Not just another food blog – I hope

28 Jun

“When are you gonna write a blog?” This from a number of friends who are either really interested, or tired of seeing all the FoodSpotting, Yelp and other food posts on my Facebook page, in my Twitter feeds, FourSquare check-ins, etc. So, here it is… at least the start of it.

The design and visual stuff may change over time. Just bare with me.

I welcome your interaction.

Keith – I’m Your Neighborhood Chow Hound

The joy of eating – gone?

1 Apr

I thought that Karma and I were on good terms. Apparently I have some childhood penny candy thefts for which I’ve yet to atone. So here is the story. One month ago today I had a stroke. (that’s not the Karma moment) It wasn’t the catastrophic, paralyzing, kind. In fact, if I didn’t tell you, there’d be no way you could tell. However, it was a stroke nonetheless. Scary stuff.

I’ll spare you the medical details, but one of the residual effects is numbness and loss of tactile sensation in parts of my body. (not Karma, yet) The right side of my face is one of those areas and it includes my mouth and tongue. (Karma is creeping up) Half my tongue feels like a shot novocaine is barely waring off. And with that residual numbness went about 45% ability to taste and interpret flavors. (Boo-yah! Karma baby!)

You may say that 45% isn’t too bad considering. I hear you. I’m not one given to flippantly use hyperbole, but for me it is life-altering. First, my mouth and tongue (the right side, at least) feels raw and sensitive all the time, like I’ve been sucking on a giant jawbreaker all day. And though half my tongue is fully functional, and though taste is distributed across the entire tongue, flavors are not what they used to be. Examples: Salt and bitter are now superpowerful and linger a long time. Sweet is still sublime but nuances suffer. Pineapple is awesome, as usual. The delicate fluidity of strawberry is almost totally absent. Chocolate is there but dulled quite a bit. Savory is almost totally gone. It’s just not happening.

Other flavors are misses as well. I had a bite of a friend’s coconut ice cream and it was just cold. I had a shot of a favorite whiskey and all I got was the alcohol burn – and the alcohol buzz (thank goodness for small favors). I can feel the tingle from a chili pepper but the tangy flavor is missing.

Texture also is a big player in this shakeup. Again, like the effects of novocaine, I can feel the chewing action and the pressure of whatever I’m eating, but the textures all register about the same. Then it just becomes irritating after a while. All that is localized to the right side but doesn’t help the overall eating experience. On the bright side, I think I’ve found a good weight loss program because I am eating far less at any given sitting.

The prognosis is that all this may correct itself tomorrow, or next week, or in five years; or perhaps never. There is no fix. All I know is that I’m missing out on a lot of the joy of eating RIGHT NOW. That makes this blog a bit pointless.

So my Instagram account (howdoyoufood) will be the place to find me and my next era of food adventures. And perhaps after all my Karmic dues are paid in full, I’ll regain the use of all of my taste buds and return to writing. For now, here are a few parting shots (some of them pre-brainfart… errr, stroke) of some noshes worth sharing.

If you really want to know what life is like with far fewer taste receptors than the normal human being, check out my friend The Tasteless Gourmand. For her, “texture is the thing.”

I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my little food journey these last few years. Though the act of eating has changed for me, I’ll still enjoy the fellowship, breaking of bread, community, togetherness, familial and human-ness that comes with dining. You don’t need a lot of words for that.

Eat well, my friends.
Your friendly neighborhood Chow Hound

Twisted Soul Kitchen + Bar – This was actually a taste test for my new “buds.” I love the idea of this and would order it every time. I do recall the tingle of jalapeno and the pop of cilantro. And it’s pretty to look at.

Black Eyed Pea Salsa

Black Eyed Pea Salsa

Another idea I love. Moist, grilled duck and the heat of Jamaican jerk. Be careful – you get a half duck. I was expecting a quarter.

Grilled Jerk Duck, Creamy Peas and Rice, Curried Cauliflower

Grilled Jerk Duck

Livingston Restaurant + Bar

Cauliflower Popcorn - dried herbs, horseradish buttermilk

Cauliflower Popcorn – dried herbs, horseradish buttermilk

Kimball House
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The Original Pancake House – The only place I know where you can still get freshly squeezed grapefruit juice – which incidentally I can no longer enjoy because of stupid meds. I will go back and kill many more of these waffles. The compote was so fresh I was squirting blueberry juice all over the table. I felt a bit like Violet Beauregarde.

