July 2009


Mitra was a recommendation by Mike Miller of Benny’s Bar and Grill. He told me, “The restaurateurs know of this eatery, but it would be good for your readers to discover it.” So I spent some time checking it out. The site was interesting (though they seriously need to turn their online menu into a PDF file), and was just intriguing enough to bite. We decided to go on a weekend, as the drive is otherwise a problem during the week.

With the exception of the very nice waterfall motif on entering the restaurant, it’s very unassuming on the outside.

mit_sign

The inside, however, is one of the best looking, most romantic places I’ve seen.  In terms of a date restaurant, among places I’ve reviewed, only Varasano’s Pizzeria comes close. The lights are low, the music is good, appropriate, and contemporary. I caught my daughter singing along at points, when otherwise she’s usually plugged into an iPod. There is inside and outside seating; outside is under fans if I recall correctly.

Service was good throughout. We were tag teamed all the time, two waitstaff watching the table generally. Our main waitress was just excellent. We really liked her. We ordered drinks, and very soon bread came to the table. Along with the bread was a bit of light pink cream cheese. The bread was excellent.

mit_bread

The bread was soon followed by the two appetizers we ordered, ceviche and calamari.

mit_ceviche

Ceviche on the left, calamari on the right.

I had a particular interest in the ceviche because in my wife’s culture, they have the very closely related dish named kelaguen. And it was a confusing dish at first, because we kept wondering where it was. It turns out they want you to use the banana chips as a kind of ad hoc spoon.

mit_ceviche_on_banana

The ceviche was good. The calamari was good as well, thin rings and crispy. The sauce was kind of lost to us; we would have preferred the calamari plain.

In terms of entrees, we ended up ordering Mitra’s paella, their grilled salmon, and their jalapeno lime sea scallops. The paella and the grilled salmon arrived first.

mit_paella

mit_salmon

The paella was the favorite dish of the meal. The yellow rice especially was pleasing, as it acquired a roasted flavor from being cooked with all the other ingredients. It was bold, it was rich, it was delicious. The salmon, though a perfectly fine dish, wasn’t successful for a couple reasons. The first is my wife is a well done eater and this salmon was undercooked for her. The second was that she was expecting the plain quinoa to have the same taste as Holy Taco’s quinoa salad. It didn’t. It was perfectly fine quinoa too. My wife told me that if we come back, she’s getting the paella next time. And I ended up eating what was left of her dish.

The scallops came out a little later, and I had ordered this dish not because of the entree, but because the sides looked fantastic.

mit_scallops

And that’s pretty much how this dish was for me. This is not to say the scallops weren’t good. They were very nicely done, and prepared it seemed with a lot of verve and skill. But to be honest, if Mitra had a “sides” plate, akin to Watershed‘s vegetable plate, I probably would have ordered that, hoped for some chips, and been one happy camper. The salsa was excellent. The green tomatillo sauce had only one flaw:  there wasn’t enough of it. The yellow rice was good, but since the yellow rice in the paella was superb, it was getting short shrift by the table.

Verdict: Good entrees, great appetizers and sides. Highly recommended in general, exceptional if you’re on a date.

Mitra
818 Juniper Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 875-5515

Mitra on Urbanspoon

Because of construction, Mitra is tricky to get to these days. It might be best to call ahead for instructions on how to get there. Valet parking is nearby, cheap ($3.00), and recommended.

The closest Kroger to me is the one at the corner of Five Forks and Oak Road, just south of the Five Forks exit on Ronald Reagan Boulevard:

kro_sign

And no matter what people think of other elements of Kroger, these stores have had a good wine and beer selection for some time now.

kro_beer_and_wine

New to Kroger is the Mix a Six idea, where you get to pick what you want in your six pack and take that home with you. I have to admit, that perked up my interest in their products immediately.

kro_mix_a_six

Also new at Kroger are products from New Belgium Brewing. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to see “Fat Tire” in my neighborhood supermarket that quickly. It was just a month ago when a New Belgium representative was giving away free samples at the Vortex.

kro_fat_tire

So give kudos where kudos are due. The mainline supermarkets can be innovative. And this is to the benefit of those of us on the edge of town, in suburbia and exurbia, and not within range of specialty stores.

Kroger
3050 Five Forks Trickum
Lilburn GA 30047
(770) 978-9264

I usually don’t get involved in telling other men how to dress, since for me, a t shirt is a fashion statement. I used to have a favorite T shirt, a list of beers on a nice grey tone background, the text in the shape of a stein, and I wore that thing until the holes in it had holes. But I do make exceptions for things that glow, and especially, things that are worn that glow in dimly lit, pretty, romantic restaurants.

