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

30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Red Lobster

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It’s Chain Week here on the Food & More blog.

Yes, every day this week I will visit one branch of a multi-unit restaurant. Food writers tend to stay away from chains (with one notable exception). When they do venture into the land of vibrating buzzers, you can usually smell the agenda in the writing like a cheap cologne.

I will try to get through this exercise not as a vinyl-banquette sociologist but as a restaurant reviewer who wants nothing more than to show people where to dine well and warn them about places to avoid. I will pledge not to take any potshots at foodservice corporations, American eating habits, other customers and menu lingo. I’m just looking for good eats.

Can you find them at Red Lobster? Specifically, the Red Lobster on Candler Road in South Dekalb?

Most likely, if you get this meal:

IMG_7907Give into the temptation of the Cheddar Bay biscuits. Yes, they taste like dried spices, salt, butter flavoring and Bisquick. They also offer that crunch-puff sensation that …

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30 Restaurants in 30 days: Yet Tuh

Pork and kimchi stir fry with tofu

Pork and kimchi stir fry with tofu

Earlier this week I wrote about 678,  the Duluth Korean barbecue restaurant that serves up both beef and pork in a room decorated with a K-pop sensibility. Now it’s time to move on to a much homier Korean place — that is, if you can find it.

Yet Tuh must be the most hidden restaurant on Buford Highway. If this blog post encourages you to look for it — and I sincerely hope it does — you must find the driveway to the semi-empty retail center that houses it, descend a hill and keep driving around the building clockwise until you find Yet Tuh (if not Jimmy Hoffa) hidden in the back.

For months now both Brad Kaplan at Creative Loafing and Bill Addison at Atlanta Magazine have been talking up this restaurant.

though I’m late to the party, I share their enthusiasm.  I imagine Yet Tuh serves the kinds of dishes that make  Koreans say, “No one makes this as well as my mom. But this is close.”

The restaurant does serve a few barbecue dishes, but that’s …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Kiosco

Bandeja paesa

Bandeja paisa

The few other Colombian spots that have opened in Atlanta have favored multi-culti strip malls filled with other South American shops, salons and cafes. Kiosco opened on the south side of Marietta Square in 2004 in a cheerful little room with country wooden furniture and a mixture of oil paintings and framed posters on the walls. I’m not sure if Mariettans at large knew what to make of it at first; I recall it being nice enough and kind of empty when I visited.

But Kiosco played the long game. It plugged along quietly and let people learn that Columbian food is…well, what exactly?

Simply seasoned cuts of meat served with rice and beans, to start. Nobody (except perhaps a vegan) would have any complaints about the bandeja paisa, Colombia’s national dish rendered here as a peppery minute steak outfitted with two plump chorizo sausages, chicharrones of crisp-fried pork belly, a cornmeal arepa, a quarter avocado and a fried egg with rice and beans.

If someone needs …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: 678 (Yuk Chil Pal)

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Beef or pork?

That is the choice you make whenever you go to a Korean grill. If you like to try the many barbecues along Buford Highway and in Duluth, chances are you default to beef. If you’ve adopted Honey Pig or Iron Age as your new favorite Korean restaurant, you’ve likely gone to the swine side.

At 678 in Duluth, you’ve got a choice on a menu that gives equal weight to a variety of different cuts of beef and pork. This restaurant is part of a Korea-based chain, and as you can see from the photo above, it has a pop sensibility. While the Korean club kids like to stay toward the front of the restaurant, families gravitate to the rear, where there’s a large playroom for children, away from the licking flames and considerable smoke of the dining room. Throughout the space are many posters and cutout images of Kang Ho-Dong, the celebrity entertainer who owns the restaurant and apparently mugs a lot.

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Our family of five decided to go for the full-on beef experience rather than …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: French Market & Tavern

IMG_7879Here’s a most excellent Southside tip. When you find yourself hungry and driving up I-75 with too many miles between you and Atlanta, consider the three-minute detour to downtown Locust Grove and the French Market & Tavern.

This smartly rehabbed 1906 hardware store features a  houseware/garden shop to appeal to the roadside knickknackologist in you. Then, when you keep walking through the shop towards the back room, you’ll find a lively New Orleans style cafe. With its tables made from the building’s recovered heart-of-pine flooring, comfortable sling-back chairs, ample natural light, a solid crowd and a happy sense of contained clutter, this restaurant gives off a warm vibe.

