I'm a college journalism student obsessed with cooking and eating great food. Find me at activehungrybroke.tumblr.com
Restaurant: Better Half
It has been five days since I dined at Better Half, and I can still taste almost every flavor in each dish I sampled. In the last workweek, I've daydreamed about my next visit and told every person I know about this flavor haven on the Westside, despite the fact that it might become such a hit that I won't be able to snag a table. They deserve the hype, and I feel lucky enough to share a zip code with Better Half. We sat at the bar, which looks like your typical cocktail bar, but instead of muddlers, wine glasses and a bartender, Zach Meloy and Jonathan Miller helm a stove top, ovens and prep station. The pair works seamlessly around each other, cracking jokes and swooping in to correct each other’s oversight, adding a garnish or dabbing china. Zach and Jonathan are also skilled multi-taskers, taking time to banter with guests, explain dishes and sneak samples. The wait staff is just as anticipatory, which, combined with impeccably designed and cooked food, made the evening seamless and memorable. For our first course, we went with the soft egg over perlas with chicken confit, fennel jam and fried chicken vinaigrette. As the chefs put it, it's an ironic dish, as the chicken and the egg are for once served together. The soft egg is perfectly poached, soft and solid on the outside with a runny, bright center. The perlas were cooked al dente and the fennel jam combined with the chicken confit for a salty and sweetly caramelized flavor that was only made more complex by the fried chicken vinaigrette. I only wish I had taken a picture, because the dish looks as good as it sounds, just like the rest of the menu. During the next course, we ordered the silk handkerchief pasta and roasted flounder. Rumor has it, Zach cooked Cristina, the general manager and his now wife, the handkerchief pasta on their first date. After one taste, you can see exactly why she married him. Layers of handmade pasta, cooked to silky perfection, are filled with a wild mushroom confit with porcini cream and topped with a tomato marmalade that tastes of summer even on a January night. Topped with fresh, snappy basil, the dish is complete perfection, and it's the only one that has a permanent home on the menu. The roasted flounder is seared and baked through, and it tastes fresh, a difficult compliment when Atlanta is four hours from the ocean. It's served in a shallow pond of scallop chowder, which the chefs say is a combination of everything they could find in the kitchen. The scallops are small without being chewy, tasting like melting pearls. The chowder is smoky, rich and complex, and there's just enough of it to dip the flounder, scallops and crustacean chicharrón for varied flavors without drowning out the standout freshness. The chicharrón is chewy and an interesting take on the Latin American snack. Zach and Cristina spent time in Costa Rica, and their experiences show up in interesting places on the menu. After a long debate between desserts, we finally decided on the caramel corn semifreddo with burned meringue and smoked cajeta. Here comes the best part about sitting at the kitchen bar, the chefs "accidentally" made us an extra dessert, serving up a Mexican hot chocolate tres leches cake we never would have ordered, as most restaurant's don't do the Mexican dessert justice. These chefs, though, don't work in most restaurants. The cake was the perfect texture, spongy and springy without falling apart and served with crunchy cocoa crumb and bourbon milk to provide contrast of texture and taste. It was bitter, sweet, soft, crispy, which is the best compliment for a dish, in my mind. The semifreddo was just as flavorful, and the one Zach made for us was gorgeous enough for him to even want to snap a picture on his smart phone. He works the torch like a preteen boy, discovering handheld fire for the first time, and he says he writes recipes for the restaurant based around the tool itself. The caramel corn flavor was so striking; it made me wonder just how they got it into semi-frozen form. In the end, Zach and Jonathan spoke to us like friends and made us feel welcome anytime. We shared stories and shots of hibiscus moonshine, a syrup-looking shooter that tasted strong and sweet. Our bill came packed in a tin, the same tins Costa Rican men bring their lunch to work in in, as Zach says, with a pair of freshly made truffles that were chewy and the perfect mignardises for a perfect meal. Did I mention the place was BYOB when we went? Still waiting on their license, I hope they stay that way. In any case, they'll only serve beer and wine, and I am positive it will be as thoughtfully chosen as the ingredients and techniques on the menu. Both Jonathan and Zach believe in a homegrown, down-to-earth restaurant experience. That can be hard to find in Atlanta, where only the Buckhead elite seem to find reservations in the most overhyped places. Better Half is a place you can go for any occasion with anyone. Better Half is like coming home, if home was a place with masterful, creative and conversational chefs. Better Half showcases what’s best.
