to achieve a ‘crust’ that seals in the juices and flavor, then being extremely careful not to break the ‘crust’ when flipping the burger. Not as easy as it looks, lemme tell ya.

Smashburger’s Buckhead location opened last week near the intersection of Piedmont Road and Sidney Marcus Boulevard. With two more locations set to open soon in John’s Creek and Alpharetta, Smashburger is sure to be a welcome addition to the Atlanta burger scene.

To get exclusive mobile deals and discounts for Smashburger Atlanta, text “smashburgeratl” to 90210.

Smashburger
2625 Piedmont Rd.
Atlanta, Georgia 30324
404.237.2374
http://www.smashburger.com

my new favorite atlanta restaurant – lunacy black market

Posted on


lunacy-black-market-inside

I’ll admit it. Nowadays when I hear of a new Atlanta restaurant that all the foodies are raving over, I scoff. Yeah, I said it. I scoff.  I’ve become jaded, you see. Time and time again, I’ve fallen victim to the buzz surrounding a hot new restaurant in Atlanta. First, the in-the-know insiders and foodies start circling stories of a concept, a location, an opening date. Soon the chorus of foodie-faithfuls grows. Comments of, “I knew Chef so-and-so when he/she was just a paduan,” and , “Have you had his whatzadoozit-with-mystery-sauce? It’s to die for!” start appearing all over the interwebs. Then the opening happens, a flurry of food scenesters, bloggers, media and critics flock to the place, each waxing poetic about the ambiance, the décor, the innovativeness or simplicity of the menu. After the dust from the initial hoopla finally settles and I get the chance to visit the restaurant once, twice, or three times, an unsettling reality sets in. The food… ain’t shit. Either the quality and consistency has deteriorated over time, or it was really never that good to begin with.

It’s this prejudice that was a large factor in keeping me away from Lunacy Black Market until last Friday, when a neighbor arranged for a group of folks to head over for a visit. I’d been hearing positive rumbles and awestruck whispers of the place since it opened last year, but was reluctant to believe any of it. Within minutes of arriving, I was completely disarmed. To call Lunacy Black Market a restaurant is correct only in the most literal of senses. Food is served for a price, so, yes, it’s a restaurant. But it would be more accurate to describe the place as a communal parlor – a space where conversation is encouraged as much as consumption. Our party of three arrived and was greeted cordially by our waitress, who suggested we claim a collection of comfy-looking, well worn couches near the front of the restaurant as our seats for dinner. A few moments later, the waitress returned with menus – hand printed in black Sharpie on cardboard box panels. We peered and pondered for several minutes, marveling at both how tasty the dishes sounded and how affordable the prices seemed. Wine lunacy-black-market-photos
selections were decided upon (also at very wallet-friendly prices), and we settled back into our couches to chat for a while before ordering our first samples of food.

Like Chef Paul Luna’s prior restaurant ventures, Eclipse di Luna and Loca Luna, the menu at Lunacy Black Market is all tapas. In my opinion, Lunacy measures higher on the authenticity scale than the other two, and though the selections are more limited, the flavors are infinitely more soulful. We ordered almost everything on that night’s menu, including:

Antipasto platter – A perfect starter. Salami, roasted peppers, olives, and house-made mozzarella

Bread with olive oil and balsamic – A must-have to sop up all of the delectable sauces on the other dishes ordered. The bread is perfectly toasted – crispy outside, pillowy inside

Garbanzo beans – In a rich, savory curry sauce that was so good it caused one of my cohorts to moan inappropriately

Sauteed shrimp – My favorite dish of the evening. Swimming in an olive oil and garlic sauce that begs to be lunacy-black-market-ribslicked from your fingers

Roasted mushrooms – Charred nicely, accompanied by yet another tasty sauce. This time, a smoothly tangy crushed tomato sauce

Asian style ribs – Tender as love. Braised in ginger, soy and sesame. Simply sumptuous.

