Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Aug. 2, 2011 - Watershed

Aug. 2, 2011
406 W. Ponce de Leon
Decatur, GA 30030

I've lived in Decatur for 10 years, but it took the announced closing of Watershed to finally get me there. Of course, we had to go early on a Tuesday to experience their award winning southern fried chicken. So glad we made reservations because we saw many people who were turned away at the door disappointed.

Our shared appetizer of crispy pork belly lettuce wraps, Steen's cane syrup, Dijon and creamy coleslaw was by far the best dish of the night. The skin gave a nice crunch while the fat and meat (marinated with a pepper sauce) stayed soft and flavorful. The coleslaw was slightly sweet, while the Dijon and cane syrup gave a background heat and bitterness to the dish. All the flavors blended wonderfully.

My entree was the porcini crusted sea scallops, Tuscan kale, potato gnocchi and wild mushrooms. The scallops were perfectly cooked with just a slight hint of earthiness from the porcini. I considered them more dusted than crusted. The gnocchi was a pillow shape (my dining companion asked why my scallops were square), but nice and light. However, the kale and mushrooms were extremely sour. I couldn't get over how overpowering the flavor was. I made sure that my bites of scallop and gnocchi were different from the kale and mushrooms so there was no cross-contamination.

My friend graciously offered up a white meat piece of the famous southern fried chicken. I was pleasantly surprised at how juicy it was. The batter was more a light coating instead of the heavy dredge you see at most places. My friend told me that the chicken and mashed potato was just like Mom's. In my opinion, that's the highest compliment you can get.

For dessert, I ordered the souffle cheesecake with blueberry compote and wrestled away a few crumbs of the Very Good Chocolate Cake from my friend. The cheesecake was deliciously light. The compote was a good combination of tart and sweet if you had a bite with a berry. If you only got the sauce part, it was cloyingly sweet. The Very Good Chocolate Cake lives up to its name. It was not overly sweet, in fact a little bitter which I prefer. Not being a chocolate fan, I'm not sure I could eat a whole piece, but my friend left only a few crumbs.

The Decatur location of Watershed will close after dinner on Saturday, August 6th. But don't worry, they hope to open a new location (still TBA) by the end of the year.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jan. 22, 2011 - Spoon (West Side)

Jan. 22, 2011
Spoon (West Side)
768 Marietta Street, Suite A
Atlanta, GA 30318

The latest ScoutMob coupon had us returning to the original location of Spoon after a long hiatus. A few years back, we would visit once every two months. We stopped coming because we made a concerted effort to try new restaurants, but boy are we glad we came back.

The chicken satay was outstanding as always. I know, chicken satay seems a rather pedestrian appetizer to get, but Spoon's version is the best we've ever had. The chicken breast is moist and tender, perfectly grilled. The peanut sauce goes beyond the peanut butter mixture you get at most Thai restaurants. The sweet and spicy sauce with onion and cucumber was authentic.

The double soft shell crabs are another favorite of ours. The fried crabs have an airy crunch to them, offset by the tender, soft vegetables in the red curry. The sauce is thick and creamy, with a pleasant spice level.

The rack of lamb with basil sauce is a special that we will call ahead to check if they have it that night. Perfectly cooked to medium rare, the lamb was perfectly seasoned (not over peppered as we find often at other restaurants) so that I was gnawing on the bone to get every last bit of the meat. The basil sauce was amazing, just sweet enough to offset the pepper. I could pour this sauce over a bowl of rice and eat it plain. The vegetables, including my favorite straw mushrooms, soaked up the flavorful sauce.

As good as the food is, Chef Aim's desserts are what we stay for. This night, we chose the caramel chocolate mousse with green tea ice cream. It was served with a raspberry sauce, mint and a single lychee fruit. The delicate mousse, sourness of the raspberry sauce and bittersweet green tea ice cream formed the perfect end to our meal.

