Friday, November 30, 2012

Taste of Atlanta '12


Just when I think that the people behind Taste of Atlanta can't possibly top the previous year's festival, they go and do it! This year I was privileged to attend The Big Grill kick-off party for the first time, and what a blast that was! They are not kidding about the Grill theme, the picture above was just a small sample of all the different kinds of grills being used by some of Atlanta's top chefs to create smokey treats for us to sample.


Smoked Cod Sliders from the Optimist


Banana Pudding Bites from JCT Kitchen/No 246/the Optimist


Yacht Rock Schooner were blasting out great music all night long, keeping us entertained as we ate and drank our way through all that delicious food!


Grilled Banana Split from Davio's made with High Road Craft ice cream, this was one of my favorites!


The next morning, I ignored all of the previous night's overindulgences, and headed back down to the festival bright and early. They had a lot of different activities going on this year, so I created a list in advance of which panel/demo/activity I wanted to be doing at any given time. I had to check out the Kids Great American Bake Off winners in the Dixie Crystals Family Food Zone. Makenna Stalvey and Autumn Gruber were so cute as they showed the audience how to make their Colorful Wisdom Cake.


Next I headed down to check out the food trucks. Mac the Cheese seemed to be very popular with a line snaking half way down the block!


Honey-Pasilla Chile Smoked Salmon Chip from Inc. Street Food


I loved how so many of the restaurants really went all out with their decorations, Milton's Cuisine & Cocktails rustic front porch facade was so impressive!


Chef Brian Horn manned the pommes frites station for JCT Kitchen, if you've never tasted their fries, you really need to. They are my favorite in the city and for the festival, they serve them Belgian style with plenty of different dipping sauces to choose from.


Thai salmon wrapped in rice paper with citrus ponzu from SOHO American Bistro inside the VIP area


Manchego and quince paste skewers from Barcelona, their gazpacho blanca in the background was also delicious!


I absolutely loved these little Ahi poke tacos from Del Frisco's Grille - I try not to eat more than one of any thing to let others try them, but I may have broken my rule and had two of these.


One of the more entertaining booths this year was the Honest Tea Honest Compliments stand. I will admit that I was willing to wait in line to hear someone say something nice about me and I was not the only one. I was impressed by the range of honest compliments offered, they didn't just give one or two, they found something different to compliment about everyone ahead of me in line. In case you were wondering, I apparently have a very nice smile.



Another new addition to the festival this year was the Kitchen Workshop, limited to VIP ticket holders, this is such a fun way to learn the secrets of some of Atlanta's most talented chefs! Plus, we had the very best equipment to work with, Cook's Warehouse, who were a sponsor, gave us all Shun knives to use. As those are my favorite knives, I was tempted to take one home with me, but I resisted the urge.


I took Chef Adam Evans of the Optimist's class on shrimp and had a great time!


These were our beautiful fresh shrimp, provided by Whole Foods.


After I de-veined them, I just cooked them until barely done, they were perfect!


Chef Adam making the sauce we would use to drizzle on our plate



High Road Craft provided another of my favorite bites at the festival


Their chocolate bread pudding a la mode with home made fudge sauce was the height of indulgence!


These mini sticky toffee puddings from the Atlanta Grill were another excellent sweet treat! 

I can't wait to see what fun new things Taste of Atlanta will come up with next year!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ammazza


Lately I've been staying closer to home, I'm trying to cut back on my gas usage - 11 mpg gets pretty expensive, but I have made a few exceptions. Even though the newly opened Ammazza in the Old Fourth Ward is approximately $12.88 away, I've been twice and am thinking I need to go back for another visit.


When you first walk in, you can place your order at one of the two registers at the front, or you can head to the bar at the back to order. You can sit at the long communal table or at one of the regular tables or booths, but don't forget to get your plates, silverware, napkins and water before you sit down - those can be found at stations around the dining room.



The gorgeous Antipasto Classico with Spotted Trotter meats, housemade mozzarella and other cheeses, roasted onion focaccia, roasted peppers and olives tasted as good as it looked. If you aren't in a pizza mood, not something that has ever happened to me, you can grab a seat at the bar, order one of their cocktails and this and be very happy.


The Terra pizza is a white pizza with mushrooms, more of the housemade mozzarella, goat cheese, basil and truffle oil. I know that truffle oil isn't "cool" right now, but I like it and felt like it really worked here. As you can probably see, the crust is a thicker style than most of the other pizza places are doing, but it had good flavor and nice char, so it's ok in my book. I liked the Pizza Fritta even more, it was stuffed with tons of meatballs, sausage and pepperoni and the sauce was on the outside. The texture of the dough was fantastic and surprisingly not at all greasy.


