The Roaming Foodie

Archive for the ‘Restaurant Review’ Category

I’m writing this post immediately after eating at Agave, and I am completely in a food coma. You know, when all you can do is lay down and think about the fact that you just stuffed yourself as possible with delicious food? (it most commonly occurs at Thanksgiving and Christmas)

I went with Andrew, his sister and her boyfriend, and his other sister to celebrate his sister’s boyfriend’s birthday. Agave is down Boulevard, kind of near the MLK Jr. swimming pool (it was the only landmark I noticed, sorry). the atmosphere is pretty cool. It’s a little dark, the walls look like pueblos, and it’s decorated with Mexican/Native American stuff (this is where my being more familiar with Mexico and South America and the Southwest US would come in handy). The food at Agave is basically southwestern, with a few Spanish dishes thrown on there. I really should leave the southwestern/Mexican food analysis to people who know their stuff, but this food was so good that I have to write about it anyway.

Anyway, there are complimentary chips and salsa. Good, but I’ve had better salsa (La Fonda, for example). They more than make up for it in their actual food, though.

Andrew ordered the ceviche as an appetizer (he pronounced “ke-vich-ay”. I corrected him, so that when he ordered it he’d be right. He ordered “ke-vich-ay”. Ah well, I tried). It came served in a little glass with greens and some more corn chips. It was shrimp, tuna, and tomatoes tossed with a slightly spicy and citrusy dressing. For those who don’t know what ceviche is, it’s seafood that’s tossed in citrus juice raw, and the acid from the citrus cooks it. Generally, it’s done with just shrimp. The shrimp was cooked through by the citrus, but the tuna was still pretty raw. But, the seafood was clearly good quality, so the raw tuna wasn’t a problem (and I eat so much sushi that I don’t think twice about it anymore). It was the first time I’d had ceviche, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For my dinner, I was between ordering Vegetarian Enchiladas and Red Pepper Salmon. I went with the Red Pepper Salmon, and holy lord was a I glad I did. The salmon came pan seared to perfection, crisped and well seasoned on the outside, juicy on the inside. It was served on a bed of julienned zucchini, squash, and carrot saute with three huge grilled stalks of asparagus. The real star of the dish was the red pepper sauce. The sauce was smoky, sweet, and made the dish more than just your standard fish and vegetables. Maybe it’s just because I’m obsessed with red peppers, but I loved loved loved my entree. Loved. It. I’m going to figure out how to make that sauce. It’s my new goal.

Andrew ordered Beer Braised Pork shank. They quite literally brought him the whole shank, which he later said that although the meat and sauce was good, it was too much pork to be placed in front of him (I don’t believe him…he still devoured the whole shank). I took a bite, but can’t tell you much about it other than that it was tender, fell off the bone, and was pretty good for pork.

We then all shared the dessert platter. This is what sent my poor stomach over the line from being happily full to cursing my name from being stuffed. It was supposedly small amounts of each dessert. But it turned out to be what I hope was full portions of everything. It included (for $25)  a glass of Belgian chocolate mousse with cinnamon whipped cream, key lime pie, Banana Plantain Dark Chocolate cheesecake, flan, Peanut Butter Mousse Pie, a flourless Dark Chocolate torte, and a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream in the middle. It was…decadent. I loved every bite. But I have to say my favorite was the Peanut Butter pie…the crust had cayenne in it, so there was a little kick in the back of your throat after taking a bite. I love cayenne in desserts for that reason. It gives it that extra little something.

That’s about all I can say now…it’s time for me to go lie down until bed time, and not even think about eating again until tomorrow morning. But I think Agave might be where I go for my birthday dinner…maybe. It’s definitely near the top of the list. Regardless, I’ll have to go back sometime.

Agave on Urbanspoon


Tuesday night, Andrew and I met Andrew’s sister at The Bookhouse Pub for dinner. I’m pretty sure the main reason we went here was for the extensive beer list because both Andrew and his sister had each had a rough day and agreed that a beer was in order. I didn’t partake in this aspect of the evening, so I can’t say much about the alcohol other than the beer list is significantly larger than the food menu. But, they also have decent food.

