This dish is from  Fung Mei’s Sichuan menu, and if you’re “fried out” of dishes like dry fried eggplant, this mix of vegetables, noodles, and creamy soft meat is a worthwhile addition to your Sichuan choices.

Vegetables, noodles, plenty of spice, and creamy, fatty, delicious meat.

Try it. You won’t be disappointed!

I’ll note that Fung Mei’s E1, Chicken with Dried Red Pepper, is becoming better and better. In other venues, this dish is called “Shan City” chicken. IMO, this version is currently the best in town.

I have an accuracy issue with my Auber temperature sensor, and it goes something like this. I have a separate thermometer, and when the Auber is first on, the rwo agree within a degree. As the Auber probe remains in the pot however, the difference in measurements increase, until after some time, I see this.

Pot equilibrated to a measurement of 144, a few minutes after adding chicken. Note the temp difference between the two probes. Who to believe?

So who to believe? I’m concerned the Auber is underestimating temperature, because of the beef color of cuts like this, which was supposed to be cooked at 130 to 132 degrees F.

Nam Dae Mun ribeye, sous-vide and plated. Cooked perhaps 4 hours at Auber nomimal 130.

The above, sliced. Does that look medium rare to you?

So yes, I’m looking into how to accurately gauge and calibrate temperature with this setup. I’ve also been playing with higher temperatures, in part so I can cook chicken, which is a substantially smaller portion of meat than some of these big steaks I’ve been eating.

Jimmy (@EatItAtlanta) tweeted before my experiments that he wasn’t happy with the meat near the bone of chicken cooked at 140 F. Since I’m using a PID controller, and it overshoots temp by 2 degrees during the first couple hours, then the kinds of temperatures I’m looking at for my setpoint are 2 degrees below the cooking point. But if it’s actually running 3 degrees cool, I need to compensate by 5 degrees. Does that make sense?

PID controllers overshoot and then narrow in on their target temperatures. That first overshoot peak defines the actual cooking temperature for my controller. In practice, I overshoot by about 2 degrees F. Image above from Wikimedia, and the PID controller article on Wikipedia.

The French Culinary Institute’s PDF on sous-vide recommends 1-2 hours for chicken at 65-66C (149-151 F), and that means the two Auber temperature settings I needed to test are 144 F and 147 F. So we tested those.

Nam Dae Mun chicken thighs. Note the price.

Spiced and sealed. I used cracked black pepper, red pepper, crushed red pepper (pizza pepper), some onion and garlic powder, and a dusting of poultry seasoning.

Cooked 90 minutes at 144 from room temp and plated. 2.5 hrs at 147 from frozen has a similar appearance. I prefer the flavor and texture of the hotter product.

Results? I liked my chicken better at 147 than 144. The looks are about the same at both, and at both, you really do need to trim off the chicken fat, because unlike frying, the fat that results from this technique isn’t much fun to eat. The chicken is amazingly juicy, and you might find it not cooked enough for your tastes. If so, just keep ramping up the temperatures until you’re happy with what comes out of the controller.

As for me, I need a better way to calibrate my device. I would like to nail a good medium rare on the steak side. For now, I have a useful working temperature on the chicken side.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar is just off I-985 and exit 4, to the west maybe one block, just south of Buford Drive. I’d call it a little place but it isn’t small, really. My recollection is a bar, and maybe 10-15 tables and booths. However, this not-so-large restaurant does a lot of things right, including its outsized effect on your taste buds.

Entrance to Havana South.

Entrance to Havana South.

We dropped by for lunch. After a few minutes with the menu, I chose the black bean soup and a Cuban sandwich, and my daughter chose their masitas puerco. Maduros (sweet plantains, fried) came with the Cuban.

I have to say, the more I have black beans, the more I like them. They are earthier in flavor than kidney beans or pinto beans, and Havana South’s bean soup did not disappoint:

Black bean soup.

Black bean soup.

My daughter’s dish contained large chunks of marinated pork, a side of black beans, and yellow rice.

Masitas Puerco

Masitas Puerco

The serving size I’d judge as large. The pork was really good, crispy and chewy on the outside, soft, hinting of the marinade inside. Everything on her plate was the opposite of plain. The beans had flavors that just baking won’t give, hints of onions and other influences I couldn’t entirely tease out, but mixing well with the dark flesh of the beans. I thought her beans were even better than my bean soup. The yellow rice came across the same way, a full body of flavors, more than just something simmered in a pot.