We visited at lunch when the menu focuses on sandwiches, salads and burgers. It goes a bit more upscale at night. We found the food solid — maybe not worth the drive from Atlanta in and of itself, but a lot better than many of the local attempts at Cajun and Creole cooking. For instance, the house chicken …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: The Butcher The Baker

Sweetbread with cipollini onions and blueberry mostarda

Sweetbread with cipollini onions and blueberry mostarda

This months-old venue on Marietta Square has “instant hit” written all over it. The Butcher The Baker replaces the former Simpatico with a country-cool look that uses unfinished wood, Mason jars, soft golden lighting and an antique drinks fridge to place things clearly in Southern farm-to-table territory. Married owners Micah (the butcher) and Katie (the baker) Pfister get their produce from the same local farmers who supply the Marietta Farmers Market, according our waiter. Everything is made from scratch from the baker’s bun croutons garnishing the heirloom tomato salad to the berry mostarda set over crunchy little nuggets of sweetbreads.

The bourbon cocktails were tasty and strong, and our waiter (though a bit harried) did an excellent job of communicating the personality of the restaurant and the details of the food and drink. I don’t want to sound too snotty here, but it felt like intown rather than suburban …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Floataway Cafe

Insalata caprese at Floataway Cafe

Insalata caprese at Floataway Cafe

Is Floataway Cafe an Italian restaurant?

Not precisely. The kitchen prepares “fresh seasonal cuisine created with country French, Mediterranean and Italian influences” according to its website.

But it always seems to me that this 15-year-old restaurant succeeds with the kinds of benchmark Italian dishes where more orthodox Italian restaurants fail. Wood-oven pizzas with market toppings. Handmade pastas. Piccolo frito. This seasonal insalata caprese (at left).

For the past eight months or so, the chef at Floataway has been Todd Immel. He was the longtime charcuterie master at  sister establishment Star Provisions, and before that a local chef of some renown, who first made his name at  Oscar’s in College Park.

I honestly don’t see a lot of Immel’s personality on the menu, beyond some interesting pasta dishes. Many longtime favorites remain, though I imagine there was a little squawking when then rosemary-skewered chicken livers came off the …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant

Mona Lisa's dining room (AJC Staff)

Mona Lisa's dining room (AJC Staff)

Okay, people, red sauce. Pretend for a moment that I’m Paulie Walnuts staring at a plate of squid ink tagliatelle and saying, “Hey, I can’t eat this [expletive] . Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?”

We tend to talk about the same handful of Italian restaurants where the chefs cook in a contemporary style, but we ignore the scores (if not hundreds) of red-sauce places that hunker down in every strip mall throughout the land.

On a reader tip, I visited Mona Lisa Pizzeria in John’s Creek, which turned out to be directly across the street from the oft-cited contemporary Italian restaurant, Di Paolo.

It was dark and hyper-air-conditioned inside. There was easy-listening music and a waiter with a gruff-likable Northeastern attitude running the joint. The food made me think of the Italian diner my family always stopped in on the way to Jersey Shore. The acid clarity of that tomato sauce, the cardboardy flavor of breadcrumbs, the fennel zing of …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: BoccaLupo

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Yeah, so this is a picture of the fun wallpaper in the men’s room at BoccaLupo — that new Inman Park Italian restaurant that has become a magnet for the city’s pasta lovers. We sat on the lovely back patio (a repurposed garage with its doors hoisted open) with a little ambient electric light creeping in from the corners. Easy on the eyes but hard on the iPhone. So, in getting a sense of the food from this post, you’ll have to deal with the 1,000 words, not the picture.

BoccaLupo is the new restaurant from chef Bruce Logue — a native Atlantan and veteran of the kitchen at Babbo in New York  – who first caught our attention as the chef at La Pietra Cucina in Midtown. Logue has serious chops as a chef, particularly when he turns his attention to pasta.

Pasta is BoccaLupo’s calling card. Unlike other restaurants that hew to a repertoire of classic recipes and a pantry full of imported ingredients, the cooking here is modern Italian American. The prosciutto is proudly Iowan, while …

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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Vinny’s on Windward

IMG_7781From the outside Vinny’s on Windward looks not unlike the Alamo — a fortress of fusilli standing tall against the onslaught of honking SUV’s.

The inside, as you can see in the picture at left, is a monumental expanse of brick and gleaming granite, with amphora-sized baskets and mullioned glass partitions both offsetting the grandeur and bringing it down to a human scale.

I actually took this snapshot for my notes, for details to describe how the Sedgwick Restaurant Group has worked to infuse this big-box space  with Italian rusticity.

But then I also saw it served as an apt metaphor for the menu, which has a big-box, something-for-everyone attitude with an overlay of Italian sensibility. There are pears and pecans in the arugula salad, and the zuppa di pesce contains clams, cream, potato and bacon. Come si dice? Clam chowder?

Vinny’s attracts a big Northside power lunch crowd — so much so that the adjacent parking lot fills and smart cookies know to keep on heading down to the …

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