September 2010

Step on the scale and I’m around 175.8. And I had told my wife yesterday that I would try to stay between 175 and 185, or maybe  that was one of these totally internalized conversations; hard to tell presently. But I’m concerned. I’ve not been placed in a situation where I’m supposed to gain weight. Thing is, I look pretty good at 175. A lot more definition in my legs, for example, without losing shape anywhere else.

But still, how to slow or stop the weight loss? I dig into my very neglected cheese drawer, skim past the three unused chunks of parmesan cheese, past the cheddars, past the Dubliner. There it is, a nice chunk of Kerry Gold Ivernia, and I cut off a slice, estimate it to be 2 ounces. Then I weigh it on the scale. 0.55 ounces. So I shave more off, until I have a whole 1.3 ounces of good rich cheese. The bite has salty overtones I had forgotten, the rich cheesy aftertaste lingers. Then its back to Fiber One, milk, flax seed oil and the low fat Baby Bels for the rest of breakfast.

Web MD says I have to eat 2800 calories a day, if I’m exercising lightly, to gain 1 pound a week. I can do it easily, but can I do it safely? Saturated fat is ‘teh ev1l’ to my doctor. My maximum carb intake is fixed. Proteins above a certain point (along with calorie richness) lead to gout issues. Left behind are monounsaturated fats: oils and nuts. Thing  is, I can demolish a can of cashews in an  hour, much less a day.

Bocado is a roomy but small restaurant on Atlanta’s Ground Zero for restaurants, Howell Mill Road. To say that it has attracted a lot of attention is an understatement. It was hard,  in 2009 and 2010, to read any reviewer without a mention of (or allusion to) this place. I was waiting for the buzz to die down a bit before meandering into Midtown to try this restaurant, but the buzz never seems to go away. Something about this place hits a sweet spot with people.

Perhaps it’s the signature Bocado burger. I didn’t have one this day but plenty of people did. Perhaps 70% of the clientèle this day were chowing down on the Bocado burger stack. The weather was bad, which is why I was here in the first place. I’d rather eat than fight hellish fall thunderstorms.

They have a set of really good sounding small plates as well as entrées at dinner. I aimed for the cheese plate and Bocado’s chicken.

The cheeses were good, the Roquefort the best of the four, in my opinion. I like my cheeses with some bite and a lingering aftertaste. The chicken was moist, great crust. I could have used more collards and fewer grits, the sauce adding just a hint of worthwhile heat (I’ll ask for more of the sauce when I go back). The service was fantastic, perhaps even indulgent. The food never missed a beat, and I wasn’t even eating this restaurant’s signature item.

The plates are smaller, so if you’re wanting huge servings for your dollar, this isn’t a place to go. I was comfortable, though, after I ate, and the richly flavored servings make Bocado a perfect “on the way to” place: on the way to the movies, on the way to a party, on the way home on a harsh, rainy day.

Verdict: Graceful. Good food, superb service. Highly recommended.

887 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 704-5850

Bocado on Urbanspoon

Got up, weighed myself. 177.5 pounds. Instead of the diet being virtually over, it is over. Maintenance from now on. I haven’t been posting much because I had surgery for a hernia last Friday. It was relatively pain free within a couple days, though coughing and laughing still hurt, a lot.  Now I’m in, as Mike Stock of 285 Foodies puts it, in a “livit” from now on.

I lost most of my weight using Cheerios as my mail morning cereal. I’ll note that I was lucky in this regard, as many diabetics can’t handle the sugars in the combination of cereal and milk. I’ve found three more cereals I can use in the mornings, two oldies and one that’s new to me.

The new one is Fiber One, which has 25g of carbs per serving, 14g of that dietary fiber (and therefore, depending on the rule used, can be subtracted from the total carbs of the day, or half the fiber can be subtracted). The second is a version of Special K called Protein Plus, which has only 2g of sugars. The third is any of the kinds of Shredded Wheat, which can be used if you will cut the serving size in half. Sugars in the Shredded Wheat category are exceptionally low, but the standard serving has well over 40 grams of carbs. Half the serving falls into a tolerable range, with milk.

Isabella’s Cafe has been slowly creeping up UrbanSpoon’s 10 hottest list, in part due to excellent reviews by Bob Townsend of the AJC, and Amy of Amy on Food, but also in part to a well rounded, diverse menu. The choices were interesting enough that my wife was asking me whether we should go some days ago, and only various misadventures kept us from arriving at this cafe until recently.

I was ravenous when I arrived, a product of missing a couple meals on the day we arrived. Both my wife and my daughter seemed to be looking forward to eating here. The restaurant is very roomy once you arrive, with an exceptionally high ceiling. Tables are spaced far apart, and there is some (though not a lot of) outdoor seating.

There are some good looking appetizers here, and an equally tantalizing collection of salads. One virtue of Isabellas is consistently high quality greens. Food issues such as mine leave me eating a lot of vegetables instead of pastas and other starches. Isabella’s salads are a nice way to avoid the starches that often fill dinner entrées.

