March 2010

Food porn. That’s the look of Brooklyn Café’s vegetable plate. Don’t believe me? I have the photo to prove it.

Recently, for lunch, I went to this eatery. It’s no more than a block or so away from Slopes in Sandy Springs, just off Mount Vernon highway, near the intersection of Mount Vernon and Roswell Road. Though relatively convenient, it’s tucked away a bit, and that’s the only excuse I have for the kind of critical neglect this café has gone through in recent years. Other than Zagat, which seems to think highly of the café, no one talks about this eatery at all. After eating there myself, I think perhaps that’s something that should change.

For example, this is their smoked salmon appetizer starter:

Small, huh? This devotion to care also went into the entrée I had, the vegetable plate. The place is good looking, if a little small, with outdoor and indoor seating. Colors inside are blacks and pastels, and the walls are full of landscape paintings. Service was fast and excellent.

The smoked salmon was delicious. Hours after the fact, the smell of the salmon was on my fingers. The vegetables were also excellent. I even ate the green beans, which I seldom do if they’re not cooked in the Southern tradition. The artichoke brought back memories of my youth, when my mother would prepare artichokes and plenty of hollandaise sauce. Talk about a bit of heaven, and Brooklyn’s version of the old family treasure did not disappoint.

I showed my wife my photo of the vegetable plate, and yes we’re going back. I’m taking my family the next time. They won’t stand for anything less.

Verdict: Excellent little eatery, deserving of a lot more foodie attention. Very Highly recommended.

Brooklyn Cafe
220 Sandy Springs Circle
Atlanta GA 30028
(404) 843-8377

Brooklyn Cafe on Urbanspoon

Kampai is a small chain, with locations in Duluth and Lithonia, whose focus these days is on steaks, sushi, and tapas. You don’t need to take my word for it. It’s on the side of the building of their new location in Lawrenceville, in the same plaza (Avenue Webb Ginn) that houses Ted’s Montana Grill and Red Robin. Kampai is in the building that used to house On the Border, and they’ve done nice things to the inside. It’s a good looking place. There is a lot of black stain, natural wood finish, and brick, and a decent number of flat screens.

Though I arrived at lunch, after commenting on the lack of useful selection on their lunch menu, I ended up with their dinner menu. This menu is pretty large, with two pages devoted to various tapas and three pages to sushi rolls alone. This doesn’t count the extensive coverage of tempura dishes and also their hibachi meals. I’ve never been a huge tempura fan and hibachi would be dietary overkill. I focused on sushi and tapas, looking for items I could eat.

I rapidly found the edamame, which I ordered and their braised pork belly on sauteed tofu. Along with that I ordered salmon nigiri and salmon roe nigiri (or so I thought) and also what they called a diet roll. There were no tapas available that had just a vegetable. I would have liked some steamed greens, or spinach, or bok choy with my meal.

The edamame came out steamed and the serving was large. I was very appreciative of what I was offered. The pork belly was smaller than I expected, looking a lot like a thick cut slice of bacon cut into squares and placed on a bed of tofu. Still, fat is a luxury I can afford. The flavor was good and the tofu welcome.

The nigiri ended up sashimi instead. It wasn’t what I expected but this was rather a welcome mistake. The foods were on mint leaves and then placed on what looked like daikon slivers. Both were fresh and flavorful. The diet roll was just okay. Edible yes, but no mind blowing flavors. I would have dropped this if there were a single steamed vegetable tapas, but no such luck at this time.

In retrospect, this small chain seems to do well on the edges of the metro area. The style of the place, to cater to many different trends in the industry, is similar to Sakegura and indeed, Nakato. It’s not as popular the closer to the city you get, as people seem to want specialized eateries in places like Buckhead and Midtown. But it should do well in the Avenue Webb Ginn mall area. It has a nice upscale look. When I showed, it was attracting Asian and American clientele. With the local Urban Flats shut down for the time being, it fills a niche for better dining in the neighborhood, and it is far quieter than Bonefish. I like its chances, and wish this chain the best.

Verdict: Versatile upscale dining in the Avenue Webb Ginn area. Highly recommended.

