Saturday, March 27, 2010

Atlanta Eats & Entertainment

My traveling days have started again with a long weekend trip to Atlanta. Our primary reason for the trip was to visit the High Museum and see The Allure of the Automobile exhibit. Granted it's been a while since I've been anywhere so any excuse would be good, but the opportunity to see such a fascinating collection of automobiles was irresistible.

The High Museum houses as a collection of exhibits, some permanent, others made Atlanta a temporary home in their travels. My husband and I spent most of our time at automotive exhibit. The sheer size of some of the vehicles was immense, dwarfing even today's Expeditions and Escalades that tower over modern full-size cars on the road. The focus was on rare and unique cars of the 1930's to 1960's. Many shown were valued in the millions, and all truly priceless in that there were so few made initially, much less surviving today. Seeing some of these cars is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and on June 20th they return to their respective owners. (I kept coming back to admire and photograph this Bugatti. To borrow a phrase from the Jeremy Clarkson book of car descriptivism, it was absolutely stunning.)

We made the requisite pass through other exhibits including 14th to 19th century european art, architecture and photography exhibits, and wandered through the contemporary art. The contemporary areas reminded us that we share the same view of it; it's the one where we both stand there with a slightly baffled look, scratching our heads and wondering what exactly influenced the artist to adhere a malformed metal sack to the bottom of an equally bizarre metal sculpture. Was it acid? Maybe too much vodka? For now I'll remain content to stare and wonder "Huh?"

Friday night while roaming around Atlantic Station in search of dinner, we came across Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro. It had a jazzy, upbeat decor and every table was filled, even at 10pm. I ordered the Almond Crusted Trout Meuniere; the trout was a bit bland and would have been improved with a dash of lemon. What made the dish noteworthy was the onion straws, as they added a needed zing to the flavor overall. Between the garlic mashed potatoes and the creamy marinara linguine served with my husband's Parmesan Crusted Chicken dish, it was clear the kitchen wasn't stingy with the garlic. It was potent enough I should be vampire-safe for a while, but it was not overpowering in either dish. The Parmesan Crusted Chicken was surprisingly moist and not overly salty, which can easily happen with a chicken tenderloin dish.

The next night we decided to go for something a little different. Flip Burger Boutique is where the cool kids go for a burger. With a bustling, music throbbing atmosphere and very quirky decor, its not the destination for a quiet dinner. From the menu, they have great onion rings, some of the best I've tasted. They lost something as they cooled off but in contrast the french fries did not. The flip burger was not really noteworthy and was a bit on the bland side. The A5, a Kobe burger with foie gras, truffle oil and a red wine syrup was a real standout. Then again it should be something special. As we reviewed the menu, I wondered aloud what a $39 burger tastes like. I can now say I have had a Kobe burger and a $39 burger at that. It was juicy and had a distinctive blend of flavors from the oil, syrup and foie gras that pared well with the excellent flavor of the beef. For desert we shared a Krispy Kreme shake. What exactly makes a Krispy Kreme shake? Tiny bits of Krispy Kreme donut blended into a vanilla milkshake. Pretty tasty, like the rest of the meal, but not quite the earth-moving experience one would hope for, especially from a $39 burger. (So what does at $39 burger look like? See the pic above.)

Sunday afternoon we made a pass through Ikea. When I mention in conversation that the cinnamon rolls there are exceptionally good, sized large enough to share and priced at merely one dollar each, I get some puzzled looks. How could this Ikea place produce a shared lunch of one generously sized slice of cheese pizza, one large cinnamon roll and two bottles of water for under $5? All it takes is a visit to one of their stores and it becomes obvious that the good quality of food at such meager prices fits their business persona perfectly. Thankfully the closest one to me is an eight hour drive, explaining in part the odd responses I get to their food. Due to the distance it's more a destination and I don't feel guilty when I walk in the store, inhale the aroma of those fresh baked cinnamon rolls and know instantly I will not be able to resist the temptation. One of those tasty treats will be consumed before I leave the premises. Oh by the way, they sell some interesting stuff to furnish your home and office too. (The restaurant is merely an aside to the main purpose of the store, shopping.) Pricing is very moderate and the style is mostly contemporary; if I were furnishing a dorm room, small apartment or condo, I'd be making the drive to an Ikea. Making the absolute most use of a very small living space is something they have down to a science. Who else can put together a functional living room, kitchen and bedroom into a 350 square foot space? I don't know I could anymore, it's been just long enough from my dorm dwelling days so that now I've accumulated enough stuff to make condensing down challenging. Ask my husband, I don't do condensing unless properly motivated.

A surprise in the food department was the breakfast at our hotel, the Residence Inn. It was actually better than adequate! Check out any hotel that serves a continental or "hot" breakfast that is included with all rooms. The spread will contain bread, some sort of small pastry (muffin, croissant, or danish, all interchangeable), under-ripe fruit such as bananas or apples, yogurt, fruit juice and milk. The fancy ones might spring for granola or some canned "fresh" fruit, or even English muffins. If they serve a "hot breakfast" prepare for pre-cooked sausage patties, bacon or powdered eggs. Some like to add a belgian waffle station so they can lay claim to the "hot" breakfast title too, however 95% of the time the ones going for the waffles are the little kids and teenage boys. So when I found the obligatory green bananas and cake-like muffins plus a few more items at breakfast, I was glad to see the added choices. The surprise came when I tasted the food and it wasn't totally blah, it was actually good.