Green and purple cabbage salad – tossed with gorgonzola, toasted walnuts, and a touch of fresh mint. At first taste, I was underwhelmed by the delicate flavors. But enjoyed it more as I paired it with sips of red wine

Dishes arrived at the table in no particular order. We intermittently noshed, lounged, and strolled about the restaurant taking in the art on the walls, tickled by the eclectic mish-mash of second hand furnishings in the space. Other neighbors joined later in the evening, and we floated back and forth between our two tables with ease. Chef Paul eventually emerged from the kitchen, and stopped by for a chat, during which he shared a bit of the inspiration behind Lunacy Black Market.

When he and his partner Cynthia were living in Spain, there was a small neighborhood restaurant that they’d often walk to. The restaurant’s owner would encourage them to stay as long as they wanted during their visits; to take their time and enjoy themselves, instead of feeling the hurry-up-and-get-outta-here vibe encountered in many restaurants. When Luna and Cynthia (the name Lunacy is a cheeky combination of their names) were conceiving the restaurant, they wanted it to be much like that restaurant in Spain – a place where patrons felt like guests and were welcome to stay as long as they liked.

Indeed, we did stay as long as we liked, and ended up being the last people to leave that evening after having spent a leisurely and enjoyable FOUR HOURS at the restaurant. Lunacy more than lived up to the hype surrounding it, and delivered everything I want in a restaurant experience: a variety of well-executed small plates to suit both my indecisive palate and the desire to feel full but not stuffed; an amazingly reasonable price point; easy accessibility – being only a stone’s throw from home and with free parking; and an environment so comfortable as to make me feel like I’d never left my living room. The fact that it took me so long to get there was, well… lunacy.

Watch Chef Paul Luna – the mad scientist behind Lunacy Black Market – at work.

cheers,

k

 

Lunacy Black Market

231 Mitchell St. SW

Atlanta, GA 30303

404.736.6164

http://www.lunacyblackmarket.com/

Photos courtesy of: dahon and Lunacy Black Market

the sound table – casual sophistication descends on atlanta's edgewood district

Posted on

Remember that trip you took to New York back in your mid-twenties? You were feeling young, sexy and sure of yourself. The friends that you came to visit in the bustling city introduced you to their group of friends, and you all met up for an evening out at a cool, but unpretentious lounge in lower Manhattan. The DJ there played an intriguing and unintrusive medley of urban underground funkiness, the drinks from the bar were prepared just right, the food: filling, flavorful, and just light enough to keep you feeling flirty. At one point in the evening, you thought to yourself, “why isn’t there a place like this back home in Atlanta?”
If you’ve never had that particular New York experience, it’s ok. You can still create a similar memory right here in the A, at The Sound Table.

Open for only a few months now, The Sound Table is the second restaurant / lounge venture for Jeff Myers, who also owns the equally hip resto-lounge Top Flr. All the elements that succeed at Top Flr – small plates, expertly prepared classic cocktails with modern updates, laid-back but attentive service staff, and mood-altering décor – are in place at The Sound Table. The decor is perhaps the most marked difference between the two. Whereas Top Flr is more vampire-chic with its monochrome baroque appointments, The Sound Table is more urban lodge with simple clean lines, exposed ductwork, expansive ceilings and warm wood accents. As a result, the overall feel of The Sound Table is more casual, but you can still put on your cute go-out gear if you want.

The Sound Table is certainly a welcome addition to the Edgewood corridor. The other bar / restaurant establishments on the strip either tend toward a slightly grungier, more hipster vibe (a la Noni’s Bar and Deli, and Edgewood Corner Tavern) or can be off-puttingly upscale (a la Café Circa) for a casual evening out. The Sound Table fills that in-between space that the now-closed Harlem Bar used to, but thankfully, there’s more square footage to enjoy yourself in. The only not-so-stellar thing is the parking situation. The adjacent lot is super tiny, and street parking can be a bit of a challenge (and a trifle scary, given the neighborhood night walkers) on busy weekend evenings.

That minor nuisance aside, The Sound Table has quickly become one of my favorite places to hang, and is tops on the list of places I recommend to people who are looking for a true taste of Atlanta’s nightlife and dining scene.