The Cuban I liked as well.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

The sandwich was made with good quality bread, and had a nice balance between the pork and ham. The pickles and cheese only added to the flavor mix and the serving size was large. The maduros were good and sweet, though I know my wife, who likes most things well done, would prefer her maduros a little crunchier.  That said, I’m pretty sure I could take her here.

In short, the meal was great. The only thing I’d do differently if I came back again is get the side of black beans. In my opinion, they’re better than the soup.

Service was very good throughout the meal.

Verdict: Quality food with flavors that surprise on almost every bite. Staples done exceptionally well. Very highly recommended.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar
4060 Buford Drive
Buford GA, 30518
(678) 546-2252

Havana South Cuban Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Chow Down Atlanta has an excellent review of Havana South. You might think she’s praising Havana South too much, but in my judgment, she’s actually on the mark.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen is in a collection of shops on the corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont Road. It’s a block south of the I-85 – Clairmont Intersection, and on the right as you’re heading south. It’s not easy to see, more on the Briarcliff side of things. When you see what looks like parking, pull off the road and look for it.

There are at least three other Ethiopian restaurants in the area as well. Desta is in a separate building, and you may see the drive through before you see the rest of the restaurant. There is outdoor and indoor seating, and a decent amount of parking by the restaurant. Inside, it’s quite an attractive restaurant, if small, and there are both tables and booths to sit in.

I came here on a Father’s Day, after having argued the merits of 2-3 other places. I had eaten Ethiopian food about 22 years ago, in a restaurant in Philadelphia. On that day, the food was laid on a huge chunk of the Ethiopian bread (called injera, and made with the grain teff) and the food placed over the bread. Injera is spongy, and it is intended to be used as a utensil. We tore up bits of our plate of bread, scooped up the food, and ate it. From what I could see in the newspaper, the arrangement in Desta was going to be a little different.

We ordered chicken, fish, and lamb tibs, and my wife was also curious about their lentil stew. So we ordered a side of that. When the food came, the dishes were served on long rectangular trays, maybe 3 inches wide and perhaps 12-14 inches long. All the meats and fish were cut into small chunks, to be easy to handle. Each dish came with a house salad on the side. And in shallow grey pans came the pale brown injera, rolls of it, as long as the palm of your hand and the roll perhaps an inch to an inch and a half thick.

My wife ended up asking for a fork.

My daughter and I took to the bread easily, and tore off chunks of it to eat the food.  The stew came with a spoon, and I’d pour some of the stew into a chunk of the bread and eat that as well. My daughter loved her fish, which was mild and a little crunchy. My wife liked the chicken quite a bit (it had a yellow color to it and seems to have been nicely spiced) and I liked the lamb dish I chose. We had differences of opinion about the lentil stew. My daughter and I liked it, my wife wasn’t as happy with it.

One thing that is easy to do at Desta is underestimate how much food you’re really eating. The injera ends up being a lot of your meal, and so what seems like a small serving can end up quite a large one. As a consequence, we took home food from every plate that was served to us, along with about six rolls of the bread.

Given the quantity of leftovers, the meal was shockingly inexpensive. Service was generally excellent.

Verdict: Delicious ethnic food served in a way that doesn’t shock as many first time Americans. Highly recommended for those looking for something new.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen
3086 Briarcliff Rd.
NE Atlanta, GA 30329
(Inside Williamsburg Shopping Center)
(404) 929-0011

Desta on Urbanspoon

Update: Amy on Food’s nice review of Desta features some excellent photos and a review of the foods she tried.

Longhorn Steakhouse is a well established chain in the US, roughly equivalent to Outback or Texas Roadhouse, that serves steaks, chicken, and seafood in a clean modern setting.  I’ve been to various Longhorn Steakhouses many times, and all in all I prefer Outback slightly, because I think Outback’s entrees are a little cheaper and their service is a little better. I have friends I hold in high regard, however, who hold exactly the opposite opinion. I suspect the difference between the mid priced steak houses is mostly a matter of personal taste.

There are two Longhorns in Snellville,  and this review covers the one at the corner of Web Ginn Road and Highway 124, in the open mall known as Avenue Web Ginn. This is a Snellville location, though just by crossing Web Ginn Road, you are then in Lawrenceville.

When this restaurant first opened it was packed and impossible to get into. The wait was well over an hour and the receptionists were unable to accurately estimate time. I left lines for this place at least twice because a “half hour” wait stretched into an hour or more.

The lines have calmed down in the meantime, and my daughter and I came recently during lunch. We were seated quickly and a waiter was with us shortly. Drinks were rapidly served and we both ordered salads, my daughter a salmon salad and I had the 7 pepper sirloin salad, medium rare.