Handkerchief pasta, soft egg appetizer, Mexican hot chocolate tres leches, caramel corn semifreddo, roasted flounder
Restaurant: Bantam + Biddy
I've been here at least half a dozen times for breakfast. While the service is a bit irreverent at times, you'll get your food fast. I usually opt to sit at the bar so I don't have to deal with a lot of the back and forth. This place has hands-down the best chicken and waffles I've had in the south. The waffles taste like cake batter and they're delicate. The chicken tenders are lightly fried and crispy. You can also opt for the rotisserie style, which is just as good. They're served with Steens cane syrup and homemade vanilla bean apple sauce. Ask for a side of wasabi honey for a bit of a kick. The Southern is also a great option. The pimento cheese and cornbread are heaven. The grits and bacon are the best I've ever had as well. For a lighter option, try the Protein Scramble. The goat cheese is fresh and creamy, and the rotisserie chicken is full of flavor. For booze, go for the bloody mary's. They're bottomless and deliciously spicy.
Chicken + Waffles, The Southern, Protein Scramble, Meatloaf Sandwich
After moving to the South, I have had trouble finding some good Italian food, and frankly, I can't eat much moore fancified shrimp & grits. Pricci is the perfect date-night spot, and I'd even consider grabbing takeout to fulfil a craving for homemade, upscale Italian. Each month, the chef chooses a different region of Italy from which to draw inspiration. We went just before they released the November menu (Udine, Northern Italy), but after sampling several of their mainstays and a dish off of their October menu (Messina, Sicilian), I can't wait to go back. The amazing service of our waiter really made our night. When we couldn't decide on a red wine, he brought three samples to our table, discussing each varietal in an interesting manner. He asked for our preferences, and he acted upon them thoughtfully, bringing out a super Tuscan that I wish I could remember the name of. It was mild and fruit forward with a bit of spice on the finish. His knowledge carried on throughout the evening, so we thought we'd ask about appetizers and entrees. He gave us the highlights and what he thought we'd like based on our preferences, and we loved each dish. We ordered the Polpette first -- three veal and parmesan meatballs in the same san marzano tomato sauce that is served warm with the bread (plus, goat cheese!). Each meatball was cooked to perfection, and the flavors were both comforting and unique. The natural ingredients were left alone to shine, which happens to be my favorite style of cooking. Next, we had a half-size portion of the Risotto del Pescatore. All pastas and risottos can be ordered at Pricci in half sizes, which makes it even easier to taste all of the delectable options. The risotto was filled with braised Mediterranean octopus, clams, mussels, langostino, baby calamari & Georgia wild shrimp. The seafood did not overwhelm the dish, and it was perfectly balanced. The risotto was cooked to be tender and not mushy, and each bite offered a unique taste of the sea. By the time we finished our appetizers, we were getting full. A woman sitting at the next table had ordered the Messina tasting menu, and we asked our waiter if we could still order off that menu without commiting to the entire lineup. He graciously obliged, and we went for the star of the menu, which was an artisanal black spago in a fresh cherry tomato sauce with jumbo prawns and pecorino cheese. It floored me. The spago was perfectly crafted and cooked, and the prawns were fresh and full of flavor. The fresh cherry tomatoes contrasted beautifully with the squid-ink pasta, and all of the flavors shined. We ended our evening with chocolate gelato, which was the best I've had in America, and cappucinos. The delicious food and expert service made it an unforgettable evening.
