Friday, May 29, 2009

flip, atlanta, may 5

as low as my expectations were for good stuff eatery in D.C., they were that high for flip in atlanta. and my experience is that when i go somewhere with high hopes after pleasant surprised elsewhere, the place for which i had high hopes disappoints. it has happened several times, as weird as it sounds.

it did not happen at flip. without even loving everything, i was still blown away by it.

it is the second in the series of top chef contestant burg
er joints on the drive we took to D.C. and back. this one is run by richard blais, who was one of my favorite top chef contestants, and not just because he voted for me in mario's grilling contest. tho that didn't hurt.

one of the reasons i was happy to drive up to D.C. for the wedding is because i knew that that meant i could drive home through atlanta. that way we could see friends and knock off a couple of restaurants i had been wanting to try. flip was high on that list. and when i asked becky and jeremy if they would drive up to D.C. with us, i told them they would probably want to fly home because we were detouring through atlanta on the way home. to which jeremy's paraphrased response was, "WE GET TO GO TO ATLANTA?!?!?!?!?!" and much clapping.

flip is a burger place, but there is nothing typical about it. we found it out on the outskirts of downtown and walked in. the motif is very sleek, red-white-and-aluminum. there is a huge graphic element on the back wall that i wanted to study more, but i was hungry. they took us to one of the communal tables that runs down the center of the restaurant and i pulled back the aluminum bar stool. i yanked pretty hard, because it looked to be pretty heavy, and i nearly threw it at the ceiling. it weighed nothing. waiter said, "that happens all the time. they look heavy, don't they?" of course, then i wondered if it would collapse under my weight, either before or after eating there. but it held up fine.

flip has about 20 burgers. roughly half are beef-based and the other half are other stuff. sides are separate, and there are about a dozen, half are fried and half fresh.

here is what we had:

jeremy: the kobe burger. this is the only beef burger we ordered. you have a choice of american or japanese kobe. if you get the american, it is the second-most expensive thing on the menu. if you get the japanese, the price doubles. sweet. jeremy got the american, which, since it is ground, was totally the right call. there is a time to go for broke on japanese kobe, but a burger probably isn't it. the burger included a slice of seared foie gras and truffle oil, so it was definitely inspired by the daniel boulud burger. it was fantastic. for a side, jeremy got the vodka battered onion rings. richard says that the vodka makes them crispier. (watch a video here) they were spectacular. apparently, they make the batter to order. crazy.

becky: the knuckle sandwich. the name cracked me up. it is tempura lobster with green goddess dressing and pea shoot salad. this was the only thing at the table i didn't get to try, because becky said it wasn't really sliceable. liiiiiiikely story, 6. it did look like a construction challenge, and i wholly trust her when she says it was awesome. as her side, she got the tempura asparagus. which i just realized means she got tempura for her burger and her side. i thought it was amazing how crisp and fresh the asparagus tasted despite the fact that it was fried. really, really good ingredients. you can't MAKE it taste that good.

pam: the cinco de mayo burger. we went on may 5, and the special burger of the day was in honor of the holiday. it was a pork burger topped with roasted jalapeno mayo and tequila lime slaw. the slaw was really bright. really exploded in your mouth. you know, in a good way. her side was the pickled vegetables, which are not fried in any way. they came in individual canning jars. nice touch. i didn't inventory the vegetables, but there were definitely carrots in there, and i suspect beets. probably some sort of turnip or radish. they were good, but i expected them to pop a little more. they weren't very assertive.

me: the shrimp po-boyger. i am a sucker for decent wordplay. also for shrimp. i have had shrimp burgers before. the one at cafe ponte was amazing, but it really wasn't a burger. it was two big shrimp on a bun. this was a burger. the construction of which escapes me, but it was very tasty. sometimes when stuff is processed into an unnatural state, it doesn't taste like itself anymore. this was shrimp. and that little thing on top: that's a fried slice of lemon. if i lived in atlanta, i would go to flip twice a week. once to have this, and once to have something else until i worked my way through the menu. for a side, i had the sweet potato tots, which i was really looking forward to, because i am a HUGE fan of the tots. these were good, but probably a bit misnamed. they were fried mini-patties of mashed sweet potato. there was none of the shredded graininess that make tater tots what they are. they were good, i would eat them again, but they weren't really tots.

we also got an order of duck-fat fries to share, because they had duck fat fries. and we have no shame.

and now about the shakes. they are frozen with liquid nitrogen. the way this works is ... well, best i can tell ... it's just magic, ok? there is probably science involved, but there is stuff in a glass, then they pour some other stuff in it, but it doesn't look like anything but fog is going in, and next thing you know the stuff in the glass is frozen. if that isn't the dictionary definition of magic, i have no idea what is.