The service tonight was possibly the best we've ever had. Friendly and attentive, she brought us drinks (Singha beer, Thai iced coffee) at various points in the meal. She offered wonderful suggestions and chatted with us even though it was clear the restaurant was very busy because of the ScoutMob event.

One of the amazing things about Spoon is that the food has not suffered one bit even after their expansion to a second location. This is probably because the two sisters and brother who co-own the restaurant split time at the locations (when one is at East Side, the other is at the West Side). I'm glad that one of our favorite restaurants has been able to weather the expansion storm. We're sure to go again in the next two months.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jan. 11, 2011 - Farm Burger

Jan. 11, 2011
Farm Burger
410B W. Ponce de Leon
Decatur, GA 30030

Day Two of the ice storm brought cabin fever, so we decided to venture out into downtown Decatur to see what was open. Two restaurants we have been meaning to try for ages were high on our list. While Watershed was dark, thankfully Farm Burger was open.

Ordering the counter, I asked Jose if the special appetizer of pepperjack sausages with caramelized onions was really good. He said yes (which I expected) but also had this look on his face that told me this was going to be worth it. So along with the appetizer I ordered a burger (medium, with tomatoes, red onion, roasted garlic and grainy mustard), rings and fries, and a "brown cow" (Abita root beer float).

I'm so glad I ordered the sausages. I pictured pepperjack cheese oozing out of a bratwurst sausage (as you sometimes find in grocery stores), but this was not like that at all. Three inch long sausages that were creamy on the inside, resting on a bed of caramelized onions. It was served with a mustard that reminded me of the hot English mustard that comes with bangers and mash. All three components together had me hoarding the appetizer to myself (I only gave up three small bites).

The burger was supposed to be cooked to "medium" (medium and well were the only choices), but looked more like a perfect medium-rare to me. No problem here because I prefer medium-rare, but please be aware when you make your order. The burger was large, juicy and flavorful. The roasted garlic was perfect, but I did wish there had been more grainy mustard.

The fries and rings were disappointing. The onion rings were overbattered and heavy. The skin-on fries were ok, nothing special. The smoked paprika mayo was an interesting side to the fries.

The brown cow was wonderful. I'm a big fan of root beer in general and Abita root beer in particular, so there was no doubt I was ordering it. A refreshing, but not heavy, drink and dessert.

We definitely want to try some of the more unusual toppings on the burger, such as the oxtail marmalade or bone marrow. But most toppings are a la carte ($1-2 each), so expect to pay well for your burger. A basic burger is only $6, but those toppings add up quickly. We spent $31 (not including tip) for an appetizer, two burgers, fries and rings, and two drinks.

The service was honest and friendly. That, along with great food made this trip well worth the money. Hopefully we can return before the next ice storm.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dec. 18, 2010 - Peter Chang's

Dec. 18, 2010
Peter Chang's
6450 Powers Ferry Rd.
Sandy Springs, GA 30339

Finally! Tasty China's itinerant chef has opened his long-awaited restaurant. We were lucky enough to get tickets to the Grand Opening this past Saturday. Dishes were served family-style at a table set for 10 (luckily only eight of us showed). Thankfully, no one at Table 5 was shy about trying everything laid out before us. And special thanks to our server who snuck me a copy of the menu.

Among the cold appetizers (in place on the table before we even arrived), the black ear fungus was my favorite. It had that "cartilage" crunch from the mushrooms and was refreshing, not overly sauced. The Shanghai smoked duck was also wonderfully cooked, although I probably would have preferred if it had been served hot instead of cold. Also served but not listed on the menu, the cilantro beef was a solid dish. The shredded tofu skin reminded us of noodles and the chili oil was not too spicy. The sesame tofu was another table favorite.

Next up, the two hot appetizers. The seafood with dough ball soup was very delicate. The dough balls (which were more like tiny dumplings) were chewy and tasty. The soup did not have a fishy aftertaste at all. I was disappointed in the steamed dumplings that were rather pedestrian.

