January 2010

The Viceroy is a restaurant completely under critical radar, yet at the same time it’s achieving impressive credentials on Urban Spoon. It’s one of these places that the media and bloggers have missed, but still has a reasonable following. It’s a bit too far for me to frequent at night, but approachable during lunch hour. That’s a shame, as Viceroy is largely a buffet place during the day. They have interesting options during the night, including a 4 step scale for heat in their foods.

It’s not easy to drive by the Viceroy. You have to enter the same shopping center in which J Alexanders is found, the Perimeter Village Shopping Center, and drive towards the back. Pass the Wall-Mart and eventually you’ll see the Viceroy. The entrance is neat, but otherwise a classic strip mall store front.

Once inside the restaurant is good looking. The waiters are neat and precise, dressed in white, and along one wall there are buffet choices. The buffet covers a lot of ground, in terms of eating, and can roughly be divided into 4 sections. The first section contains sauces. There are things like chutneys, chilis, mint sauces, raita, and hot sauce for those who need it. Next to the sauces are desserts. This section contained things like fruit firni when I was there. The third section has vegetable dishes. Pakoras, dal makhani, chana saag, and a vegetable biryani were items I recall in the vegetarian section. The final section began with a small oven containing tandoori chicken. It continued with a goat curry, a chicken makhani, and a vindaloo, as I recall.

left: curry; bottom: chicken makhani; right: vindaloo; top: tandoori chicken

left: curry - middle: basmati rice - right: vindaloo - bottom: chicken makhani - top: tandoori chicken

If you order food, a nice basket of naan will appear on your table.

Viceroy has a good naan.

Viceroy has a good naan.

I liked what I ate here. The tandoori chicken was the best of the foods that I tried. It was rich in flavor, and I was surprised they could manage that, given the buffet setup. The fruit firni was delightful, and the rest of the dishes I’d rate as good. The vindaloo was very underpowered, but if you read the self description in Urban Spoon, they’re aiming for Atlanta style heat, not Indian style heat. If you want hotter dishes, come at night and order something “hot” or “Indian hot”.

As I came during lunch, I can’t tell you how good this place will be during dinner. But the lunch was good enough, and the service good enough, that if I lived in the area I would have certainly been back for dinner.

Verdict: Neat, flexible eatery with good service and good food. Recommended.

Viceroy Royal Indian Cuisine
4719 Ashford Dunwoody Road
Dunwoody, GA 30338
(770) 353-3000

The Viceroy Royal Indian Dining on Urbanspoon

In what used to be Il Forno Pizza, near Five Forks and Oak Road, the sign has changed.

If you go inside, the staff is still wearing black Il Forno T-shirts, so I don’t know what has prompted the sign change.

My brother-in-law lives perhaps four blocks from Japantown so we have a tendency to eat there, and eat there a lot. It’s a huge concentration of Japanese eating in a very small area, enough so that Blissful Glutton, in a moment of demographic incompatibility, declared that metro Atlanta had more Japanese eateries than San Francisco did. To note, that’s a comparison of a city of about 750,000 to a greater metropolitan area of around 5.4 million. The two regions are difficult to compare, because they’re not scaled the same at all. But that someone would attempt to compare Japantown, largely, to metro Atlanta speaks to the sheer depth of eating choices there, and the hard core immersion of the experience.

The area of San Francisco’s Japantown is tiny compared to the expanse of Chinatown. A substantial amount of it is within three connected buildings.

The Kinokuniya building is centered around the Kinokuniya bookstore, which surprise surprise surprise, does more than sell manga.

Notable about the Japanese eateries in the Bay area are the outdoor display cases, and the relatively inexpensive lunches. Even Benihana gets in on the act.

Inside the buildings, there are a bewildering array of stores, dealing in everything from fine art to pop culture.

Outside, surrounding the three buildings, are eateries of various kinds. There are Japanese restaurants, to be sure, but also Korean, Chinese, and Hawaiian eateries with a strong Japanese influence.

