Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eating Out: Muss and Turner's

I pass Muss and Turner’s daily on my way home from work, so I have probably frequented there more than any other place that I’ll review. Just a brief overview: it’s kinda difficult to put a label on M&T. They seem to do a bang-up lunch business, serving quite delicious sandwiches and salads. There is a small specialty foods counter where chefs and foodies alike can find those items that Harry’s or the local Kroger might not carry; like smoked paprika, Den Chan soy sauce, Marcona almonds, or membrillo (quince paste). Also, there is a small deli, featuring a nice selection of cheeses and cured meats. If you’re lucky enough to catch them when they have porchetta behind the counter, consider yourself blessed. During the evenings, the place turns “bistro,” offering a six-pack of both appetizers and entrees that change every three weeks. There really are no boundaries to what they’ll piece together on a menu, so you’re likely to find Latin-inspired dishes alongside dishes with Italian or new American influence—all a reflection of the culinary journey of owner/chef Todd “Muss” Mussman. Last and certainly not least, M&T offers an impressive wine list, as well as an even more impressive beer list.

While admittedly I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences at Muss and Turner’s (mostly favorable), my dinner last night reminded me of why I keep coming back to this place. The bar was full when I sat down, and Jessica the bartender handed me a menu, saying that it had just changed earlier in the week. A quick word on Jessica: she pretty much has complete autonomy over the beer program and it is one of the best in the city. Her passion for brew (and wine and spirits) is unrivaled, and she's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know about beer. Oh, and she and Eric Aarons from Ecco are my two favorite bartenders in the city.

I quickly decided on the duck confit for my first course. This was pretty much a no-brainer as duck confit, along with veal or lamb sweetbreads and pork belly make up my "holy trinity" of delicious eats. With a perfectly crisped exterior and moist, succulent meat, this was one of the better legs of duck confit that I've had. The plate setup was very simple with sliced fingerling potatoes that gloriously tasted as if they were pan-fried in the rendered duck fat (insert Homer Simpson-like moan here), chopped dates, and Spanish chorizo. A touch of acid in the form of a small amount of sherry vinegar at the bottom of the plate gave a great depth and punch to such a rich and savory dish.

After much deliberation, I selected the berkshire pork chop as my entree. Cooked a perfect medium, the pork chop was served atop cauliflower, bacon, and leeks; and was topped with a sauce gribiche. This had all of the flavors of sauce gribiche--parsley, chervil, tarragon, pickles, and capers--but lacked the mayonnaise-like consistency of the traditional sauce. Were I not flanked by complete strangers, I might have attempted to lick the plate. I may have to come back within the next three weeks to get it again. If only their short rib dish didn't look so damn delicious...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

BurgerQuest, Vol. 1: Flip Burger Boutique

Since burgers in some capacity comprise the entire menu at Flip, I will be writing about multiple burgers here: this one just happens to be my most recent.

Located on Howell Mill Rd., Flip is the latest enterprise from Atlanta chef (and Top Chef alum) Richard Blais. After several forays in casual fine dining, Blais decided to open a burger joint, but one that incorporates some of his signature techniques. A quick word on this: yes, Blais uses foams, liquid nitrogen, and cool toys from Polyscience, but from my experience eating his food (Element, Home, and Flip); it's not just gimmicky. Because he is pretty much the only chef in Atlanta--for better or worse, a meat and potatoes town--using these techniques, it often goes overlooked that he puts out some damn tasty food.

Labeled "fine dining between two buns," those looking for a run-of-the-mill greasy spoon burger should look elsewhere. While I absolutely despise the term "gourmet" as an adjective or qualifier, Blais is taking burgers to another level. Whereas quite a few Atlanta restaurants are striving to produce the best possible classic cheeseburger, Blais is using the burger to showcase both high quality ingredients and different cuisines. The burgers are small, so as to allow you to sample more than one per sitting. Oh, and don't gripe about the price of the burgers. Good ingredients cost money. More on that at a later date.

During my last visit, I observed that Flip had just made some tweaks to the menu. I decided to sample two of the new burgers. One was a standard bacon cheeseburger with Benton's bacon, American cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato, house-made pickles, and Flip sauce. The sauce was creamy with a nice sweetness and acidity. It kinda reminded me of a slightly spicy coleslaw dressing, and much like the Chinamen-kidnapped rug did for The Dude's living room, tied the burger together. The whole burger had a great balance of flavors and I would order it again without hesitation. And because it's almost un-American to order a burger without something fried and starchy, I opted for the standard French fries. They come with ketchup and an incredibly interesting smoked mayonnaise. All I will say about the fries is that when executed correctly, they are the best I've ever had in my life.