Blueberry Waffle with Fresh Blueberry Compote

Blueberry Waffle with Fresh Blueberry Compote

My new local love – Kimball House

25 Jan

Ah, Kimball House. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. You created a success in the historic Decatur train depot, where many a restaurant went to die.
2. The staff and bartenders are fun, pleasant and knowledgeable. They sing a round of “How Dry I Am” at last call.
3. You fed me beef tartare 3 different ways in as many weeks and they each were creative and delicious.
4. Raw Bar Happy Hour, 5-7 p.m., Monday through Friday
5. OK, that’s enough.

I thought I was “over” the cool and hip craft cocktail, locally-sourced, small menu, blah, blah, blah, restaurant. (I say that with complete fondness for such places.) Kimball House has reawakened my gastronomic spirit and brought me back into the fold.

Don’t be fooled by the loud din and seemingly standing room only bar. I have yet to walk in at any hour and not found a seat. It’s like they magically appear to make sure every soul that walks through the door has a place. The wait for a table sometimes can be as long as 45 minutes, but even so, spending that time at the bar is not a bad idea at all.

Speaking of tasty adult beverages, let Miles, Kate, David, Stephanie and all the others make you feel like an old friend when you belly up. It always makes my music nerd self chuckle when Miles and David are behind the bar together. They have a rotating list of crafty cocktails handy to suit most any taste.

The food is creative yet approachable. I’ve had the beef tartare prepared three different ways in as many weeks – and they each were excellent! That’s called keeping the kitchen fresh.

The menu changes often so I’ll apologize for recommendations that aren’t on. I think the beef tartare is a staple – lucky for you. The house sausages are the tops. If the braunschweiger is on the menu, get it. I also had the creamiest, most flavorful pate I’ve had in my life. Ever!

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And as a former denizen of downtown Decatur, I am ecstatic that the owners have made a success of the location. I was beginning to think the Old Train Depot was cursed.

Things that may irk you: they don’t take reservations (the waits are tolerable IMHO… especially at the bar); there is only street parking (but you can find it); it is not a place for kids.

Get thee to Kimball House and stuff your face. Quaff some quality beverages and have a grand old time. You’ll thank me – and all the other folks who are giving it rave reviews – for it.

Happy Hour Ersters!

Happy Hour Ersters!

Las Vegas – The Best Place to Make Bad Decisions

28 Oct Las Vegas Foodspotting Eat Up 2014

The title for this entry is a direct quote from a taxi driver I had the pleasure of meeting during a recent trip to Las Vegas. It is among a choice selection of gems he shared. Traffic was heavy, so it was an entertaining ride. In the name of common decency, I invoke my right to self-censor and not regale you with the color commentary.

But his one-liner struck a chord in me. Here I was on my way to America’s playground to meet up with a group of people I didn’t know from Adam, all in the name of enjoying a good meal. I could only hope the food would be good or great. An even bigger hope was that these strangers would be at least pleasant because we’d be spending a LOT of time together – I mean full days. I’m not a gambling man, but this had the potential to be a really, really, REALLY bad decision. The things I do for good food.

Guess what? We all made it out alive. I daresay some of us actually began new friendships.

Let me offer a little background to help this make more sense. I belong to an online food community anchored in an app called Foodspotting. It’s one of many of its kind created so folks like me can share food experiences. “Hey, look at what I ate! It was really good. You should try it.” That’s about the gist of it. It’s kind of geeky, but it makes me and my fellow Foodspotters happy.

But it goes much further than that for most of us. Food is the nexus of community. It is the tie that binds, no matter your culture, language or geography. And something about Foodspotting, to me, sets it apart from other similar apps. Foodspotters, in large measure, take the notion of food and community to heart. They are about connecting to the people as well as the food.

It’s the love of food and creating a community table that allowed a group of strangers from Arizona, Florida, NYC, Virginia, San Diego, L.A., Hawai’i and Nevada to throw a bit of caution to the wind and take a big chance to meet for a weekend and bond over meals in Las Vegas. I think that was a big time bet.

So thanks to my new friends Sam, Marina, Mish, Cristy, Paul, Thelma, Mindy, Gary, Jonathan, James, Szilvi, Janna, Shawn, Claire, Kimi, Tazeen and Rob for taking that gamble on yourselves, on everyone else, and on me. My experience was the better for it and I hope yours was as well.

The Foodspotting app probably isn’t the best out there, doesn’t have the most bells and whistles, and it may even go away one day. But the friendships, connections and communities that began on Foodspotting, in my humble opinion, will be long-lasting.