New Orleans Seafood is charming, in its own way. I’m delighted that Chow Down Atlanta found this restaurant, as there really is nothing like it anywhere near Snellville.  This is a small seafood store that also prepares food, and the owners are ethnically Vietnamese.  As I entered, I couldn’t help but think about all the Vietnamese around Kemah, Texas in the 1980s, who were the most reliable and inexpensive source of seafood for anyone near Houston at the time.   So to some extent, going to New Orleans Seafood feels as if I’m stepping back in time.

The chef that makes the food go comes from the Mobile, Alabama area. Mobile was a center of Vietnamese immigration, as access to the sea gave these immigrants a way to make a living. That same access to the Gulf also meant an exposure to Cajun customs and cooking, as Acadians range all over the Gulf.

In the middle of all the excitement, I managed to order hush puppies, a boudin ball, a shrimp po boy and about a pound of boiled crawfish.

The big sphere is the boudin ball.

After I entered and ordered, the lady of the eatery came out and ask how I had found the place. I told her I had seen this place on the Internet and she became so excited. Eventually I showed her Chloe’s web site and she started telling me about Chloe’s visit, how Chloe wanted to take pictures and all. It left me in a bit of a quandry, as I wanted to take pictures as well. But the food was ‘to go’ so I ended up leaving and taking pictures when I could stop.

The hush puppies were good. The boudin roll was very good, with a decent amount of spice. The po boy was decent, fresh shrimp combining with a good roll to make a very edible sandwich. But the best of them all were the boiled crawfish. They were the best I’ve had in Atlanta in years, very spicy and delicious. My daughter helped me eat these, and was saying afterwards, “It was so worth it!”

If I haven’t said, this eatery and store is in the same strip mall as “What the Pho?”

Verdict: Cajun seafood and dishes with a Vietnamese flair. Highly Recommended.

New Orleans Seafood
2442 Pleasant Hill Road, Suite 8
Duluth, GA 30096
(678) 474-0064

New Orleans Seafood on Urbanspoon

Chef Liu was once a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Buford Highway. Recently, it became a much bigger restaurant on Buford Highway by moving into a larger location on the north side of the same mall area. I know that Jennifer Zyman had been talking about the upcoming move for some time. When other foodies said it was a reality, and when my family headed in eight directions at once, I decided to drop in.

It’s a decent looking restaurant, with glass covered table tops, a few round tables with circular glass carousels, and some fancier enclosed places to sit off to one side. On the wall, near the cash register, is a black strip, covered with photos and names of dishes the restaurant serves. On square tables, there are also pictures of food with names, and almost every dish presented was something I’d never seen before. Or maybe I had in a dim-sum place, but couldn’t name it off the bat.

The leek pie tempted me the most, but it’s hard to do a review on just a leek pie. So I also ordered a cold dish, the sliced spicy beef, and also ordered lamb noodle soup,  because I’m fond of lamb.

My favorite dish was the cold beef. Though gelatinous at times, the spicing was very nice, with decent heat and a lingering flavor. I enjoyed the leek pie, bits of egg mixed in with transparent noodles and leek. The lamb noodle soup was decent. I liked the meat and the white noodles were chewy and delicious, but the broth was thin and tasteless until near the very end. Then, you could stir up bits of meat and fragments of noodle and they gave the broth the flavor it never had in the beginning.

Verdict: Good, interesting, inexpensive food. Recommended.

Chef Liu
5283 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340
(770) 936-0532

Chef Liu on Urbanspoon

Posados Cafe is a chain that started in Tyler Texas, and has expanded into the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Austin, and across select spots in Louisiana. This East Texas/Louisiana favorite was an immediate hit with my father, and their original location in the Shreveport area, in Bossier City, is by far his favorite. The reason is simple: they make better tasting food at this location.

Going to Posados has become a Christmas tradition, a ritual really. And the one dish that powers all of this food lust is their quail. Posados also has a good tortilla soup, a good red salsa, and their chips are crisp, dry, and reliable. Other entrées are good, but not as clearly “five star” as the quail.

Quail is a dish served in the same style as fajitas in these kinds of Mexican eateries, and like fajitas they arrive at the eatery marinated, in bags I’m told. They are served on a hot plate. The Posados plate is wooden, with a comalesque circular iron liner on one side and a slot to hold a plate with toppings on the other side. Tortillas are usually served with the quail, in  keeping with the fajita tradition, but quail are so small and the bones so tiny that eating them as fajitas seems almost a waste of time.

