The Unofficial Atlanta Food Critic

The truth from someone who pays for their meals not someone who gets fawned on regularly because they work for a magazine.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Taco's and Coooffee Talk

My friend and I went to Taqueria Del Sol in Decatur to have dinner. It was a good night for me because they were finally serving my favorite taco – “The Bob” (Fried shrimp with crayfish mayonnaise, lettuce and pickled jalapenos in a flour tortilla). I had been checking their website for weeks waiting for them to serve it again. After practically inhaling both my “Bobs”, my friend and I started discussing all the places in Decatur that didn’t make sense. You know, those stores that are in prime Decatur locations but no one seems to ever go in there and you wonder how they stay open. Our conversation eventually took us to coffee places. Now coffee is a weakness for both of us. Typically, what happens is we discuss our favorite coffee places and always have to disagree with at least one of each other's places. But, tonight we both agreed on one thing:


That is really one of my pet peeves about some coffee houses that either you have to pay for it or it’s unavailable. Plus, coffee and laptops go together! Over half the people you see in a coffee house HAS a laptop and is working on it. People go to coffee places all the time to work, relax and work, drink coffee and work. So, why is this a difficult thing? Do the coffee shops worry about how much it costs to install free WI-FI? I mean, they make 300% profit on that cup of grande’ coffee they sell you. Even McDonalds has free wi-fi!
I mean, really, come on people, get with the program here!!

One day I found myself in Java Monkey getting a cup of joe. Looking around you ALWAYS see people with laptops in this place. I happened to ask the Barista if they had wi-fi and she spouted off “No! If we had free wi-fi people would just hang out all day and only get one cup of coffee and we’d never get rid of them! More people should read books in here NOT tap on their laptops! It’s so annoying!” Ok. This was the very last time I was ever going to this place. Not only very weak coffee out of a “carafe” but also a bitchy barista – nothing worse that that!

My friend and I both agree that our favorite coffee places (despite no free wi-fi!) are the Starbucks in Virginia Highlands (for her) and the Starbucks in downtown Decatur (for me). Both places the barista’s are great! They greet you when you walk in the door and they are always “on the ball” in service. Even when you find yourself behind some woman who is ordering some concoction that has 10 different words that go with the drink and picking out “the perfect” bun in the window “No, the one in the middle, no, not that one, nope, THAT ONE!” Fortunately, the servers can see your exasperation a mile away and say, “Can I get a drink started for you?” and have that drink in your hand that you are sipping long before the woman in front of you finishes digging out that last penny from the change purse (and forget the tip on this one). You go up to pay and that’s when you put $2 in the tip jar because it was worth you not having to strangle that woman. Does everyone know where I am coming from now? And, you know your coffee is fresh brewed and is HOT. And, don’t give me that “corporate coffee” or “their beans are addictive” b.s. I do not let politics interfere with my coffee and me and as far as addiction goes – there are worse things to be addicted to thankyouverymuch!

Monday, June 19, 2006

THE grape
Atlantic Station
264 19th Street
Atlanta, GA 30363

(404) 815-0090

While shopping at Atlantic Station a few weekends ago we decided to pop in to this place and check it out.

First of all, the atmosphere was great! Low lighting, comfortable chairs. Our hostess seated us away from the other patrons of the restaurant which is something I really appreciate when being seated.

Next, we were give a menu of wines. This could be a little intimidating and overwhelming at first if one doesn't know anything about wine. However, the waitstaff anticipates this and is very helpful in choosing wines. I can't speak for the other waitstaff, but our waiter had tried quite a few wines on the menu and was able to direct us to a selection.

All the wines on the menu went from $3/glass to $9/glass. What is a really good deal is to choose three wines tastings at a "tasting" price. We decided to do just that and both tasted an array of Pino's and Shirah's. Once the wines were brought out the waiter set them down on a sheet of paper he printed out that listed the wines chosen. The tastings were a generous pour and all together it came to be about a glass and 1/2 of wine.