My second burger was a Cuban burger. Paying homage to the Cuban sandwich, the burger featured a spicy pork patty, pork belly, Benton's ham, Swiss cheese, smoked mayo, mojo, and two types of pickles. A part of me wanted the burger to be pressed like the sandwich traditionally is, but half of the fun was mashing this thing myself before voraciously tearing into it. This burger was a celebration of all things swine. The patty had great spice which was the finishing note to each bite. The rich pork belly and melted swiss were well matched with the mustard and the sweet/sour pickles. My only quibble was the ham. While I devoutly worship at the altar of Allan Benton (more on him at a later date), country ham can be very "toothy," and I think that it wasn't quite sliced thinly enough. Aside from that, the burger was amazing. Something about this flavor combination was truly addictive: I mean, I didn't want to put this thing down. Even when going for the fries, I was still clutching to that burger. I would order this in a heartbeat, and it has instantly become one of my favorites at Flip. Maybe next time I'll have the balls to plunk down $45 for a Japanese Kobe burger with foie gras, truffles, and red wine syrup. If it's anything like Daniel Boulud's, I'm in for a treat.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eating Out: 4th and Swift

Since budget constrictions make revisiting most of these restaurants in a short period of time a little difficult, I will be recalling most of these experiences from my notes. I'll make certain to note the time of year, as most of the really good restaurants have seasonally-inspired menus.

4th and Swift is located in the old Southern Dairies building in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward. The interior space is both sleek and rustic, with exposed ventilation that pays homage to the building's industrial roots. The lighting and design is more contemporary. Heading the kitchen is veteran chef Jay Swift, formerly of South City Kitchen Midtown. Swifty has fashioned a menu that is seasonal and celebratory of our local produce, without being dyed-in-the-wool southern. When I came in to eat in late September (roughly 2 months after opening), the dining room looked full, but I was able to wrangle a seat at the bar. The added bonus of this seating was the availability of a bar menu of snacks in addition to the regular menu. Rather than ordering an entree, I decided to order several smaller items with the hope of getting a better feel of Swifty's cuisine. Upon my former executive chef's recommendation, I started with the Truffle and Parmesan Popcorn. The popcorn was very light, with the salt coming from the parmesan (which also contributed a nice nuttiness), and these earthy notes from the truffle oil. Next came parmesan beignets with marinara. The beignets were ethereally fluffy, with small chunks of cheese that melted once inside your mouth; and the marinara had a hint of sweetness and marjoram, and really held its own against the soft beignets.

My second pair of apps to arrive were the charcuterie plate with pretzel bread (on the regular bar menu), and the pan-fried chicken livers with country ham, shallots, and a sherry cream sauce from the market menu. The charcuterie plate offered a selection of proscuitto, sopressata, finocchiona, and salami toscano. Though not made in house, the meats were all delicious and their individual characteristics shone through. Arriving with the cured meats was a sweet plum mustard, various housemade pickles, and housemade pretzel bread. The only drawback to this dish was that the salt on the pretzel bread was not coarse enough, and there was too much of it. The chicken livers, appropriately enough, recalled ours at South City Kitchen Midtown: unctuous and popping with subtle sweetness from the fortified wine.

My final pairing was the sweet corn soup with oyster "rockefeller" and the braised lamb "lasagna." The soup tasted like taking a big bite of fresh late summer sweet corn, though a little more salt would have sent this into the stratosphere. The oyster "rockfeller" consisted of a crispy fried oyster floating atop the soup, garnished with Benton's bacon, watercress, and a Pernod oil. The briny oyster and smoky bacon were a great contrast to the sweet, rich soup. The "lasagna" was something of a freeform pasta dish with layers of fresh pasta, red wine-braised lamb, and ricotta cheese. While hearty, the dish was not at all heavy, and I still found myself wanting to pore over Swift's dessert menu.

By this point, Tessa the bartender was incredulous that I wanted to continue. Her look was both one of appreciation that someone in the industry was loving the food and was increasing her check average, and one of disgust--usually the kind I give when I see the contests where the people have to scarf down 147 Krystal burgers in 12 minutes. I didn't really mind, as the tapioca pudding with vanilla-macerated strawberries was a light way to end the meal. 4th and Swift has received some favorable press, and I can't help but agree with it. Can't wait to go back when the menu changes

Monday, January 26, 2009

Starting Up

Welcome everyone! In this initial posting, I want to give all of you a little background info on me, and what I hope to accomplish with this blog. First of all, my name is Jeffrey and I am a chef in Atlanta. I've lived in Mississippi for 22 years, moved to Charlotte, NC for one year to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales University, and have since taken up residence in the Atlanta area. I have a passion for all cuisines Southern, but I will gladly venture anywhere in the city for a good meal, regardless of native cuisine.

I want to write about all of my great restaurant experiences both within the Atlanta area, and anywhere I may travel. As any true food nerd would, I still have menus and notes from previous dining experiences, so I can recall some of those more easily for you all. I just acquired a camera, so there will be pictures for any future restaurant adventures. The point of this is to serve as a celebratory sounding board for great Atlanta restaurants. While I may have (and have had) some lackluster meals, I will try to solely focus on the good ones. There will also be several postings entitled BurgerQuest. One of my colleagues and I are on a search for the best burger in Atlanta, and I will review all of them here. Any suggestions and feedback are both welcome and encouraged. Also, I will post random food musings and the occasional cooking technique, should there be a demand for it. Hope you all enjoy the site.

Happy eatings,