Polpette (meatballs), seafood risotto, Spago Gamberoni
Restaurant: CLOSED - The Savoy
As a native of this great midwestern city, I understand the flaws that go with our landlocked location. It's near impossible to get fresh, just-out-of-the-water, seafood that doesn't come out of the Great Lakes. That is, until now. The Savoy is a sultry spot in the heart of Wicker Park, an already bustling restaurant scene, but on Wednesday night, it was already pretty full up with foodies looking for something new. Four of us sat down for some cocktails and ordered a little bit at a time, which I recommend doing. The portions are just right for one person, but if you aim to share, order it all. The drinks we ordered throughout dinner included the Sweet (sweet) Jane, Wicker Wings, 21st Century, Daisy Chain, Death Stamp, Savoy Truffle, and a sample of the Isastegi Cider. After tasting every single one, all of which contain absinthe, I'd highly recommend Wicker Wings the most. The Sweet (sweet) Jane was definitely the most interesting, and if you're adventurous, go for it. It has the most remarkable smoky flavor at the very end that will keep you sipping. We started off with a few items from the raw bar: the black grouper ceviche, tuna tartar, and geoduck clam. The clam was highly recommended to me by Chef Brian Greene as the most interesting item on the menu, and he was right. The plum added texture and sweetness to the rich clam offset by pickled ginger. The ceviche was definitely a favorite. It was served with crispy, wonton triangle chips and delicately plated in a margarita glass. The avocado mixed in made it a perfect summer dish. The tuna tartar had a yuzu emulsion nested on top (see photo), which gave it a fresh twist and a beautiful look. After much deliberation, we finally settled on the Red Curry Mussels to follow up the raw bar choices. These are by far the best mussels I've ever had, and I'll come back solely for these the next time I'm in town. The mixture of the coconut, lemon grass and red curry combined to make a rich sauce that paired so perfectly with the jumbo-sized mussels that we scooped up the remaining sauce with shells until it was completely gone. I half-joked that I could drink it through a straw. For our main courses, we ordered the pan seared halibut and the pork belly confit and scallops, which we were praised for choosing by a passing employee. This was by far the most difficult time I've had ordering because of the multitude of amazing dishes to choose from. I seriously can't wait to go back and try everything else. The halibut came complete served over a bed of sauteed oyster mushrooms (so incredibly rich and full of texture), sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes (fresh from the market), and rich cream corn. The real star, though, was the pork belly confit and seared scallops. They came served with door county cherry mojo (reminiscent of thanksgiving dinner), crispy sunchoke and date gastrique. However, had the pork belly and scallops been served completely alone, I would have been just as delighted. The meat was incredibly rich and the scallops cooked to juicy perfection with a contrasting char-crust. We opted to share everything once we saw the desserts exiting the open kitchen, so we ended things with Grandma's Peanut Butter Pie (to die for) and a pot of chocolate cream. I could have done without the chocolate cream and had multiples of the peanut butter pie. The oreo crust was the perfect proportion and the pie filling had an airy lightness to it. I'd love to return for some vanilla bourbon homemade ice cream or mango mezcal sorbet.
Pork Belly Confit and Seared Scallops, Geoduck Clam, Black Grouper Ceviche, Red Curry Mussels, Peanut Butter Pie
Kanela recently opened up in the evenings (Thursday through Sunday) for dinner and their menu is definitely tough to choose from. Our waiter was adorably attentive and enthusiastic about certain dishes, so we took his recommendations and were not disappointed. We started off with the hummus, a warm assortment of pita bread and vegetables accompanied it. It was a fresh way to begin our meal. We then ordered the stuffed meatballs. Essentially, they were mozzarella balls encased in ground meat and indulged in a spiced tomato sauce. They were gooey and seasoned very well. I ordered the mushroom risotto, which could have used a minute or two more on the stove, but the truffle oil topping and wild mushrooms cooked in made it well worth the toughness. I also had a side of cauliflower gratin. I'm not sure the cheese on this but it had a parmesan flavor (without the saltiness) and the addition of panko breadcrumbs on top made this a perfect combination of textures. I'd come back just for this dish for sure. Finally, we ended with the molten cake. It wasn't too rich, which was nice for a summer dessert.
Cauliflower Gratin, Scallops, Stuffed Meatballs, Hummus
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