Las Vegas Foodspotting Eat Up 2014

Las Vegas Foodspotting Eat Up 2014

Oh, and by the way, we did have some fabulous food! Check out some highlights of our eating tour.

DAY ZERO (I did a little chowing down without my Foodspotting peeps)

Lobster ME I don’t know very much about lobster rolls, but if this is anything close to what you get in Maine, I’m sold. It was definitely real lobster lightly dressed with mayo and Old Bay. Loved it.

Lobster ME - Classic Lobster Roll

Lobster ME – Classic Lobster Roll

DAY 1
Hash House A Go Go (another solo venture) I had no intention of embarking on a food challenge. But I always look for interesting takes on eggs benedict. This was it. As seen on Man v. Food, Andy’s sage fried chicken bennie stopped me in my tracks. It took me about 40 minutes to not finish it. A true gut buster but worth every bite – split biscuit, griddled mashed potatoes, spinach, tomato, smoked bacon, griddled mozzarella, chipotle cream and scrambled eggs.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict

Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Benedict

Serendipity 3 (and my 3rd side trip) Now this came recommended from a friend with a very respectable sweet tooth. And I love banana splits. Again, fit for a food challenge, this regular sized split nearly did me in. Serendipity is VERY generous with toppings. You can see the caramel, chocolate sauce, etc. spilled onto the plate. It is perfectly suited that this is located at Caesar’s Palace because it is truly gluttonous!

Serendipity 3 - Banana Split

Serendipity 3 – Banana Split

Ichiza This was the first stop on the eat up tour. Talk about getting started on the right foot. And by the way, take off your shoes to sit at the community table. Ichiza is truly authentic. Speaking Japanese is probably a plus, but definitely not necessary. We ate a ton of food. Small plates were flying around at a good pace. Here are a few highlights.

Start things off with a little Japanese potato salad and warm sake

Start things off with a little Japanese potato salad and warm sake

The Honey Toast was SICK! Partially hollowed out Texas toast with butter, honey and vanilla ice cream. Yeeeeaaaaah boiiiiii!!

Zizzy This is all the karaoke evidence you’ll get from me. Private rooms and great service make Zizzy a must-stop for fun. It happened. It was fun. We all left alive. That is all.

Private rooms and great service make this a must-stop to have group fun.

DAY 2
Bouchon How about a French brunch? Of course, you say. I say that’s a good answer if you go to Bouchon. It’s solid and they throw a few specials your way to keep things interesting. And you know, I’m a sucker for specials.

assorted pastries- the raspberry beignets were powerfully good

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RM Seafood We entered with a purpose – the Ice Cream Challenge. Guess the flavor of 16 assorted ice creams, sorbets and gellato. Think you have an educated palate? So did I. I got four correct – one was a gimme and another had to be exposed so one in our party wouldn’t have an allergic reaction and explode.

Yonaka This gets the win for best overall experience. The food – dynamite. The pork belly alone is worth writing about. The service – exquisite. The omakase (chef’s choice) menu was created especially for our group. The staff knew us all by name. I mean, what?

Yonaka omakase selection

Yonaka Omakase selection

Full Omakase Menu

Full Omakase Menu

DAY 3
Woonam Jung Lee’s KBBQ This was my first Korean BBQ experience. It will not be my last.

Korean BBQ Collage - we have the meats!

Korean BBQ Collage – we have the meats!

Putting some heat on that squid.

Putting some heat on that squid

Bean Curd Soup

Bean Curd Soup

Poooooork Belllyyyy!!!!

Poooooork Belllyyyy!!!!

Bizarre Meat (this would end up being my last good taste in LV) It’s Jose Andres. Enough said. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop for a meal. However, there is always room for a Manhattan. Or is that Jello? Anyway, the twist here is that the Manhattan is smoked. Watch the video slideshow and about the third slide, you can see the charcoal smoke captured in the bottom of the carafe. Great presentation; even better ingesting. By the way, this was another stop that was off the group map. I’ll do the full experience on the next trip.

VEGAS, BABY!

VEGAS, BABY!

Eat well.

I blame Major General William Tecumseh Sherman

20 Sep

Zesto Drive-In Restaurant on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta, Georgia is closed. I call it a local institution. Others may have another opinion. The Ponce area has been “under new management,” if you will, for some time. It’s lined with prime real estate along a main artery of the inner city. Fresh retail options, new residences and businesses have sprung up. It’s received the old live-work-play treatment. So it’s no surprise that Zesto’s property owner succumbed to a developer’s offer to sell the land.

