Thursday, August 12, 2010

Say Cheese!

On Monday I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of Murray's Cheese famous Cheese 101 classes. Murray's is an institution, started in 1940, they have been sourcing some of the very best cheeses from both here and abroad and making them available to the public. It has been a lifetime goal of mine to attend their intensive Cheese Boot Camp, which spans a 3 day period and includes tastings of some 80 cheeses as well as tours of their in-house cheese caves, but as that takes place at their shop in New York, I was happy to settle for Cheese 101 taught by the incredibly knowledgeable Liz Thorpe at Sandy Springs Kroger.

If you haven't been to this Kroger lately, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to see all of the changes they have made, including the addition of the Murray's outpost, which will also be featured in 5 other Kroger locations by the end of the year. The new cheese center has hundreds of different cheeses on offer, with different things rotating in and out, as well as a really nice bar
with pickled and cured veggies, salads and dips, everything you need for a last minute party. I actually didn't have that much time to look around before we were lead to our classroom, so I definitely plan to come back and browse and taste when I have more time.

When we got upstairs we found that we were tasting four cheeses, starting from mildest to strongest with accompaniments. We started local with Sweet Grass Dairy's Green Hill, a soft-ripened cows milk cheese similar in style to a camembert paired with an outstanding sour cherry preserve. Next we jumped across the Atlantic to Spain and tasted a fairly young (according to Liz) manchego, which is an aged sheeps milk cheese. You can tell its sheeps milk because of the buttery mouthfeel, as their milkfat content is double that of cows and goats. It was paired with the traditional quince paste.

Then we moved on to the Reypenaer, an aged Dutch gouda, which if you want to be pretentious, you can pronounce correctly as how-dah. It's incredibly nutty with great crunchy crystalline structure that pairs nicely with the sweet and seedy fig preserves. Last, but certainly not least, we sampled a gorgonzola dolce, an incredibly rich, but fairly mild blue. A friend who was also at the tasting, offered me hers, but when I insisted she at least try it first, quickly became a convert. It didn't hurt that it was paired with some of Savannah Bee Company's incredible Tupelo honey. I would have been happy to stay and try 76 more, but unfortunately, there wasn't time for that. Maybe one day I will make it to New York for Boot Camp, but until then this was a great substitute.

Murray's will be having another Cheese 101 at the Alpharetta store at 10945 State Bridge Rd this Monday 8/16 at 5:o0 PM and there are still seats available. If you are interested, you can RSVP

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Go fish!

The Buckhead Life Group has a summer tradition unlike any other restaurant group in town, it's called the Dine Around program, and it is quite possibly the smartest way I have ever seen to fill traditionally empty restaurant seats during the slow summer months. They mail out something like 100,000 $20 gift cards to the different restaurants in the group, valid for only the month stated and the restaurant listed. Then when you use it the first time (this year they allowed multiple uses) you are given another card for the next month at a different spot. My July card was for Kyma, not that I need an excuse to visit one of my favorite restaurants, and my August card is for Chops Lobster Bar.

On my most recent visit, I brought my friend Kristi,, who had never been before. Naturally I had to order as many meze as possible so she could try all of my favorites. Our first bite was a little taste from the chef, Pano Karatossos, a zucchini fritter. Bite sized, fresh-from-the-garden sweet, and not at all greasy, it was served on their htipiti roasted red pepper spread.

It is not possible for me to visit Kyma and not get a few of their spreads. The tzatziki is the best I've ever had, made with such rich Greek yogurt you would swear it was sour cream, full of cucumber and bright lemon. The skordalia is pureed potato, more lemon, and garlic, garlic, garlic. Is is so smooth and creamy I could happily eat it with a spoon, but no need to do that when they give you plenty of wedges of their grilled pita. They garnish their dips with good strong cured olives that I could eat by the dozen.

Next we had the cheese saganaki, they also offer a shrimp version, which is good, but I was craving oozy melted cheese. It's kefalograviera cheese that is pan fried and finished with barbayanni ouzo and more lemon to cut the cheese's natural saltiness. It's not melted like the mozzarella that strings off your pizza, it's a firmer cheese like feta, so it holds up to pan frying, but still has a gorgeous soft-chewy texture. You are better off eating it the second it gets to your table as it sets up again pretty quickly.

Kyma also does a fantastic job with grilled meats, which you can order by the piece. They let the flavor of the wood smoke and the meats shine through, only dressing lightly with oregano, olive oil, or perhaps a spray of lemon. I am a long time fan of their lamb chops, but this time decided to give the pork ribs a try, mostly because I was intrigued by the idea of the coriander yogurt served on the side. I actually would have preferred a bit more coriander, as there is no such thing as too much coriander in my opinion, but the ribs were stellar, tender, crispy, supremely flavorful. They are also served with those golden discs of perfection, the Greek fries. They are shatteringly crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle, one of the best examples of fried potato in the city. A word of warning, eat them fast, they don't hold well.