We then ordered a few appetizer off the menu - the smoked salmon is to die for if you like that sort of thing. The crab cakes were also a delight and a generous serving.

The bill came to mid $60 range which, like, Krog bar I think a little high but I felt the portions were a lot more generous in this place. I would definitely go back! We need one of these in Decatur!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Krog Bar
112 Krog Street
Atlanta, GA 30307

This little bar is located in the parking lot of Rathbun's and is a sister to that restaurant. With the small number of seating both inside and out the cypress paneled and glass bar has a very relaxing atmosphere when it is not crowded. The patio can fill up fast - especially, if people are waiting for tables at Rathbun's.

There are many Italian and Spanish wines to choose from by the glass which is the appeal of the bar. My girlfriend ordered the Boroli, Anna, Nebbiolo Blend from Piedmont, Italy that was noted as a "Jammy Soft Cab Sauv". I ordered the Trullari, Primitivo from Salento, Italy - noted as a "Chocolaty Zin". Both wines were excellent!

For food there is Antipasti, Crudi (Raw Plates), Carni (Meat Plates), Formaggi (Cheeses), Tramezzini (Finger Sandwiches), Dolci (Sweets) and Gelati(Ice Creams).

My girlfriend and I decided on the Serrano Ham (Redondo Igleias) and the Manchego Reserve cheese. The server also brought a plate of bread. Everything was good but I can see where one could run up quite a bill in this place on a few small plates of food and glasses of wine - even before their party is called for the table at Rathbun's. The plates of food are very small. On the menu the cheeses have a list of "Accompaniments" at the bottom and this is a little misleading as it seems like you would get a number of these with your cheese. Wrong - it really depends on the type of cheese you order. Since we got the Manchego, ours (one piece of cheese) came with a (very) small apricot compote. For a whopping $7 I felt this was a little on the sparse side. Thank goodness for the bread!

All in all, the atmophere, service, food and wine were excellent but my advice is don't go there hungry. Plan on a glass of wine and one appetizer and get out - before your wallet is empty and you have to put the big Rathbun's dinner on the credit card.

Monday, May 22, 2006

From the other side of the counter.....

Saturday I had to drop off my car to get an oil change. While I was waiting for the car I decided to stop in a popular place for brunch in downtown Decatur. Since it was a Saturday it wasn't too crowded and I was able to sit right down at the bar and order coffee and breakfast. I had brought with me a very good book and was trying to "look" absorbed in it while listening to conversations going on around me. One of these conversations centered on the waitress that was working the bar area and a male customer that had just sat down. Since I was acting REALLY ABSORBED in my book (and mentally sending out messages of "Please don't talk to me") the customer struck up a conversation with the waitress. (Maybe he makes rounds of restaurants with bars so he can try to get dates that way, I don't know) Anyway, I tuned the conversation out until the point of " say you work 80 hours a week but only get paid for 40?" -this from the man at the counter to the waitress. Me tuning in because I don't think I worked 80 hours a week since my internship. Waitress "Yes, he only pays me for 40 hours but I work 80 just for the tips because that's the only way I can justify it" The man "Well, I think you have a lawsuit on your hands and I think you should quit. You can get a job anywhere paying more than that."

These are the things I am thinking at this point:

A. How does this man know that she has a lawsuit on her hands unless he's a lawyer and is getting ready to slap his business card down on the counter and B. the waitress already said it was a voluntary thing so if she wants to work it then it's her business and C. Who is this man to tell her what she should do and how would he know she can get a job anywhere else that pays more?

Waitress "Well, I don't want to make a big deal about it and get fired - I need this job and the money and the tips are good"
Man "The tips can't be that good..."
Me thinking "Well, if you think so then why don't you hire her and pay her if you're so sure about it, Mr. Know-it-all"

The man just won't let it go - if he's trying to be the knight in shining armor and/or score a date he's out of luck because the waitress looks visibly agitated and has moved to the other side of the counter to serve and get away from this guy. Me - I am sad as I needed a refill on my coffee and this man is inhibiting that.