Here’s a quick sampling of some of the standouts from Executive Chef Shane Devereux’s menu:

  • Chinese Pork Ribs – My absolute favorite on the menu. Tender, fall of the bone ribs with an Asian glaze of soy and red chili.
  • Vietnamese Pho – not an authentic pho, but a respectable approximation of the Vietnamese noodle soup. The Sound Table’s version comes with tender bits of shredded oxtail and a flavorful broth with all the expected accompaniments – hoisin, fresh cilantro and bean sprouts, lime, and pepper sauce. Comforting and refreshing even in the dead of summer.
  • Cece Frito – A delightful appetizer of fried chickpeas and capers dusted in a curry salt. Caution: these things are highly addictive!
  • Spatchcock Grilled Chicken – A testament to the fact that simple cooking can be the most exciting. Cuts of bone-in chicken cooked over open flame with simple flavoring of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a hint of herbs. The first time I tried this, I enjoyed it so much that I was compelled to replicate the dish at home (recipe soon come!).
  • Chocolate Truffle w/ Salted Caramel Ice Cream – I usually don’t ever go for dessert. But this one is totally worth the extra calories. A chocolate molten cake that’s light yet decadent with a perfectly contrasting dollop of salted caramel ice cream. I was beside myself.

Food prices are slightly higher than what you’d find at a traditional bar / lounge. But they’re in line with the quality of the dishes and overall experience.

The cocktails at The Sound Table almost deserve a review unto themselves. Classic adult beverages are reincarnated with names like “Summer Home in Milledgeville” – featuring St. Germain elderflower, absinthe, and green chartreuse – “Small Axe” with tamarind-infused rum and grapefruit Ting, and my personal favorite, “The Gemini Handshake” – a mix of cachaca, lime, and locally made pineapple-habanero jelly. The bartenders are clearly master-level mixologists, and the showmanship that comes along with the drink making is well worth the price of admission.

Oh, and let’s not forget the most important element – the music. The Sound Table is a joint venture among 3 DJ-preneurs (yeah, I said it) whose aural palates are as global as the joint’s menu. Resident and guest DJs drop in often and spin an eclectic mishmash of future funk, electro soul, trip hop, dubstep and everything in between.

New York – eat your heart out.

cheers,
k

Spatchcock Chicken photo courtesy of Leon Dale

Sound Table Cocktails photo courtesy of Carlos Bell

The Sound Table
483 Edgewood Avenue (at Boulevard)
Atlanta, GA 30312
http://www.thesoundtable.com

sweetwater 420 beer dinner at south city kitchen vinings

Posted on

south city kitchen vinings

Calling all brewheads!

On Thursday, August 19, South City Kitchen Vinings will host a unique, four-course prix fixe dinner featuring the distinctive beers of Atlanta’s own Sweetwater Brewery.

The cost is $50/person (including tax and gratuity) and reservations are available by phone only at 770.435.0700.

Check out the menu below:

 

 

Passed Hors d’Oeuvres

Housemade corndogs with orange-coriander “honey mustard”

Chilled white shrimp with seasonal heirloom tomato-horseradish jam

Paired with Sweetwater Sch’wheat—a refreshing, unfiltered American

wheat ale full of delicate rays of citrus hop overtones


Appetizer

“Hot wings-style” ale-brined, grilled Carolina quail with buttermilk blue cheese,

celery puree, herb salad and Texas Pete butter sauce

Paired with Sweetwater IPA—a big, bold Indian pale ale

loaded with intense hop character and natural, unfiltered flavors


Entree

BBQ-braised beef brisket with smashed lady peas and fried coleslaw

Paired with Sweetwater Motorboat—a silver medal-winning,

extra-special bitter (ESB) full of sweet caramel and wheat flavors


Dessert

Bacon-wrapped “banana split” with chocolate stout ice cream,

honey, chocolate and roasted peanuts

Paired with Sweetwater Georgia Brown—an especially drinkable

ale that’s smooth, subtle and a little bit nutty

 

For directions to South City Kitchen Vinings visit: www.fifthgroup.com/directions. For more information about Sweetwater Brewery, please visit www.sweetwaterbrew.com.

cheers,

k

cool it now: pinkberry opens in atlanta

Posted on

pinkberry frozen yogurt atlanta

It’s hot as Satan’s underpants outside. And humid as hell to boot. But just around the corner from Cumberland Mall, the temperature is getting ready to drop a few degrees.

