April 2012

I’ve already reviewed the Local Republic, but I hadn’t gone to the LR for dinner so far. I corrected that. It’s as nice at dinner as it is at lunch, but more crowded and a little louder. If you want parking on the weekends, try to arrive before 7pm. It’s always a bit tough to park around Lawrenceville Square.

Lamb burger

Jerk Chicken

Hummus plate, along with crawfish sliders.

If you’re within a 30-45 minute drive of Lawrenceville Square, just go sometime. This is one of the best, and most ambitious eateries in the area.

Local Republic on Urbanspoon

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This is a topic, I’ll note, covered nicely on the Sous Vide Supreme blog, in a recipe supplied by Richard Blais, but my take on lamb as steaks is that you can treat them pretty much the way you would treat beef steak. This lamb was something of an impulse buy. I’m short of fresh herbs, so I made do with the powdered stuff I usually use on steaks these days.

I sealed the meat in a Food Saver bag. This isn’t necessary, a good Ziploc will do.

The steak was cooked at 130 for two hours, then 131 the remaining three. Note that with my setup (a PID controller), I have a peak temperature initially 2-3 degrees higher than my nominal setting. This steak peaked at 132 F. Afterwards it was spiced (kosher salt, cracked black pepper, garlic, onion powder, a little cracked red pepper)

then finished on the stove, 45 seconds a side at a high heat. With a red wine reduction, the final result looked something like this.

As a side, I tried a steamable edamame I found at the local grocer.

This product tasted better than it looked coming out of the microwave. Be warned.

Little Mexico is showing some interesting lunch specials on their blackboard.

We were able to take advantage of those recently. Shown below is their hot and spicy burrito. Ground beef, beans and rice, along with a spicy salsa mark this lunchtime choice.

The chile relleno lunch special is also a whole pepper, as opposed to a ring of pepper with a little beef poured inside.

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.

One of the hardest things to do is write meaningful reviews of restaurants that are difficult to categorize. This comes into play in Chinese in a large way. A lot of Chinese eateries are American Chinese. They derive from a 19th century American fad, the dish chop suey. The development of this fad, and a very loving tribute to hyphenated Chinese cuisines in general, can be found in Jenny 8 Lee’s book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles“.

The old Cantonese style American Chinese restaurants therefore have had over 100 years to perfect the style, the pace, the ambience of their cuisine. They specialize in making nervous eaters relaxed about their food. Service is king, the food is more a queen. The dishes are not spicy, and focus on the freshness of the proteins and the texture of the vegetables. A good moo goo gai pan is a classic “old style” dish.

Newer authentic restaurants feature bold spicing, and a lot of new Chinese staff. Mainland China is hardly a service culture. The people themselves are outspoken by even American standards. No subject is taboo, except politics (and perhaps sex). As a result, the service is rough. Some of the things servers say to customers and to each other can be shocking. Even in better places, things happen. I was chased out of Peter Chang’s once by a waitress who was convinced I didn’t tip her. Turns out, her busboy had pocketed the bills I had left on the table.

Before the meal, to whet the appetite.

I enjoyed the flavors and the heat of this spicy lamb dish.

So what to make of a place with old fashioned quiet and service, Americanized menus, but bold spicy food? What is it? How would an American know? Thing is, that’s exactly what you get from Hunan Gourmet. It feels like a hybrid of flavor authenticity and the old style Cantonese super service.

I’m not sure why this combination makes this place almost uncommented upon, but it does. The whole 3 comments on Yelp about it immediately contrast it with the nearby Canton Cooks (not even the same cuisine, but famously authentic, with wait staff who noisily eat in front of everyone). On Urbanspoon, MA seems to “get it”, or at least MA agrees with me about Hunan Gourmet’s signature virtues:

Great, family-staffed place. Friendly service. Quiet inside dining – not your typical noisy, chaotic joint.

I think, in a nutshell, by working so hard to act like the mid 20th century ideal of a Chinese restaurant, it’s hard to know where authentic begins and American Chinese ends. But if what you want is nice quiet service, good spicy food, and time to think, there aren’t many places like it in the city.

Hunan Gourmet
6070 Sandy Springs Circle
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 303-8888

Hunan Gourmet on Urbanspoon

I’ve eaten plenty of barbecue in my time. When I was a youngster and visiting my folks in Texas, we’d favor a barbecue joint on the south and west of Forth Worth with sawdust floors. When I lived in Houston for grad school, Goode Company Barbecue was my favored hangout. In Saint Louis? There were some fine K. C. Masterpiece stores. In Durham, North Carolina, I was introduced to Brunswick stew and Carolina style ‘cue. While living in Florida, I had some of the best ribs I’ve ever eaten, smoked forever, at a small joint near railroad tracks in the greater Orlando area. I learned most of what I know about smoke, though, from the original owners of Spiced Right Barbecue.

In Atlanta, where I do most of my blogging, I can name at least six first rate barbecue joints: Fox Brothers, Big Shanty Smokehouse , Heirloom Barbecue, Grand Champion Barbecue, Community Q, and ironically, Hottie Hawgs can bring it at their best (make that 7: Mad Dog’s is also quite good). What do the best barbecue joints offer? Usually they have consistently smoked meats, excellent sides, and they rarely run out of product as the day goes on. They know their audience well enough they don’t often get caught with their pants down. Smoking meats a long time limits the quantity of food you can prepare, much more so than creating “fall off the bone” ribs, which could be done in a pot of water over the stove, in an oven, or perhaps by sous-vide, with a quick finish on the grill.

Silver Star's brisket plate is a winner.

Coming from Atlanta, I have plenty of people I can talk to about barbecue, such as Mike Stock of 285 Foodies, David Jones of Eat Buford Highway, and Dustin from Georgia Barbecue Hunt. Some of my reference points are no longer in Atlanta: 3rd Degree Berns is up in New York these days.