I really don’t care for it when men wear LED laden Bluetooth receivers in restaurants. For one, they are supposed to be paying attention to their dates, not drawing attention to themselves. This is a time when they can set their iPhone, their Palm Pre, their HTC Dream, to vibrate.  As they turn their heads, people are reminded of the Bill Gates parody of the Borg.

So please, either take it off, or get a small square of electrical tape and cover that bright blue LED.

Sweet Tomatoes (also Souplantation; evidently there has been some kind of merger) is perhaps the most successful chain restaurant in Atlanta focusing on the soups and salads market. These are restaurants where people line up to get a plate full of lettuce, carrots, celery, and other sliced vegetables, plus dressing perhaps, as the focus of the meal. There are a few Sweet Tomatoes in Atlanta, but not too many. Unlike McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, they seem to expand slowly and selectively. The closest one to Snellville that I know of is the Duluth restaurant, close to Gwinnett Place. This review will largely focus on that location.

Over the years Sweet Tomatoes has expanded their repetoire to include prepared salads.   These will be at the front of the line, before any other vegetable choices can be made. At the end they now have chicken strips you can add, for a small fee. We tend to ignore these, because one of the staple soups of Sweet Tomatoes is their chicken soup, which has much the same meats for free.

I’ve eaten here so often that I’m liable to forget something in my familiarity with this place. If it happens please forgive me. But once you’re through the line you have an abundance of other foods at your disposal. There are usually 5 or 6 soups, of which chicken soup and a chili are staples and the rest rotate. There are muffins, small cornbreads, foccacia, whole grain breads of various kinds, and usually a sourdough bread. There are slices of melons available, usually watermelon, cantelope, and honey dew melon. There is frozen yogurt, with sparkles. There are usually three different pastas served, usually in rich alfredo style sauces.  There was also a bowl of chocolate chip cookies this last time I went.

Some things to note about the Duluth location: the fancy flavored lemonades are available, but you have to ask waitstaff to get some of those. Otherwise it’s mostly soft drinks in the main drink island. Seating: there are a lot of booths, and some tables in the middle. The restaurant can easily handle dozens of patrons.

Verdict: The best and closest of the soup and salad chains, and highly recommended.

Sweet Tomatoes
3505 Mall Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 418-1148

Sweet Tomatoes on Urbanspoon

Pappadeaux, for me, has always been a surprising restaurant. I spent my teens in Louisiana, and my father lives there to this day. I was in Houston during the 1980s, during the formative years of the Pappas family’s growth, and other than the fondness my major professor had for their establishments, I don’t recall a thing about them from those years. Perhaps the joys of Ninfas and access to real delis at the time (delis were novelties for those of us new to cities) overshadowed what the Pappas family was doing. Perhaps it was that finding decent Cajun in Houston just was not that big a deal. Spicy food was easy to find, if not in Houston, then surely in Galveston or Kemah, where the newly arrived Vietnamese guaranteed easy access to lots of freshly harvested shrimp. Seafood was available, spicy, and cheap.

So fast forward to the late 1990s and not only is Pappadeaux in Atlanta, it’s in town with a kind of popularity reserved for Internet millionaires and pop stars. The first time I tried to get into the Norcross location, it took 45 minutes to just get to the bar. And what’s also amazing – because I didn’t see this coming either – is that the food was actually good, compared to most things that pretended to be Cajun in Atlanta. And I’m not sure which surprises most, that a Greek family from Houston can so dominate the Atlanta Cajun scene, or that so many Atlanta restaurants would rather commit ritual seppuku than spice their food appropriately.

I’ve had my share of bad Cajun dishes recently, and I’m still trying to get that taste out of my mouth. So a trip to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen was in order:

ppd_sign

By the time we park, there are two free slots in the parking lot and I’m going, “OMG, we’re going to have to wait an hour.” But the receptionist just smiled and assigned us table #94. So we go weaving through the thick crowd and get seated in a nice but dimly lit part of the restaurant (I apologize for the dimness of my photos). We had plenty of space where we sat, but it seemed cramped at times, with all the staff moving about. But pretty soon we had drinks, and we had also ordered appetizers.

ppd_lemonade

left: red beans and rice. center: fried alligator. right: gumbo.

left: red beans and rice. center: fried alligator. right: gumbo.

