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Archive for July, 2010

“Top Chef” — Crabby in D.C.

Curried eggplant for the win

Curried eggplant for the win

For last night’s very special episode of “Top Chef,” the merry band of foaming, glazing,  deconstructing, brunoiseing masters of flavor left the corridors of political power for the idyll of Rappahannock County in Virginia. There, they encountered a table stretching through the field (and apparently set for the entire court of Versailles) as well as all kinds of ingredients that had been baking in the sun for untold hours.

But first they had to complete the regionally significant crab challenge, and after a few tittery jokes, they hacked up the poor creatures and subjected them to the indignations of “Asian treatment.” Delicious!

Our guest judge was Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington, Kenny got the win for his sour curried eggplant, and you know who was sent packing. His initial is T. He was the hometown guy. He makes boring barbecue and unexciting blue crab that he doesn’t submit to Asian treatment because that’s not what good …

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Cake decorators gone wild



My 12-year-old daughter has been watching “Cake Boss” — the TLC cable television show that follows the crew in a New Jersey cake shop as they fashion elaborate cakes for fickle clients.

I’ve half-watched a couple of episodes with her and tried not to be too much of a pill about food coloring and cliched reality TV editing.

So I decided to treat her with a chocolate cake mix, a tub of red fondant and some press-on texturizers from Duff Goldman of the “Ace of Cakes” show on the Food Network.

It was, to say the least, a surprise for her. Cakes are more of a Mommy than a Daddy thing in our house, and they usually involve a box of Duncan Hines and a tub of frosting.

We baked the two cakes but realized that we didn’t have any frosting, so we winged it. Two sticks of softened unsalted butter went into the mixer, and as it ran we added a pound or so of confectioners sugar. Next, in went a spoonful of vanilla and finally a few splashes of milk to smooth the vanilla …

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Would you pay $36 for a block of salt?

photo 3I’ll admit to a twinge of expensive-thing-I-don’t-really-need lust when I saw this $36 pink Himalayan salt tablet at Cook’s Warehouse in Ansley Mall. It is as beautiful as marble, and it retains temperature well. So you could either chill it and serve cold appetizers (that don’t mind a little excess salt flavor) on it, or heat it in the oven or on a grill over an open flame. You can sear items right on it, then use the salt as a serving dish.

The only worrysome thing: a caveat on the box that warns of natural flaws that might cause the salt block to break suddenly.

Well, that and the price…

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First Look: Ziba’s Restaurant & Wine Bar

Courtesy of Ziba's

Courtesy of Ziba's

If your house is in an old neighborhood with uneven sidewalks, poor soil and towering oaks creating shifting patterns of sunlight and shade, it can take some trial and error to figure out your garden. Over years you learn where to plant the roses, where to plant the hydrangeas, and whether the gods of sun and squirrel will allow you to bring any tomatoes to harvest.

So it is for restaurants. Old neighborhood dining spaces beckon enterprising chefs, but it is always hard to determine whether or not a particular concept can flower in an idiosyncratic space.

The dim, elegant cafe space at 560 Boulevard in Grant Park has been sending its siren call to would-be restaurateurs for as long as I’ve lived in Atlanta. With its narrow antechamber opening to a fine dining room with a pressed-tin ceiling, this spot has always seemed the essence of a prime neighborhood hang. I recall it was a French restaurant called Cafe La Glace, Nayarit Taqueria and, in recent years, …

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Hector Santiago’s burrito stand

photo 1Now, here’s a beautiful thing to see when you’re driving down N. Highland Ave. on a weekend day with your stomach rumbling for lunch:

Chef Hector Santiago – the tapas maestro from Pura Vida Tapas — hand rolling burritos under a tent. Santiago’s Burro-Pollo Burrito Stand opens at noon on Saturdays and Sundays and and continues until the burritos sell out.