As I'm sitting there staring at the same line in my book I am wondering if this might all be a ploy from the waitress to get more in tips and if this man will fall for it. Now I am really interested to see if it will work and if so I applaud the waitress - she should get a good tip for having to put up with this guy and if the guy was really sincere in his concern for the waitress he would at least tip a reasonable amount or even more than average. (

When the waitress does appear on our side of the counter it's time for both the man and I to pay up. I notice much to my amusement that the man gets his check first (she did offer us both a refill on coffee and I took one and much to my relief the man passed on his). This would give me a chance to see if her story worked. I went ahead and asked for my check as well.

Ok - my check was in the amount of $11.00 and I left a $5.00 tip. The man left two dollars on the counter for his tip and I know that his check was in the same ballpark as mine as we both had breakfast and coffee. So, either A. the story didn't work B. the man wasn't really concerned either way C. He was just cheap or D. all of the above. Just goes to show you how insincere people really are.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Apres Diem
931 Monroe Dr NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 872-3333

<----yes, that is a pear!!

Located in the Midtown Art plaza this restaurant replaced the former "Cafe' Diem" located on Highland Avenue. Although I have never been to France this restaurant is meant to mimic a french cafe' with seating inside and out. I have been to this restaurant many times and sampled both brunch and dinner and never had a bad meal. This is one of those places that is a constant in good food, coffee drinks and desert. If you have a guest in from out of town and are struggling for somewhere to take them - this is the place! Yesterday, my friend and I went there for Mother's Day brunch. Neither one of us could remember that it was Mother's day and kept looking around wondering what all the fuss was about. So, on this day the bistro was slammed! Despite the crowd, the wait staff managed to accomodate.

We both ordered vegetable omelets with sauteed portobello mushrooms, asparagus, roasted red pepper, avocado, provolone cheese with a sprig of basil and an orchid on top. Accompanying the omelets were roasted potatoes with a sprinkling of parmesan with more roasted red peppers and a side salad of arugula, blue cheese and that WONDERFUL sliced pear! This meal rocked both in taste and presentation (even without finding any avocado)! My friend and I both felt like we could have been mother's being taken out!

Bamboo Garden
1707 Church St.
Decatur, GA

Don't let the outside of this restaurant dictate what's insided! This restaurant located in the [very grungy] Scott Center Shopping Village is not just your typical chinese restaurant.
Evolved from both Calcutta and Bombay you could call this chinese with a kick (maybe more like a sucker punch) of Indian spices.

For an appetizer we ordered the Spicy Nutty Crunch - having no idea what that really was as the menu didn't get in to the specifics on this particular dish. What it turned out to be was fried bean sprouts, cashews with [of course] tiny, tiny green peppers that blew our socks off.

(Little did we know that these peppers would start appearing in everything else we ordered)
For entree's we had Szechaun beef and Goo Loo Chicken. Both dishes were excellent as well as spicy. The beef had not only the small green peppers but also red peppers as well. The chicken was similar to General Tao's chicken - fried crispy with a tangy/spicy sauce and peppers.

We ordered a bottle of wine that was unmemorable to me as I drank 3 glasses of water in one sitting. I recommend bringing kleenex and wearing a short sleeved shirt as my girlfriend and I were both sweating and my nose was running. I asked her if it would be bad if I blew my nose on my cloth napkin and she said "Yes, probably" The wait staff (which were very attentive) came over and asked us if everything was ok and if it was spicy enough and we both croaked "It's great!"

So, if you like spicy food - this is the place to go! Spicy - go big or go home!!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Brick Store Pub
125 East Court Square
Decatur, GA 30030-2521

Everyone has one of those nights when they're feeling like putting on the ratty Abercrombie shirt (maybe that's just me?), throwing on a pair of favorite jeans, a pair of flip-flops and going out to dinner! YEAH! Nothing fancy - just good drinking and pub food!