For appetizers we selected red beans and rice, Pappadeaux’s crispy fried alligator, and a bowl of their seafood and andouille gumbo. All were really good. Now my daughter loves shocking her peers with the meats she’s eaten, so she pretty much finished off the alligator by herself. The red beans and rice had chunks of sausage in it, and some spice, that built nicely as you ate. The seafood gumbo had more things in it than I can remember, but shrimp and sausage and oysters and fragments of fish do come to mind. It’s one of the richest bowls of gumbo I’ve had in this city, though the flavor and spicing is a hair behind Benny’s excellent gumbo.

For entrees my daughter ordered the pasta mardi gras and my wife and I ordered crawfish etouffee.

pasta mardi gras

pasta mardi gras

crawfish etouffee with dirty rice.

crawfish etouffee with dirty rice.

Both dishes were excellent. I’ve had chefs in the city tell me that Pappadeaux’s dirty rice is good, and yes, that went over well too. The only gotcha was both wife and daughter filled up so much on appetizers that we took, to a first approximation, two whole plates of food home.

Service, if I haven’t said, was top notch. I loved our server this day.

Verdict: Huge restaurant (> 150 tables) that serves up reliable Cajun dishes in really large quantities. Great Service. Highly recommended.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
5635 Jimmy Carter Blvd
Norcross, GA 30071
(770) 849-0600

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Other locations include:

10795 Davis Drive
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(770) 992-5566

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

2830 Windy Hill Road
Marietta, GA 30067
(770) 984-8899

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Chequers is an exceptionally good looking restaurant at the corner of Perimeter Center Parkway and Hammond Road, just south and west of Perimeter Mall and next to the local Fuddruckers. The inside of Chequers is also appealing, with waitstaff dressed in white shirts, black ties, black vests, and knee length smocks. Blackboards seem to sprout from everywhere, and a ton of wood is used to give a luxurious country club experience. This quote from a reviewer at Citysearch sets the tone appropriately:

Luxury reminiscent of New York’s Union Station reigns at this neighbor to Perimeter Mall. Mirrors extend space into infinity; stained glass gives off a soft glow.

Entrance to Chequers Seafood Grill.

Entrance to Chequers Seafood Grill.

Lobster specials during Happy Hour.

Lobster specials during Happy Hour.

Inside,  I was with a large group and we were more worried about food. They had a fistful of fresh fish choices. Our waiter announced that halibut had become available and sea bass no longer was on the menu.  Others in the party wondered about Chequer’s cioppino, and yet others puzzled out the details of keeping their food kosher. We all ordered. I ordered a cup of gumbo because I like gumbos, and also their rainbow trout, in part because it was a North Carolina product (hence close), and because I’ve had good luck with trout at seafood restaurants.

A good gumbo, flavorful and nicely spiced.

A good gumbo, flavorful and nicely spiced.

A nice grilled trout.

A nice grilled trout.

The gumbo was a pleasant surprise, with bits of sausage, fish, tomato, and okra floating in a nice dark broth.The spicing was what I like, rich and full with enough pepper to let you know it was there.  Others had a lobster bisque, a pretty soup with a light brown to tan color. None of it was waiting in bowls by the time the entrees arrived.

I was generally pleased with my trout. It was white, and most trout I’ve seen has been pink. Diet, I’m told, controls the color, and this was a tender, tasty chunk of fish. Googling on pink and white trout turned up a charming New York Times archive from 1884. If our 19th century cousins are to be believed, color has little to do with the flavor of the fish.

Service, if I haven’t said, was very good to excellent.

Verdict: A very good seafood restaurant that delivers the goods. Good to excellent service. Highly recommended.

Chequers Seafood Grill
236 Perimeter Center Parkway Northeast
Atlanta , GA 30346
(770) 391-9383

Chequers Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

This first is a dinner deal at Rice Sushi Bar and Chinese Cuisine, in the Publix mall near Five Forks and Killian Hills Road:

dd_rice_1

dd_rice_2

Next, the Cici Pizza near the Wall Mart in Stone Mountain has a 3.99 lunch special, that should be going on at least until school starts:

dd_cicis

Finally, Bonefish Grill has a dinner for 2 for 18 dollars a person (1 shared appetizer + a salad per person and an entree per person). Though that’s $36.00 for two people, considering that the entrees alone average $15.90 by themselves, there is some money to be saved with this deal.

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