The Roaming Foodie

Archive for April 2010

It’s at Red Pearl Restaurant in Birmingham.

The restaurant is tucked into the Super Oriental Market on W. Valley Rd. It’s basically the typical Oriental Market I’ve found elsewhere (reminds me a lot of the one in Pittsburgh that my mom and I visited), with fresh fish and eel (fresh as in still swimming), and even fresh conch! It’s a tiny little place full of fascinating finds for an American that is as, for lack of a better word, obsessed with Asian culture as I am.

Anyway, my Chinese 101 class went to Red Pearl together, with our laoshi (teacher, in Chinese) and our TA. We each ordered a dish or two that we wanted, Yang laoshi ordered several, and we all ended up sharing the feast that was presented before us.

I’m not even sure I can remember all that we ate, but I’ll give it a shot. Also, it’s probably the closest thing to authentic Chinese (from what I’ve heard about Chinese food from China. I’ve never actually been to China to eat it, so that statement is a slight shot in the dark) that you’ll get in Birmingham, AL.

Steamed dumplings-Definitely the best dumplings ever. They were very lightly fried, not greasy at all, and the skin was crisp, tender, and light. The filling was a typical pork and vegetable, but there wasn’t too much filling and it was very flavorful.

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce-I couldn’t stop eating this, probably because I love eggplant, but also probably because the sauce was delectable. Not too spicy, but definitely packed full of garlic, it was a nice compliment to the stir-fried, tender eggplant.

Peking duck– Not a huge fan of duck to begin with (it’s too rich and too fatty for me), but this was some good duck. I only had a bite of it, but the skin was crisp and it was seasoned and cooked well. But I probably wouldn’t order it again, but only because of my opinion of duck. Everyone who liked duck seemed to really enjoy it.

Chicken with Broccoli– this is what I ordered. Absolutely amazing. The broccoli was fresh, the chicken pieces tender, and the sauce was full of flavor without overpowering the chicken or the vegetables. Also, they didn’t drown the whole thing is sauce, which is what most Chinese restaurants do, so it wasn’t soggy at all. It was just…amazing.

Pork Lo Mein and Shrimp Lo Mein-I didn’t eat any of this, as by the time I even considered getting some, my stomach was beginning to protest being stuffed with any more food. But, the things I did notice just from looking at the dish was a) the noodles were wide noodles that looked like they were fresh made, b) it also wasn’t drowning in sauce, so the veggies and noodles still retained their color, instead of staining brown and c) there were more veggies besides onions and carrots, which is what I’ve experienced with many lo meins.

Mongolian Beef– Probably the most Americanized dish we ordered other than my chicken and broccoli, but still really good. They were a bit heavier on the sauce in this dish, but the sauce was good, so it wasn’t a problem. Not my favorite of the bunch, but then again, beef isn’t exactly my favorite thing either. Sorry I don’t have much to say about this one, but I only ate a bite of it.

Pork, Tofu, and Bamboo Shoot– This dish was incredibly good. There wasn’t much (if any) sauce on it, the bamboo shoots were fresh (not the kind out of the can), and the tofu complimented the pork in a nice way (I thought mixing tofu and pork would be weird, but it was a nice texture contrast). I loved the fresh bamboo shoots in the dish. Our TA told us that the bamboo shoots in the dish were actually the sprouts of the bamboo. Whatever they were, they were really good, and tender, and didn’t have the canned taste to them like bamboo shoots from a can.

Fried Fish in Sweet and Sour Sauce– Fried. Fish. Need I say more? (I will anyway). I kept eating pieces of this dish. The fish was fried to perfection, with just the right ratio of breading to fish. The fish was also very fresh (I’m guessing it came from one of the tanks in the front of the market), tender, and flaky. The sauce, while orange, was not quite as neon red as other Chinese restaurants. It’s something I would definitely order again if I go back (IF? I’m so going back before I leave)

Sauteed Chinese Broccoli and Sauteed Lily Bulbs with Spinach– these dishes were probably the most fascinating to me. Not because they were complex in anyway…In fact, they were quite quite simple. Just broccoli sauteed in a little oil, and spinach and lily bulbs sauteed in a little oil. And by a little, I mean hardly any. The thing that fascinated me was that I’d never, ever encountered such fresh and such lightly cooked vegetables in a Chinese restaurant. They were cooked just enough to be cooked, but still retained a bright green color and crunch. Both were very lightly salted. And lily bulbs? Yummy. They were just little white chopped up bulbs that mainly provided a watery crunch to the spinach more than any extra flavor. But it was a nice texture contrast between the crunchy bulbs and the soft spinach.

