The last week was a “work hard” kind of affair and both before and after I’ve had my share of writer’s block. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped eating. Below is a photo of the “Hold the Veggies” pizza at Gary’s Bistro.

My wife has taken a fancy to Fini’s Sicilian style pizzas and we’ve been there twice in recent days.This preference, of course, is expressing itself right in the height of the Antico pizza craze. Fini’s is just world’s closer, and it’s a place the family knows.  Drive to Highway 29, head up Lawrenceville Highway to Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, turn left and eventually, Fini’s is on your right. Couldn’t be simpler.

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Fini's Sicilian slice. Crisp bottom, chewy crust, and delicious.

On one Sunday we tried to go to Fini’s and it was closed, so turning around the choices in the car were Umaido or Haru Ichiban. Haru ended up winning, and we went there. The menu at Haru Ichiban has changed since my last review. Robata grill items have been added, the special tuna combination is gone. It was a quiet Sunday and we were the last serious table to arrive. My daughter and my wife ordered udon. I ordered miso cod and grilled pike mackerel and my mother-in-law ordered salmon of some kind. We had chirashi sushi as a side. My mother-in-law’s chopsticks (back sides of them, as in FB’s cartoon) were in the chirashi routinely. Her comment, over and over again, was “oishii.”

chiraishi sushi from Haru Ichiban.

chirashi sushi from Haru Ichiban.

By the time our fish dishes were on the table, the salmon was gone, to be replaced with pike mackerel and my dish was given to my mother-in-law. We were half way through the fish before either of us noticed. We must have been hungry. I got a piece of the miso cod before it completely went away and it was the best thing I had that day, melt in your mouth tender, miso flavor permeating the fish. The pike was good, though the white flesh along the back and sides was the best part of the animal.

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nabekayi udon, in an iron pot.

grilled pike mackerel, or pacific saury. sanma in Japanese, kongchi in Korean.

grilled pike mackerel, or pacific saury; sanma in Japanese, kongchi in Korean.

Grilled foods. Miso cod and pike mackerel

Grilled foods. Miso cod and pike mackerel

I dropped by Buford Highway Farmer’s Market recently to look for Sichuan peppercorns and found, to my surprise, green mangos. I tried to call my wife but that didn’t work. I went ahead and bought a few. I knew she’d find a use for them. As for the Sichuan peppercorns, it looks as if they call them “red pepper corn” in BHFM, and they are currently on the lowest shelf in the Chinese section of the market, reasonably near the black and white peppers. So a question: I bought a pepper mill, to grind the Sichuan peppercorns. Is that how this spice is used?

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Green mangos and Sichuan peppercorns.

My copy of “Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook” has arrived. I’ve only had a chance to glance at it, not really read it thoroughly. The izakaya scene in Japan, and for that matter, in Los Angeles (also here) and New York, is remarkably diverse and trying to categorise the izakaya as a single thing or a single model, as some people have done, is a bit like saying there can only be one kind of pub. When the izakaya can go from vast commercial chains to three story Western influenced institutions to settings hardly more robust than a roadside stand, hardly anything epitomizes the izakaya “model”. I think the spirit of an izakaya can be captured, though, and thinking about it, I’m guessing that’s what Bill Addison meant in his recent Atlanta magazine review of Shoya. The spirit of the izakaya is what Mark Robinson is trying to illuminate in his tour guide of saki house foods.

Sugar in greens

I ran into it first at New Orleans, the People’s Restaurant and it’s been a preoccupation ever since. It took a while to realize the sweetness was coming from the collard greens, because any greens I’ve had prior to that experience didn’t have a bit of sweet at all. And I paid attention to greens back in the day, because I first encountered them in school lunches, and really liked them, thinking they were a better spinach. It took a while for me to stop telling my mom about how much better the spinach was at school, compared to the spinach we got from the can.

I’ve asked people at work about sugar in greens and two ladies I know say their grandparents do it. Since we can find extant recipes of this practice, it’s hardly dead. My understanding was the Southern way was to add some meat and fat (fatback, bacon, ham hocks, turkey neck bones, etc) to the greens while cooking, and now we have this interesting variant.

Recipes where collard greens are sweetened (or readers suggested sweetening) can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

Is Hot Wok gone for good?

Chow Down Atlanta’s recent review of Blue Fin Sushi (a resurrected Sakana Ya) has me wondering about the fate of one other restaurant in Friday’s Plaza on Peachtree Industrial. Does anyone know what is going to happen to the people who ran/cooked for Hot Wok? This was a Chinese eatery that served Chinese food in a style than Indians prefer, a product of the fusion of cuisines when Chinese live in India. Are they going to relocate as well?