Andrew and his sister each got a burger, and I got a veggie burger. The veggie burger was made from edamame, black beans, roasted corn and red peppers. It was pretty good, although it fell apart very easily (I’m guessing because it was fresh made) and I ended up eating it with a fork. It also had kind of a cornmeal texture to it, so I’m guessing they used something like that to bind it together, but I didn’t mind it. It just kind of reminded me of cornbread. They also grilled the bun that it was served on, which was a nice touch and something I always enjoy. It was served with “asian bbq” sauce (aka, hoisin sauce) and instead of fries I had a side salad with ginger vinaigrette. I didn’t try any of Andrew’s burger, but I did snag some fries. The fries were kind of oversalted.

Service was good, if not overly friendly.

The bookshelf in the place is small. It runs only part of the wall, and is like this little shelf right next to the ceiling. I kind of thought that a place named “The Bookhouse Pub” would have more of a décor focus on books. But I guess the point is the booze and the food, so I won’t count it against them too much.

Plus, I’m kind of obsessed with this veggie burger now.

The Bookhouse Pub on Urbanspoon

Apologies for the Seinfeld reference in the title…I couldn’t help myself 😛

A few nights ago, in the midst of a random thunderstorm in Atlanta, Andrew and I went out to dinner at La Fonda on Ponce de Leon Avenue. We picked La Fonda randomly, due to our collective indecisiveness and attempts to get the other one to be decisive (it makes picking dinner oh so fun). I was glad La Fonda ended up being where we went, just because it’s close and I didn’t have to drive in what looked like impending doom from the skies.

La Fonda is a Latin restaurant that’s owned by the same people that own Fellini’s Pizza. It has everything from Spanish dishes, Mexican dishes, and Cuban sandwiches. They have what looks like a nice upstairs patio, and one downstairs (I’m a sucker for eating on patios) but due to the darkening skies, we sat inside. Inside was pretty nondescript. There were tables. A cashier. And the kitchen. Pretty standard. We were also the only ones sitting inside, until it started to rain, then there was an influx of people from the upstairs patio.

Like most Hispanic restaurants that I’ve been to, La Fonda gives you free chips and salsa with your meal (also known as my diet’s archnemesis). The salsa tasted fresh made, kind of like my mom makes in the summer. It had big chunks of tomatoes throughout, none of that jarred pureed salsa like you get at the grocery store. I love salsa that’s made like this, so this started the meal off on a good note.

Andrew ordered for us (thank God…I never took Spanish, and was starting to fret, thinking I’d have to order an item on the menu that had the least amount of Spanish in it so I wouldn’t mess it up and offend anyone). He ordered the Paella del Mar (???? it was the paella with all the seafood…so sue me for taking French and German and Chinese and NOT Spanish) for two. We also ordered Maduros, or fried plantains.

I thought the Paella was delicious. It was garlicky rice with green peppers, onions, and pimentos that was studded throughout with calamari, salmon, shrimp, scallops, and mussels. This was my first time trying paella, so there’s no way for me to judge it compared to other paellas. But I thought it was very tasty, and definitely a good, warm, comforting dish for such a gloomy evening. All the seafood was cooked well and seasoned well. The Maduros were just simple fried plantains. They were good, but nothing out of the ordinary for fried plantains. The service was also good, but nothing out of the ordinary (I’d rather have normal service than bad service though).

In general, La Fonda is a good restaurant that provides a tasty meal with a nice patio (if the weather is nice), even if it’s nothing to write home about. Definitely somewhere I would return to (their Cuban sandwiches looked killer), but also nothing rave-worthy.

