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
404-231-0001
www.h2sr.com/aja

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.

Dessert
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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

March 11, 2010 - Rathbun's

Rathbun's
112 Krog St NE
Atlanta, GA 30307-5519
404-524-8280
www.rathbunsrestaurant.com

As part of Inman Park Restaurant Week, three Club members went to Rathbun's for the $25 prix fixe menu.

Appetizer

We all had the Slow Roasted Kuraboto Pork Belly with Coca-Cola Jus. When there's pork belly on the menu, how can you turn it down? The fatty pieces were melt-on-your-tongue good, although the non-fatty parts of my piece of pork were a little hard to cut/chew. The collards added a nice hint of bitterness and texture. The Coca-Cola Jus was the best part of the dish. You know it's good when you are sopping up the leftover jus with bread.

Entrees

Crisp Fried Lamb Shank, Coarse Ground Grits, Worcestershire-Leek Soubise
The pieces of lamb that didn't have any fat on them were dry and difficult to chew, but fatty pieces were ok. Overall, a bit bland for my taste. Reminded me too much of the Osso Bucco I get at pub-type restaurant.

Wild-caught Steelhead Trout, Broccoli, Preserved Tomato
From the online menu, this was supposed to be Arctic Char, but I appreciate that it's best to go with the freshest ingredients you can find. Perhaps the Arctic Char that day did not look good. In any case, the Trout was nicely cooked, skin on for texture and flavor. The preserved tomato sauce had a very sour taste to it which worked to flavor the fish. The broccoli provided some crunch.

Painted Hills Hanger Steak, Fingerlings, Brussels Sprouts and Chimmichurri
The best entree of the night and not just because I ordered it. Perfectly cooked at rare-to-medium rare. The chimmichurri was amazing! Sour, mellowed out by a hint of oil. Even the tiny brussel sprouts were wonderful.

Dessert

Warm Lemon Buttermilk Bread Pudding, Lemon Zest Curd - nice flavor, not too lemony, not too sweet.

Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake, Vanilla Marchmellow - too rich for my taste, but what do you expect from fudge cake. I'm glad it was not my primary dessert.

Florida Strawberries, Whipped Cream Biscuit, Basil Ice Cream
Surprisingly refreshing. The biscuit was somehow dense and flavorful, while not seeming heavy when i ate it. Strawberries were a nice "healthy" ending to the meal.

March 7, 2010 - Tuk Tuk Restaurant

Tuk Tuk Restaurant
1745 Peachtree Rd
Atlanta, GA 30309
678-539-6181
tuktukatl.com

Sunday brunch at Tuk Tuk. The menu is only slightly different than dinner (prices are mostly the same, one or two dishes swapped out).

This restaurant serves Thai street food, but the portions and prices are definitely fine dining. It was still worth it to have dishes I haven't eaten since I was last in Thailand (back in 2001).

Sai Krog Isan
- Northeastern pork sausage with jasmine rice and red curry kaffir lime sausage

This came with two types of sausage, spicy beef and pork. The spicy beef sausage (Sai Krog Bua) was not too spicy, definitely a gamier taste than the other, but the pork sausage is what we really came here for. Sai Krog Isan is unlike any sausage you've had. Typically, you get sweet or spicy sausage, very meaty flavor. Sai Krog Isan is a subtler flavor and the sour taste is wonderful. Maybe I'm projecting that it was so good because it reminds me of childhood. But I will say it did not dissapoint my memories.

Hoy Tod - Crispy mussel Omelette with scallions, bean sprouts topped with three flavor chili sauce

Another good memory of meals in Thailand. The trick to this one is using small, fresh mussels. I think mussels tend to be too chewy when they are large. These were small so that when you bit into one, it was just a nice little extra flavor, not the whole dish. The bed of bean sprouts (not a garnish, you must eat them!) really helped with the texture and soaked up the flavor from the omelette as it dripped down. We ordered a side of jasmine rice to go with this one.

Kao Moo Dang
- Three style pork, BBQ, Crispy pork belly, thai sausage, boiled egg topped with gravy over jasmine rice and black soy sauce

This ended up being two style pork as the Crispy pork belly was removed from the dish. Our waitress seemed surprised by this and asked the chef. Apparently, too many diners ended up throwing the pork belly out (sacrilege!) so they stopped serving it. They should really change the menu.

The dish was good, not great. BBQ pork and sausage were ok, the boiled egg a little rubbery. The black soy sauce was nice, but I had expected more sour flavor (maybe vinegar) in it to cut through the pervading sweetness of the pork. Again, the garnish (this time cucumbers chunks) was essential. It provided a cleansing bite to the dish. I liked the dish much less once the cucumbers were gone. We'll probably will try one of the other dishes (Joke or Kiew Thiew Neua) next time.

Overall, a very good meal. I will definitely be going back when I have a craving for Sai Krog Isan and Hoy Tod again.