It was unique enough that out of town guests would ask us to take them there. They liked it quite a bit, as I recall.

Pizza (again)

Thanks is due to Bob Townsend, whose article on Hearth Pizza unearthed a great article by Alan Richman. The heart of this article is Alan’s take no prisoners attitude towards how pizza is made. It’s not rocket science that an overly wet, overly loaded crust is going to leave you with a floppy tie-it-in-knots pizza but some people just say it so much more forcefully:

I’ve eaten in Naples. From the ancient, brutally hot ovens emerge pies that most Americans wouldn’t recognize. The crust is charred and puffy in spots but tragically thin and pale beneath the toppings. The sauce is chiefly chopped tomatoes, sometimes fresh and sometimes canned, but almost always vivid and bright. (Those San Marzano tomatoes are as good as advertised.) The cheese is mozzarella, but the Italians are proudest when they can substitute fresh mozzarella from the milk of buffaloes and label their pies Margherita DOC. (It sounds like a wine thing, but it’s also a pizza thing.) In my opinion, buffalo mozzarella is pizza’s second-worst topping, exceeded only by whole anchovies—no hot, smelly fish on my pies, thank you. After that, those pizzaioli guys add oil, lots of it, and more liquid is precisely what tomato pies do not need.

This is what happens when a Neapolitan pie comes out of the oven, after it’s been cooked a remarkably short time: The nearly liquefied glob of buffalo mozzarella—now resembling a snowman melting on a warm March afternoon—has become runny. Water drains from the tomatoes. Oil joins the flood. All that excess liquid has to go somewhere, which is why the bottom crust turns to mush, not that it was ever particularly crispy.

Alan, for what it’s worth, has his own blog.

Indescribably delicious

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This was an apple tart at Gourmandises. Every time I show up at this small bakery and restaurant, I end up impressed by the way Jennifer Allen and Christophe Houy handle themselves and their customers. True pros, and they are a pleasure to watch do business. If you have a day off, you could do far worse than heading out to Suwanee to visit this fine eatery.

Guam Boonie Peppers

I’ve been taking photos of my boonies, and this is one of my latest shots.

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To note, the railing on which most of them sit is 35 inches high (an older photo, with a yardstick in the view)

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If people can’t figure out that these simply aren’t Thai ornamental peppers, then they must be blind. Just to emphasize, let’s take a picture of a single leaf beside my hand.

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How could this be a plant that is 12 to 18 inches high? How can the Wikipedia be so silly as to promote the notion that Marianas boonie peppers and the Thai ornamental are the same?

Michael Pollan

I, too, read in early August Michael Pollan’s article “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch”. The thing that touched me most, though, was the quality of his writing. When he spoke of Julia Child’s voice, he just cracked me up.

…Julia’s voice was like nothing I ever heard before or would hear again until Monty Python came to America: vaguely European, breathy and singsongy, and weirdly suggestive of a man doing a falsetto impression of a woman.

How many of us have thought something like this, but couldn’t find a way to say it? And this isn’t the only time his sentences are wonderfully evocative. When speaking of the pleasure Julia Childs found in the kitchen he says:

Child was less interested in making it fast or easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work, engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a husband or impress guests; you did it to please yourself. No one cooking on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on television.

and this kind of writing peppers the whole article.

Yesterday I picked up some food to go from Haru Ichiban, and spoke a bit to the manager about the Shoya Izakaya – Haru Ichiban connection (noted by John Kessler and Gene Lee). He said that Shoya was opened by the ex-owner of Haru, and that Haru Ichiban has retained all their staff, including their executive chef. I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this until he mentioned that people are eating at Shoya, not liking it, and going to Haru Ichiban to complain. They tell him, “The food doesn’t taste the same.” I think this is significant enough to pass on: if you don’t like the food at Shoya, complain at Shoya.

Otherwise I’ve been trying to remember the names and locations of places I’ve eaten at over the years, and I’m drawing so many blanks on so many places. Other places of note are simply gone: Bookbinders in Philadelphia is gone. Neal’s Ice Cream in Houston (the first place I was served a super-premium ice cream) is gone. The Pizzeria Uno on Colonial Drive in Orlando (pizza salvation in Orlando) is gone. Brocato’s in Shreveport? Gone. The BBQ place southwest of Fort Worth Texas we so favored? Closed, because restaurants are no longer allowed to have sawdust floors.

Others are lost in the wash of hundreds and thousands of potential contenders. Have you ever tried to track down a deli from New York City using Urban Spoon? Midtown West alone has 230 sandwich shops. Pizza in Chicago? There are 3000 eateries in the windy city.

