Atlanta Dinner Picks

кухненско обзавежданеThis is a list of ten memorable restaurants in the Atlanta, GA area that I have been to (over the past, say, three years) who meet the following criteria:
Good for entertaining (bringing clients/dates/friends&family)
Excellent waitstaff
Menu includes vegetarian-friendly options as well as interesting options for those with a standard North American diet.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, only some highlights that have ranked very high with both myself and guests. A lot of these have been venues for various dates, and some have been used as meeting spots when friends have come to visit from out-of-state. The vast majority of my dining out has been with non-vegetarians, so there’s a resistance for hitting all-vegan or entirely-vegetarian restaurants. Each of these has great vegetarian options available right on the menu, so that ordering doesn’t feel like you are asking them to remodel the kitchen with a “special request” when all you want is an option that is carcass-free. Some of these are much more formal, and some are very casual. All of them are exciting spaces that are also quiet enough for conversation.

On to the list (not in ranked order):

  1. La Tavola (latavolatrattoria) – This is one that comes to mind any time a special occasion comes up. When friends or family come to visit, when it’s someone’s birthday, any time I have an excuse to go, really. La Tavola is fun and interesting, has some really great veg options, and has a way of being formal and nice without being rigid or stuffy. The dining area can be very full at prime times, but there are really wonderful tables on the deck out back which are fantastic for spring brunch/lunch… (hint, hint. This week? Anyone?)
  2. Eros (erostapas) – Tapas and music. Right off I-85 at Monroe Drive, It’s in the multi-level what-used-to-be bank building. The tapas are great, and the space creates an interesting indoor-outdoor “patio” feel. It’s a great spot for a gathering, since it’s finger foods and music, as well as space that’s easy to move around in.
  3. Sugo (sugorestaurant) – Sugo has a fusion of Italian and Greek influences. Their staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. The food is spectacular. All three of their locations are North of the perimeter.
  4. Artistry (No known URL) – I’m not clear about whether this one has recently closed, is currently being renovated, or if it has recently changed hands. I had a great experience there. It was well-appointed, had live jazz musicians, and the food was great. My date on that night still mentions from time to time how awesome the steak and the shrimp was. I ate like a king on a wide variety of veg hors d’oeuvres. The waitstaff completely bent over backward. I hope they aren’t closed.
  5. Thai Spice (thaispiceatlanta) – This is Thai done beautifully, and with a lot of style. It’s the best Thai I’ve tried north of the perimeter.
  6. The Flying Biscuit (flyingbiscuit) – There’s nothing wrong with the various new locations as they became a chain, but I’m talking specifically about the original location just outside of Candler Park. There’s a completely different feel to this one. I was floored by the devil “burger”, but when you’re looking for something more “down home”, There’s nothing like the vegan bbq burrito.
  7. Buddha (no known URL) – This gem is right off I-75/I-85 at the end of the 10th Street bridge. Mostly Chinese fare, they have an extensive vegetarian menu, and are open incredibly late, which is handy, since it’s around the corner from Primal, and just a few blocks from Door44, Sutra, Opera, etc.
  8. Mambo Italiano (mamboitaliano) – This is a really neat traditional Italian place with a wonderful staff. The place is decorated like 1950s Italian. Great veg lasagne, good drinks.
  9. Octane (octanecoffee) – This is a wonderful independent cafe with great plates coming from the kitchen, some of the best baristas in North America(They kick butt every year in local, regional, and world barista competitions), and the space is relaxed, yet abuzz. Maybe it’s the caffeine. They have a second location near Emory University that I really should check out, since that would be much closer for me.
  10. Ecco (ecco-atlanta) – Of all the restaurants on this list, it’s been the longest since I’ve been to Ecco. Ecco is managed by the same group as La Tavola. It’s a much more formal dining experience than La Tavola, and I did a full review after my first trip there..

Where are your favorite dining spots in Atlanta? Leave a comment and let me know.

VD Epoch 13

This year is the only time that VD will be coupled with the Unix epoch rolling to sequential number. Of course, the two are a few hours apart, but hey, any excuse to celebrate dorky geek trivia *and* being a more-or-less willing target for a heavily-armed, floating infant deserves a nod.