The namesake menu item is a fat burrito filled with shreddy, stewy, spicy chicken in red chile ($6). But this is no Chipotle-style tube-o-starch. Santiago begins with a grilled-charred flour tortilla, sheer and bubbly, and fills it with plenty of saucy chicken, a bit of tomatillo salsa, a bit of Mexican crema, and a fresh garnish of paper-thin carrots, radishes, onions and cilantro. If you want chile, Santiago flicks in a few pomegranate-seed sized cobanero chiles that pop between your teeth.

photo 2In addition to the burrito (which Santiago can also make with tofu), he serves a fresh salad topped with a brand of seasoned Latin …

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Sunday Column: CNN launches a bangin’ food blog

CNN Eatocracy’s Managing Editor Kat Kinsman and Associate Editor Sarah LeTrent.  Mark Hill/CNN

CNN Eatocracy’s Managing Editor Kat Kinsman and Associate Editor Sarah LeTrent. Mark Hill/CNN

For yesterday’s column I took a look at’s just-launched food blog that brings a whole new kind of smart and funny to the table. Though based in New York, there’s a whole lot of Atlanta in this blog, as well. (A video profile of the King of Pops and spotlight on the Blissful Glutton blog, being two recent examples.)

CNN’s Eatocracy blog opens a world of food

During the first few days of July, a meme swept through the foodie Twitterverse. Meatsongs! Suddenly the Beatles were singing “Bacon the U.S.S.R.” while Jay-Z and Alicia Keys were in a “New York Strip State of Mind.” And remember that Billy Idol hit, “Nice Day for a Light Breading?”

There were more groaners than truly funny puns among the Meatsongs, truth be told, but everyone was joining in with such glee that the entire enterprise left you smiling.

The whole thing, it turns out, traced back to …

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The Atlantic Station Dilemma

guacLast weekend my wife and I managed to have a quick dinner/movie date from some time we carved away from chauffeuring our children. We found ourselves at Atlantic Station with an hour for a light meal. In other words, we wanted a glass of wine and enough food to keep us from getting hungry later.

But where to go when we don’t want to commit to a full meal, but don’t want to eat in one of those step-above-fast-food joints? We’ve always had this dilemma in Atlantic Station.

We finally decided to check out Rosa Mexicano. We hadn’t been in a couple of years — not since a big dinner that was more expensive than it was good. But we managed to snag a great table on the patio with a  couple of drinks. The house specialty guacamole served in a molcajete was a hefty $12, which seemed excessive at first glance. But we ended up with a huge portion of fantastic guac — lumpy and fresh — served with a basket of chips, two hot salsas and an endless supply of small, warm, handmade tortillas. …

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Where do you go for good Southern veggies?

veggies_0709_630180cIn today’s Go Guide, Southern food expert Wendell Brock went out looking for good Southern vegetable plates and found them at these three restaurants:

  1. Watershed (pictured at left)
  2. The Busy Bee Café
  3. Greenwood’s on Green Street

I’ve never been to Greenwood’s, but have loved the veggies at the other two restaurants.

I’ve also really enjoyed Matthews Cafeteria in Tucker  and had a good feeling that the veg plate will come around at Farmstead 303.

What makes the Top 10 for Southern vegetable plates in Atlanta?

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Front Burner: Revamp of Table 1280, new chef at Parish and more

photo 2Tony Conway, the owner of A Legendary Event catering, wrote to say that his firm just secured the contract for the Woodruff Arts Center, including operations at Table 1280. Until now, the New York firm Restaurant Associates has been in charge of the Midtown arts center’s fine dining restaurant. It runs the dining operations for many of the East Coast’s top arts venues, including those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center in New York, the Musuem of Fine Arts in Boston and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

My recent blog post about a dining experience at Table 1280 engendered a heated discussion in the comments section. Many past patrons complained of the sterile environment and high prices and wished for something more affordable in its stead.

Conway has not yet responded to an email requesting follow-up on his plan for Table 1280. A source at the Woodruff Arts Center neither confirmed or denied the changeover of management, so stay tuned. This story is …

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Attack of the foaming watermelon

watermelonAnd I thought I had it bad with my rotting peach problem.

A friend bought this watermelon at a local fruit stand, let it sit out on her stove overnight, and came back the next day to discover it had rabies.

What do you do with a feral watermelon? And what exactly is going on?

A little research into “foaming watermelons” led me to several blogs and message boards dealing with the scourge of foaming watermelons. It seems when they start to ferment the buildup of pressure will eventually lead to fissures through which the foam starts to pour. This is why it’s important to knock the side of a watermelon — particularly one that has been out in the sun for however many days it takes to sell.

Also: if your watermelon is foaming? Don’t eat it!

Has anyone else been attacked by rabid summer melons?

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