This is the best Chinese meal I’ve had. The food was great, my class is full of a fun and good-natured bunch of people, and our Laoshi is the sweetest person ever. The atmosphere of the restaurant was nice, despite its location in a grocery store. It wasn’t the fanciest place ever, but it was comfortable and clean. The waitress, who was a bit too serious at first, warmed up as soon as we started counting in Chinese while she was getting a picture of the group. She provided good and quick service, despite the fact that she was the only waitress in the restaurant serving a large group like ours plus a few other tables.

All in all, it was a fantastic meal. My only regret is that I didn’t find this restaurant sooner.

Super Oriental Market and Red Pearl Restaurant on Urbanspoon

My boyfriend had his 22nd birthday this past Saturday. Of course, that meant eating a lot of good food. I mean, that’s what I do on my birthday, at least, and that’s what we did on his. (I should just get to the food…it’s late and my introduction isn’t making any sense)

Friday night, Andrew insisted that I take him to one of my favorite restaurants instead of him picking where he wanted to go (way to be difficult). Since I couldn’t decide on what my favorite Atlanta restaurant is, I decided to try Iberian Pig in Decatur (yay for my college town!), per my brother’s suggestion, and my brother’s restaurant recommendations haven’t failed yet. I didn’t tell Andrew that I’d never been to this place, since he had given me specific instructions. It’s one of my favorite restaurants now…so I didn’t exactly go against what he asked.
Anyway, here’s what we had.
Charcuterie and Cheese
Jamon Iberico—cured Iberian pig meat. Maybe it’s my unrefined palate for meat, but it just tasted like prosciutto. Not to say it wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t as good as what we paid for it.
To go along with that, we had some Manchego cheese (a very yummy semi-hard cheese) and some sort of cheese that was like a Spanish version of brie.
Salad
We ate a salad that was the special for the night, so I couldn’t tell you the name of it. I do know that it was arugula dressed in Meyer lemon vinaigrette, with Meyer lemon wedges, strawberries, onions, toasted hazelnuts, and goat cheese. It was good and refreshing, and without doubt the lightest thing we ate all evening.
Tapas
We ordered two tapas.
1) Pork Cheek tacos–if you go to Iberian Pig, you must order these. In fact, go specifically for these. They. Are. Phenomenal. And I don’t even care for pork that much. The tacos are in a hard shell, which I normally don’t like, but they’re small and the shells were light and crispy, not really thick like most taco shells are. The roasted pork cheek was slightly sweet and smoky, and incredibly tender. And the roasted corn salsa was great…but I love roasted corn to begin with. I woke up the next morning wanting more of the tacos…that’s how good they are.
2) Calamares—this was alright. It was calamari stuffed with vegetables and cooked in tomato sauce (which was basically a spicy vegetable stew) and topped with some cheese. Not my favorite thing we had, probably because to me it just tasted like vegetable soup. It was good…but seriously. It was vegetable soup with squid in it. Nothing astounding.
Main Plate
I guess I should mention that, again per Andrew’s instructions, I picked everything above for us to eat. He wouldn’t choose, but he did agree to choose the main plate. He chose Spanish Lamb Ribs. Our waiter came back and told us they were out of lamb. So then Andrew made me choose again. And I, for some reason, chose the Bone-In Ribeye. I don’t eat steak generally, so I don’t know what possessed me to order it. But whatever part of my brain said “Ooh, choose the steak!” I would really, really like to thank it.
The bone-in ribeye was cooked medium rare (Andrew did choose that, which I was happy with…if I’m going to eat steak, it’s gonna be medium rare) with “roasted garlic and port wine butter, caramelized fennel and shallots” with the Manchego Macaroni and Cheese on the side. Okay. Roasted garlic and port wine butter??? how could this steak not be fantastic??? I thought it was outstanding, even if steak generally isn’t my thing (I seemed to be in a carnivorous mood that night…I ordered pork and steak in the same meal, and I never really eat those). I think he thought it was good too…he managed to get every bit of meat off that bone. Basically, we demolished that steak. The mac and cheese was good, but I still prefer the good ol’ Cheddar cheese kind.

So, that was the end of eating for Friday night. Iberian Pig is a really cool restaurant. It was really crowded, so I definitely recommend making reservations (I did, and I’m glad I did). It was also loud, just from the sheer number of people in there, but it wasn’t obnoxiously loud (trust me…I’ve been in obnoxiously loud restaurants). Our waiter was very personable, but spoke a little too fast to catch everything he said about the evening’s specials, but after he found out when we first stepped in that it was our first time, he was kind enough to offer to guide us through the menu and the ordering process, or to let us fend for ourselves. We took him up on his offer, but I thought it was cool of him not to just take over without asking us what we wanted to do.Β  He was also very attentive, despite the crowd. The bar seemed really cool, so I definitely want to go back when I’m 21 and see what that’s like. Next time I go, I think I’ll skip the main plate and stick to the tapas. And definitely stick to the Pork Cheek tacos. Yum.