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I have never been opposed to revitalizing and upgrading neighborhoods which were once neglected and avoided. But I still feel a sense of loss when places like Zesto become collateral damage and destined to live on as only a memory.

I blame General Sherman and his infamous March to the Sea, which he began by burning Atlanta to the ground, November 15, 1864. From that day, it has been bred into the DNA of Atlantans that we can recover from anything, reinvent ourselves and our city, as needed, whenever needed. The city’ mascot? The Phoenix Rising, of course.

Zesto isn’t one-of-a-kind. You kind find diners like it, probably, in most cities. A hamburger joint that dates back to the 40s and 50s. In fact, there are five other franchises around metro Atlanta. But this was “the” Zesto Drive-In. It was the fast, friendly service, food cooked to order and the ice cream. Oh my, the ice cream. And it was the home of the Chubby Burger for goodness sake!

Again, I don’t begrudge evolution and progress. I hate to lose little bits of character that make a city unique. I think Zesto is – was – one of those places. I savored my last meal: Chubby Decker (double-decker cheeseburger), fries and a chocolate malt.

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So I encourage you not to overlook that little corner bar, pub or restaurant in your city – or any city – that’s been around quietly for generations. It may not have the best food and drink you’ve ever had. Chances are they have something special waiting for you. There obviously is something special that’s kept the place in business. Make a stop and check it out before a new breed General Sherman comes and takes it away.

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Better Half Seeks to be the Best

6 Jan

This is sort of the third time I’ve written about this place. In it’s previous life as Push Start Kitchen, I raved about the food and the folks who brought it to us. Now I get the chance to do the same in it’s current incarnation as Better Half. Less than one month old, Better Half is on the way to being a hot spot in Atlanta’s dining scene. And I’m going to do my part to make it happen by shouting about it.

Zach and Cristina Meloy have produced a labor of love that is at once what Push Start was and was meant to be. It’s a cozy, familial and special place. Zach marries South American and Southern American flavors deliciously. I guess that is what makes his food so good; it’s unique, sometimes exotic, but always approachable.

On a recent rare visit to the A, I scored a table for dinner. At the time the place had only been open 10 days. Even so, it had a modest crowd and I was glad I made reservations well in advance. Zach was hustling in the open kitchen which is right behind the bar/chef’s table set up. He likes to see people eat and chit chat. He’s a touchy-feely type guy. Not in a creepy way, though. Well, the beard gets a bit disturbing at times. 

Leidy (mom-in-law) was up front greeting everyone warmly. Unfortunately, Cristina had mommy duty that night and wasn’t around. The rest of the staff, though, treated us like family and gave the place a comfy, welcome home feel. It was the kind of vibe you expect to get around the family dinner table during the holidays with people talking and laughing and leaning over to their neighbor to suggest their favorite dish. “Oh, you gotta try the so-and-so.” “Hey, what is that you’re having?”

In fact, that’s what happened to me and my date. We got several recommendations from the folks at the table next us. That’s the kind of vibe Push Start was known for and thankfully it has carried over to Better Half.

Let me walk you through my meal.

First – pickled shrimp, black bean falafel, red onion jam, cilantro

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I want to convince Zach to offer a plateful of the falafel and jam on the side. However, I think he has a Charlie Trotter thing going, where you won’t see the same dish twice on his menu. I haven’t so far, and he has fed me quite a few meals.

Second – seared tuna, ham hock, guajillo sauce, baby kale

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A little surf and pork? Sounds odd but it was a great combination. I think that was a little polenta cake in the center. I forgot to ask, but I ate it.

Third – black cocoa sponge, ancho cajeta, vanilla milk

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The story is Zach asks his mother-in-law to fix this cake each year for his birthday. I totally understand why. He is a HUGE dulce de leche fan, so the cajeta (the caramel colored swipe) was no surprise. The peppery hint of ancho chile paired well with the cocoa cake. Sweet and just a touch of spice. Next time a big ‘ole hunk will suffice. I’ll sacrifice style for substance in this case.  

Other items on the menu included, roasted apple bread pudding (pictured below), 18-hour short rib, plantain crusted turkey and beet salad.

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Bringing strangers together in an intimate setting, to share some good food and drink is what this place is about. You may end up with several new friends along the way. It happened to me. So let me encourage you to take a friend or two and spend some time with friends you don’t know yet. You might get a shot of moonshine if the stars align correctly. The featured flavor on my night out was chai tea – Yowza!

Tell Zach and Cristina that I sent you. And as Zach would say, “go get fed!”

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