Thursday night, I found myself craving a meaty, juicy, perfectly simple beef burger (it’s a rare occasion that I willingly seek out beef, but it happens). I didn’t want Flip. As good as it is, I wanted something simple and classic, and I wasn’t in the right mood for the atmosphere either. I rounded up Andrew, as he is male and also a carnivore. He called his sister, since the only places he could think of for burgers were Five Guys (never been, and sounds way too greasy from what he’s said) and The Vortex (I like it, but I couldn’t bring myself to NOT order their veggie burger). She suggested a place in Virginia Highlands called Highland Tap. Andrew and I pushed that to the side, as neither of us seemed to be greatly familiar with that area of Atlanta. So I called my Atlanta food guru (aka, my brother). He suggested Highland Tap, saying that it had one of his favorite burgers in Atlanta. Alright…so if both of our siblings recommended this place, we had to go. (Thanks guys!)

My brother asked, “You’re familiar with the Highlands, right?” to which I replied “Of course” even though I totally wasn’t. He told me that Highland Tap was next to Noche (I had passed by it before and remembered the sign) and Murphy’s (again, had passed by it and remembered where it was). So after passing by both Noche and Murphy’s a few times a) looking for Highland Tap and b) trying to find somewhere to park, Andrew finally spotted a sign that said steaks and burgers, and then noticed the window that said Highland Tap (go Andrew. I never would’ve seen that, but in my defense I was watching the road). It’s tucked in there and hard to find, and when you do find it and enter the front door, you head down a set of stairs into a dark, basement-y (not a real adjective, but get over it) bar. To the right of the bar area is the restaurant. The whole restaurant is also dark, all the furniture done in mahogany, a dark red fleur de lis wallpaper on the walls that weren’t exposed stone, with the only light coming from the kitchen and little low lit lamps situated on the tables. Though I generally prefer restaurants with a lighter ambiance, the food more than made up for the lack of lighting. Also, I shouldn’t complain too much…it labeled itself as a “steak cellar” so I should’ve been a bit more prepared for the cellar vibe.

But, let’s get to the real point. The food. I was going for the burger, and searched and searched the menu, until I found it in it’s own little box (clearly, my observation skills were lacking for the evening). It was a 10 oz steak burger. As in, burger made from steak. Not a steak sandwich. Um…yum! But, even in my carnivorous state, 10 oz was a lot of beef. I kept reading down, and found what was called a “Mini Tap Burger”. It was the steak burger, but only 5 oz. This was apparently my lucky night. One could also choose from a variety of different condiments for the burger (it came with onions, lettuce and tomato), such as different cheeses, mushrooms, etc. I went with avocado on mine, and a side of onion rings. Andrew got the 10 oz with avocado and Swiss cheese, and a side of fries. He also ordered more onion rings. The onion rings came out first, and to me, they were pretty much perfect. Nothing fancy; just a perfect ratio of breading to onion. The onion was thick cut, not over cooked or overbreaded and well seasoned. Definitely get the onion rings, if you’re into that.

Our burgers came out shortly after the onion rings. The Mini Tap Burger was about the same size as a Flip burger, and it was the perfect amount to satisfy my hunger for meat without going overboard on eating. The avocado was a nice, cool contrast to the rich juicy beef.Highland Tap definitely scored points with me by having avocado as a topping for the burger…I love love love avocado.  I’m not sure what else to say about this burger…it was just a classic burger done perfectly. Nothing pretentious. It was cooked exactly how I ordered it (medium rare…I hate when you order a certain doneness and it comes out overdone. That’s happened many times to me, and so Highland Tap scored more points by doing mine medium rare like I asked).  Andrew’s 10 oz burger was HUGE, and he managed to devour the whole thing. That’s his way of saying he really enjoyed it as well. I tried a french fry from his plate, and it was good. Well seasoned, well cooked.

Our service was also great. Everything came out quickly (there were only a few other diners. Most everyone was at the bar) and she was attentive without being overly so.

