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Archive for December, 2011

Decatur named one of Southern Living’s top ten ‘Tastiest towns’

courtesy of Southern Living

courtesy of Southern Living

Back in October, John Kessler wrote a piece about Decatur’s emerging dining scene and named it “the city’s top new dining destination.” Now, Southern Living magazine echoes that sentiment by naming Decatur one of the top ten “Tastiest Towns in the South.”

In the January issue, on newsstands today, all ten towns are revealed. In addition to Decatur, the other spots recognized include:

  • Baltimore, MD: Restaurants with a fierce sense of place
  • Birmingham, AL: Includes local chef Frank Stitt, who changed the Southern culinary landscape
  • Charleston, SC: Iconic Lowcountry dishes and a thriving cocktail culture
  • Charlottesville, VA: Farm-to-table freshness in everything from tapas to spirits
  • Houston, TX: A diverse ethnic food scene with a new generation of tastemakers
  • Lafayette,LA: A new breed of hometown chefs diving into the region’s culinary roots
  • Louisville, KY: Surprising food, bourbon bars, and buzzy new neighborhoods
  • New Orleans, LA: Famed oyster bars, …

Continue reading Decatur named one of Southern Living’s top ten ‘Tastiest towns’ »

Restaurant Inspections, Mini Hot Pot

A climb to a satisfactory score was reached recently for Mini Hot Pot Restaurant in Duluth.

After a host of food safety inspections emphasizing the requirements of letting patrons know the risks of food borne illnesses, the restaurant at 2174 Pleasant Hill Road received an 85 (B).

“[The] menu has been corrected to contain proper disclosure and advisory statements; food items have proper asterisk,” the inspector wrote Dec. 5. “Correct parasite destruction letter provided.”

Although Mini Hot Pot rebounded from its 70(C) and 63 (U), it still faced violations; all but one were corrected at the time of the inspection, according to the report.

The infractions ranged from substandard manual dishwashing procedure, use of a broken strainer basket and rusted scissors to improper storage of food, the report showed.

The inspector advised that the eatery must “keep all food stored at least 6 inches above the floor.”

The one citation that was not corrected on site involved using cardboard …

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Cakes & Ale/The Bakery at Cakes & Ale restaurant reviews, Decatur

$$$-$$$$ (Restaurant)

$$$-$$$$ (Restaurant)

When Cakes & Ale opened about four years ago, I enjoyed it for the neighborhood spot it was. The decor seemed cobbled together from thrift-store furniture and a good sense of lighting, the menu righteous for its eco-friendly chalkboard format and reliance on local product. Some dishes were great and others more appealing for their earnestness than flavor.

$$-$$$ (Bakery)

$$ (Bakery)

It kept getting better. I found the bar a great spot to belly up to for casual dining, and I found dishes to obsess over: a cone of fried oysters, a vinegary salad topped with lamb’s tongue, a bowl of buttery farro and vegetables, a knobby hamburger served on a homemade English muffin. The items I loved always came off the menu to make room for ingredients coming into season and into the marketplace. With each iteration of the menu, chef-owner Billy Allin had something new to say. His point of view evolved, slowly and surely.

It was big news when Allin (along with his wife and business …

Continue reading Cakes & Ale/The Bakery at Cakes & Ale restaurant reviews, Decatur »

World Dish: A sampling of Indian Dhokla Pastries

World Dish with Gene Lee

World Dish with Gene Lee

I personally am a card-carrying carnivore, but if I had to stop consuming meat for some reason or another, the bounty of vegetarian-friendly food found in Indian cuisine would keep me pretty happy.

A dosa (a thin, crepelike dish made with rice and lentil batter) stuffed with masala-seasoned potatoes, and those little ivory cakes called idli (also made with rice and lentils) make for a satisfying meal. Dhoklas, a snack or side dish item commonly found in the Indian state of Gujarat, can be added to this list.

Dhoklas come in many varieties. The yellow khaman dhokla is the most typical type sold here in metro Atlanta, and they look and feel like your average spongecake. But these spongecakes taste more savory and fermented as opposed to sweet.


Assorted packaged dhokla (photos by Gene Lee)

Generally, the batter for making dhokla consists of a mixture of rice, dal (lentils) and/or chickpeas soaked in water overnight and then processed into a paste. The …

Continue reading World Dish: A sampling of Indian Dhokla Pastries »

Top Chef Texas recap, Episode 8: And the beast was done

Credit: Bravo

Credit: Bravo


Out here in the real world, a week has gone by since we endured the onslaught of Heather-zilla, but we are quickly reminded how fresh the experience is for the rest of the chefs, especially Beverly. She keenly observers, “The universe is full of karma…and it always comes back to you.”

As the chefs continue to swelter in that hotbox of a kitchen and try to ignore the commentary from Heather, Padma re-appears to tell the remaining 10 chefs to pack their bags. Time to get their hipster on and head over to Austin. And you know what that means!

That’s right! Another Toyota Sienna montage!