1250 Scenic Highway #1300
Lawrenceville GA 30045
(678) 951-1000

Kampai on Urbanspoon

9700 Medlock Bridge Rd
Duluth, GA 30097
(678) 417-0086

Kampai Japanese & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

7105 Stonecrest Pkwy
Lithonia, GA 30038
(770) 484-1801

Kampai Sushi & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

Notes: There have been many behind the scenes conversations with Mike Stock (Gadget Geek) about the Avenue Webb Ginn area. He was the one who pointed out to me that Urban Flats was closed, among other things.

The surgery was a success, and the boot is gone. There are lingering pains here and there, but I can fit into a shoe for the first time in months, as opposed to wearing slippers. I can be decent company for someone going out. That’s definitely a plus. So I went out, tried Kampai, a steak, seafood, and tapas joint, in Lawrenceville, located where the On the Border used to be. Nice place, I liked it. Photos and a review shortly.

My boonie peppers are alive but not doing well. Some may have died. I need some warmer weather, about 80 during the day and better than 50 at night to be sure. Till then I water them and keep my fingers crossed.

The New York Times has an interesting article on the effects the lack of slaughterhouses have on the locavore movement. Higher slaughterhouse standards are causing slaughterhouses to close. Therefore, farmers trying to supply regional meat are having to book time for slaughter before animals are being born.

Finally a pic. I got a new scale – the Ozeri – that could weigh to the gram. The spice mill I finally devoted to sichuan pepper left my daughter bereft. Before, the mill had black pepper and she was enjoying being able to grind her own. I bought another. I’ll make sure that one stays pepper oriented.

Ozeri scale versus the one we've had for 25 years.

I checked my scale this morning and I was at the lowest I’ve been since my early February hospitalization, roughly 20 pounds lighter. I have about 60 more pounds to go to be where I wish to be. To lose twenty pounds is very typical of a weight loss program for me. I lose 20 quickly and then I stall. But I can’t stall this time. The stakes are higher.

If, however, I count the weight loss from spring of 2009 and my peak, this is the most long term and extensive weight loss I’ve gone through. From my peak weight in 2009 to now, it’s far closer to 40 pounds lost. This mean, essentially, that I’m breaking old traditions and certainly have nothing to fear from the demons of the past. Though I wouldn’t wish my current health demons on anyone else, this does suggest that food blogging and weight loss are not mutually exclusive.

To start, you do have to have the nerve to set up a food journal. This I think is most important. If you write down what you eat, you’ll have a record of what you did, good or bad, and you can trim out the bad, emphasize the good. Second, find a diet plan and stick to it. The exchange dieting I’m doing is a micromanager’s delight, but very flexible within the bounds it sets.  Once I found myself in the rhythm of this diet, the food choices accessible at times are pretty surprising. If I don’t eat enough on one day, sometimes ways to compensate include chocolate, or maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

20 pounds over 2 months is roughly 2.5 pounds a week. That’s far more weight loss than my calorie intake suggests I should be losing. My exercise has been so modest as to be laughable in some circles, but my weight losses throughout March are correlated with that activity. I’d throw out the idea that systematic activity can increase your basal metabolic rate, because at this point, that’s my only explanation for the rate of weight loss over the last 15-20 days. In February, I’d say some of it was simply eating breakfast, and shifting my eating habits back to a more suitable pattern. The last time I was at this weight and then lost 20 pounds, I also lost 4 inches in waist size.

In terms of articles, last week I went through foot surgery. I’m still in a surgical boot, which leaves the wrapping of the affected area exposed. I can’t get it wet. The wrapping will be removed today, but that means I’ve been on my back, for the most part, for the previous week. I have one article in queue that I haven’t finished yet. That one will have to do until I’m wearing slippers, at least.

And to note: when your limbs are failing you and you need to exercise, there are resources. There is a terrific pamphlet put out by the National Institute of Aging, a 124 page color pamphlet, available as a PDF, that has a lot of neat exercises. And before you sneer at the modest nature of these choices, try say, leg extensions (page 59) and instead of holding your leg out for 1 second, hold it out there between 30 and 60 seconds. Try doing a few minutes of those.