Speaking of the hotel, the location couldn't have been more convenient if I'd planned it. All within a less than 5 minute drive were most of our destinations, most closer than that. Our top floor room was well sized and the layout spacious. With the top floor rooms, the ceilings are very high with exposed beams, contributing to the open feel of the room. I have two across-the-board complaints about virtually every hotel I visit; noise from the hallway and a lack of well placed plugins. While this hotel did have the typical hallway noise, I was impressed with the thought put into the plugins. There weren't just a few of them, they were plentiful and spread out with good placement throughout the suite. Kudos to you, Residence Inn Atlanta Midtown for making life easy for today's teched-up traveler!

As I promised here a couple of years ago, we returned to the Marietta Diner on Sunday night. The cheesesticks appetizer was a great start to a good meal as well as the spanakoptia. As normal for there, the portions were gargantuan, with the fried chicken being a WHOLE chicken, and the Perogies in my dish were the size of my fist. The perogies (photo at left) were in a dish with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, red peppers and chicken, which was then topped with a garlic (more garlic) alfredo sauce. The fried chicken was a bit on the sweet side, a bit more than I like. For dessert, and who can go to this place without ordering desert, we had a pastry labeled simply "Koh" (photo on right) which our waitress really didn't know much about other than she'd been told it was good. Whoever told her that was right, as whatever the creme filling in the middle was, I could have eaten it alone with a spoon. Overall the Marietta Diner didn't disappoint and I'd still encourage anyone passing through the area to make the stop. Just be prepared to take some time to take in the vast menu, it's really that huge.

On this trip, we also made a stop at the World of Coca-Cola museum. It's interesting how the company makes this piece of a gargantuan marketing machine something actually worth paying to see. I won't share a lot of details and spoil the fun for those who may visit, but the tasting room is an experience not to be missed, and be sure to try the Beverly!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Sweet Day

Any day that starts with a scrumptious cupcake as a prelude to lunch can't be all bad. Sure enough, the rest of the day lived up to my high expectations.

The day I speak of was last Saturday. I went on a day trip to Memphis with my husband and friends. Our goal for the day was to eat our way through the city with some shopping interspersed to reduce the likely onset of guilt and gluttony.

First stop was the cupcake shop, Gigi's. (Photo above is the display case. I'm fighting the urge to lick my screen right now.) I'm definitely an ardent fan of the treats from Cupcakes on Kavanaugh in Little Rock, and it will always be a little extra special to me because it was where I first tasted a truly "gourmet" cupcake. It was a eye-opening moment to take in the mountain of rich icing atop a moist gem of cake goodness. I would list Gigi's as a solid runner-up in the gourmet cupcake category if I were making such lists. Just like Cupcakes on Kavanaugh, the cake part itself lacks a little in the homemade flavor and texture, but the icing makes up for it in both quantity and quality. It's superb. Thanks to friends with a willingness to share (and cupcakes giant enough to make sharing possible) I was able to sample Chocolate Malt, Milk Chocolate, Wedding Cake and Scarlett's Velvet. While they were all good and the Malt would please any malt fan, Scarlett's Velvet was my favorite. It was the most moist and the icing atop wasn't quite as starkly sweet. That said, there wasn't a bad bite in the bunch as you can see from the photo of the aftermath. (Photo at right.)

We made a few shopping stops (I highly recommend Fleet Feet on Poplar to the runners/walkers out there) and headed out to The Avenue at Carriage Crossing in Collierville. Memphis is a city that has very defined areas where it's safe to be after dark. Just driving across the city, we saw a number of runners out soaking up the sunny spring day. Some probably could run with no more distraction than a neighbor's puppy wanting to play; others made me wonder how comfortable it would be running while packing heat. Either way, I could appreciate the beautiful weather and I'm even more appreciative of living in a reasonably safe enough town to step out my door and go for a run without having to dress like Laura Croft.

Anyway, The Avenue is an open-air shopping district that is made for beautiful spring days like this one. We stopped for lunch at Crescent City, a cajun cafe. Overall, the service was a mix of disinterested waitresses and one waiter hustling back & forth from the kitchen. The decor and atmosphere was relaxed and the location easily accessible. Of the items we ordered, the one standout was the Crawfish Dip, with excellent fresh tortilla chips. All the dishes had a spicy hot kick that was good but not overpowering. We also had an obligation to sample the Beignets as part of our eating across the city mission and were satisfied with them enough to push through more shopping afterward.

Our last food stop of the day was at Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill. I've visited the restaurant before but my friends had not and were eager to try something new. While the food isn't what I'd call absolutely superb, it's a good bit better than the average casual dining fare. Since I've been on a bit of a seafood kick lately, I really enjoyed the grilled grouper I ordered. And the absolute last dish on the menu I'd have ordered, the Buffalo Meatloaf, turned out to be edible! It was good enough that I recall thinking "if meatloaf tasted like this, I'd actually eat it, and maybe even go so far as to make it myself." So yes, it was some pretty spectacular meatloaf to make me reconsider my dislike of it from childhood. Throwing the warm, rustic atmosphere into the mix, dinner at Firebirds made for a excellent way to relax at the end of a hard day of eating, shopping and strolling around on a gorgeous spring afternoon.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Upcoming Travels

Over the last couple of months my travels have been a bit less frequent, but not to worry, I have plenty planned for 2010. Coming up soon is a trip to the High Museum in Atlanta, as well as a return stop for more of that spectacular cake at the Marietta Diner. Also we'll be venturing to St. Louis to visit friends and go to what I've been assured is the best restaurant in St. Louis. This comes from a friend who has taste I trust in restaurants, so we'll see if it lives up to the hype.

Also in 2010 I'm planning to go back up to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and in the fall to Maui. So in this blog post I'm soliciting advise from my vast range of readers or at least those who haven't either given up on my travels or fallen asleep at the keyboard. Any recommendation for meals or interesting things to see or do in my planned destinations? I'm open to ideas!