there were four shakes on the menu. there were four of us. who's good at math?

they split the shakes into half-servings, so pam and i got to split halves of each, and becky and jeremy shared halves of each. i didn't specifically LOVE any of the shakes, but they were all good. and there is nothing cooler than sipping a drink that is spewing fog.

here are the four:

nutella with burnt marshmallow (front): perfectly good. my love of nutella is no secret. i wish the flavor of that had been ratcheted up a bit. the marshmallows are nice, but they weren't a natural fit with the nutella. i mean, i'm picking at nits, here. i finished it.

spicy chocolate mole (back left): same issue as with the nutella. i liked the idea, i just wish the flavor had been a little more aggressive. chocolatey-er. spicier. again, its not like i left any.

krispy kreme (back right): this is the one that everyone talks about, and while it wasn't exactly what i had envisioned, it was my favorite. no small feat when there is nutella in the contest. i expected something that was a little more about a distilled essence of krispy kreme taking the form of a milkshake. what it seemed more like was a really good vanilla shake with donut bits blended in. i'll say it again: there is NOTHING wrong with that. and i don't know how to do the thing i had been expecting, so i'm not coming at it all high and mighty. and in the end, it was gone. so there is the bottom line.

we had those three floating around the table as we ate. afterward, there is no dessert menu, but becky, jeremy and i looked at each other. we all knew there was a shake we hadn't had yet. pam was out at this point, but we decided that if there is a foie gras milkshake (left) on a menu, it would be irresponsible to leave without having it. where else are you going to get a goose liver milkshake? it was based on vanilla, and flavored with foie, and i think he said amaretto. the foie really wasn't a flavor element, or really even textural. it was more of a mouth-feel thing. it was definitely detectable, and tasty. but having had it once, i don't really need another one.

come to think of it, when i saw richard at the top chef event in ybor, he made sweet ice tea shakes, and i might have liked that better than any of the four we had at the restaurant. interesting.

i'm so going back. just, when? actually, i know he is working on putting them in other cities, and i have heard that tampa is on the list. that is a good list for tampa to be on.

FLIP Burger Boutique on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

still owe you flip

i haven't written post for flip burger boutique in atlanta yet. it is still on my list of things to do. i just finished a story about it and good stuff eatery for the paper. needed to get that done. hope to have the post done soon. many, many pictures.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

watershed, atlanta, may 4

so, a couple of years ago, a new restaurant opened in atlanta called watershed. it was supposed to be upscale southern food, so i was interested. and since it was the project of one of the indigo girls, that just made it more interesting. heck, i like closer to fine. but i was never in atlanta at a time when i could make the time to go blah blah blah. then their chef was named best chef south at the beard awards, and i had a mission.

so, a confluence of events led to me finally getting back to atlanta
, a city that i am frankly not otherwise all that crazy about. first, i was driving to washington dc, so i could plot a course through it on the way home. second, pam's friend jodi just moved there from northern california. third, there were two other places i wanted to go to while there (flip and the dekalb world market). so we had a plan.

so, along with becky and jeremy and jodi and adam, pam and i went to watershed. and as an aside, that was the best way to
go to watershed. i'll explain:

most of the places i go to are just me and pam. our strategy is usually that we each get an entree and we share an appetizer and dessert. and by "share," i mean that i get an appetizer and dessert and pam watches me eat it. sue me.

with the crew we had, here is the damage we did to the watershed menu:

there are eight appetizers. we had four

there are 13 entrees. we had six.

that is, for all intents and purposes, half the menu. that's the way to do it.

here are the entrees we all shared:

-- butter bean hummus with crudites and homemade pita: i thought it was a little chintzy when they brought us only one pita to go with the hummus. but with all the fresh vegetables on the plate -- celery, french radishes, cucumber slice, green beans -- and some feta, we actually didn't even finish the one pita. apparently, they have done this before.

-- saute of wild mushrooms with cheese and country ham on toast: this was small. not sure everyone got to try it. so glad it started at my end of the table. even looking at the photo now, i can't tell you what kind of shrooms were in there, and i didn't ask about the cheese, but it was very assertive. a very good dish, and one that you didn't need a lot of to appreciate.

-- creamy stone ground shrimp grits and pullman plank: possibly the coolest looking piece of toast ever, and interesting grits. the shrimp was actually a flavoring in the grits, so you didn't even see them. in fact, when we asked how it was done, the waitress brought out the chef's cookbook to show us the recipes for the grits and the homemade shrimp paste that went into them. very cool.