After our wonderful meal at Highland Tap (my new go-to burger place, when I’m not in the mood for Flip), Andrew and I took a nice walk down the street to Ben and Jerry’s. Virginia Highlands is a really pretty neighborhood. We passed lots of nice, upkept gardens in front of nice houses, and the smell of various flowers blooming made the evening lovely. We got to Ben and Jerry’s, got some ice cream (he got Peanut Brittle, and I got Half-Baked Frozen Yogurt). Getting it fresh scooped from the store was about a million times better than getting a pint of it from the grocery store. Although there are times when a pint from the grocery store is necessary, but when you aren’t in dire need of destroying a whole pint, then getting a cup from the store is far superior. (Believe me…I know the merits of a whole pint of ice cream when things just aren’t going as they should, or when you’ve had a bad day, etc.)

I will definitely be returning to Virginia Highlands to try out other restaurants (I’ve heard Murphy’s is good) and other places (there’s a gelato store we’re going to next time, because I love gelato. The end.) Thanks for a nice evening, Highlands!

Highland Tap on Urbanspoon

It’s so great to be back in the ATL 🙂 How I have missed thee…

So, going to Six Feet Under on 11th street was a great welcome back to Atlanta. Andrew took me there Monday evening for dinner.

First thing about Six Feet Under. There are two locations: Grant Park and then the one on 11th Street that we went to. Obviously, in this post, I will be referring to the 11th Street one.

We ended up sitting on the roof patio. All the tables were full, but there is bar seating at the edge of the patio where the railing is (so not technically “bar” seating, I guess, but I think you can get my point). We took the seating at the rail, which ended up being really nice because we took seats that faced the skyline of Atlanta, and by the time we were getting through our meal, the sun had started to set and it was gorgeous. Second, the rail seating allowed Andrew and I to be able to talk and sit next to each other and not have to shout across the table, which was nice.

Now for the food. I noticed immediately that they served alligator bites (fried pieces of alligator). Once I had gotten over my initial excitement of seeing alligator on a menu outside of Florida, Andrew insisted that we order them. We also decided on our entrees before our server came over with our drinks, so we were able to put in our entire order at once. Our waiter informed me that there are two versions of my Shrimp and Scallop dish: an appetizer and an entree. He told me that the appetizer version was the same size, but only included hush puppies instead of hush puppies + two sides. Not wanting to completely destroy my waistline (which, by ordering fried alligator, I kind of already had) I ordered the appetizer version. Thanks for being cool and letting me know! I’ve noticed a lot of servers don’t do that, and just go ahead and give you the largest portion. Andrew ordered Shrimp and Grits (which made me so so SO happy, as I hadn’t encountered a non-South Carolinian yet to order the dish of their own accord, without prompting from me), and we waited.

Our alligator came fairly quickly. It was good, especially since I hadn’t had alligator in a long time, but the breading was a little heavy. I had several different kinds of fried alligator on several different trips to Florida, so I know that I favor a light breading on alligator (ratio of 1 breading: 2 alligator…I really shouldn’t try to throw in math in any part of my life, especially in posts). The gator came with a dill sauce that was pretty tasty, and the gator was tender. But, I would’ve liked more gator, less breading.

We finished our basket of gator, and began to wait for our entrees. And wait. And wait. It took quite a long time to get our entrees, which was kind of a downside, but spending time with my boyfriend and talking was nice. And the alligator curbed my ravenous stomach, so I wasn’t grumpy. But still. I really wanted my hush puppies, and I wanted them ASAP.

Our food finally arrived. My Shrimp and Scallops were fantastic. It was a really simple dish, but really fresh and light, which is what I think seafood should be. They were just baked in parchment with lemon slices, salt, pepper, and basil. YUM! Plus, getting dishes baked in parchment paper is always fun…it’s like opening a present! Of delicious food. The hush puppies were good, but a little doughy for my taste, and I usually like things doughy. Except hushpuppies. They shouldn’t be doughy. But maybe it’s because I’m used to hush puppies made of cornmeal and having that cornmeal texture, and I am pretty certain these weren’t made with cornmeal. That aside, they were still pretty good.

