Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Southern Art and Bourbon Bar - Atlanta, Georgia

We've been spending a fair amount of time exploring the local dining scene in Atlanta and this weekend was no different.

We were in the Buckhead area of Atlanta for dinner at chef Art Smith's Southern Art and Bourbon Bar. Southern Art offers southern inspired foods and features an artisan ham bar and vintage dessert table.

The space is muted with pops of color that can't help but draw the eye. Most striking are the large canvasses suspended from the ceiling and the chandeliers hung with colorful glass fruit. The space is open but still maintains an intimate feel.

We had a reservation and were shown to our table as soon as we arrived. Our server, Jonathan, greeted us by name. As in good evening Mr & Mrs Our Last Name. I thought it was a nice touch and let me know that service here was taken seriously. Service throughout the evening was great. The meal was well paced, we never felt rushed and Jonathan was there to make sure we had a lovely experience and he more than succeeded.

Once we were seated we were presented a serving board with a jar of in-house pickled vegetables, some biscuits and butter. A nice welcome nosh to tide us over while we looked over the menu.

Southern Art and Bourbon Bar is known for a couple of things, one is in their name. The other is what is billed on the menu as "a ham bar". The ham bar offers at least a dozen different cured meats.

Southern Art Butcher's Board

Rather than trying to narrow down our choices from the ham bar we decided to order the Southern Art Butcher's Board as one of our starters. It included several house made cured meats, two salamis and three sliced meats, as well as three mustards and some toast. Everything we tasted was good but the standout for me was the Tasso styled cured ham. Everything good about Tasso ham, loved it.

Cheese from the South

Along with the butcher's board we also ordered the Cheese from the South starter. Three of the chef's favorites served with house made saltines, mission fig jam, honeycomb and green tomato chutney. The cheeses the night we were there were a soft rind Camembert style, a cheddar with hints of cocoa and a mild blue cheese. All of the cheeses were tasty but the blue for me was the standout. Creamy, mild, salty, excellent and made more so with the accompanying fig jam and crackers.

To go along with the starters I had a couple of glasses of a Dr. Loosen riesling. I love Riesling and have paired it with all kinds of foods. If I'm in the mood for wine and it's on the menu I always order a Riesling.

Shrimp and Grits
Bourbon Glazed Pork Shank

Creamy, decadent macaroni and cheese with bacon

After all that yummy cheese and cured meats we moved on to entrees. I had the very southern Shrimp and Grits and my dining companion had the Bourbon Glazed Pork Shank. Once again he won. Don't get me wrong, the shrimp and grits was really good, creamy grits, okra, sausage, hominy in a delicious broth. But, the pork shank was sublime. A deep mahogany colored, crispy glaze over succulent, tender pork. It was easily the standout. I snagged a few bites and would go back for this one. Along with the mains we ordered a side of macaroni and cheese to share. The mac and cheese is creamy and delicious and covered with bacon, enough said.

Dessert Bar

More dessert!

Twelve Layer Red Velvet Cake

Finally it was time for dessert. As you walk into the restaurant you pass a dessert bar. A long table filled with all manner of sweet temptation. Oh how I wanted to order more than one but truth be told, I was almost full. I know, so sad to only be able to eat one dessert but one presses on. We settled on the 12 Layer Red Velvet Cake. A perfect way to end our evening.

We had a very nice evening at Southern Art and Bourbon Bar. A welcoming space, good food and a large helping of southern hospitality. The food and service will get you in the door, the southern charm will keep you coming back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A drop in The Bucket

I can't be the only one right? You all have a culinary bucket list too, don't you? My current list is pretty short, only two entries, dinner at Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin in New York City and Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Yountville, CA.

My culinary bucket list goes back quite a few years. One of the first entries was Commander's Palace in New Orleans and dinner at Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. It also included breakfast at the Cafe du Monde. We've been lucky enough to knock those off of the list.

Over the years the list has included restaurants of specific chefs, specific restaurants and dining experiences. One of the dining experiences was put on the list and knocked off in short order, eating at the lechoneras in Guavate, PR. We saw it on No Reservations and we went for it. It ranks as one of the most memorable dining experiences I've had anywhere. Eating roasted pork served right off of the spit at an open air roadside stand. Accompanied by local beer served ice cold. Perfection.

We've been lucky enough to have moved a few places to the done column. Lunch at Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless' Chicago restaurant, dinner at the Haufbrau Haus in Munich, Germany and dinner at Paula Deen's Lady and Sons. With a little luck and determination we've managed to whittle the list down to the restaurants I mentioned above and one relative new entry Mario Batali's Del Posto.