Service here has been very good for us. Waitstaff dress in all black, are fast to tables and come back repeatedly.

Verdict: A family favorite. The quail is what you want when you come here. The highest of recommendations.

1703 Old Minden Road
Bossier City, LA 71111
(318) 747-6200

Posados on Urbanspoon

One of the nicer things about the holidays is all the home made food, such as this good gumbo, from my father’s current partner.

And Zapps, which I’ve known for their Cajun potato chips, now has a salsa.

Barking Rocks winery, which is owned by relatives of mine, had a nice article written about them via the Texan News Service. The article, written by Morgan Christensen, can be found here. Another interesting link, a tasting of Barking Rocks wines, can be found here. But perhaps more pleasing is this reaction, on the blog Jundogirl, to the article I wrote about Royal Tofu House. Royal Tofu is a mom and pop eatery whose owners really go the extra mile for their customers. Jundogirl happened to be their daughter. Also, many thanks to Gene Lee for mentioning Mirak Korean Restaurant. In my opinion, Mirak has been a little overlooked in the blogging world and I’m glad to see it catch up in the hands of Korean food experts.

I got some books on beer this Christmas, and perhaps the best of them is “The Brewmaster’s Table“, by Garrett Oliver. Garrett Oliver is the owner/brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and this book attempts to educate people about the possibilities of good beer and how to match beer with food. Useful as a coffeetable book (though it’s small and fat) is Michael Jackson’s book “Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide“. It has picture and short blurbs about a host of beers. The books is alphabetized and an easy read. My brother found this book and went into “Hey, I drank this one!” mode for hours on end during the holidays.

Johnny’s Pizza House is a chain headquartered in West Monroe, Louisiana and is unrelated to Johnny’s New York Style Pizza in Snellville and other Atlanta locations. First few times I went to Johnny’s in Atlanta, I was confusing the two chains. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Both have good pizzas, but Johnny’s Pizza House is more into their premium “Sweep the Kitchen” pizza, whereas Johnny’s New York Style has good slices, good meatball subs, good options that don’t require 20 ingredients and a huge thick crust rectangular pizza.

It was the large rectangle that my mother loved so much, and when she was alive we ordered it plenty. No anchovies, but we’d get everything else, and at that time we were frequenting the Haughton location. This review, however, will concentrate on the Bossier City location near where my father lives presently.

The Bossier City location has some booths and longish tables. They also have a game room that’s half sealed off, requiring patrons to be an adult to enter. There is a television set or two, and islands that have toppings and lettuce for salads, but otherwise, the eatery is spare and the pizza they deliver is the star. The large rectangle pizza appears to be gone. They only have 10, 12, and 14 inch round pizzas at this location.

We ordered a 14 inch to go and it was a good looking pizza. Toppings are primo, but the crust suffered from the 15 minute drive back to my Dad’s place. I thought my first slice held up pretty well, but the crust was getting soft by my second slice. This is another pizza, I suspect, that would benefit with some 400 degree oven time on a cookie sheet if you’re taking it home.

Overall, I’d have difficulty judging this pizza on anything other than emotional terms. Eating it brings back fond memories of my mother, who thought eating at Johnny’s was a treat.

Johnny’s Pizza House
4100 Barksdale Boulevard Suite 121
Bossier City, LA 71112
(318) 752-1222

Johnny's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Johnny’s Pizza House
1120 Highway 80
Haughton, LA 71037
(318) 949-9412

Johnny's Pizza House on Urbanspoon

Dreamland BBQ creates huge amounts of controversy in Atlanta, Georgia. Opinions of this restaurant are very mixed. I was waiting to try this restaurant in Alabama where a number of reviewers have said it is a better restaurant and chain. We were traveling recently, trying to beat the cold weather into Atlanta when we saw a Dreamland sign in the Tuscaloosa area. I have coworkers who love Dreamland in Tuscaloosa so we decided to take a look and see.