We had a hard time choosing a dessert, so we tried a few things. The Torta Caprese is a very dense flour less chocolate almond cake. The Pasta Fritta Con Connella were perfectly fried yeast dough balls rolled in cinnamon sugar, these were right up my alley. The Cannoli was also delicious with a shell that they fry in house daily, a nice light ricotta filing with citrus peel and sometimes chocolate chips.


While Italian Acunto ovens seem to be a fixture around town, the Connerty brothers went in the opposite direction, bringing their wood-fired ovens in from California. They have extended their out-of-the-box thinking to other facets of the restaurant, including the carry-out pizza boxes. Made out of sugar cane fiber with dimpled bottoms, they are more absorbent than regular cardboard and keep the crust from becoming soggy. It's this attention to detail, combined with their commitment to sourcing the best local ingredients, that really make this a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

Ammazza
591-A Edgewood Ave SE
Atlanta, GA
30307
404-228-1036



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Split Creek Farm


One of my favorite day trips from my parents' cabin in the woods of North Georgia is Split Creek Farm in Anderson, SC. We have been going there to stock up on their wonderful goat cheese for more years than I can remember, after we discovered their delicious cheese at Connemara, Carl Sandburg's home. Evin Evans and Patricia Bell have been running the goat dairy since 1985 and have been turning out award winning cheese, their goat cheese won the Gold Medal at the 2010 World Cheese Championship, since 1988.


You can go visit the herd of mostly Nubians and pick up some goat cheese at the shop, Monday - Saturday 9:00AM-6:00PM and Sundays 2:00PM-5:00PM. While you are there you may encounter a few of the farm's turkeys enjoying a stroll down the lane, with their heads together, deep in conversation.


The Great Pyrenees assigned to guard duty do an excellent job of protecting their charges from predators, this big guy never too his eyes off me while I was within 30 feet of the fence. Unfortunately, the predators these days are more often the two legged kind.


I love watching the goats playing their games, like the rambunctious hircine version of king of the mountain seen above. On my last visit, there was even a heavily pregnant doe with hiccups, I wished I'd brought my video camera as it was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen.


Of course the very best time to visit is in the spring when they are kidding, and no, I don't mean joking. I'm talking about when there are dozens of the most adorable baby goats running around that you have ever seen, inquisitive, playful, sweet, you will want to take them all home with you.


Evin and Patricia know that the best goat cheese comes from the purest, freshest milk, so they milk twice a day and refuse to give their does hormones to encourage higher milk production, which clearly isn't needed, as their does routinely win in the national show ring, as well as for milk production. They also keep their pastures natural, with no pesticides or herbicides ever applied.


If you would like a tour of the farm, you can call 864-287-3921. The farm is located at 3806 Centerville Rd, Anderson, SC, 29625. You can also e-mail them for more information.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Taste of Atlanta



I'll admit, when Taste of Atlanta moved downtown, I was not a happy camper. Way back when, it was a tiny foodie event that no one had heard of, set up under tents in the side parking lot at Lenox Square. It was my favorite event in the city. They had fantastic chef demos lined up back-to-back and I would show up early for a front row seat and just stay there for hours and learn everything I could. But, the word spread, and the crowds came, and they outgrew the space. I can't begrudge them their growth, after all, it means fewer people will go hungry as they support both Share Our Strength and the Atlanta Community Food Bank, among other fantastic causes, so it's all for the good, but I missed the way it used to be. Until last year.

Crab Salad @ Jct Kitchen & Bar
Crab and herb salad, buttery golden crab melt and crab bisque - The Optimist

Last year, SparkQuest and Taste of Atlanta partnered for a fun promotion where every time you dined at one of the restaurants participating in the festival, you unlocked a chance to win fun festival prizes. I was hoping to win the Big Green Egg, as I am a huge fan of the Ultimate Cooking Experience, but was still thrilled to win a pair of VIP passes and an overnight at the GA Tech Hotel and Conference Center, located right in the heart of the event. It was so nice to have the room to go back to when I needed a little break from the heat and noise, plus having a sparkling clean restroom was worth it's weight in gold. Trust me on this, you need to book a room for yourself, you will be glad you did.

Crab Soup @ The Family Dog
Cajun spiced crab soup over house-made sausage "risotto" - The Family Dog

I also really enjoyed having the VIP tickets, as they had fun VIP only seminars going on through out the festival. I registered for the Champagne: The Lowdown on Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir and Wines NOT Found in Any Rap Song seminar, taught by Don Hackett of Cook's Warehouse & Sherlock's Wine Merchant. Not only did we get to taste lots of lovely bubbly, while learning a ton about my favorite sparkling beverage, we also got to see champagne being sabred, and in my case, since I was sitting near the front and was waving my hand wildly in the air like a goofy five year old, I got to actually do it myself! Admittedly not completely alone, as he held my hand like the woman in the video above, but who else can say they have sabred champagne?