One of my favorites for this type of mood is the The Brick Store Pub. This is a great pub tucked in to the old storefronts that face the square of Decatur. With the exposed brick walls that hold an array of work from local artists as well as the the large selection of beers this is the place to go to relax after a long day. And, if you want to escape the din of downstairs check out the cozy atmosphere of the Belgium bar upstairs. This section of the bar is known for their high gravity beers. The drink menu for this bar is quite extensive and one could sample beers the rest of their life and still never hit everything on the menu. Just remember - the Belgium bar is upstairs so too many of those lovely brews could send one into a nosedive down the stairs! (taking a cab is also recommended) On to the food....

Ok, people - we are in a pub so there will be PUB FOOD on the menu. So, don't expect to find filet mignon or seafood manicotti. We're talking burgers, ale fingers (which ROCK, btw) as well as a Brunswick stew that is the best this side of the Mississippi. (as a side note the pub has recently stopped serving their turkey burger much to my girlfriend's chagrin but they assured her that they will be trying to get it back soon) For lighter fare the pub offers 4 different salads that are also quite good. I recommend the basil vinaigrette dressing.

All in all - as far as pubs/pub food goes - as
Men on Film, In Living Color would say "I give it two snaps up and a twist!"

Monday, May 08, 2006

Would you like some caso with that fly?

Ok, I am a BIG fan of mexican food! Give me any ol' burrito, slap some beans in it and a few pieces of chicken and I am golden! It really doesn't take much in the mexican restaurant arena to please me. So, when I went to this mexican restaurant in East Atlanta you know it must have been bad for me to leave without only sampling the margaritas, chips, salsa and caso.

First of all, we had a large party of about 10 people. The first person in our party managed to save an array of tables pushed together on the patio for all of us once we arrived. In the meantime taking flak from the waitstaff for not having the ENTIRE party in attendance before seating her. Now this is something that irks me about restaurants - having EVERYONE in attendance before seating. Do you know how impossible that is in a city of Atlanta with 10 different schedules, traffic situations and so forth for that many people to just "show up" at the same time?
I am more apt to understand this rule for fancy restaurants that have a packed crowd every night, required reservation and so forth but not some dive that looks like my father's pole barn. Which brings me to my set of restaurant rules -If showing up I discover more than one of the following then that is a good indication I will never go there again:

1. The porch, patio, or outdoor dining that I am sitting resembles my Dads pole barn in Indiana (yes, where we kept the cows)

2. The inside of the restaurant reminds me of my college dorm room (that I shared with 3 other roommates!)

3. The wait staff calls me dude and/or looks like they haven't bathed, shaved or did anything in the realm of personal grooming/hygiene in years.

4. BUGS - yes, any kind whatsoever.

Oh - and I only need one of 5. if there is a band-aid in either my salad, the person I am dining with's salad or anyone in the restaurant that screams they have one in their salad - leave immediately!

This restaurant was batting a thousand that night. When we showed up I almost started backing out the door having horrible childhood flashbacks of the cows stepping on me in the shed. The only thing that tempted me in was, yes, the thought of all that wonderful mexican food! "I can overlook two (THEN) out of my five rules just this once for mexican", I thought. WRONG!