Some things, however, are slowly becoming clearer. The In N Out Burger we dined at, located near the Muir Forest? Found that. The pizza we had in Chicago, I’m pretty sure it’s one of the two restaurants that Urban Spoon calls Original Gino’s East. Nothing else has the graffiti, or is close enough to Northwestern University. The astounding dungeness crabs in San Francisco? The leading candidate right now is Thanh Long. The really fun ice cream shop in Oakland, California? That was Fenton’s Ice Cream Parlor. The first place I ever had a French black bottom pie? That was House of Pies, on Kirby in Houston.

Yet another boonie pepper seed from floralys sprouted, totally unexpected. This brings the germination rate of floralys seeds to 7/12. I took my largest boonie pepper plant and put it in a clay pot outside. The pepper doesn’t look that good. I give it a 50-50 chance to survive.

And reviews on the way, soon to be published: Six Feet Under, Alon’s in Dunwoody, Shoya Izakawa, Longhorns near Webb Ginn, Cold Stone Creamery and more.

Note: for those who remember Brocato’s excellent red snapper in a bag, a minister named Richard Seaton is offering a cook book based on the old Brocato’s staples.

My wife loves a good movie and when she goes to the movies, she gets a heaping tub of popcorn, a big drink, and that’s it. During the course of a day I need a bit more food than that at dinner, and the place we have been going for that before movie pick-me-up or an after-the-movie snack is Fazoli’s.

Fazoli’s serves Italian food at a very affordable price. It doesn’t hurt at all that it is close to the Carmike Cinema, and while convenience is a large part of the reason for eating there, price and taste are good reasons as well. There is little on this menu I don’t like, and it’s easy to put together a meal for much less than 10 dollars. If I don’t want much to eat, I’ll get one of the pastas, and if I’m at all curious I’ll try one of Fazoli’s samplers. You get bread sticks with the meal as well.

Fazoli’s is located at:

1895 Scenic Hwy N
Snellville, GA 30078

Fazoli's on Urbanspoon

Il Forno is on the corner of Five Forks and Oak Road, just a block from the Five Forks – Ronald Reagan intersection. It used to be part of a chain, but was bought out by local ownership. I had eaten there a lot when it was part of the chain, but almost never since. When it was a chain, it delivered a surprisingly good pizza pie for a Southern corner shop. And I had been growing increasingly curious if the new ownership had found out how to consistently make a good crust.

The inside of the restaurant is attractive. The countertop is a steel surface and the chairs and tables are nice. There aren’t very many of them. I counted 7 tables inside. They do have outside seating, however, and when the weather is mild they can handle more people. The waitress and the cooks (visible as you sit) were all wearing I Love New York shirts and/or hats. A black T shirt was the uniform of choice.

I looked for something with pepperoni and some Italian sausage, and the only thing on the menu that fit was the Cardiology special. I ordered a 12″ pie and a beer. The on-tap beer selection is quite good if you’re into the heavier ales: Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada,  Pilsner Urquell, Brooklyn Ale, etc. The pie took a little time, and I was on my second beer when it arrived.

It’s a thin crust pizza, and given the lightness of the crust, it had a respectable set of toppings on it. I could see that the crust was browned on the edges, but the take home lesson would be in the center of the pie. I’ve spent a couple years in the Northeast, and the one thing you can count on in a Pennsylvania or New York pie is a crispy crust. And in a joint claiming a New York heritage, don’t even bother if the crust isn’t good.

I pulled out a slice, took a bite. It was crisp from tip to tail. In all honesty I was a bit relieved. You always hope a place this nice looking will put up food to match its looks and it did. Now I will warn people that the thin crust doesn’t stay crispy terribly long. In my estimation this is a pie to be eaten on the premises, and not taken home. Before I was finished the toppings were steaming the crust in the middle and the interior inch or two had lost its crispiness. Of course, there was just one of me and a 12″ pie to navigate. Served to 2 or 3 people, this pie would be just fine.

I didn’t order salads or calzones as I was there, but I saw them made and pass by. The calzones are simply enormous. The salads looked good, but they also looked a lot like they were assembled from precut pizza toppings.

The base (sauce and cheese) 12″ pizza runs about $11.00. The 16″ runs about $12.50. Toppings run from a dollar each to $3.00 for chicken. Named pizzas range from $13-$17 in the 12″ size and $14-$20 in the 16″ size. Pasta dishes run from $8.00 to $14.00, but most under $11.00. Calzones and Strombolis range from $6-$9.

Il Forno NY Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

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