Wood fired Pizza @ Fritti
Pizza Margarita - Fritti

I was also one of the luckiest girls in Atlanta because I was one of the Celebrity Judges at an Iron Chef style face-off between one of my favorite people, Ford Fry, of JCT Kitchen, No 246 and the Optimist and Ron Eyester of Rosebud and the Family Dog. The Battle Crab winner was Ford, whose lovely herb salad studded with lumps of sweet crab meat still makes my mouth water just thinking about it nearly a year later. You can read how I feel about his  mind-blowingly good crab bisque here. I hope they'll invite me back to judge again this year as it is one of the high points of the festival for me.

Grilled Artichokes @ Brick Tops
Garlic butter basted grilled artichoke with remoulade - BrickTops

Even if you don't get to be a judge like I did (hopefully will again?), there are plenty of delicious bites at Taste of Atlanta. Sotto Sotto and Fritti were out there dishing up their tasty pastas and even brought a wood-fired oven to bake their pizzas on the spot. The grilled artichokes from BrickTops are one of my perpetual favorites, all charred garlic-buttery goodness. Another stand out were the steamed duck buns from Miso Izakaya that had me fondly remembering all of the ducks I ate in Beijing. You can join me this year on October 5, 6, and 7 with advance tickets sold here or you can go all out and include the Friday night block party the Big Grill: Grills Gone Wild  with tickets here. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hard Cider Float

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While I was grocery shopping at Whole Foods today, they were sampling hard cider floats made with my favorite hard cider, Crispin's honey crisp, with High Road Craft vanilla fleur de sel ice cream, although I used their Bourbon Brown Sugar ice cream. It was such a fabulous combination, I knew I had to recreate it at home. Of course, I couldn't just stop at cider and ice cream, I had to jazz it up a bit of caramel kettle corn I picked up in North Carolina yesterday. I have to say it was the perfect summer dessert!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Optimist Atlanta



When I first heard rumors that one of my favorite chefs, Ford Fry, was opening a seafood restaurant, I was pretty excited. It's no secret that I think Ford is one of the most talented people in the city, so I was fairly confident I would like the place, but the reality of it just blew me away. The Smith Hanes designed space makes you feel as if you've somehow found yourself on the Carolina coast, without the tedious drive. The vintage painted brick walls, the vaulted wood ceiling and the blue and white ticking on the bar stools are almost as welcoming as the hostess, Ayesha, who will greet you with a big smile and make you feel right at home. 



You enter through the oyster bar, a great place to pull up a stool and suck down a few bivalves, or, if that isn't your thing, they've also got a separate small plate menu that might tempt your palate.  


One of the things I most appreciate about the space is wandering around and looking at the whimsical touches, like the racks holding Optimist key chains with keys that don't open any door or the framed picture of a towheaded tot admiring his first catch in one of the loos.


The open kitchen allows you to see the carefully orchestrated choreography taking place within, as the team work together to put out plate after plate of amazing food. I would recommend requesting one of the tables opposite so you can enjoy the show.


As with all of Ford's restaurants, you can expect to find some of Atlanta's most talented mixologists slinging drinks behind the bar. The drink above is the Mother of Pearl, my current favorite libation, composed of Death's Door gin, Fever Tree tonic water, Fee Brothers celery bitters, with a celery salt/black pepper crusted rim and celery leaf, fennel frond garnish. This is the perfect thing to sip on as you wait for sundown to bring relief from the stifling southern heat. 


These beauties are the opti yeast rolls with cane syrup butter and sea salt. They are quite possibly the best rolls I've ever eaten. Order them. Even if you are just getting drinks at the bar. You want these rolls.


Frothy she-crab soup with shrimp toast, this may cause your heart to stop beating after the first sip, but it is worth it. Don't be a hero, order the small, unless you are in the habit of drinking a quart of cream on a daily basis. At the risk of sounding repetitive, this is the best she-crab soup I've ever eaten, rich and intense with crab flavor, without that washed up on the seashore funk that some variations have. The shrimp toast is crispy and shrimpy and will have you staring at your fingers in disbelief as you gobble the whole thing down in seconds.


Whole Georgia white shrimp a la plancha, "sopping toast", arbol chile, lime. As my dining companion and I agreed, this sauce is good enough to bathe in, you could serve cardboard-breaded flip flops in this and they would taste delicious, much less the beautifully fresh, wood grilled Georgia shrimp. Your server may try to take the pan away before you have mopped up every last delicious drop, a quick growl under your breath and he will drop it. Not that I know from experience or anything.


The even more incredible crab version of the above dish, this is a special, but if you ever see it on the menu, get it. You can thank me later. Wood grilled crab, that insanely good sauce, an intensely fresh herb salad of Thai basil, this will make your mouth feel happy. 