I just want people to have a clue when I start talking about the Silver Star.

I went there during my high school’s 25th class reunion. I hadn’t seen some of these people in decades, and we had a long table in this restaurant that we filled; perhaps 30 or more people were at our table. However, there were tables longer than ours and they were full as well. The place was packed.

One of the many lovely staffers at Silver Star. Geaux Tigers!

The date: it was the first LSU-Alabama contest of 2011, and many of the staffers were in gold shirts with purple trim. It wasn’t hard to see who the crowd was rooting for.

The point I’m trying to make is that this was about the worst possible circumstance to see the best possible food this eatery can deliver. I know the Silver Star folks are paying attention to their ‘cue. You don’t invest in a competition smoking rig and leave it outside your restaurant simply to let it rust in the rain.

Two meat plate, with a loaded potato.

Mixed plate. Only the brisket impressed.

Side shot of a rib, looking for a smoke ring.

That said, I had a mixed plate, with 3 meats, and only one of the meats was good enough to be culinarily significant. I had brisket, sausage, and ribs. The ribs were simply ordinary, and it was hard to tell if they had any smoke at all. The sausage was sausage: good, but again, hard to tell if it was a smoked product. The brisket was quite good, had a visible smoke ring, tasted like smoked meat, and delivered the kinds of flavors I expect from brisket.

The best way to test the rest of their meats would be to come back at lunchtime, on an off day, when they are seriously smoking, and try their food out.

Ribs run out quickly. And when they do, it’s a significant event. The chef at Fox Brothers came out one day, spoke to my wife because she got the last rack of ribs they had (it was a mid afternoon meal, iirc). In discussions with the chef, owner, and manager of Hottie Hawgs, I know they have “competition” style ribs and “sneaky ribs”, and the latter rely on tenderness and sauce. HH uses them when they can’t supply huge quantities of the “good stuff”.

I’m a little puzzled why a place that competes on a BBQ circuit would have such an inconsistent product, though. I’m going to chalk it up to the sheer volume of customers that day. I really can’t do anything else. Other bloggers are high on their steaks, but a perfect steak is much easier to make than good cue.

Service was really good, considering the crush the Silver Star had that day. It can handle large crowds, and feed plenty effectively. But, just my ought two, if you want their best meats, come when the crowds are small and you can see the smokers working. You’re more likely to run into a consistent product.

Silver Star Smokehouse
1201 Dixie Overland Rd
Bossier City, LA 71111
(318) 752-3633

Silver Star Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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It’s a pretty blue building along Barksdale Boulevard, near Johnny’s Pizza and close to my father’s new digs. I was curious about the restaurant, because, in all honesty, I was getting it confused with Full Moon BBQ in Tuscaloosa, and hadn’t sorted out the differences at the time. BBQ is always worth it when it’s good, but finding good BBQ is never easy.

Simplified, there are two kinds of barbecue eaters. There are those who want richly smoked meats. And then there are those who want their meats fall off the bone tender. I’m more in the former camp, as Spiced Right in Lilburn GA spoiled me. The original owner of Spiced Right was a competition smoker. His ribs were simply phenomenal.

I recall going through a line, selecting meats, thinking the prices were good. I had some ribs, and the pork was cut up into tender chunks of meat, unlike the shredded pork found in Georgia. The sides were good, the greens in the southern style.

Fine sides, decent meats. Would have preferred a more richly smoked product.

The meats? Smoked, but it was hard to tell. Tender, yes, but so barely smoked as to almost be indetectable. The meats were tasty, the sauces decent, but if you’re a BBQ head and looking for the best, there are better BBQ joints in the Shreveport Bossier area.

Blue Moon BBQ and Grill
4100 Barksdale Blvd., Suite 122
Bossier City, LA 71112
(318) 747-8989

Blue Moon BBQ and Grill on Urbanspoon

It’s a modest restaurant in a strip mall at the corner of Texas Street and Benton Road, and one that has steadily acquired a substantial reputation. The owners of Kim’s appear to be Vietnamese who came from New Orleans as a product of the Katrina disaster. The culinary basis of this restaurant is founded on two solid traditions.

You want napkins? Kim's has napkins.

Kim’s is a classic strip mall hole in the wall. You order at a countertop before you sit. The menu is a whiteboard above the cash register. Napkins are a roll of paper, that you can tear off at will. Chairs are made of hollow metal.

The po boy featured good bread, and small dry spicy crawfish. The gumbo was disappointing. Too much rice and not enough meat and broth.

I honestly made a mistake when I came here. I ordered the crawfish po’ boy, which while good, just didn’t wow me. A lot more happy, almost buried in their food, were the folks who had ordered boiled crawfish. People were ordering and eating those by the buckets. To note, there are also boiled crawfish places in Atlanta (Crawfish Shack and New Orleans Seafood) run by Vietnamese who learned Cajun cooking along the coast, and the crawdads at Kim’s seemed a little pricey to me. I can get them for about $3.00 a dozen cheaper in the ATL. Note: The owner Duc thinks my pricing is the product of a mistaken memory, and he notes that as of March 2012, his crawfish price is 4.49 a pound.

That said, I don’t know Kim’s costs, the volume they serve, the quality of the fish. I didn’t get to those. The po boy had plenty of tasty crawfish (though small) and was a fair serving of food. The gumbo was almost pure rice, wasn’t particularly impressive, and I wouldn’t order it again if I ever went back.

Boiled crawfish are the king here. The po boys are just decent.

Kim’s Seafood
901 Benton Road, Suite E
Bossier City, LA 71111
(318) 752-2425

Kim's Seafood on Urbanspoon

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