Nine courses of entrees tested our stamina. The dry-fried small fish (smelt) and dry-fried mushrooms were table favorites. Wonderful finger food and palate cleansers. The beef with snow bean was nothing special. The Peter rolls were not popular. Any subtle flavor was overpowered by ginger. The texture of the minced chicken in the stuffing seemed to confuse diners.

I have no recollection of the lamb which probably means that it wasn't spectacular, but wasn't bad either. In the shrimp dish, the asparagus was very well cooked and perfectly sized. The spicy fragrant duck seemed to be missing the "funyuns" that made the dish so successful at Tasty China. The dish lacked the extra crunch they provided to offset the fatty duck.

The Yangzhou fish was the consensus loser of the night. While beautiful to look at, it was far too sweet and drenched in sauce. To me, it felt like eating fried dough soaked in sweet and sour sauce. The crab meat with bean seedling was strange. Even though we could see crab in the dish, we smelled more than actually tasted it. The bean seedling had an asparagus aftertaste to it.

Dessert was served scorching hot. The red bean paste center was only slightly sweet, but after all the strong flavors, we probably could have used something to cut the savory overload.

In general, the dishes were less spicy than we have come to expect from Tasty China. Not sure if this was an intentional choice to the wider base of people who would be attending or just a function of this batch peppers not having much kick. The meal started out strong with the appetizers but did not finish well. Although it's possible this could be because were were all very full by the end.

Having read reviews from other people attending pre-Grand Opening events, I was sorely disappointed that pork belly did not make it onto our tasting menu. But at $35 for two people (not including beer or tip), I still received tremendous value. I'll be sure to order some when we come back to try again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Aug. 21, 2010 - Tasty China

Tasty China
585 Franklin Rd. SE (S. Marietta Pkwy. SE)
Marietta, GA 30067

Tucked away in a strip mall, Tasty China has long been an in-the-know foodie destination. Far from your typical Chinese restaurant fare, the menu features clever and original items I haven't seen anywhere else. Variety and quality of the food suffered when head chef Peter Chang left, but now he's back in the kitchen until his new restaurant opens (rumored to be somewhere in Marietta). So we'll enjoy the return to the glory days of Tasty China's menu while we can.

In order of appearance:
Pork belly in spicy garlic sauce
Hot and numbing dried beef with sesame oil
Braised fish with needle mushroom in iron pot
Smoked duck (special)
Shanghai bean curd rolls (special)
Pan-fried sesame cake bread

Pork belly is my current obsession food. It's bacon but better. Pairing pork belly with garlic? Sign me up. It was not what I expected. I was used to large pieces of stewed, buttery pork belly, while here we had thin slices resting in a hot oil based sauce. But from the texture of the many layers of pork to the flavor of the sauce and garnish (even the cilantro was fresh and crispy), I could eat a plate of this for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack in between.

I really wanted to like the hot and numbing beef. It came on the recommendation of our dinner mates, plus we had read that all the dry-fried dishes were extraordinary. But really, I ended up being rather disappointed. I liked the tingling around the corners of my mouth as I ate and the dish was not so hot that I was reaching for the water (despite chomping on several peppercorns). But I had a hard time dealing with the extremely dry beef. Yes I know it was "dry-fried" but unfortunately it was like eating beef jerky with sauce. Maybe the hot and numbing sauce with another meat (one not dry-fried) would have been better.

The braised fish was outstanding. The fish retained its shape and texture without disintegrating or flaking into the soup (a common problem with fish). The fish alone was good, but add the needle mushrooms (think of them like alfalfa sprouts in mushroom form) elevated the dish. The very spicy (an angry orange-red color) soup was so good I had several spoonfuls on its own.

The smoked duck (served with what we nicknamed "funyuns") was a nice dish. Duck tends to be fattier than chicken, but this was not too oily. The fried onions and peppers the duck was served with provided a crunchy texture to contrast the soft, fatty flavor of the duck. One of our dinner mates was still gnawing on pieces as the staff was collecting our plates.

