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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Archive for September, 2010

Alien anthill?

photo 1Who can tell me what this speckled, green-and-orange orb of food is, what’s inside and — most importantly — where I sampled it?

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Column: What do okra and brussels sprouts have in common?

Credit: Becky Stein

Okra at Restaurant Eugene (Credit: Becky Stein)

This week’s column shows why the skillet is better than the pot for certain maligned vegetables.

Brussels sprouts and okra really have nothing in common, other than they are small, green and often reviled. Brussels sprouts belong to the crucifer family, where they share obvious parentage with cabbages and cauliflower. Okra comes from the mallow family, along with the less obvious cacao and jute.
Yet the two share a history: They both made it through the long, dark ages of boiled vegetables without any scientific attempts at eradication, as for polio or some troublesome strain of ebola virus. Boiled brussels sprouts, the horror of Thanksgivings past, were waterlogged balls that smell of rotten eggs no matter how much margarine our mothers melted over them. Boiled okra decomposed into a puddle of slime and seed, and tasted of nothing so much as damp paper. It’s a wonder people continued raising okra rather than relegating the last …

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Behind the Review: Nam Phuong

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Photo by Becky Stein, video by some dude with my iPhone

In this week’s Behind the Review, I offer up an instructive video to help illustrate the tableside preparation of a dish I loved at Nam Phuong.

You can read the review here.

Atlanta doesn’t have as developed a Vietnamese food culture as it does Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Here, you can go to any number of regional Chinese restaurants and Korean spots that specialize in specific dishes. The better Japanese places now offer lengthy “izakaya” menus of small plates for sharing.

But the Vietnamese places in town have mostly been raucous, noisy, tile-floored restaurants that specialize in the beef noodle soup pho. There have been some exceptions. The late, lamented Bien Thuy offered strings of Christmas lights to soften the decor, personable service and a menu that encouraged exploring. Nam serves a super-curated Vietnamese menu in a swank Midtown bistro setting. Chateau de Saigon on Buford Highway offers a lengthy, …

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Nam Phuong dining review, Norcross

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If you are the kind of person who is easily distracted, you might want to face away from the back wall at Nam Phuong. There, projected images flash by in a never-ending slide show, from postcard scenery of Vietnamese countryside, to platters of glazed chicken and heaps of greenery, to rainbow-hued drinks served in milkshake glasses with paper umbrellas. There should be a sign at the door that reads “All guests with ADD must face south.”

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All photos by Becky Stein, who could make a Converse sneaker look appetizing

Nam Phuong cuts a dashing figure that is rare in a city dominated by bare-bones pho (beef noodle soup) parlors. The dining room beckons in the grand manner of a Chinese banquet hall, ornate and glossy with an air of wealth. A water wall welcomes you at the front door with a shimmer of flowing energy. Walk past the well-stocked bar, where a magnum bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch posed in its own wooden cradle seems to say, “This is the good life.”

Opened by the …

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Food Blog Forum hits Atlanta this weekend

749636182Food bloggers from throughout the country will descend on Atlanta this weekend to participate in the Food Blog Forum “Build Your Best Blog” Seminar.

This daylong Saturday conference (bookended by parties) looks to an informative day for bloggers who want to learn to increase their social media presence, take better food photography, monetize their websites and break into mainstream media.

Blogerati in attendance will include organizer Jaden Hair (Steamy Kitchen) as well as Todd Porter and Diane Cu (White On Rice Couple). Gwen Pratesi, who pens the very enjoyable Atlanta blog  Bunky Cooks, is the local organizer.

Local food folk in attendance will include cookbook author and television personality Virginia Willis, Bella Cucina Artful Foods owner Alisa Barry and some doofus from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who will talk about the paper’s plan to hire local food bloggers to assist with dining coverage.

The event will take place at The Shed at Glenwood, and you can buy …

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Korean fried chicken for commuters

photo-45My commute these days takes me a quarter turn around the Perimeter. Sometimes in the evening, if things are moving slow and I’ve gotten a couple of “what’s for dinner” calls from home, I’ll make a stop at the Super H Mart in Doraville and pick up something prepared or ready to slap on the grill. I was walking through the food court when I noticed the little “Korean Specialties” stall had a poster offering Korean fried chicken. You can buy a whole or a half chicken served either plain or drenched in a sweet hot chile sauce. Cubed radish pickles come on the side. A whole chicken consists of about a dozen fist-sized, bone-in nuggets.