-- fried oysters with red pepper catsup: i like oyste
rs, but don't love them. these were fried, and therefore delicious. loved the catsup, too.

on to the entrees.

to quote several of my previous posts: "there was duck on the menu, so guess what i got."

actually, i considered not getting the duck because it was roasted. roasted to me usually means cooked through, and that is not how i prefer duck breast. but the waitress said they could do it medium rare, so i trusted her. and look at the picture. it was medium rare, if that. perfect. very tender. it came with swiss chard and mashed carrots, as well as some figs. all excellent.

pam got the hot vegetable plate, and what wasn't on there? first thing i saw was cauliflower, which is like kryptonite to me. but i tried it. it was ok. it was fried. anything can only be so bad when fried. there was also sauteed cabbage, mashed rutabaga, collards, sweet stewed tomatoes (which were like candy), some butter beans and corn bread. a pretty impressive plate, considering, you know, the lack of meat.

i got to try everyone else's dishes too. all seemed equally excellent. here is what they had:

jeremy: grilled all-natural pork chop with mac-n-cheese and collard greens.

becky: fresh fish of the day, which, on this day, was pan-sauteed flounder, with peas that becky compared favorably to those we had at babbo precisely a year earlier and vidalia onions.

adam: braised lamb shank with butternut squash-sweet potato puree and sauteed spinach. this was the most impressive looking dish on the table. it was described as "fli

jodi: butternut squash pancakes with braised cabbage and gingered beets. which reminds me: pam and i shared a side of the gingered beets. i liked them. but, it had beets in there. and ginger. so, it had a lot working in its favor.

we killed two bottles of wine, and i have no idea what they were. i like someone to tell me what i want to drink, and jeremy and adam played that role here. both picked whites, so i was happy. i remember that they were out of jeremy's first choice. i liked them both.

for dessert, i had the chocolate pecan praline parfait. it was pretty. it was good. but not the most memorable part of the meal. which is fine.

becky had the cheese plate, and when they said that all the cheeses were from south georgia, jeremy was already starting to plan their next trip to see his family there.

it was a blast of a night. could not even believe what a great time we all had together, and hope we can all do it again. after all, we only ate half the menu.

Watershed on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 8, 2009

bbq; salisbury, nc, and atlanta, ga; may 3-4

we spent sunday driving from DC to atlanta, and in salisbury, n.c. -- home to cheerwine soda -- we decided to stop and look for bbq. first we found richard's, but being sunday evening, it was every bit as closed as almost everything else in salisbury. but college bbq was open. so we went there. it is "college bbq" because it is near catawba college. who knew?

to be clear: not fancy. looked like the building had probably been a convenience store in a previous incarnation. and it looked like there was at least one too many booth in the place. the first booth we sat at did not allow us to actually put our feet on the floor without entangling them with our boothmates. crazy. luckily, before we got our food, a table opened, and we jumped on it.

i got the small chopped bbq tray. that gets you a little paper boat half-full of pork and half cole slaw, wrapped in paper.on the side, you get a bun and two hushpuppies. when i opened the paper, i thought that the cole slaw was a pork tartare. i never would've guess slaw. it was interesting, tho. minced cabbage and onion with a heavy hand of horseradish. never had anything like that before. i made a sandwich out of mine, adding plenty of the vinegar-y bbq sauce as i went. it was different. i liked it. and i had cheerwine. in fact, we stopped at a k-mart leaving town and bought a bunch of cheerwine straight from the epicenter of cheerwine. we bought four cases because they had four cases. we left the diet.

once in atlanta, our lunch monday was at fat matt's, an establishment that jeremy may have mentioned once or twice, on occasion, in passing, suggesting that he wouldn't mind going there if it all fit in the schedule and everything. ok, he may have mentioned it more than once or twice. and we may have built a part of the trip around going there because of his interest level. or something.

fat matt's is big with the sauce. it was very tangy and spicy, and burned my lips. it was good, but my lips actually hurt for hours. in a good way. mostly. the ribs were very juicy and tender. the chicken was good, and baked beans were based on the bbq sauce. and they had mac and cheese. all good.

and jeremy was happy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

central michel richard, washington dc, may 1

there were four restaurants that i kind of targeted going to DC. cityzen, minibar, citronelle and central michel richard. lunch on friday was my most open option for one of those, and for a number of reasons central michel richard was the best choice.

i got there as they were unlocking the doors and sat at the bar. by the time i was done with my appetizer, the place was packed.