Saturday night, on his actual birthday, we went out with his family to Maggiano’s. It’s an Italian restaurant in Buckhead. Nothing fancy (it must be to high schoolers though…there a ton of prom parties there that night). Just a typical Italian restaurant…it’s by no means the best Italian I’ve ever eaten (that’s reserved for the random Italian restaurant my mom and I stopped in when we were in Little Italy in NYC, that I’m not sure I could find again if I wanted to), but it’s good, and Andrew really likes it. Plus, it’s good for a group. They have this cool thing called a family style dinner where you get to pick two appetizers, two salads, two pastas, two entrees, and two desserts, then they bring it out to you, and you share it as a group for a fixed price per person, depending on what type you get. They’ll also keep refilling your plates. We picked the “Light” option, which consisted of two appetizers, two salads, and two pastas, and instead of two desserts they bring you these amazingly delicious little lemon cookies (must learn how to make those). It was way more than enough food, with leftovers. We had Tomato Caprese (tomato slices topped with fresh mozzarella slices, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar) and Bruschetta. For salads we chose the Caesar and the Spinach. I didn’t really eat the Caesar salad, but the Spinach salad was great. It had bacon, roasted red peppers and sauteed onions, and gorgonzola on it. I could eat that salad every day. Seriously. That and pork cheek tacos (okay…maybe not every day now that I think about it more. But I could eat them both a lot and be very happy) We had cheese ravioli (delicious!) and Chicken Pesto Linguine for our pastas. The cheese ravioli is really really good, but the chicken pesto linguine wasn’t anything special, in my opinion. I’ve had better.
I also made Andrew a cake for his birthday, also having been given specific instructions as to the ratio of yellow cake (and don’t call it vanilla cake mix by accident…he will correct you) to chocolate icing. More cake than icing, the icing has to be a thin layer. I think I did pretty well, considering I’m definitely a frosting girl (really. I could care less about the cake…it’s only there to hold up the frosting). He seemed to like it, and I was lame enough to put two candles on his piece when I brought it to him. I had thought about sticking 22 candles on the entire cake, but I didn’t really want to burn down his apartment, so I settled with two candles on one piece. Not as fun, but definitely more safe.

I thought it was a pretty good weekend. But it wasn’t about me this time, so I really hope he had a good birthday weekend πŸ™‚

The Iberian Pig on Urbanspoon

Maggiano's Little Italy (Buckhead) on Urbanspoon

So, my mom visited me on Wednesday and Thursday on her Spring Break, before bringing me home for Easter Break. We spent the day and a half shopping, hanging out, and more importantly, eating at a few of the places that she really enjoys in the Ham.

Wednesday:
I took my mom back to Edgar’s for one of the last visits (I’m making at least one last one myself). She ordered a Chicken Avocado Wrap, and I got the usual Red White and Blue wrap. We split it, so we had half of each wrap. The Chicken Avocado had grilled chicken that was slightly spiced but incredibly moist and juicy, mashed avocado, and lettuce. My wrap has incredibly lean roast beef, feta cheese, cabbage, and tomatoes, and is so so so good and addictive. The thing I like about Edgar’s wraps is that they press them in a panini press, so they’re slightly warmed through and it makes the outside of the wrap a little bit crispy. Then we split a chocolate cupcake. The chocolate icing at Edgar’s is to die for. It’s like eating softened fudge. So good, and really hard to explain how good it is. So just go try it. Then you’ll know just how delicious the chocolate buttercream is. Since it was Easter, the bakery had Easter decorated cakes, petit fours and cookies. My mom and I bought the most adorable Easter bunny sugar cookies to eat for dessert that night. The cookie itself reminded me of the cookies we make at Christmas, so it wasn’t that astounding (but still really delicious) since my mom and I can totally make it ourselves. But the decorating was absolutely adorable.
For dinner, we went to Jim n’ Nicks, a barbecue place in 5 Points, but they’re also scattered about elsewhere, including around Atlanta (I’ve seen one out in Gwinnett, but I don’t know if there are any In The Perimeter). Basically, JNN has the best creamed spinach I’ve ever had, hands down. It’s perfectly creamy with little pieces of artichoke in it. I really could eat just a bowl of that for dinner, but they don’t offer that, so my mom and I each ordered 1/4 of a barbecued chicken and a side of creamed spinach. The chicken is incredibly moist with a great smoked flavor to it, and you can totally tell it’s cooked “slow and low” like all good barbecue should be (and if it’s not actually cooked that way, then they have an amazing way of faking it), and they’re sauce is good, even if it is a little spicy for my taste.