Persepolis is a Persian restaurant on the east side of Roswell Road between Mt. Vernon Highway and Abernathy Road. Though the sign is large and easily seen from the road, the restaurant itself is set back a bit, and the entrance is found towards the back of the building it inhabits, behind an international market. There was plenty of parking the day I came.

Inside, the look is western and Hellenistic touches (i.e. Doric columns) are all over. There is art on the walls, including depictions of winged lions. I found the place and the seating to be a lot more comfortable than some Middle Eastern restaurants. A chair is more than enough for me.

I was too late that day for the buffet, which otherwise looked good, and was ordering from the dinner menu. I ordered a shish kebab, a mix of vegetables, rice, and beef, and seven spices torshi. Before the meal came a large chunk of flatbread arrived, and the torshi soon after. The torshi was a mix of vegetables marinated in vinegar, and so tasted like a delicious, spicy relish. The bread, what I had of it, was excellent. The bread came with sides, including a chunk of cheese, mint leaves, and some very welcome walnut halves. (There were 8 of them. I counted.)

Seven spices torshi

When the entrée arrived I knew I wasn’t going to finish it. The rice portion was enormous and the steak chunks were huge. I ate all the vegetables, and perhaps half the meat. I doggie bagged the rest. The meat itself was tender and well cooked.

Service, given the hour I showed, was pretty good.

Verdict: A very pleasant place to eat. A bit more western than some restaurants of this kind, and thus more accessible. Highly recommended.

6435 Roswell Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 257-9090

Persepolis on Urbanspoon

In the search to satisfy itches that are hard to scratch, a lot of clever people have created various food products that are sweet or starchy but have a much slower uptake than, say, the infamous three whites (white flour, white rice, white sugar). One common trick is to substitute sugar alcohols for sugars in chocolates and other candies. These products tend to be called sugar free or sugarless, which is a bit deceptive. These products have calories just like any foodstuff, and those calories must be accounted for in a diet.

Another one of these products is Dreamfields pasta, which is processed in some special way to slow down its uptake. On diabetes forums, people will warn you not to overcook Dreamfields, because then it seems to lose its magic properties. And if you’re going to use it in a casserole, undercook it a bit in advance before mixing it with the rest of your ingredients.

Anyway, I was just handed a bite or three of their Southwest Pasta Salad recipe, and it certainly opened my eyes. Great stuff. My wife substituted red onions for the sweet ones in the recipe, and it still had a delightful flavor. I’m mentioning it because you don’t have to use Dreamfields to get this great tasting dish, but if you’re watching blood sugars, you surely can.

Mini Hot Pot 2 is a cousin to a restaurant along Buford Highway, and as Chow Down Atlanta has found out, is recently opened. I’ve been intrigued because any style of eating that lets me pick and choose what I eat works wonders when I’m dieting, especially as specific as my diet can be.

In this kind of eatery, the tables have individual heaters (with individual heat controls) and they place small steel pots into the sunkern heater area. You get to choose the kind of broth you want (4 kinds) and whether it is spicy or not. There are a variety of meat choices and a wide array of side dishes to add to the pot. All the food that appears, you cook yourself in the pot.

The first time I came here, I took my daughter because my wife was ailing. She chose pork as her main meat and I took lamb. The lamb was excellent in the pot, as nothing hid the flavor of the meat. We added a lot of vegetables as sides, including chinese cabbage, spinach, and watercress. Staff was extremely helpful, guiding my daughter and I through all the intricacies of the meal.

watercress in foreground, spinach in the background.

We came the next day, as my wife was feeling better. This time both my daughter and I chose lamb, and my wife chose chicken as her meat. We started going to the “dipping sauce” bar by ourselves, making something to dip the cooked foods in.

In comparison with Gom Shabu Shabu, which we recently reviewed, I think Mini Hot Pot 2 has more side choices, more choices in the stock. My wife’s reaction to Mini Hot Pot 2 was that it was “wonderful”, and she spent a good part of the afternoon plotting ways to get various members of her family there. I can only hope she succeeds, as I think it would be as big a success with them as it was with us.

Verdict: Excellent place to get your veggie fix and your glasses steamed. Highly recommended.