In the meantime, we were served Longhorn’s bread. It’s a round loaf, as opposed to the elongated loaf of other stores, and it was already sliced, a handy convenience. Longhorn’s bread is quite good.

Both salads were good. My daughter’s salmon was cooked, as opposed to undercooked, and while my salad ended up with medium well steak as opposed to medium rare, the steak was quite good and full of flavor. At points I thought the 7 pepper crust was a little potent, but in a salad with steak, blue cheese, balsamic dressing, and a pepper crust, there will be some strong flavors.

I found the service to be good, but not great. They seemed surprised when our glasses were empty. Some of that could simply be the time we came. Lunch isn’t as hectic as dinner.

Verdict:  Recommended.  Very good steaks, good seafood, good service.

Longhorn Steakhouse
1350 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA, 30078
(770) 972-6552

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

It’s in the northeast corner of the strip mall on the northeast corner of Singleton and Jimmy Carter, just a block or two east of the intersection of Jimmy Carter and I-85. It’s unpretentious from the outside, and inside, there is a wide counter where you order and pick up food. Just above the counter is a wide photographic display of the foods Mughal’s Restaurant serves, and throughout the restaurant, there are a collection of long tables and chairs.

Mughal's Restaurant and Hall

Mughal's Restaurant and Hall

Mughal’s is in part a Pakistani restaurant, and I didn’t have a good idea of what they serve. But the staff was polite and helpful, and we chose the Butter Chicken, the Chicken 65, Bhuna Gosht, a couple orders of naan and a couple orders of beef samosas. It didn’t take long for them to prepare the food. The price of my meal, in comparison to other South Asian restaurants, was relatively cheap (most entrees run about 5.99 to 7.99 each). I took it to go, and brought it home to my family.

Well, the Chicken 65 was a big hit, the chicken a dark red color, spicy, deep fried, and delicious. The naan was really good, warm, delicious, and had a bit of a crust. The samosas were small compared to others I’ve had, but they were tasty bites of beef wrapped in a triangular pastry. The Bhuna Gosht was a nice curry flavored beef dish, and while I wasn’t all that impressed with the Buttery Chicken, my daughter enjoyed it a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. Good tasting food, inexpensive and unpretentious. I’m sure I’ll be back to this place.

Mughal’s Restaurant and Hall
5265 Jimmy Carter Boulevard
Norcross, Georgia 30093

Open Tuesday – Sunday 11am to 11pm
Closed on Mondays.

Mughals on Urbanspoon

One of my favorite Mark Bittman articles is “For the love of a good burger“, where he details how he likes to cook his burgers. The essence of the technique, as best I understand it, is to use a good but fatty cut of meat, grind your own meat, and then don’t compress your patties. When talking about compression, Bittman shares this bit of wisdom:

The patties should weigh about 6 ounces each: not small, but not huge, either. Handle the meat gently. Make the patties with a light hand, and don’t press on them with a spatula, like a hurried short-order cook.

It’s not exclusive to Mark Bittman either.  In Tony Rosenberg’s article, “A Perfect Burger, Top to Bottom“, he talks about forming the patties and again, there is an emphasis on being gentle when doing so:

Then work gently to make thin patties. If you really pack the burgers (particularly if you’re using leaner beef), they will acquire a dense, meatloaf-like texture. Thin burgers cook quickly and don’t ball up into fat pucks (heat tends to shrink the patties), plus you get a good balance of meat, toppings and bun in each bite. Gently press and stretch the patties, sprinkle them with a little salt, and make your way to the grill.

And in an article based on the advice of Bobby Flay, we see:

To get a nice char on the meat while keeping the inside juicy, cook over high heat, according to Flay, who cautions that you shouldn’t play with the meat while it’s on the grill: Place each patty on the grill (which you should have preheated for 15 to 20 minutes), let it get brown and slightly charred (this will take about 3 minutes), and then flip it. Flip each burger only once or they will start to fall apart. Don’t press on the burger either; this will cause juices to come out of the meat and will cause annoying flare-ups.

I have had in my life, maybe one and a half, maybe two “Bittman” burgers, burgers that were not flattened until the meat was firm and hard. Both times I’ve have had them at Ted’s Montana Grill, once in Cumberland Mall, and the half in Snellville. In each case the meat was almost falling out of the burger, the patty really wasn’t held together with much more than a prayer. But the meat is insanely tender when handled in this way. It’s not a style of burger that everyone likes. My reader Susan doesn’t, and calls them “crumbly”. Personally, I like the idea of hamburger that almost melts in the mouth and is, to my tastes, sublime.