Thursday:
We ate breakfast at Starbucks, each getting a Turkey Bacon Egg sandwich. It was alright, but doesn’t hold a candle to Panera’s breakfast sandwich (I could eat those crazy delicious things everyday. But I don’t. Go me.)
For lunch, before heading home, we ate at Dragon, my favorite Chinese restaurant in the Ham. They don’t use MSG AT ALL, and for $12, my mom and I each got an egg roll, a bowl of egg drop soup, an entree that could’ve fed two people, and a scoop of rice. The food was waaaay more than expected for $6 each, and it’s really great Americanized Chinese food. Which is about all you can find in B’ham as far as I know, except for a place called Red Pearl that’s inside an Oriental Market. I haven’t been, but we’re going as a group in my Chinese class in a few weeks, so I’ll let ya’ll know how it is πŸ™‚

That’s about it for now. I’m home for Easter/my grandmother’s birthday right now, then I’ll be back down to Atlanta to meet Andrew’s parents on Sunday night. Good food for Easter, of course. Ham, roast asparagus, potato salad, bread, and I’m making cupcakes! Easter cupcakes! I’ll post pictures in all their decorated glory, as long as they look good πŸ™‚

Happy Easter or Happy Passover!!!

Quite an introduction, right?

It’s absolutely true. I have no fear that I will give this pizza too much hype, because I know for a fact that it is the best pizza. Ever.

No, it’s not in New York. Or Italy. Or Chicago. I’ve been to New York at least, eaten pizza there, and still think this is the greatest pizza ever.

It’s at a place called Antico, in little old Atlanta. It’s on 14th Street and Hemphill Avenue (which, I thought was on Georgia Tech’s campus, but was thoroughly corrected by my boyfriend and my best friend’s boyfriend, who are both friends, and are both Techies. So I guess they’d know. But if you’re like me and just want to generalize the location, it’s pretty much Tech’s campus).

Anyhow, my brother (I proclaim him my Atlanta food expert) had recommended this place to me several times, telling met that it was the best pizza he’d ever eaten. I was skeptical, after he had taken my boyfriend and me to Varasano’s, which I thought was the best pizza ever. He told me that Antico was a million times better than Varasano’s (which is saying A LOT, as Varasano’s is very good).

So, Friday night, I found myself ordering from Antico. We ordered the Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil) and the Cappriciosa. I’m pretty sure they accidentally gave us the Margherita and the San Gennaro (sweet red peppers, sausage, and buffalo mozzarella), now that I look back at the menu.

We didn’t eat in the restaurant, instead taking our pizzas back with us, but the vibe of the place is pretty cool. There’s some countertops, a big communal table, and overflow seating in the kitchen. The kitchen seating sounds kinda weird, but my brother sat there and said it was really cool being able to watch them make the pizzas in the brick ovens and such. It’s also very much a BYOB joint. Seriously. A guy walked in with a bottle of wine in one hand and glasses in the other. One guy walked in with a case of beer. So there you go.

We secured our pizzas, after waiting for a short time for them to be cooked. We called and placed our order ahead, but they don’t make it until you get there, because it takes a very short amount of time to actually cook, since they’re cooking it in a high degree brick oven. But if you call ahead, you can walk on up to the front of the line (if there is one…we didn’t have that issue when we went) and tell them your ticket and they’ll make it asap.

My brother did not disappoint. It really is the best pizza I’ve ever had. The crust is absolutely amazing, some parts charred by the brick oven fire, other parts really soft. the sauce was good but not overpowering, and there wasn’t too much of it (I’m not a fan of a lot of sauce, so this was perfect for me). Everything was fresh and high quality. The Margherita was everything it should’ve been and more (I love tomatoes and mozzarella, and this was probably the best thing I’ve had with that combination on it) But the best thing was the red peppers on the San Gennaro. They were incredibly sweet, but also spicy at the same time. I could’ve eaten a whole box of those peppers alone. I’ve never tasted anything like them. The sausage on the pizza was alright, but I’m not much of a sausage person. My boyfriend seemed to think the sausage was amazing though. And the crust is so thin, that you don’t feel miserably full after eating a lot of it (trust me, you will eat a lot of it) I’m already craving it again…The pizzas are a tad on the pricey side, especially for a college student like myself, but you pay for what you get, and what you get is amazing, well cooked, absolutely perfect and authentic pizza topped with fresh and high quality ingredients.

So, if you’re in Atlanta, go to Antico right now. Or as soon as you can. And if you’re not in Atlanta, find a way to get down there, and go to Antico to eat.Β  I’m telling you…it’s completely worth it

Antico Pizza Napoletana on Urbanspoon