i started with the spinach and goat cheese tort, which was like a very fine green custard on top of a phyllo crust and topped with little chunks of green bean. the goat cheese wasn't terribly discernible, but the smooth texture with the crisp bean pieces was nice. there was lightly dressed frisee on the side.

for the entree, i had the pied de cochon. pig's foot. my only previous experience with pig's feet was going to the stop and go in oviedo and seeing that gallon bottle at the checkout filled with a not-to-be-found-in-nature red liquid and a bunch of gelatinous science fair project rejects. never had one, but saw them.

this was NOTHING like that.

it was a foot that was braised and picked clean of bones, then mixed with mushroom formed into a perfect cylinder, breaded and fried. it was huge. the meat was crazy tender and it was served with a really rich sauce that made an already huge portion feel even bigger. seriously, if it had been half the size, that would've been ok. it came with onion stra
ws and more frisee, this with little lardons. mmmmm, bacon. it was also supposed to come with mashed potatoes, but i subbed out for mac and cheese, and it was not surprisingly really, really rich. the surprising thing was that the little cast iron pan held penne pasta that seemed to be perfectly aligned. was it a coincidence, or is it someone's job to line up all the mac in the mac and cheese? don't know. impressive, tho.

for dessert -- and i had to consider skipping dessert because i was pushing full -- i was choosing between the "candy bar" and an apple dessert. the bartender was describing the two to me, and the woman sitting next to me leaned over, grabbed my arm and said, "get the candy bar. it may kill you, but it's worth it."

that's an endorsement. and it was accurate. it was like a giant kit-kat bar, chocolate mousse over a layer of crispy candy and a hazelnut sauce. again, i would not have felt cheated if it had been half the size. but it was not. so i felt stuffed.

here was the cool thing about central: i felt like i was the only person at the bar that the bartender and wait staff didn't personally know. they knew them by name. they knew what they liked to drink, they knew what they had one day last year, they knew how they liked their hamburger cooked and what they liked on it. it was crazy. i want to be a regular there.

oyamel, washington dc, april 30

we decided to go to dinner as a group on thursday night, and picked oyamel. it is an outpost of chef jose andres, who is a big deal spanish chef. but this joint is mexican. specifically, oaxacan (wah-ha-can). more specifically, oaxacan tapas. turns out, i really like saying "oaxacan tapas."

there were 10 of
us, and i was sitting at one end of the table and can really only speak for what was going on at our end of the table, tho i didn't hear anyone saying there was a problem. everything was pretty good.

we started with a couple of orders of guacamole, which is made tableside with no small degree of fanfare. there were trays of ingredients, and big avacadoes, and a molcajete on each tray. prior to this, the best guacamole i have had was the gratis guac brought to the table at topolobampo in chicago a few years ago. i can't really compare this to that, du to the passage of time, but this was the best i've had since then. you would've thought for all the world that there was cream in there somehow, as luscious as it was. the house-made tortilla chips were pretty spectacular, too.

we ordered a few tapas. first were the mejillonesal tequila con chipotle. steamed mussels. i've been on a steamed mussels kick lately. these were really good, and pretty unlike any mussels i've had before. usually steamed in a white wine-pernod-butter sauce, these were steamed in a sauce of tequila and chipotle. they were really good mussels, and the sauce was very unique.

we also had the ensalada de palmitos. hearts of palm salad. it had about five big chunks of hearts of palm, with orange, radish and avacado. and a tamarind dressing that was tart, but not too.

the third tapa we had takes a little explaining. several years ago, i watched a cooking demo by a mexican chef at epcot. she was from the state of michoacan and she made a regional dish called uchepos. they were basically a less-dense version of tamales. as we were driving up to DC, i told that story -- with some additional details that are irr
elevant here, and i believe may have been covered in a previous post about coyote cafe in santa fe -- to becky.

fast forward to thursday, and one of the specials at oyamel was uchepos de michoacan. so i got them. it was good, but i'd rather have a tamal. it was tasy, but the heaviness of the corn meal seemed to be lightened up almost souffle-like. i plan on looking to see if i still have the epcot recipe to see if that is how they do it. good, but not unreal.

then we had the albondigas. meatballs in a chile sauce. and next to oaxacan tapas, one of my favorite things to say.

some of the other things we tried from around the table included the papas al mole. mole is the distinctive
mexican sauce of chilies, and often softened with a touch of chocolate, and oaxaca is gound zero for mole. it was basically over french fries. this is a good idea. also tried the ceviche de atua pacifico. that's a tuna ceviche. i'd never had tuna ceviche before, and it reminded me more of a tartare. it was a plate of raw chunks of tuna marinated in maggi lime with scallions, avocado, jalapeno and toasted pecans for some crunch.