I’ve been in communications with Foodie Buddha on the matter, he of the affable disposition and the nice burger joint tag. But I really want to throw this whole question open to the blogosphere: is there any restaurant in Atlanta that actually serves a good “Bittman” burger? Is there any restaurant anywhere that serves a burger without being pressed to death by short-order cooks? If not, why not? If so, why?

Notes: The blog ToastPoint has an interesting attempt to make a “Bittman” burger at home. Other interesting Bittman burger articles include the “Inside out Lamb Cheeseburger” and “The Real Burger“.  The blog “Eat” has an intriguing article on making a Bittman style lamburger. Checking the WordPress tag “great hamburgers” yields this interesting blog report on Burger Meister in San Francisco from the Meat Meister’s blog. Checking the WordPress tag “the perfect burger” reveals this review, by Dorothy on the Hill, of a place called the Eat Bar, in the Washington D.C. area.

It’s in the same strip mall as the Lilburn International Farmer’s market, to the left as you’re facing the market, at the intersection of Highway 29 and Indian Trail. It’s small and new, and like all new restaurants, is in that stage where it establishes a clientele or goes away. There was almost no one in the restaurant at the time I dropped by, though soon after, a couple with three kids tried it.

The cuisine is French creole, which, as best I can determine, is a fusion between Caribbean cooking and French cooking, coming out of the French occupied Caribbean islands. If I have a complaint about food in Atlanta, it’s that they don’t have enough spicy food, and even food that should be spicy is often shamefully lacking in spice. So I was hoping for something that would engage the palate.

Entrees at RJ’s ran from $9.00 for their chicken dishes, to $18.00, for a plate of conch with creole sauce. Dishes were based on seafood, beef, goat, and chicken. I had the legumes, which were a mix of vegetables with pieces of meat and small pieces of crab (in shell). It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t to die for either. And as in most cuisines, it usually takes a try or three before anyone knows what they like. The food had some spice, but not enough to be overwhelming. The dish came with a generous plate of peas and rice, which is a variant of the red beans and rice seen in Louisiana. It was tasty and good.

I had a dessert, a sweet potato pastry, which was good. That’s a surprise for me, because I usually don’t like sweet potato on anything. Service was good. They are very attentive to the customers they do have, will offer tastings, etc.

Verdict? I’m unfamiliar with the cuisine. I want to try it again sometime, before knowing whether RJ’s is a keeper. I can say it’s promising overall, and worth a stop if you’re in the area.

RJ's Great Taste on Urbanspoon

Ted Turner is an Atlanta icon, who married Jane Fonda, and in the process began looking at the world and his fortune a little differently from the typical magnate. He invested in ranch land, and rather than raise sheep or cattle, he has been raising bison, more so than anyone else on Earth. Partly as an outlet for his immense bison herds, he founded a restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill, which serves bison, among other meats.

There is a Ted’s Montana Grill nestled in the northeast corner of the intersection of Scenic Highway (Highway 124) and Webb Ginn Road. It’s in the same part of the sprawling complex of stores and restaurants that has On the Border, Red Robin, and Doc Greens, and is roughly across Scenic Highway from  Poblano’s Mexican restaurant. It’s a bit in the back, hard to see from Scenic Highway, but trust me it’s there.

The draw for me to Ted’s are the burgers. They can make them with beef, they can make them with chicken, and they can make them with bison. In my experience, bison burgers are a bit more full flavored than beef and worth the small premium you might pay for such a meal. Ted’s isn’t unique in serving bison burgers. The barbecue joint Smoky Bones also dishes up bison burgers, but the closest one of those is in Stonecrest Mall, in Lithonia.

Ted’s will serve up home made pickles (they disappear quickly at our table) and also bread  (these days you have to ask for bread). They also serve up $10 off coupons if you search for them, and when we had a supply of those we were going to Ted’s more often. But it does serve a fine plate of food, and they do so with one thing hard to come by on the edge of the greater Atlanta area: generally good service.

There are a lot of chains whose service suffers when you get further from the center of the Atlanta metro area. This one doesn’t seem to suffer nearly as badly. Waiters are generally to tables quickly. They top off drinks, ask questions about your meal, see that you’re happy, give you another plate of those pickles when your daughter asks. I have to say I like the food here, but it’s the combination of good food, and attention to the little details that have kept me coming back to this restaurant.

Ted's Montana Grill on Urbanspoon