This is not, however, a diabetic friendly restaurant (though it does have the potential to be one). The salad dressings are invariably sweet and sugary. Things like a balsamic vinaigrette  are nowhere to be seen. Desserts are all home made, sound wonderful, and are loaded with sweet calories.  All entrées come with plenty of starches, and many of the appetizers are breaded.  Salads and sandwiches make the restaurant bearable, and there are just enough options in the sides and vegetable plates to make it useful.

Ambiance, especially after a hard week, is pretty fantastic. The photos on the walls are appealing, the small descriptions worth a read. The music is a nice accompaniment to the casual atmosphere, and the way the sun filters into the cafe leaves everything bathed in very natural lighting.

In terms of individual plates, the grilled veggie salad was perhaps our favorite, really excellent.  My daughter really liked her Swahili shrimp curry with mango and the samosas we tried went over really well.  My shrimp and andouille sausage sandwich was good and the grilled jerk chicken sandwich pretty good. The spinach was, compared to the other, more spicy alternatives, a bit pale and mild to my tastes. Breads overall were of very high quality.

Wait staff are good, if a little too helpful at times. That salad I ordered was large, but please, step back and realize that some people order a lot of greens for a reason!

Verdict: Deserving of its accolades, with good food and a good staff. A bit too sweet and starchy, but good breads and greens. Highly Recommended.

Isabella’s Cafe
910 West College Avenue
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 373-7177

Isabella's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Big Shanty Smokehouse has been described as a small roadside BBQ restaurant, but until you actually get there and look, it’s a little hard to imagine just how small it is. It’s smaller than Spiced Right in Roswell, just a converted house really, and a typical postwar American house at that. Staff was perhaps 3 or 4 people. But out of that small smokery comes some big flavors.

I ordered Steve’s Sampler, a platter which came with four separate meats and two sides.There was brisket, pulled pork, ribs and a decent sized chunk of sausage. The pulled pork was spot on, both smoky and tender and excellent. The ribs were very good, smoky with a thin smoke ring that circled the meat. The sausage was flavorful and nicely spiced. The brisket, while it had a visible ring and was tender and tasty, wasn’t quite to the caliber of the other three meats this day. Still, it was real barbecue through and through. I ate what I could, took the rest home to family. I could smell the smoke while bringing the meats to the door.

My wife raved about the rib she had.

Verdict: Big Shanty Smokehouse is “The Real Deal”. Highly recommended.

Big Shanty Smokehouse
3393 Cherokee Street
Kennesaw, GA 30144
(770) 499-7444

Big Shanty Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

A nice lady named Jackie Ewing left this message, which rather than leaving as an addendum to a post, I’ll use as the introduction to this blog entry:

Hi I couldn’t find an email address to send this to, but I’m an Account Manager from G2, a marketing firm, and we’re putting together a cooking contest called the Aetna Healthy Food Fight, and it’s making its way around the country. It’s coming to Atlanta on October 23-24. I found your blog and it caught my attention. You, or your followers, could get great exposure for recipes and meet celebrity cooks (Bobby Flay, Sunny Anderson, Sara Moulton, or Cat Cora). Please go to to check it out. Deadline to sign up for Atlanta is October 6. Good luck if you decide to enter! had some nice things to say about the Healthy Food Fight, along with pictures of Bobby and some early winners.

In recent days I’ve seen a few interesting smaller restaurants, taken a look, and found that they were closed and/or in the middle of extensive renovation. So my latest food photo is from Maya Fresh Grill, a very good chicken taco special. Ask Guillermo if he has any food specials; I’m sure he’ll be happy to oblige.

Stony River Legendary Steaks is a small chain, perhaps 10 locations total in several different cities, that specializes in higher end premium steaks. I’ve never had much luck getting into one of these, as every time I had tried in the past, I could never get past the 90 minute to 2 hour waits and the cramped seating while people would wait. I’m sorry, but unless I’m really motivated, I don’t like it when I have to wait longer than a meal should take for a meal.

This day, however, the wait was only 30 minutes or so, and we decided to stick around. I do have to say it’s an uncomfortable wait. The couches provided are older, the space allotted isn’t adequate, and staff doesn’t pick up on the little things that can make people comfortable while waiting. Offer people a menu while they wait? No, they don’t do that. I suspect an orgy of success has cost the chain the concept of initial common courtesies.

The rolls, with a sweetened butter, went fast.

In part, staff can get away with it because the meats are, in fact, excellent. Once seated, the service wasn’t just good, it was superior, and there was plenty of space while seated. They started with breads, round balls that tasted more like a sweet bread or a donut than a traditional roll. They were good. Even I had to set my dietary issues aside, and have one.

Entrées were trout, a roasted half chicken, and I had lamb chops. The lamb was just spot on. It was cooked exactly the way I asked, and the spicing accented the flavors of the meat extremely well. The meat was tender and well marbled. Best I ever had? I might not say that, but a superior serving of lamb, yes. The chicken was really  juicy, well spiced and flavorful, and you could tell the trout was a grilled fish, the flavor of the grilling was just there.