Quite possibly the best known dish at Kyma is the Grilled Octopus. This is the stuff of legends. There are several incarnations on the menu, including the calamari filet, but go for the grilled octopus. It is served with a pickled red onion salad dressed with red wine vinaigrette, but the cephalopod is the star of the show. The tentacles are grilled and have the most divine meaty texture, slightly chewy-crisp at the edges from the fire. These are not the fried rubber bands you are used to eating.

One of the specials on the night we went was a scallop dish, 5 perfectly cooked incredibly sweet scallops, served over a fava bean and mushroom mixture and bathed with manna from heaven, also known as lobster-yogurt emulsion. It was like the very essence of lobster and lighter than air, but so intensely flavorful, you wanted to lick your plate clean. If this were a slightly less posh restaurant, I'm pretty sure I would have.

For dessert, there are the typical Greek pastries, the bakalavas, and other nut filled, flaky phyllo-based things. However, I adore the loukoumades, fried globs of dough, somewhat similar in texture to a beignet. It's not the dough that's amazing, it's the honey that they are covered with, imported from Greece, it is rich and strong and delicious. It's the honey that makes you understand why Napoleon wanted to be entombed in it, it might even make you want that for yourself. I can never resist biting into them the moment they are delivered, but consider the 3rd degree burns on the roof of my mouth an acceptable consequence.

Kyma also has some of the most flawless service in the city, with perhaps the exception of the hostess desk. I would really prefer not to stand around awkwardly waiting for my dining companion to arrive, nor do I want to take a seat at the bar, when I have no desire to order a beverage. It would be nice to be greeted, then seated at a table where you don't feel so conspicuous as you wait. Plus if you are seated at your table immediately, you will have more time to peruse the menu and enjoy the company of your waiter. If you are lucky enough to get Cory, you need those extra minutes, because not only is he charming and personable with great menu knowledge, but he is also very easy on the eyes. Next time you go, be sure and ask for him, you'll see what I mean.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What are you doing tonight?

I have recently been bombarded with fun things to do during August, some private like tubing with a friend, and some public like the Murray's Cheese class. It seems like there isn't one place that lists everything, so I thought I would try to compile some of the best bets here. If your calendar is yawning emptily, here is your chance to fill it up.

First up is Silent Clark's Break the Silence party. It will be Saturday Aug. 7 from 7:00-10:00PM at the Twelve Hotel Centennial Park. If you haven't been following his amazing story, he has been silent, communicating only via social media, for 93 days now, in an effort to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in memory of his mother. It has been so interesting reading all of his tweets from ordering his lunch to making plans with his lovely wife. If you would like to support his cause, you can buy tickets and you can follow him in his last few days of silence on twitter.

Next we have an exciting development, it turns out Murray's Cheese will be coming to Atlanta as they have partnered with Kroger to bring world class cheese to the suburbs of Atlanta. One store set to have a Murray's Cheese is the new store opening in Lawrenceville at Hwy 20. In anticipation of these new stores, Murray's is hosting a couple of their famed Cheese 101 Classes at existing Kroger stores including Sandy Springs on Monday, August 9 at 6:30PM RSVP and Alpharetta on Monday, August 16 at 5:00PM RSVP They still have a few spots available, so if you love cheese and would like to learn more about it, RSVP using the above links.

It is with gratitude to my favorite ice cream makers in Atlanta, Westside Creamery, that I announce a cool event that they brought to my attention on twitter. The new Atlantan magazine is hosting a party called to Live & Dine in Atlanta 2010 on Wednesday, August 11 from 6:00-9:00PM tickets. Some of my favorite people like Maggie and Greg at Westside, Todd Ginsberg of Bocado, and others are featured in a great line-up including some of the new super stars of the food truck scene. I personally can't wait to try Hankook Taqueria's new food truck Yumbii, who have not come close enough to my Dunwoody office to try them out yet. Tickets are an incredibly reasonable $25 in advance and $35 day of (if they haven't sold out) and proceeds are going to one of my favorite groups, Georgia Organics.

Another group I am a member of, Atlanta BBQ Club, will be having a fun "meating" on Saturday August 14 from 4:00-7:00PM. Tickets are $13 and get you BBQ, sides, and a drink and entry into the big raffle, with a grand prize of a Kamado Joe Grill. They are only selling 100 tickets, so these are good odds of winning an awesome grill. Tickets

Last, but certainly not least, on Monday August 16, I am hosting one of my pizza nights at Varasano's. It's an informal gathering of friends where we order as many of the pizzas on the menu as number of people show up, allowing everyone to taste a little bit of everything. If you haven't been yet, read my post on Varasano's and let me know if you are interested in joining us.