For some reason, the appetizers we ordered came out last. The sesame cake bread was OK, but seemed to me a bit like breadsticks on the table at the beginning of the meal - simply filler. They had a very subtle flavor that wasn't savory, wasn't sweet. I ended up dipping the bread into the soup from the braised fish. That was a better combination.

If you asked me to describe what "bean curd rolls" would look like, I would not have been close. Picture sheets of yuba bean curd skin, rolled back upon itself until it looks like the cross-section of a very old tree. It was garnished with a little scallion and soy and oil sauce, served cold. Mostly you are getting the crunchy texture of the bean curd and the beauty of the dish. Perhaps as an appetizer I would have liked it more, or maybe leftover as a breakfast item.

A great meal with friends, sadly without the abusive wait staff we had come to expect. Even without the 10 percent discount for paying cash, we got incredible value for our money (less than $60 for four people). Enjoy the true Tasty China while you still can.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 24, 2010 - Shoya Japanese Restaurant

Shoya Japanese Restaurant
6035 Peachtree Road, Suite A-101
Doraville, Georgia 30360

Seven Supper Club members. Japanese izakaya (tapas), Sapporo beer and Otokoyama sake. Thanks to the Ninja for ordering up a terrific menu!

1st Period (Appetizers... ish)

Edamame - Lightly boiled young soy beans with sea salt
Beef Ponzu Salad - shredded rare grilled beef rib eye on baby greens
Sliced Pork Salad
Gyoza - Original pan fried pork & vegetable dumplings

As usual, the Gyoza did not dissapoint. The dumplings had that slight crunch and burned flavor from the pan fry. The ponzu dipping sauce added a nice citrus bite.

How can you go wrong with grilled beef rib eye? The pieces were sliced thick enough to give the texture of the meat, but thin enough so you weren't chewing for 20 minutes. Rare-to-Medium Rare perfection.

The Sliced Pork Salad (off the "special menu") was the star of this round. Thinly sliced pork, but the peanut-based sauce brought out the flavor of the vegetables (again, baby greens). This dish didn't last very long at the table.

2nd Period (Filling up)

Okonomi Yaki - Japanese pancake with pork, eggs and vegetables
Pork Yakisoba - pan-fried egg noodles with pork & vegetables on hot plate
Asari Butter Yaki - Sauteed manila clams with soy butter sauce
Salmon Carpaccio - Rolled fresh Scottie salmon & cucumber with soy olive vinaigrette

The Okonomi Yaki (complete with dancing fish flakes on the top) is not a typical IHOP pancake. With a thick, sweet sauce on top, it also had the savory pork to even it out. The alternating soft (pancake) and crunchy (vegetable) textures make for a wonderfully filling dish. I could eat this every day.

Pork Yakisoba - typical noodle dish. Ok as a filler dish (or for those less adverturous), but with so many other great choices, I didn't have much of this one.

The Asari Butter Yaki was probably my least favorite dish of the night. The clams were tender but didn't seem to have much flavor. The butter sauce was a bit muddy/gritty.

I did not have the Salmon Carpaccio.

3rd Period (Winding down)

Assorted Sausage - Grilled Assorted Japanese Sausage
Chicken Ball Kushiyaki with cheese
Asparagus & Bacon Kushiyaki
Pork Belly Kushiyaki
Crunchy Skin Kushiyaki

I did not have any of the Assorted Sausage or Chicken Ball Kushiyaki.

The Asparagus & Bacon Kushiyaki (skewer) was ok. The bacon was "medium rare" (perfect, for this type of dish), although with so many asparagus sticks, it was difficult to chew at times. Perhaps fewer pieces of asparagus per skewer would have been better.

The Pork Belly Kushiyaki. So simple, yet so good. A slice of pork belly, skewered, lightly salted and grilled. You can really taste the flavor and appreciated the textures of the different layers of the pork belly. My go-to dish whenever we come here.