It turns out there are at least two Dreamlands in the Tuscaloosa area. There is the original one on 15th street (off exit 73 from I-20), and another in Northport, a suburb of Tuscaloosa (off exit 71-B from I-20). These are my impressions of the Northport restaurant.

The restaurant is good looking. There are photos of famous football players and there are autographs all in a square near the bathroom: Gene Stallings, Jim Nabors, tons of Bear Bryant memorabilia. The restaurant itself has a kind of sports bar look to it. Above our table were football helmets: Alabama, UGA, etc.

White bread and an orange barbecue sauce came out first. Ribs and the rest of our order came out soon after. The ribs were covered in sauce but clearly had a smoke ring. Flavor was normally provided by the sauce, which I’d rate as very good. There were spots where the ribs had no sauce and in those I could taste smoke flavor. If I go back, I’m going to see if I can get the sauce on the side. Rib type are the large Saint Louis style ribs, and the serving size was plenty given the cost.

We had hot wings here and they were large, meaty, excellent. I’d rate the wings sauce as excellent. They had very good baked beans and a decent pulled pork sandwich. I had the sausage sandwich and I’d rate it as very good, the sausage tasty and spicy. My daughter loved her mac and cheese, said it was very cheesy.

Plusses include the smoke pit open to view. Anyone that wanted to could see how their ribs were being cooked, the wood being used, the smoke flowing through the meat. Watching the pit master is part of the charm here. Minuses are the delivery of the ribs covered (drenched really) in sauce. Dry and sauce on the side would be better, in my opinion. I suspect you can get them that way if you ask. As this was my first time at any Dreamland BBQ, I didn’t ask.

Service was not only good, the waitress was very personable. The service was good enough my wife was commenting on it for quite a while. Serving size, given the price, was good. There were plenty of leftovers and we would have taken them all had we been close to home.

Verdict: Given mixed opinions about this eatery in GA, was surprised by the quality of the ribs. Highly Recommended.

Dreamland Barbecue
101 Bridge Avenue
Northport, AL 35476
(205) 343-6677

Dreamland BBQ on Urbanspoon

People cook in ways they know and trust. A recipe once learned may be modified or adapted to create another method of cooking. Sometimes the techniques transferred are vestigial. While working fine in their original context, they may not be optimal in another context.

One such place where this kind of non optimal transfer may be occurring are in dishes like curried lamb and lentil stew. I’ve made this, and when I did, I initially followed the directions exactly. One of the things this recipe wanted the cook to do was stir the curry spices in with the lamb and toast them for a minute or two. After doing this, the lamb was transferred into water and cooked for some 45 minutes more.

This approach, toasting the spices, makes a great deal of sense if you’re starting with cumin and mustard seeds and wanting to add the toasty flavor to the food. In other words, it’s a cooking technique, or pattern, derived from the cooking of curries. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in a watery stew where the long period of simmering will deprive the spices of their low molecular weight aromatics over time. In a stew or soup, you want to put the most flavorful spices in last.

I had seen this done a number of times in Indian cooking, where their love of dals is an influence on the various lentil recipes I’ve posted over time. I used this “last in” approach on a urid dal soup I made, but I never had a name for the technique. I just picked it up by reading recipes.

But Mark Bittman has just published an article in the New York Times and it puts a name to this technique. Mark calls it a tarka, and Mark talks about the use of a tarka (along with some advice on cooking with lentils). I haven’t looked closely at the recipes, but I’ll note that Mark’s advice runs contrary to the normal practice of Indian cooks with the tougher dals. Indian cooks soak them. For whole urid dals, I’d recommend an overnight soak and a good three hours cooking. The additional time changes the texture of these tough lentils, becoming less a soup and more a “dal”.

Garlic, chiles, and baby bok choy were cooked in olive oil and added at the last minute to this lamb and lentil stew.

I’ve done this “last minute cooking” with ‘oils’ other than clarified butter (ghee). I find that olive oil works well enough. In this stage, things like spinach or baby bok choy can also be prepped and added to these soups. Techniques like these not only work well in Indian influenced cooking, but you see related last minute additions in things like this Irish beef stew recipe as well. The tarka “pattern” is not only for Indian cooks, but for anyone wanting fresh leaf vegetables and fresh spice flavors in their soups and stews.

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