Once seated we all ordered pitchers of margaritas. Probably at least $50 worth. BY this time we have a party large enough that it takes the waiter (who originally gave my friend a hard time for seating her earlier) two trips to bring out all the glasses with ice. Once the glasses are out we all pour our drinks and take a drink and UGH! There's sugar instead of salt on the rims of the glasses. I have never seen or tasted such on a margaritta glass. Then, in the distance we heard a buzzing, getting louder and louder and finally - FLYS! Hundreds of them! Buzzing around, landing on our glass rims, diving into our caso dip and alighting on the edge of our chips just trying to get in a nibble of the cheese before we shove the chip into our mouths. We happened to be sitting in the only area of the patio that had no fans to keep the flys away. After swatting and (trying) to eat/drink and blow the flys off we begged the waiter to see if the one fan that was facing us (which was not on) could be turned on. To which he just looked at it and said "No, doesn't work" (It was then that I realized he was rule #3) We begged him to find another fan, hang fly strips, buy a fly zapper even -ANYTHING, just so we wouldn't accidentaly drink or eat a fly and could give our arms a rest from swatting. He replied "Sorry, can't" It was at that point where I turned to my girlfriend with my best soulful "I love you please understand" eyes and asked if we could leave. I know she didn't want to - all her best friends were there and had all decided to stay and battle the flys come hell or highwater, it was Friday and it was happy hour. But, it must have worked because we left. What a woman! She was the best!

What would have really capped the evening off was as we were passing by the restaurant in the car her ex was walking in. So, I think the flys might have been a blessing in disguise!

1425B Piedmont Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 874-5951

I have heard several good reviews of this restaurant so I was quite disapointed when it did not live up to my expectations.

The atmosphere was just ok - we sat on the padio and that in itself was nice, however, the tables were very close there and you could hear everything everyone else was saying around you. So, it could be quite distracting. Not a good place for an intimate conversation.
On to the food.....

ok - the mussels with chilis, corn and jicama were supposedly written up in some magazine for being the best - must have been a good day for those mussels when that food critic wrote it because our mussels were a bit fishy (one of my pet peeves about ordering mussels) and in this broth that resembled a chicken stock with a dabbling of corn on top. As far as the chilli's go - not sure there were any in there because it wasn't spicy at all.

For entree's we both got the red snapper with sides of corn pudding and a vegatable (can't remember what). The corn pudding turned out to be a corn cake that looked like it was slid out of a can and thrown on a plate prior to serving. The fish was in some sort of a red sauce that was supposed to be spicy as well but wasn't.

For desert we had the tres leches cake - which, again, was supposedly a popular menu item. Although, the cake itself was good (soaked in three kinds of milk - I didn't know they made that many kinds of milk, but ok...) the icing (again, suposedly homemade and famous for) tasted like it came out of a jar of FLUFF! I guess if you're big fan of marshmellows then go for it! If not then stick to coffee and skip the calories because it's just not worth the extra 10 minutes on the treadmill.

Here is an excerpt from an article on city search "The menu explores the flavors of Central and Latin America, and the chefs do a deft job of blending well-known ingredients with a few esoteric touches. Start with a pupusa, a corn cake filled with a soft, mild cheese topped with a tart coleslaw-like salad for contrast. Perennial entree favorites include mussels with chilis, corn and jicama, shrimp under a blanket of mild Brazilian cheese, and a tender beef tenderloin in a zippy tomatillo-cilantro sauce. Desserts are excellent. Try the luscious très leches cake, refreshing lime ice cream or the seasonal (usually fig or mango) tart. "

Believe me - we didn't find anything in this restaurant worth saying "zippy" over and for the price (which, we didn't even order a bottle of wine) that came out to be approx. $60/person the only thing that was well worth that was the company I was with!


1314 Glenwood Ave
Atlanta, GA 30316
(404) 230-6177

This wonderful little restaurant replaced Iris in East Atlanta. Normally, I have had bad luck in the restaurants in East Atlanta but this one turned out to be a real gem of a place! The atmosphere itself is wonderful wherever you choose to sit. We sat at the bar and had a drink before moving on to the patio.

We ordered a great bottle of wine "Flying Cloud" Cabernet Sauvignon from a favorite region of Paso Robles.

Crab cakes for an appetizer - very good!
I had the talapia on top of garlic mashed potatoes - very good
Lisa had the braised short ribs on top of jalapeno grits - excellent! In fact, I think the next time we go I am going to ask for the talapia to be on top of the grits!

This restaurant is definately worth checking out many more times! A new favorite!

For another review of this restaurant go to city search.