When we head to New York City, maybe later this year, Le Bernardin will be ticked off and we'll probably knock Mario Batali's Del Posto off as well. I can't wait. 

The French Laundry on the other hand has been on my bucket list for years. Point of fact, I've never been to the West Coast. I know right? Who hasn't been there? Well, me. I plan to remedy that in the not too distant future, after all a very good friend and family member lives out there. And I have no idea what I've been waiting for.

So if you see me out, I'll be the one taking pictures of my food. (When we had dinner at Five & Ten I overheard a women say "look, she's taking pictures of her food".) Yes, I know, it looks weird. But I never use a flash, I stick to what I can take pictures of from or on my table and try not to be too distracting to my fellow diners. So sue me, I'm a blogger and I take pictures of my food and all sorts of stuff. I love being able to look back at what we've done and where we've gone.

Do you have a culinary bucket list? What's on it? What has been one of your favorite dinning experiences? Please share thoughts here as I'm always looking for new places to try.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sal Grosso - Atlanta, GA

I really love churrascarias, restaurants like Fogo de Chão and Texas de Brazil. I've started searching these types of places out when I travel.

While there is a Fogo de Chão in Atlanta we decided to give the local Brazilian steakhouse a try. So this weekend we had dinner at Sal Grosso. Like all of these types of places Sal Grosso has a huge salad bar and a choice of many types of roasted meats. And like all churrascarias you are given a small card or disc when you're seated. One side is red and one side is green. Red means no thank you, I've had plenty and green means bring on the chow. I always forget to flip my card to red. Darn!

Sal Grosso means coarse salt and that saltiness is very evident in all of the meats they serve. It works on some cuts, the Picanha for instance, but it tends to overwhelm a bit on the chicken. But not to worry. If all that salt makes you thirsty just order more caipirinhas. Caipirinhas are the national drink of Brazil made by muddling cachaca, limes and sugar. So simple but so, so good and easy to make at home.

A variety of items from the salad bar

Yes please!
 One of the best items available at Sal Grosso is only available on Sunday. It's a stew made with black beans, sausage and other meats called feijoada. Seriously delicious. Here it is served with rice but I've had it served with mashed potatoes other places. I'm looking for a recipe I can make at home. This is really good stuff.

Believe it or not I wasn't able to order dessert. I know, I couldn't believe it either. But there it is, no dessert for me. On my next visit to Sal Grosso (you had to know I'd go back right? I can leave no desserts untried!) I'm going to go on Sunday for the salad bar and dessert. I can't wait to try the feijoada again.

While Fogo de Chão may be the gold standard of churrascarias I'm really glad we gave Sal Grosso a try. And now that I have a plan to tackle it for next time, I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Walk this way...

This week I thought I would write about something I enjoy besides travel, reading and dinning out. Walking. I love to walk and make time for it almost everyday.

Over ten years ago we made the decision to start walking for health and fitness. It's easy, fun and can be done just about anywhere. (Even in Minnesota in the winter!) We're not going for any speed or distance records here. Just a good pace for a couple miles. We probably average about 10-14 miles a week. Small potatoes by some standards but we're happy with it.

One of the challenges of having been on the road for over a year is finding a nice place to take a walk. We've been lucky to find some nice parks and trails in the most of the places we've lived.

Atlanta and the metro area has some nice parks and trails. One of the parks we found is Swift-Cantrell Park. There are nice paved trails, some pretty open spaces, both large and small off leash dog parks, a skateboarding area and all kinds od swings and play equipment. We're also lucky enough to have a nice trail that basically starts right at the end of the driveway here.

One big upside to all of this walking has been how we've changed the way we travel. With very few exceptions, (Hilton Head and Tybee Island come to mind) we plan our vacations so that we can walk and use public transport. It's been years since we've had to rent a car. It takes a bit of leg work to find hotels and neighborhoods that are conducive to walking but we generally manage it.

Walking let's you experience a place in a very different way than even biking does. It provides insight that I feel can't be gained any other way.

Walking in my own neighborhood has always made me feel connected to it in a way I wasn't before. From little things like changes to the day to day landscape of the neighborhood to seeing and meeting the people who live there.

And there are other tangible benefits. For one thing my pants still zip up despite the all too frequent meals out. It's a chance to get some fresh air after being in the office all day and an opportunity to talk over the day.

So all you walkers and might be walkers, step on the trail or off of the beaten path. You may be surprised at what you find there.

The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking.  The walking is good to time the movement of the tongue by, and to keep the blood and the brain stirred up and active; the scenery and the woodsy smells are good to bear in upon a man an unconscious and unobtrusive charm and solace to eye and soul and sense; but the supreme pleasure comes from the talk.  ~Mark Twain