Sides were good but not as mind blowing as the meats. I thought the asparagus was good, but they were larger stalks. I tend to prefer the smaller, finer stalks that places like Whole Foods now sell. Mushrooms were very good; the wine reduction they were cooked in was a terrific complement to the dish. Green beans suffered because of how they were presented. My wife’s roasted chicken came in a plate full of roasting juices. The juices soaked her green beans through and she wasn’t very inclined to eat them. This place tends to glory a bit in their animal fats and if you’re not a fat lover, the presentation overall can be a bit off putting.

Towards the end of the meal and as we left, we started getting a lot of questions about how we liked the meal and whether we were happy. I was glad to see this, as it shows management is trying to get the kinds of feedback they need to improve. If I would have one suggestion, they need to push some of that curiosity forward, because as good as their meats are, and as successful as their restaurants seem to be, they might be running off some people who would delight in their food and service, if a little more attention were paid to them in the beginning.

Verdict: Uncomfortable waits. Superb meats. Good sides. Superior service. Watch out for the fats. Highly recommended, overall.

Stony River Legendary Steaks
5800 State Bridge Road
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 476-0102

Stoney River Legendary Steaks on Urbanspoon

My family has been talking about traveling Arabia Mountain Trail for some time, but until the pollen counts grew low enough that my wife could comfortably ride, we’ve been patiently waiting. But this weekend, the weather was cool enough and the poillen mild enough for the whole family to get outside and enjoy the ride. Arabia Mountain Trail has paths that circle the north end of Stonecrest Mall, so it was at Stonecrest that we joined the trail, and traveled about 6-7 miles down it and back.

There is a lot of stopping and starting, waiting at corners of roads in the beginning,  but then it begins to open up and the views can be impressive, especially the bridges.

There are farmhouses and barns along the way as well, and portions of the  trail so quiet and wild I could reach out and almost touch the deer alongside the trail.

Next time we’ll bring food and water with us. The trail has a lot of shallow dips and rises, but after a few miles of this, it’s wearying for people like us, just starting out any kind of organized riding. But the sights, the quiet, the possibility of seeing others enjoying the path is pretty refreshing for a pleasant September day. I suspect we’ll be back, and I’ll be wearing a backpack with supplies next time.

Gary’s Bistro is a restaurant that has been opening for a while now, setting up in the space occupied by Urban Flats previously. The owner is Gary Martin Hays, he of the workman’s compensation law firm, and the unforgettable refrigerator magnets. Gary, along with executive chef Tess Sanek, is trying to fill a void created when Urban Flats left: that of a casual but upscale place to eat in the Snellville area.

The bistro does look nice, with a lot of glass, plenty of space, plenty of natural lighting, nice tables, booths and chairs. The eatery appears to seat about a dozen tables of 4 and perhaps 15 tables of two inside, with options for outside seating as well. Staff dress in black soft shirts and jeans, with green aprons. There are plenty of staff here: perhaps six wait staff, a bartender, a manager, and a lady who may well have been Tess acting as traffic cop near the grill area. I didn’t sneak over to see if the fine pizza oven was still there, but I suspect that it is. Pizzas they call pizzettas are on the menu (lunch menu here, dinner menu here).  The wine bar has been largely retained as well, another feature I’m really glad to see.

The  lunch menu is reasonable. Dinner salads run around 8 to  9 dollars, sandwiches 9 to 11 dollars, pizzettas around 12 to 13 dollars. I had the bistro’s filet mignon sliders, which were smaller bits of food, but  the Mahi BLT I ordered for my daughter was certainly large enough, and on excellent bread.  The Georgia caviar (boiled peanuts in a spiral wire container) seems to me to be both homage and a bit of fun with Georgia’s roots.

Roasted red pepper and gouda soup

The country salad I liked a great deal. I’ve had more than my share of meals in school, where what I ate was a big chunk of pumpernickel, a chunk of Stilton or Roquefort (whatever I could get from the local cheese chops), and as much Shiner Bock as $1 or $2 could get me (a quarter a glass at the grad student bar). The good blue cheese, the toasted pecans pretty well transported back to those moments.

There was very little to complain about in this meal. I would have preferred a chewier bread with the sliders, but a chewier bread would have made them something else, right? The raspberry vinaigrette with the country salad was too sweet for me, but I’m pretty sure I could have asked for a balsamic vinegar if I wanted. Service overall was attentive, constant, terrific. As this was at best a first impression, I’m tempted to follow up on Mike Stock’s offer to meet him here sometime, perhaps for dinner. They serve lamb here, and I’m a sucker for good lamb.

Verdict: An anticipated and welcome addition to the Snellville/Lawrenceville dining scene. Good food, great service. Highly recommended.

Gary’s Bistro
1250 Scenic Highway, Suite 1240
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(770) 978-1800

Gary's Bistro on Urbanspoon

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