For the geek-deficient, here’s the executive overview:The epoch for Unix systems is 1/1/1970. To these systems, this date is the beginning of our current time. When you request today’s date, the create date of a file, or the last access date of a file, the system has that info stored as the number of seconds since midnight January 1, 1970. For the most part, this number is reformatted to the date style you are used to reading in your part of the world. Programmers, analysts, and administrators often use the raw number to do faster calculations of dates without t trouble of programming around things like leap years and daylight savings shenanigans. Yesterday evening, the number reached a sequential pattern. It’s like noticing that your car’s odometer has rolled to all 2’s (like mine did a few weeks ago)

Besides that, yesterday was Friday the 13th, and we have another Friday the 13th next month.
The new Friday the 13th movie was released last night. It’s supposed to be a remake of the first three in the series, so there should be lots of room for serious cheese. Hopefully, it will have some good scary, gory parts, and probably some t&a and drugs, but definitely a lotta cheese.

Oh, and on this VD, the floral industry would like to once again thank you all for creating an incredible demand for out-of-season product. They grow them artificially in greenhouses on another continent and ship them in at a premium, and them charge a premium to you. Thanks for looking out for the planet there. What if next year, everyone buys something local and in-season? Think of the transportation savings. Even more than that, think of how much fresher the flowers will be, since they won’t have spent so much of their little bloomin’ lives in a shipping crate. And you would be helping the economy in your own neighborhood.

That said, I’m going to share a non-mushy VD sentiment.
Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Well, I suppose it’s non-mushy. I didn’t actually poke at it to find out.

quick, cheap, and easy

While I’m on the spiel of telling horror stories (a little late for Halloween, I know), I have been doing some reading on toxic chemicals. It all started with a simple discussion on recycling and vegetarianism that then stemmed into natural soaps. Curiosity got to me in the shower, as I quickly ran down the list of ingredients in my shampoo…

“Yikes. What is all that crap in this?”

The first few web searches got me results like this one, pointing out that the ingredients are often chosen by their being easy to store and use, and cheaply available in bulk. Turns out my shampoo is loaded with garage floor cleaner and coal tar, with a smattering of pesticides. It’s a good thing the bottle is almost empty.

Then the story came out about the E.Coli in the frozen pizzas. That’s poo. In the slaughterhouses, poo is getting into the meat. They try to speed up production, and it happens even more. The meat is cheap, so the demand goes up.

So, out of making things cheap, easy and quick for the consumer, and for the manufacturer, I’m finding that the vast majority of things that we use on and in our bodies are toxic, dangerous, and in a lot of cases doesn’t contain what you would think. There are whole sections of the supermarkets loaded with non-food parading around as food.

And then you go out to eat. Check out some of the stuff you are getting in that quick lunch at the fast food place. “Hmmm. Hey Lady… can I get more titanium oxide in my salad? If I collect just a bit more, I’ll be able to make my own toothpaste, paint, and tattoo pigment!”

I also found these haunting gems:

  • cosmetics are harmful?
  • Toxic parabens Have been industry standard in deodorants, shampoos, and skin creams for decades. They are finding that absorption through the skin are leading to high levels of estrogen, and could possibly be a link to breast cancer. They use these as fillers, and to preserve the products, so that they can be shipped long distances and also have an amazingly long shelf life.
  • Still not scared silly?

  • Have a look at your average daily toxins….

Out of honest, innocent cost-cutting, and looking for the cheapest, quickest, and easiest answers, modern society has created an existence that feels like the whole planet is trying diligently to kill us at every turn, if you go and look at it all.

Listen for the Ecco

One block off Peachtree Street on 7th avenue sits the unmistakable gem that is Ecco. The restaurant is an European continental dining experience. The whole experience shows influences from French, Italian, and Spanish traditions.
The outdoor seating looked very inviting at Ecco, but the Autumn breezes warned against sitting out there. “Maybe when the weather warms back up. I’m sure we will be back a few times by then.”
“We sure will. Especially if you’re buying,” I smirked.
I found myself a little overdressed once we got inside, but not by leaps and bounds. The Maitre’d was fully prepared, even though we were 20 minutes early for the reservation. It hadn’t taken as long as we’d planned to get into midtown. Probably due to it being mid-week.
We followed the hostess through the dining room, past the open kitchen, where we gawked at the artful creations being efficiently prepared for delivery to their tables. The pizzas looked incredible. I must remember to give them a try next time. Our table was near a corner decorated with framed black and white photos of old-world scenes of daily life and Italian restaurateurs during the turn of the last century. The lighting was dim enough to be called mood lighting, but not too dim.
Our waitress, Lizz, is petite, and looks to be about 18 years old. After asking about some appetizers, I’m impressed with her memory and training, and I decide quickly that she’s a bit older than 18 when she deftly maneuvers the depths of the wine list with absolute aplomb. And she isn’t the sommelier. I decide on a wine that has very freshly been added to the menu: a Mojo de Sangiovese 2005 that was precisely up my alley: dry, red, and with complex undertones.
The mixed drinks were very interesting as well. The lemonade provençal was fantastic and fruity, but with the expected tart lemon taste.
The “main dishes” didn’t have vegetarian options, but Lizz had us covered: “There is a fettuccine and several pizzas that are all vegetarian, but the best way to get a taste of the menu on your first visit is the European way: pick two or three items from the ‘appetizers’ and ‘taste & share’ sections of the menu, and try a bit of everything.”
Lizz is brilliant. This would be a good idea, even if you have a larger party, everybody order two or three, and just go for the full nosh.