Highlights: Heather would forfeit $5,000 and immunity for a night with John Besh and Chris C. earned the nickname Malibu for his pretty boy ways. And he would also trade $5K for a night with John Besh and those stunning white teeth.


As soon as the chefs enter the kitchen and see that Tom has “graced [them] with his presence”, they know something is up. In …

Continue reading Top Chef Texas recap, Episode 8: And the beast was done »

Prepared appetizers to have on hand

prepared appsEvery “self-respecting” Southern woman should keep a block of cream cheese in the fridge and a jar of red pepper jelly in the pantry, according to a book I once read. That way, our quintessential Southern hostess could quickly dump the jelly over the cream cheese and serve with crackers to any guests who happened by.

At this time of year when your to-do list is a mile long (and growing) and you have neighbors, friends and family passing through, you might need some nibbles to offer guests. If jellied cream cheese is not quite your style, here are a few prepared appetizers you might pick up to have on hand.

If you shop at:


  • Seafood Tortas by Inland Market: These molded cream-cheese based seafood spreads come in several flavors. They present nicely — just invert them and pop them onto your serving dish. The flavors in the crab and artichoke version with sun-dried tomatoes have broad appeal, making it a safe choice for guests. Other flavors include smoked salmon …

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Sushi preparation: to glove or not to glove

"Look ma, gloved hands!"

"Look ma, gloved hands!"

Recently, Chef Taka Moriuchi of Taka Sushi and Passion restaurant in Buckhead published a post on his blog Sushi and Passion regarding regulations now requiring chefs in Fulton County to wear gloves while preparing sushi.

Moriuchi states, “We need to wear glove all the time when we touch raw fish. But, is it clean? We tried.. and realized that making sushi with glove is not easy. Rice stick on glove and can not make right size of nigiri sushi.”

I recently witnessed this at a different sushi restaurant here in Fulton County, and frankly it looks weird (mostly because I’m not used to seeing this). I asked the chef of this restaurant how he felt about having to wear gloves now and he responded that he didn’t mind.

From my sushi bar vantage point, I watched this chef prepare dish after dish of sushi items for customers for nearly an hour, and in that time I did not witness him wash his hands nor replace his gloves once. To me, that chef letting all those …

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Happy Hanukkah: Who’s making latkes?

photo-89The way our particular mixed-faith household plays out during the holidays goes something like this:


  • 3 dozen trips to the mall to shop for presents
  • cookie decorating project
  • night of tree decorating
  • three plastic tubs filled with house decorations come up from the basement
  • said decorations take over the house, which include three sets of manger action figurines and a Santa on a motorcycle
  • lavish Christmas dinner


  • a mad tear through every cabinet to find the menorah and two leftover candles so we can mumble our way through the prayer
  • latkes

It isn’t the holidays without the traditional potato pancakes. I make them the way my mother did, which I have to say is a complete pain in the tuchas, but really the only way I know to make latkes.

I peel baking potatoes and yellow onions in a ratio of 4:1 and grate them by hand on a box grater. (I’ve tried using the food processor, but the texture comes out all wrong.)  I set the resultant, browning goop in …

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Time to make New Year’s Eve reservations

times-square-new-years-eve-712220Restaurant Eugene will venture beyond a typical holiday prix fixe offering this New Year’s Eve. Chef Linton Hopkins and his team will take guests back to the Paris Ritz of 1898 with a recreation of Escoffier’s first New Year’s Eve dinner there. A Parisian street band will entertain Restaurant Eugene’s dinner guests across the way at Holeman & Finch Public House, which will serve classic cocktails of the era. For guests arriving early, there will be a seven-course meal for $150 (wine pairings additional $60). And for those arriving after 7:30 p.m., the menu will feature 11 courses and will cost $225 (wine pairings additional $75).

2277 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-355-0321.

A sampling of additional restaurants with New Year’s Eve menus:

4th & Swift: 5:30 p.m. – midnight. 621 North Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 678-904-0160. Prix fixe menu, $70.

BLT Steak: 5:30 -10 p.m. 45 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd, Atlanta. 404-577-7601. Holiday menu plus regular menu available, $85.

Cibo e Beve: Seatings at …

Continue reading Time to make New Year’s Eve reservations »

Restaurant Inspections, Mandarin Palace II

Mandarin Palace II in Atlanta scored a 100 (A) on its second follow-up inspection in this month – but not before it dipped further below its unsatisfactory results received on its Dec. 5 routine exam.

After failing with a 60 (U) during the routine visit, the restaurant at 129 North Ave. N.E. dropped to a 22 (U) on its Dec. 12 follow-up. Its grades led to a closure that, in turn, lasted one day, according to the reports.

Mandarin’s infractions include six repeat violations, which normally result in double-point deductions. The repeat citations include noncompliant training of the person in charge, improper storage of foods in the prep cooler and substandard cleaning process for several items and surfaces, the report showed.

Other violations include location of medication and rubbing alcohol next to food, placement of a dirty wiping cloth on food, and storage of food on the floor and under the sink, the report showed.

“Store food 6 inches off the [floor] and do not store food …

Continue reading Restaurant Inspections, Mandarin Palace II »