Now, for Andrew’s Shrimp and Grits. Sigh. This will be a little bit of a rant. Where I’m from, Shrimp and Grits are made with shrimp, bacon, grits (that sometimes have cheese mixed in), and sometimes a light gravy. Andrew’s Shrimp and Grits had shrimp (check), grits (check), and asparagus and red peppers piled on top??? whoa. stop. No. It my be just me being picky, but there are to be no vegetables on shrimp and grits. Sorry, but that killed the dish for me. Also, I thought the grits had a strange texture to them that I couldn’t quite pick out what exactly was weird about them. I was not thrilled with the Shrimp and Grits. End rant.

But, forgiving the shrimp and grits, the food was still incredibly good, especially considering that Atlanta is an inland city with a lack of fresh seafood like you’d get on a coastal town. I thought Six Feet Under came as close as it could get to having that coastal seafood restaurant taste with it being a restaurant in an inland city.

Six Feet Under definitely has the bar atmosphere, especially up on the patio. Not exactly what you think of when the phrase “romantic dinner” comes to mind, but for me, sitting with my boyfriend overlooking the Atlanta skyline at sundown with good, unpretentious seafood, it couldn’t have been lovelier.

Now I just have to get my boyfriend to Charleston, SC and show him what some really fresh seafood is like 🙂

Six Feet Under - Westside on Urbanspoon

At least…it did when I woke up this morning, really jonesing for some tacos. I decided to venture to a Taco Truck that one of my friends here in Birmingham had mentioned several times. On a study break, of course.

The weather is incredibly warm today, and very sunny and bright, so it was kind of nice to head outside to get lunch from a truck. It’s located on W. Valley Avenue in a gas station parking lot, right down the street from my beloved Red Pearl Restaurant. There were quite a few Hispanics outside (always a good sign that the food is going to be authentic), women in scrubs, and men in business suits that reminded me of my brother. I guess because of the suits. But I digress.

All you have to do is decide what kind of meat you want in your taco (there’s a sign, in Spanish, on the side of the truck. If you don’t know Spanish, some of the names have English in parentheses, which was good for me). I had already had the “al pastor” (barbecue pork) recommended to me. I decided to be less adventurous and get “pollo” (chicken), even though I was kind of considering getting “tripa” (tripe) or “lengua” (tongue).  They have Mexican bottles of soda and such available too, but I didn’t get any, since I needed to get my tacos to go instead of sitting in the parking lot to eat. Although, it’d be a lot of fun to sit outside on a warm day by a taco truck with a friend (or the boyfriend) and eat tacos.

The chicken was so incredibly tender. It was shredded, not chopped, and just perfectly spiced and still juicy. The al pastor was chopped up, and had been barbecued in a smoky, slightly sweet marinade. I’m going to go ahead and guess it was chipotle based, but I’m not exactly an aficionado when it comes to Mexican food. All tacos come in two very soft, very fresh corn tortillas. Believe me, two shells on each taco are needed, especially after you add the salsas to the tacos. They have a red salsa, which is pretty spicy, and a green salsa, which I didn’t try because I was told it was really spicy. All the tacos come with cilantro, onions, and a lime wedge to squeeze on top. The al pastor had cheese, but I don’t believe the chicken taco did (it’s hard to judge…I kind of inhaled them). I definitely recommend this taco truck (officially called Taqueria Guzman, but I’ll always call it Taco Truck, haha) if you’re in Birmingham and looking for cheap (each taco is only $1.75) and authentic tacos. They also have burritos (the guy in front of me got one and it was HUGE), quesadillas, and tostadas. I don’t what it is, and maybe it’s just me, but food always seems better when it’s served from a truck or a street cart. And this taco truck is legit. Trust me, and go eat a taco (or three…) from Taqueria Guzman.

Back to studying. My exam is in an hour and a half. Then I’ll officially be a senior.

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