Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spring Has Sprung?

Yes it is January, the 29th to be exact, but today we had one of those perfect prelude-to-Spring types of days that we are occasionally graced with here in Atlanta during the winter months. Temperatures in the high 60's, clear blue sky with just a few scattered wisps of clouds, a light breeze - this is flip-flop weather, this is patio weather. I will admit I spent more of it than I wanted toinside, but tomorrow I plan todo better. After such an unusually cold, icy, snowy period it is nice to see Atlantans coming back outside. I saw several tweets and facebook updates with statuses like "had a pizza picnic in the park" or "so nice to see the patio full at lunchtime again". That got me thinking about some of my favorite outdoor dining destinations, with Canoe coming in at the very top of the list.

If you haven't been, they have an amazing location on the banks of the Chattahoochee that they maximize to the fullest with a riverfront bar with live music during nice weather, manicured paths to meander through the landscaped grounds, as well as arguably the best patio in the city. Thankfully, the food lives up to the setting, making it one of my top brunch spots, as well as a solid pick for dinner. In fact, I even chose Canoe for my company's holiday dinner this year and was pleased when my co-workers enjoyed the food as much as I do. I like the consistency that comes out of Chef Carvel Grant Gould's kitchen because I know that I can order both old favorites and nightly specials and be equally happy with both. On my last visit I did just that. I started with a salad of port wine poached pears, beautiful greens, spiced nuts, blue cheese. What made this dish exceed my expectations, other than the fresh ingredients, which should be a given, was the dressing. This wasn't your run-of-the-mill vinaigrette, it had dried fruit blended into it and it transformed the salad into something like dessert, in the very best way.

I went from that to one of Canoe's classics, the smoked salmon. I love that they are now offering it in two sizes so that those of us who are addicts can still order it every time we come in, but also enjoy other things from the menu without feeling like we have eaten enough for 15 people. I love the velvety texture of the house-smoked salmon against the crispy texture of the potato pancake and the creamy goat cheese thatties it all together. Make sure that you eat every last sprig of micro-basil, that stuff packs tons of flavor, don't assume it's thereto make the plate pretty. Even if you aren't a fan of smoked salmon, I'm not, try this, it is not the oily, fishy stuff you are used to getting.

As I had already eaten both a salad and the smoked salmon, I wanted to stick to the small plates for my entree. I was happy I had when my Pekin style quail was placed in front of me. The meat was perfectly cooked and I freely admit that I picked it up with my fingers to better suck every last morsel off those tiny little bird bones. The Asian flavor profile was further picked up in the chillied collard greens the bird lay on and in the star anise boiled peanuts scattered about the plate.

You might assume that after consuming three small plates, I would be skipping dessert. You would be wrong. As I'm sure you've gathered by now, this isn't the kind of place that writes off dessert by placing orders to some commercial bakery. They take as much care with the final course as they do with all of the others. My current favorite, even in the heart of winter, is the buttered popcorn ice cream. It tastes exactly like caramel corn and not just because it sits on a pile of house made cracker jack. The popcorn flavor is steeped into the custard and is so good you will ignore all threats of brain freeze and dive right into it. Trust me, the pain is worth it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Afternoon at AltoRex

As I've mentioned before in this blog, I recently joined the Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance, which I was hoping would get me posting more regularly, but that has obviously not happened. What has happened, is that I now have even more exciting things to not write posts on =) Take for example the first AFBA meetup of 2011 at PACCI and Alto Rex. Their effervescent Executive Chef Keira Moritz was kind enough to host our little group to a fun cooking demo, tons of tasty food to sample, and even homemade marshmallows for us to roast and turn into s'mores afterwards.

Keira is one of my favorite chefs in Atlanta, as much for her genuinely kind personality, as for her delicious take on Italian cuisine. That her food is amazing should be no surprise, you aren't appointed executive chef at a major restaurant at age 28 unless you have some real skills. Although this Valdosta native swore she wouldn't come back to the south, I think Atlantans should be very happy that this talent returned to her southern roots.

The logistics of our meetup could have been a problem, because, of course, a hotel
kitchen is open at all hours. (Side note,Chef Keira and her capable team run all the catering for the meeting space at the hotel, so if you are planning a meeting, you can be sure you won't receive dry chicken and rice-out-of-a-box here.) Luckily there is a kitchen at the shuttered-for-the-season Alto Rex rooftop bar. Although the current kitchen is certified to serve cold food only, the hotel has plans to update the space and the offerings at this hot spot very soon.

On the menu for the day were a grilled romaine Caesar salad with Chef Keira's dressing made with coddled egg, which impressed me no end as I am tired of being told that your aren't at risk for salmonella if you know where your eggs come from. Salmonella is a bacteria that a large number of chickens harbor, causing them no ill effects whatsoever, but that is easily transmitted from the hen to the yolk where it can't be detected until you undercook it and get sick. You can keep one chicken in your own backyard and still have salmonella as it can be in their feed or they can even get infected from a single common fly. Rant over.

We also got to taste gnocchi with gorgonzola, walnuts, sage and brown butter, an Italian classic, always a tasty preparation. Chef Keira even made two batches as there is an AFBA member with a walnut allergy. As for me, I could happily have eaten dozens of those buttery little potato pillows.

Next came the crespelle, these were stuffed with a mixture of sauteed pears and ricotta. I personally thought that a little nutella would not have been amiss, but these were perfectly seasonal and appropriate topped with more brown butter and some micro basil. I actually didn't get a chance to taste these, or the s'mores that followed, because I managed to over-schedule myself, as usual. I had 4:00 reservations for afternoon tea at Watershed with my mom and grandmother, who was visiting from Minnesota, so I had to dash out before the end of the meetup, but I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had with Chef Keira and her team and all of my friends of the AFBA.

If you would like to try some of the delicious food at PACCI, including some of the same items we were fortunate enough to sample, Chef Keira has generously offered my readers the below coupon for a complimentary carpaccio or dessert with the purchase of an entree. Go taste for yourself and let me know what you think!