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Archive for the ‘30 Restaurants in 30 Days 2013’ Category

Some bests from 30 Restaurants in 30 Days

Bandeja Paesa at Kiosco

Bandeja Paesa at Kiosco

Here are some of the better dishes I ate during my 30-day tour of restaurants. Yes, I may have developed a fondness for Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuits.

- By the exceptionally overfed John Kessler for the Food & More blog

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Table 1280

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It’s a wrap.

My 30th and final restaurant for this project is Table 1280 the dining room for the Woodruff Arts Center.

“That place?” you ask. “Why?”

Because my main takeaway from this exercise — one that has taken me to a number of restaurants I wouldn’t normally consider subjects for review — is that utility matters more than most food writers acknowledge.We often choose where we go to eat not because the deliciousness of its food makes us see the face of the deity, but because the restaurant is close, convenient, priced right or suitable for our purposes.

Table 1280 has long been a prominent and gourmet-minded restaurant, but it has only lately become a useful one.

If you recall, the space opened with a bang in 2005 as part of the High Museum expansion designed by architect Renzo Piano. With celebrity chef Shaun Doty at the helm, it featured a high-end bistro menu in its two austere, hard-edged dining rooms as well as a more casual selection of small plates in the lounge …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Yum Bunz

 Char Siu BBQ Pork, Chicken Teriyaki and Mongolian Beef bunz with Asian Green Salad, Corn salad, and cucumber salad. (BECKY STEIN)

Char Siu BBQ Pork, Chicken Teriyaki and Mongolian Beef buns with Asian Green Salad, Corn salad, and cucumber salad. (BECKY STEIN)

When I was a teenager  I visited my brother, who was then living in a studio apartment with two friends in the West Village. We would walk down to Chinatown, to a carryout window where a dollar would buy you one large, hot-off-the-steamer bao filled with char sui barbecued pork.

It wasn’t just the seasoning and the ingredients that made it taste so good, but also that inimitable sensation of eating food that had just minutes before been transformed by steam. Sticky to the touch, airy to the bite, gushy in the center, steamy enough to fog your glasses.

I’d love to repeat the feeling at Yum Bunz, but after one meal my first impression is that the namesake bao are the weakest link in an otherwise pleasant quick-service Asian restaurant. The team behind this clean, modern newcomer to the Westside’s restaurant row consists of Guy Wong from Miso Izakaya

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Sun in My Belly

Hot phyllo tart filled with blue cheese and nuts

Hot phyllo tart filled with blue cheese and nuts

We all like to throw around the expression “neighborhood restaurant,” but I can think of few that fit the bill as well as this Kirkwood spot tucked tastefully into the shell of an old hardware store. Yet as much as neighbors love it, Sun in My Belly doesn’t resonate too broadly outside the immediate area.

Chef/owner Alison Lueker began the business as a catering company in the late 1990’s and then opened up the space several years later as a cafe specializing in breakfast and lunch.

I paid a couple of a.m. visits after it opened. I have to admit the prettily packaged but stodgy breakfast plates left me cold. I like breakfast joints where you can hear the clanking of a busy kitchen and get a big ol’ plate of egg love, or I want a really excellent cup of coffee and and a pastry worth the splurge. This food fell in between.  The dining room — with all its reclaimed wood, battered antique shelving and pastel-painted Mason jars and …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Samad Mediterranean Grill & Market

Chickpea and dried fava bean salad

Chickpea and dried fava bean salad

A reader whom I’ve learned to rely on for excellent tips (hint, hint, everyone) turned me on to  Samad Mediterranean Grill & Market – this sweet Lebanese restaurant set in the corner of an aging strip shopping center in northern Sandy Springs.

It is a modest place that doesn’t quite fill its large space with tables and shelves of Middle Eastern dry goods. What it lacks in atmosphere it makes up for with soulful cooking.

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You order from the dry-erase boards hanging over the counter, pay, serve yourself a fountain drink and wait for your food. Check the salad case and order the freshest looking ones for your side dishes. We best liked the ful with chickpeas, each bean and pea cooked to that perfect point of creamy surrender and marinated in an addictive garlic-forward dressing.

IMG_7790Samad makes the chicken shawarma I’ve long looked for in Atlanta and haven’t found until now. The meat comes crisp and juicy off the spit, and the fresh garnish goes in …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: South City Kitchen

Vegetable Plate at South City Kitchen

Vegetable Plate at South City Kitchen

True admission time. I’ve only been to South City Kitchen a few times since I’ve lived in Atlanta. On one of those visits I was dining with celebrity chef Todd English when he was in town. He pulled a picture of his then-wife, a bodybuilder, out of his wallet to show to me. I missed the handoff and dropped it in a plate of bread pudding with custard sauce. Awkward!