Executive Chef Adam Evans has a real talent for creating flavors and textures that you will remember for a long time after the plate has been cleared. One such meal is the white bread crusted flounder with tomatoes and picked herbs. The perfectly cooked fish is topped with a thin slice of super crisp, golden brown, buttery bread, that almost seems to function as if it were the fish's own skin. Set on top of heirloom tomatoes bursting with flavor and more of those fresh herbs, it's the kind of dish that makes you want to come back and order it again soon. If you go, be sure to come back here afterwards and let me know which dish you just can't stop thinking about.


The Optimist
914 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA
30318
Tel: 404 477 6260
Fax: 678 705 6156
info@theoptimistrestaurant.com






Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Attack is Back!

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It's that time again!! It's time for the Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival!!

Even though it seems as though there are new food festivals popping up in Atlanta all the time, the one that has been my #1 pick since it began three years ago, is the Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival. Created as a fundraiser for Georgia Organics, this great event pairs some of the South's top chefs and mixologists with local farmers to celebrate the fruit, that, in my humble opinion, most epitomizes summer, the tomato.


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Hosted by one of my favorite chefs, Ford Fry, in and around his West Midtown restaurant JCT Kitchen, this year's event will take place this Sunday, July 22, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can expect to rock out to the musical stylings of the Spazmatics and local chef band, 5 Bone Rack, as you sip and nibble your way through tomato utopia.    

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One of the best bites from last year was the "The Love Apple" created by Chef Christopher Neff from Sprig, a perfect cherry tomato stuffed with summer tomato salad and red snapper ceviche. It was bright and fun and tasted like summer at the beach. I had to slap my own hand to keep from popping about 15 of them in my mouth.

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My top pick for drinks, The Pineapple Express, was created by one of the most talented mixologists in the city, Brian Stanger. The gorgeous tomatoes that he was given to work with were as tasty as they were beautiful. I'm lucky he let me try a slice, it had such a fantastic flavor. I wish I had been smart enough to save some seeds from it for my garden!

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The above photos are just a few from last year's event. If you want to view the whole photo set, please feel free to do so here.

Most of the chefs are set up outside, and this is July in Atlanta, so dress accordingly and don't forget the sunscreen! For more information, check out the website. If you want to join me there, you can buy your ticket here. This year's line up has chefs coming in from as far away as Washington, DC, so you will not want to miss it!   

Participating chefs include:

Jay Swift of 4th & Swift
David Larkworthy of 5 Seasons Brewing Company
Tyler Williams of Abattoir
Gerry Klaskala of Aria
Andy Carson and Carla Tomasko of Bacchanalia *Won “Best Tasting Dish” in 2011
Shaun Doty of Bantam & Biddy
Todd Ginsberg of Bocado
Carvel Grant Gould of Canoe
Tandy Wilson of City House (in Nashville, TN)
Ryan Smith of Empire State South
Whitney Otawka of Farm 255
Terry Koval of Farm Burger
Harper McClure of The Federalist (in Washington D.C.)
Cooper Miller of The Feed Store
Christopher Schmidt of Floataway Café 
Ford Fry of JCT. Kitchen & Bar
Brent Banda of La Tavola Trattoria
Eric Ottensmeyer of Leon’s Full Service
Zeb Stevenson of Livingston Restaurant + Bar
Chris Hall of Local Three
Steven Satterfield of Miller Union
Donald Sargent of Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream *Won a “Special Mention” in 2011
Drew Belline of No. 246
Adam Evans of The Optimist and Oyster Bar at The Optimist
Andrew Smith of Ormsby’s
Nick Rutherford and Molly Gunn of The Porter
Hector Santiago of Pura Vida *Won “Best Presentation” in 2011
Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak and Krog Bar
Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House *Won “Best Booth” in 2011
Ron Eyester of Rosebud and The Family Dog
Scott Serpas of Serpas True Food
Drew Van Leuvan of Seven Lamps
Jessica Hanners of Souper Jenny
Christopher Neff of Sprig
Eddie Hernandez of Taqueria del Sol *Won “People’s Choice for Best Tasting Dish” in 2011
Chris Marconi of West Egg Café
E.J. Hodgkinson of Woodfire Grill


Participating mixologists include:
Kevin Bragg of 4th& Swift
Ryan McLaughlin of Abattoir
Clay Webb of Bacchanalia
Kellie Thorn of Empire State South
Jarina Naone of Floataway Café
Jerry Slater and Callie Schlosser of H. Harper Station
Andy Minchow of Holeman & Finch Public House   
Lara Creasy of JCT. Kitchen & Bar, No. 246 and The Optimist
                        Miles Macquarrie of Leon’s Full Service *Won “Best Tasting Cocktail” in 2011
                        Stuart White of Miller Union
                        Paul Calvert of Pura Vida *Won “People’s Choice for Best Tasting Cocktail” in 2011
                        Brian Stanger of Woodfire Grill