The Crunchy Skin Kushiyaki was particularly good tonight. Crispy and brown, but not burned. Flavorful, yet light. As one of our table commented, this was the best chicken skin she had ever had in her life. I agree.

Considering how much food we ordered, I'm surprised we only had 4 skewers of food left. Two days later and I'm still overly full, but it was worth it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 12, 2010 - Aja Restaurant and Bar

Aja Restaurant and Bar
One Alliance Center
3500 Lenox Rd, Suite 100
Atlanta, GA 30326

As part of Buckhead Restaurant Week, we sampled the $25 prix fixe menu at Aja (inexplicably pronounced "Asia"), part of the Here to Serve family of restaurants.

The Good:
o The open kitchen, possibly a holdover from when this space was an Emeril's.
o The four-course tasting menu was well executed and definitely worth the prix fixe.

The Bad:
o The decor. We were seated directly below a giant Buddha. It was strange to be eating dinner and staring up at the statue's lap.
o The lighting. My current pet peeve is restaurants that have dim lighting provided by candles, making it difficult to see your food. I got up to go to the restroom at one point and almost had to feel my way around the tables.
o The loud music. Maybe it's a Friday night thing, but there was a DJ playing loud music. It was focused towards the bar area, but the sound reflected back and was still too loud for the dining area. I cannot imagine bringing a business client to the restaurant or having any sort of meaningful conversation over the din.

First course
o Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and yuzu soy sauce
The fish was extremely fresh, although the sashimi pieces were a little thick for my taste. I could not really enjoy the piece without chewing heavily. However, the flavor of the dish was nice, with the yuzu soy sauce providing tartness.
o Wagyu beef tartare with Indonesian sweet soy and spicy mustard
The beef was wonderfully prepared, but I have to admit, I'm not sure I could tell if this was wagyu or traditional beef. Perhaps that's the danger of preparing the dish tartare. The spicy mustard reminded me of wasabi (more sharpness than heat) and the soy cut the spicy heat of the beef.

Second course
o Spicy Thai green papaya salad with toasted peanuts and mint
Refreshing and quite sour. A hint of mint and peanuts were not overused. A good palate-cleansing second course.
o Chilled shellfish salad with ponzu dressing and shiso leaf
An average dish. The seaweed salad did not seem special and the pieces of shellfish were ok. This really could have used more flavor all around.

Third course
o Beef short rib with chow fun noodles and shaved green apple
The short rib was cooked well without being overly braised. It still had enough firmness to it without requiring a steak knife. The chow fun noodles were well cooked (not sticky) and the green apple added a nice sour note to the dish.
o King crab hot pot with kaffir lime, bok choy and jasmine rice
Well-cooked crab with a wonderful red curry soup. It reminded me a bit of porridge. The kaffir lime and curry balanced well, with the bok choy and straw mushroom adding some texture. The spicy heat created a base for the dish rather than hitting you at forefront. (I felt my body heating up, not my mouth burning). Great flavor despite the heat. However, neither the waiter nor the menu mentioned that this was EXTREMELY spicy, forcing my dinner companion and I to trade dishes.

o Japanese doughnuts with passion fruit glaze and bittersweet chocolate
Light, not overly sweet. The bittersweet chocolate sauce was a little too thick so that it did not coat the doughnuts very well. However the passion fruit glaze was a great sauce for the doughnut.
o Coconut rice pudding with mango sorbet and exotic fruit
There was still some bite to the rice cooked with the gentle, sweet flavor of the coconut. The mango sorbet was very tart and the exotic fruit (kiwi, mango, strawberry) gave a nice texture when you could find pieces of fruit (I wish there had been more). A lovely finish to the meal.

In trying to cater to the business-chic crowd, they took away from my enjoyment of a good meal. It was difficult to look beyond the fusion Asian d├ęcor, mood lighting and dance club sound. The prix fixe menu was a good deal, but everyday prices seem a bit high. So despite enjoying the food, I'm not sure I feel the need to visit this restaurant again.