I tried the sweet gem salad with the pomegranate, the baby eggplant, and the stuffed Piquillo peppers, and Ecco has earned a special place for me. After talking with the chef and manager, we got ready to leave, and got the bill for dinner. With drinks and the appetizer, the total check was about half what we were expecting, so it was even more surprising and pleasing.
The stuff is sort of along the lines of a baby swiss, with small holes appearing, but it’s not smoky in flavor at all, it’s very delicate.

I’ll not go into too much detail here, but I will say that I have dined at restaurants here in Atlanta that cost three and four times as much on average, and have not had such an amazing experience. The ambiance, attentive staff, inventive menu, brilliant wine and drinks list, and highly reasonable prices, not to mention the convenience of the central midtown location (especially when meeting people who are coming from different parts of town), are all reasons to come and try it out. After you have, you will agree that it’s a great place to keep returning.

The name:
In Italian, “ecco” means something in the range of “here is, here are, there is, there are, comes, here come”, as in something or someone is approaching or making an entrance.
Ecco il bella! = Here is the beautiful one!
Sounds like:
Echo (English, def: a lingering trace or effect).

Dining at Ecco has created a lingering trace that will have me returning for more, and has changed some preconceptions about dining in Atlanta.

The Best Lasagna I Have Ever Made

Back at the beginning of the summer, I found a recipe through a related link for this amazing vegetarian asparagus-pesto lasagna, and decided to try it out. I got the majority of the ingredients from the farmer’s market. After it was baked, I offered it to the girls, and they didn’t want anything to do with it because of the asparagus. Until they tried it. Everyone who got a taste of the stuff then has brought it up from time to time ever since. In preparations for making it again, I was looking at the recipe, and remembering some difficulties. So, I’m posting the recipe again with some modifications so that I can reproduce it easier in the future.

pesto asparagus lasagna 2

from Vegetarian Times; April 2006
Serves 10

1/3 c all-purpose flour
3½ c low-fat milk, divided
6 Tbs Pesto (the freshest you can find or make).
2 Tbs Grated Parmesan, plus additional for garnish
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tsp olive oil
1¼ lb. asparagus spears, tips cut off and reserved, spears trimmed and cut to ¼” pieces
1 tsp minced garlic (1 clove)
1 small box lasagna noodles
2 c shredded mozzarella (8 oz), divided

Noodles: If you are using the no-bake noodles, they are ready. If you are using regular lasagna noodles, boil them to the point just prior to being al dente.

Steps one and two below are independent, so if you have extra hands on deck, both can occur simultaneously.

ONE: Make The white sauce

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk flour and ½ cup of milk in saucepan until smooth. Gradually whisk in remaining milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute, until thickened. Remove from heat: stir in pesto, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Reserve one cup of this sauce.

TWO: Prep The asparagus spears

Warm oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat. Add chopped asparagus (except tips) and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic, cook, stirring, 1 minute and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

THREE: Assemble the masterpiece

Coat 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray. Place layer of noodles in dish, overlapping slightly. Layer with half of cooked asparagus, ¾ cup cheese and half of sauce. Add another layer of pasta, remaining sauce, remaining cooked asparagus, and ¾ cup cheese. Top with a layer of noodles, then with reserved cup of white sauce. Arrange reserved asparagus tips over top and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

FOUR: Controlled reaction

Bake, uncovered. 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes; serve with additional grated Parmesan.

pesto asparagus lasagna 1

When I made it the first time, it didn’t seem like there was enough of the white(pesto) sauce. This time, I think I’ll double the ingredients for just the pesto part. If I end up with too much, I could always just make the whole thing a couple of layers taller.

This recipe is amazing, and it refrigerates and freezes very well.