it was about this time that i got a text message telling me i had won the aces headline contest again. so if i wasn't already plenty happy, that did it for me.

after i went outside to get the details on all that, i came back in and had a couple of tacos. they were the right kind of tacos -- soft corn tortillas and minimal fillings. i tried the tinga poblana, which was shredded chicken, with potatoes, chorizo and chpiotle, and the cochinita pibil con cebolla en escabeche, which was a pit bbq pork with pickled red onions and sour orange. both were fine, neither was great. they didn't seem particularly special, where almost everything else did.

what i didn't have: the most expensive taco on the menu is made with grasshopper. other people were planning to have it and i was afraid i would lose all my culinary cred if i didn't try it. so i was prepared to. but they didn't have any. they said they were out of season, but they didn't say when grasshopper season was. they also implied that no one actually like
d them, and that people basically ordered them on a dare. so, since i was willing to eat one, i am counting it.

for dessert i had the cafe de olla. it was a place of chocolate-coffee custard -- almost caramel-like -- topped with little cubes of kahlua gelatin, a brown sugar syrup and a scoop of star anise ice cream that was pretty intense. it was a strange combination of flavors and textures, but it all worked out.

overall, a ton of fun and good food. i'd go back.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

good stuff eatery, washington dc, april 30

forgive me, blogger. but it has been seven weeks since my last post. whoops.

so, in the pantheon of former top chef contestants, spike ranks as one who is in my top, oh, let's say, 30 favorites. in that there have been about 60 so far, you do the math. i thought he was ok, but i was never really impressed with his personality or ability. he seemed to get in his own way a lot. but he didn't seem actively evil, and on that show, that puts you in the 50th percentile.

anyway, he has a burger joint here. my pals melanie and josh who live here have been a couple of times and assured me it was worth trying. that coupled with the fact that on tuesday i will be in atlanta and will be going to another burger joint run by a top chef alum, one who is probably in my top 5 favorite top chef contestants, i thought it would be fun to compare and contrast.

good stuff eatery is on pennsylvania avenue, about 13 blocks away from that other place on pennsylvania avenue. you walk in and order downstairs and can eat upstairs or outside.

pam and i went for lunch and each had a burger, split some fries and i got a shake.

the cliff's notes version: the burgers were unattractive and greasy, yet pretty tasty.

pam got the colletti's smokehouse burger, which has applewood bacon, a fried vidalia onion "ring," (more on the quotes later), cheddar and chipotle bbq sauce. the menu makes a big deal of the sweet, buttery soft freshly baked pennsylvania dutch roll, but by the time you get it, it is saturated in grease, so any nuance is kinda lost. shrug. it is also not large for the price, but that's not really a knock. because it's big enough. the good news is the burger tasted really good. and that is not small good news. the bad news was two things. first, the onion "ring" was a large chunk of fried onion. no ring going on in there. basically, it was onion butt. second, the chipotle bbq sauce was applied pretty stingy.

i got the good stuff melt, which is cheddar and muenster melted on the burger, which is topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms. very, very good. it was presumably topped with something called good stuff sauce, but, um, i have nothing to report on that. if there was a sauce on there, i totally missed it.

one oddity about the burgers: we were not asked how we like them cooked, which usually means they only do well done. which is sad. but mine was a perfect medium, and when i saw that, i was stunned. but pam's was well done. still good, just cooked more than you would hope good meat would be cooked. but the discrepancy made it worth wondering if i just got lucky with a properly cooked burger, and if the rule is well done. don't know.

you have a choice of regular fries or herby ones, and we went herby. thyme, rosemary, sea salt and black pepper. when you poured them out of the bag, it was like perfume. they smelled awesome. they tasted good, too, tho they weren't really hot or crisp. tasted like they had been cooked awhile earlier and sat somewhere for awhile. which actually makes it amazing that they were as good as they were.

on the condiment bar, they had four kinds of mayo. old bay, sriracha (a garlic-chili sauce), mango and chipotle. i tried the old bay and the chipotle. i liked them both, but the flavor wasn't distinctive enough that i could tell them apart. i ate more of the one that i THINK was old bay. if that means anything.

i got the milky way malt milk shake, and i am willing to declare, until at least tuesday, it is the best milkshake i have ever had. very, very rich malted vanilla shake with strata of caramel and fudge, then crumbled malt balls on top. loved it. it was large. i should not have finished it. but i did. oh well.

i'm really looking forward to going to flip on tuesday. i had modest expectations of good stuff. for flip, they are pretty high, actually. which is usually not a good scenario for me, but we'll see. i have faith.