Mini Hot Pot 2
2174 Pleasant Hill Rd. Suite 101
Duluth, GA 30096
(678) 417-8888

Mini Hot Pot 2 on Urbanspoon

Gom Shabu Shabu is a small restaurant in a strip mall along Satellite Boulevard, just north of Pleasant Hill Road, and it was one of these restaurants I ended up stopping in while looking for another place. The sign intrigued me, as did the single smoker outside the door. The windows are silvered and the windows also have bright red Korean letters advertising the restaurant. I was a little frustrated and wanting something different. The idea of choosing my own foods intrigued me.

No camera though. I had left it at home. This will be the first review in a while where I had no camera. Blissful Glutton has reviewed this place, and her review has tons of photos. I do recommend it.

Once inside you’ll find that each diner has their own pot. There is no ‘show’ as with Japanese nabemono. Instead, you largely handle the foods yourself. There is a long table in the middle, a series of smaller tables for 4 on both sides, separated by cloth screens. Small steel pots punctuate the longish bar and tables. It’s cute, the single pot and the place is full of nicely lacquered wood. The furniture isn’t heavy, and in terms of weight, reminded me a bit of Myung Ga Won. Most of the clientele are totally familiar with this cuisine, so you can peek past the blinds if you need hints.

The routine: you order a main dish and perhaps some extras. I’d strongly recommend, in this place, adding some extra mushrooms, because their mushroom assortment adds a lot of flavor. I also purchased extra chinese cabbage and extra broccoli. I think the lunch shabu shabu ran about 10 dollars without the extras.

Once you’ve ordered, they add simmering chicken broth to your pot and then you can put stuff in the plate. Among the accompaniments were cabbage leaves, spinach, cellophane noodles, an egg, a hot dog, a longish chunk of fish cake (looked a lot like the dog), some seaweed, tofu, a thin slice of fried tofu, a small slice of pumpkin and some Asian yam. As the broth grows hotter, you add your foods into the pot, pull them out, dip them into a dipping sauce and eat them. The sauce is good. I asked for more about half way through my meal.

There is very few little bulk with this kind of meal. There are a lot of vegetables and a few ounces of thinly sliced meat. If you’re after Outback sized servings you’re not going to get it here. But you will have total control over a meal that can be made as light in carbohydrates as you like.

When I asked afterwards about the place, the receptionist/manager said it had Chinese and Korean influences. I can believe that. Compared to Mini Hot Pot 2, which is a similar restaurant, side dishes here aren’t as specific. In Mini 2, you can get enoki mushrooms and only enoki mushrooms. On Gom, you have mushrooms (small) and mushrooms (large), an assortment. So just my opinion, but Gom might be better for a hot pot beginner.

Service was good. The restaurant had a family feel to it, because staff were of all ages.

Verdict: Nice place to have Korean style shabu shabu or hot pot. Highly Recommended.

Gom Shabu Shabu
3502 Staellite Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 495-9088

Gom Shabu Shabu on Urbanspoon

There is an excellent article on salsa in the New York Times, barring only one thing: once again, when something from Mexico is involved, the Times can’t avoid taking pot shots at Tex-Mex and Mexi-Cali cuisines. That’s an affectation I’ve lost all patience for. The central conceit is that a gringo reporter from New York knows far more about Mexican foods, in all their permutations, than a Tejano or Hispanic born in California ever would.

I spent a little bit of time at Cheeseburger in Paradise. I needed something different at 3pm and the end result was a sandwich CIB calls the Dragon Fire Chicken Sandwich. With the sauce on the side, I liked it a lot. Also interesting is this was the first time I was ever asked about specific issues in my diet, after telling a server (bartender in this case) that I was on a strict diet. Kudos there. They’ll also give you a side of steamed broccoli, instead of fries, if you ask.

It’s a show down, a face off. Assi Supermarket is sponsoring a cooking challenge: are you non-Korean and have a knack for bulgogi or that kimchi soup? This is a chance to shine, as Assi wants to hold a contest. Details are in the photo below.

Just a hunch, but with so many Hispanics in the food industry, I believe it will be a Hispanic line chef in a Korean restaurant that will win this thing.

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