Aside from that memory, I have two reasons why I’m never keen on going back.

One, that restaurant is so frenetic and noisy that I always feel like I have to meditate in a quiet room after dining there.

Two, it has always struck me as fine; not horrible, not memorable, but decent. There are much better places to sample modern Southern fare in this town, such as Empire State South and Miller Union. Right?

Yet SCK remains perpetually packed and ever in the news. Visiting celebrities never tire of this restaurant, as my colleague Jennifer Brett will tell you. When I try to secure …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: P. F. Chang’s China Bistro

Shake, rattle and roll: Shaking beef at P. F. Chang's China Bistro

Shake, rattle and roll: Shaking beef at P. F. Chang's China Bistro

The first Atlanta-area branch of Phoenix-based  P. F. Chang’s China Bistro opened in Dunwoody in 1998. Now there are four scattered throughout the northern suburbs and a fifth headed for…

Who know the answer?

Yes, Concourse A of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Flight delay? Get your lettuce wrap on.

The imminent airport opening provided an impetus to check in on the original local link in the chain, which I haven’t returned to since I reviewed it lo these many years. At that time, I admired the lodge-like dining room, with its stacked-stone walls and slate floors, but made predictable grumblings about the crowd-pleasing Chinese-American fare. “If you like deep-fried nuggets drenched in sweet sauce, you’re in luck,” I wrote in full snark dudgeon.

After 14 years, the dining room has held up. The high ceiling and deep booths show off the craftsmanship of the design. I’m not surprised that the restaurant …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Golden Corral

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Okay, Snarkosphere, bear with me.

When I decided to visit chain restaurants this week, I promised to myself and to you that I would approach each place with an open mind and a spirit of hopeful curiosity about the food. I vowed I would not make any facile jokes about customers strapping on the feedbag, lining up at the trough, or shuffling into the feedlot — even if I find myself in a buffet restaurant named for a livestock holding pen.

On to Golden Corral!

I was honestly curious about this restaurant, particularly the one I observed going up earlier this year in the corner of the North Dekalb Mall parking lot. There are so many nights when my wife, kids and I want to catch a 7 o’clock movie at that mall and need to eat something fast, inexpensive and reasonably healthy beforehand.

Why not Golden Corral? It was made for this situation. The cost: $11.49 for a weeknight dinner and $12.99 on weekends during the current prime rib promotion. That’s not cheap, cheap, cheap, but …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Zoës Kitchen

A cross of chicken kabobs

A cross of chicken kabobs over orzo salad

When this chain of health-minded fast-casual restaurants started hitting the Atlanta area, I got an email from its publicist warning me to pay close attention to the spelling of its name – Zoës Kitchen — dieresis over the “e,” no apostrophe. No explanation was given, which left me wondering if there was one Zoë or two behind this restaurant chain, or just an O.C.D. typographer designing the logo.

In fact there is just one Zoë Cassimus, who opened a small cafe in a Birmingham suburb about 20 years ago. By all accounts she had a knack for presenting the cooking of her Greek heritage within the framework of a comfortable Southern café — a place where chicken salad and pimento cheese coexist comfortably with Greek salads, kabobs and hummus.

Cassimus’ son, John, would help to open more company-owned and franchised locations. It has been a successful venture, and the company is now majority owned by a Los Angeles private equity firm. There …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Chick-fil-A Dwarf House

Meat and three, CFA-style

Meat and three, CFA-style

Dear Chick-fil-A,

I have an idea for you.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Newnan branch of Chick-fil-A Dwarf House. For those of us who only know your fast-food outlets, these gabled-roof restaurants with their full table service come as a surprise, and not an unwelcome one. How nice to have a smiling waitress who remembers my drink order (unsweet tea with a touch of real lemonade) and keeps it filled. How nice to watch the carbs and order a chicken breast with Southern veggies instead of the bun and fries.

I’ve got no complaints about the chicken; that’s what you do well. You season it better than your competitors and fry it up to a realistic home-cooked crispness in peanut oil. The squiggly edges give the crunch, the fat center reliably beads with juice when you cut it.

My beef is with the veggies.

Porky but limp greens, heavily breaded okra, sweet potato casserole so processed and sweetened that you can’t find the real sweet potato in …

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