Thirty restaurants in 30 days.
That was the goal when I set out on a quickfire, impressionistic tour of Atlanta restaurants for reports on our blog, Food and More with John Kessler.
Today marks my final entry. Yay! Before I head out for my liposuction appointment, I’d like to tell you about nine great bites that really stood out.
New guilty pleasure: cheddar bay biscuits at Red Lobster
Yes, they taste like dried spices, salt, butter flavoring and Bisquick. They also offer that crunch-puff sensation that makes a certain kind of biscuit craveworthy, here punctuated with pinpricks of cheese. And salt. And buttery badness.
I know these biscuits have been an object of chain-restaurant adoration for many years, and now I know why. The red lobster itself — a 1 1/4-pound specimen thoroughly cleaned of its guts and served with drawn butter and a bib — ain’t too shabby, either. I can’t say I had much use for the rest of the food I tried, but I’m glad to join the biscuit camp.
Multiple locations: redlobster.com.
Flavor alchemy in action: pork/kimchi stew with tofu at Yet Tuh
Chefs (and food writers) talk all the time about how ingredients balance and change each other. Here is the effect in action, and it’s a revelation. Fatty slips of pork have a photo-filter mellowing effect on the sharp, salty tang of fermented cabbage, transforming it into a new flavor. It’s like a perfectly made salade frisée aux lardons (curly endive salad with warm bacon vinaigrette) — every drop of fat goes to good use. The warmed tofu tiles around the plate soothe and ground the dish; you need them to keep it from going beyond the porky pale.
3042 Oakcliff Road, Doraville. 770-454-9292.
Best entree for texture freaks: the bandeja paisa at Kiosco Colombian Restaurant
Nobody (except perhaps a vegan) would have any complaints about bandeja paisa, Colombia’s national dish, which seems to distill every sensual pleasure we get from eating meat. A peppery minute steak needs a little chewing and rewards you with fatty juices. Two plump chorizo sausages snap and burst. Chicharrones of crisp-fried pork belly line up along their rind like a row of teeth; you pick them off, one by one. Rounding out the plate are a cornmeal arepa, a quarter avocado and a fried egg with rice and beans. Go hungry.
48 Powder Springs St., Marietta. 678-337-7999, kioscocolombianrestaurant.com.
Best $99 spent: the beef combination platter at 678
While you can order a la carte from a long list of both beef and pork options at this Korean table-grill restaurant, I’d go ahead and get the beef combination platter — ostensibly portioned to serve three to four diners, but in practice enough for our family of five. The meal includes not only the wraps, sauces, dips and kimchi you expect from a Korean meal, but also soup, rice and a big bowl of noodle soup to finish. So, 20 bucks a head. Not bad!
Start with chadobalgi — curls of beef brisket. You grill them without unrolling them so that you end up with something like a meat Pirouette cookie. Other items from the platter (which a waiter will cook one after the other) include kkot deung sim (ribeye steak), saeng deung sim (sirloin), kalbi (marinated short rib) and joo mul luk (seasoned top sirloin).
Wrappers for the grilled meat here include bitter lettuces, perilla leaf and wedges of boiled cabbage instead of the blander red leaf lettuce you get elsewhere. There are also some rounds of pickled radish, which have a pink tinge from their marinade. I also like the option of fine sea salt as a dip. A little nugget of meat right off the grill, a few granules of salt, a swig of beer: That’s a nice thing to do to your mouth.
3880 Satellite Blvd., Duluth. 678-549-1246.
Coolest new dessert I haven’t seen a million times: the cane syrup pudding with braised figs at the Butcher the Baker
Katie Pfister — the baker of the restaurant’s name (her husband, Micah, is the butcher) — has written a dessert menu that avoids cliches and popular ideas and instead shows an offbeat personality. I liked her warm, domed peach brown butter tartelette served in a crumbly sugar crust. I loved the cane syrup pudding, sweet and simple, topped with braised figs and whipped cream to pull out the subtle dance of honey, caramel and vanilla flavors. I look forward to trying her sungold tomato tarte tatin with pickled blackberry puree and corn ice cream. I bet she pulls it off.
23 N. Park Square, Marietta. 678-224-1599, eatlocaleatbetter.com.
Hands-down best way to end a meal: ice milk at Floataway Cafe
While it would be nice to say, “I can’t eat a big dessert,” the truth is I can easily scarf one down. Two, in fact. I like sweets.
But as much as I love that salted caramel chocolate cake served with whipped cream and English custard sauce, I’ll feel a little queasy if it caps an already rich meal. And let’s face it: What restaurant meal isn’t rich?
That’s why I relish the vanilla ice milk at this restaurant, which comes in three cups with three different toppings. I feel like those women in yogurt commercials who lick their spoons, roll their eyes and look fetching in their sweater sets as they enjoy their nonfat treats. There’s a little fat in the Floataway ice milk, particularly the one drizzled with green olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. But there’s a careful hand at work here. You notice and relish the bits of cocoa nib and dried lemon zest over one scoop, the welcome crunch of granola over another. This is the only dessert I know that both soothes and indulges.
1123 Zonolite Road, Atlanta. 404-892-1414, starprovisions.com.
Perfect cheap lunch: the Mixed Maza Platter at Cafe Agora
This combination plate of every salad in the house may be intended as a shareable appetizer, but I’m telling you to skip the (great looking) kebabs and gyros, and feast. Standouts include piyaz (a bean salad that tastes like a far superior version of those pickled three-bean salads that used to be a salad bar staple), haydari (the Turkish answer to Greek taztziki, with walnut and dill mixed into thick yogurt), havuc ezme (a roasted carrot spread with yogurt, dill and lemon) and ezme (char-broiled eggplant supplying the meaty flavor that makes all these veggies seem so substantial).
With the bill comes a tiny bird’s nest pastry and a three-bite portion of rice pudding. With this gesture, you will experience a strong desire to hug everyone who works at the restaurant.
262 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. 404-949-0900, cafeagora.com.
Favorite new sandwich: chicken shawarma at Samad Mediterranean Grill & Market
This Sandy Springs restaurant and market is a hulking space in the corner of a tired shopping strip. It has old tile floors, a few groceries on the shelves and a dry-erase board for a menu. But what it lacks in ambience, it makes up for in heart. If you like Middle Eastern food, you’ll want to put it on your short list. Well-spiced kofte kabobs, garlickly ful (bean and chickpea salad) and crisp, fluffy, green-hearted falafel are standouts.
The simple chicken shawarma has what I always look for — those contrasts of flame-crisped meat, crisp vegetables and saucy squish in the tight embrace of a warm pita. Make sure to ask for the house hot sauce and garlic sauce. You’ll have garlic breath for the day and think, “Totally worth it.”
8897 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 770-807-3700, samadgrill.com.
Best bite of the whole exercise: Chicken wings from Nam Phuong
On a recent visit to this favorite pho stop I noticed the menu had started to feature a list of “Vietnamese street food” appetizers, including canh ga chien nuoc mam, chicken wings glazed in fish sauce. The food gods must have been looking out for me when this caught my eye.
More of a full meal than an appetizer, this huge portion of wings is flavored to the bone with the salty-sweet marinade, crispy, tossed in a sticky and tangy sauce with cooked scallions and red chiles, then showered with crunchy fried shallots. A salad of cukes, tomatoes and lettuce comes on the side, along with a scoop of rice.
I’m obsessed. These are my new favorite wings. I think my pho consumption is about to go way down.
4051 Buford Highway, Atlanta. 404-633-2400, namphuongatlanta.com.