Pinkberry – the gourmet frozen yogurt chain  – opens tomorrow in Atlanta in the Akers Mill Shopping Center. Now some of you might be thinking, “Frozen yogurt? That’s so late 80s!” But the California-based chain has taken the concept of frozen yogurt to modern new heights with its use of hormone-free dairy, fresh high-quality fruit toppings like blackberries, mango and kiwi, and store designs that make you feel cool just for being there.

I got my first taste of Pinkberry when I visited L.A. last fall, and fell in love instantly! I’m even more thrilled now that I no longer have to travel across country to taste it again. I highly recommend the passionfruit yogurt with some fresh blackberry and kiwi… I’m drooling just thinking about it.

stay cool kids,
k

Pinkberry Atlanta
2937 Cobb Parkway
Akers Mill Shopping Center
770-661-2995
Twitter: @pinkberryswirl

royal china – an oasis in atlanta’s chinese food desert

Posted on

Since Dinho (and its lackluster sequel, Frank Ma South) have both gone the way of the dragon, there’s been a serious void in my Chinese dining excursions of late. I’ve had to rely on more cookie-cutter Chinese restaurants in the Atlanta area, since there are no authentic, casual Chinese restaurants to speak of anywhere near my ‘hood. The ones that are close by generally get referred to by me as ‘gravy chino’ – due to their tendency to smother almost every dish on the menu in a ubiquitous brown gravy.

Thankfully, it seems like I’ve been delivered from the barren desert of order-by-number Chinese food establishments by one Royal China near Doraville. Since my first visit a few weeks ago, I’ve become a loyal fan… I’m already averaging a once a week Royal China habit. But I don’t give my affections easily, so you can be sure that there are really some solid reasons for my instant fanaticism, namely:

The diners are almost all Chinese
Every time I’ve visited, I think we were the only table in the place where there wasn’t a single Asian person present. The best way to tell if you’re getting good ethnic food is to see if your fellow diners look like they might have grown up on the stuff.

The Lobster and Mussels Specials
Two dishes that seem to be regulars on Royal China specials board could easily be called their signature offerings. The first is mussels in black bean sauce. For an appetizer, it’s a surprisingly large serving of plump mussels bathed in a luscious, slightly briny black bean sauce (no not those black beans, these black beans). The other special, 2 whole lobsters covered in either a ginger scallion sauce or some other sauce (I can’t remember since I’m so hooked on the ginger scallion), is an amazing deal at $18. The lobsters come chopped into manageable bite-sized pieces with the shell still on, so you still get the rewarding tactile experience of wrestling sweet lobster meat from its confines.

Dim Sum
Royal China offers dim sum every day from 10am – 3pm. For those who aren’t familiar, dim sum is the Chinese equivalent of tapas. But instead of ordering from a menu, a variety of small plates – dumplings, pot stickers, rice dishes, and more exotic selections like chicken feet – are wheeled around on carts. You simply point and choose which tasty temptations interest you. A heads-up: the one time I did go for dim sum, I found there were a lot of shrimp items offered, which is fine by me, but might limit your options if you’re not a shellfish fan.

5% Cash Discount
Holster the plastic and bring out the greenbacks and you can save a few bucks. And as we all know, savings make the perfect dessert for any meal.
While Royal China is a bit of a drive for those of us who tend to get stuck eating intown only, I’d happily drive past all the gravy oases in Atlanta to quench my thirst for authentic Chinese.
cheers,
k

Royal China Restaurant
3295 Chamblee Dunwoody Road
Atlanta, GA 30341
770.216.9933