I put in an order for an unsauced whole chicken ($12.99) and went to do some quick shopping (laundry detergent and the marinated vegetables you see on this plate) while it cooked. It was waiting in a cardboard cake box when I came back 5 minutes later. I drove along the surface road to Buford Highway, managing to avoid Spaghetti Junction entirely and …

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Burger of the Week: Farm Burger’s No. 4

The No. 4

The No. 4

(Burger of the Week makes a reappearance, even though it’s been months.)

Do you like Farm Burger in Decatur?

Do you love Farm Burger in Decatur?

I find myself in the first camp — pretty squarely so — after three visits.

I really do love the fact that this restaurant sources its beef from Moonshine Meats — a Southeastern cooperative of grass-fed beef producers started by Farm Burger partner Jason Mann.

I love the way the burgers are crusty and seasoned on the surface, reliably dripping with juices after you bite, and portioned for a hearty but not superhuman appetite.

I’m not thrilled with the way I always seem to start with a burger and end up with a wet fistful of mush.

I think there are two issues here. One: the soft, eggy buns don’t seem up to the drippy task at hand. Two: the kitchen tends to garnish with a more-is-more attitude. This No. 4 burger from the blackboard ($9) came with a thick slice of heirloom tomato, a Georgia pecan pesto and a good half cup of …

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MSG: It’s now “umami seasoning”

photo 3I was wandering the aisles of a large Asian supermarket in Gwinnett County the other day when I noticed that the packaging for Ajinomoto — the leading Japanese manufacturer of monosodium glutamate — had gotten a makeover.

Now these white crystalline granules define themselves as “umami seasoning” while a banner further states that MSG is “the essence of umami.”

Umami as the fifth primary taste is now a widely accepted notion; you won’t have to read too deeply into too many food articles or watch TV cooking competitions without hearing someone praise the umami flavor of mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, fish sauce, dry cheeses or a host of other foods that register on the tongue’s glutamate receptors as a savory, meaty, rounding depth charge of sensation.

The quickest path to this is MSG, a salt designed to taste of umami just as sodium chloride tastes of saltiness.

People are always surprised that I keep a jar of MSG by the stove. We cook a lot of vegetarian food at home, and I was …

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Quick Bite: C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar

photo 2Now that I’m back on the reviewing beat, I’ve been trying to pop into some of the many restaurants I don’t know at all to see if they are places I should re-review in print.

C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar is a locally owned and operated restaurant that evinces the swagger of a high-end chain. The booths are deep, the banquettes plush, and the wall sconces glow against lustrous wood paneling. You know the martinis here will be good, the porcelain solid and the service full of dinner-house flourish. Think of it as a step up from McCormick & Schmick’s and a step down from the echt-cruise line gloss of the Oceanaire Seafood Room.

The restaurant is located in the small, Kroger-anchored Riverview Village Shopping Center that has become one of southern Cobb’s dining destinations. In addition to C&S, it holds Tomo Japanese Restaurant (my current favorite destination for sushi), Taverna Fiorentina, Thai Diner and Olive Bistro.

The menu is a long, old-fashioned bill of fare that offers daily …

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Sunday Column: No kitchen, but a food distribution center

photo-44For this week’s column, I wrote about the food distribution center in our bathroom. Our kitchen is under renovation.

As our kitchen remains out of commission thanks to a summerlong renovation project, a satellite food distribution center has started to emerge in the master bath upstairs. A mini-fridge stands next to a toaster, an espresso machine and a rack of clothing baskets filled with bags, boxes and bars of food-like products. Our food now comes in single-serving pouches and snack-size travel packs. I’m sure Michael Pollan would de-friend someone on Facebook if he knew they ate like this.

That said, it’s never been easier to pack my kids’ lunches. I stand in front of the food distribution center in my bathrobe, clutching coffee, and scream across the hall, “What do you guys want for lunch?”

They scream back: “Cheese sticks!” “A Clif Bar!” “The salad kit!”

I dump shiny, foil- or film-wrapped items into their lunchboxes, along with an apple or plum as a token recognition of …

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