Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Atlanta Brewing Company Beer Dinner – Sal & Mookie’s – Jackson

It’s been nearly a year since Sam & Mookie’s and the Boston Beer Company held a Sam Adams Beer Dinner. In that year, I’ve been eagerly waiting for the next beer dinner email from Jeff Good, but as the months and weeks passed by, it quickly slipped my mind. However last week my wait ended. A new email arrived in my inbox advertising a new beer dinner! This time the stars were the beers of the Atlanta Brewing Company.

I’ll freely admit that I didn’t know much about the Atlanta Brewing Company. Whenever I drink the local beer in Atlanta, it’s all Sweetwater, but it seems that ABC is a little older than Sweetwater. Started in 1993, Atlanta Brewing Company is the oldest craft beer company in the state. Since they’ve recently expanded their market into Jackson, it seems like a beer dinner is part of the natural progression.

With Bob Budd, president of Atlanta Brewing Company, explaining the company and the beer, the dinner got underway. First was the welcome beer, Numbers.

It never hurts to start dinner with a nice Ale.

While Bob was explaining the history of ABC, the first beer and food pairing came to the table.

The Red Brick Blonde is an American-style golden ale and it was served with…

King Pao Shrimp with Steamed Rice.

You can tell Sal & Mookies doesn’t cook much Asian food as this was as bland as could be. The shrimp were well cooked but no real seasoning, the Red Brick Blonde was quite nice though.

The next beer was the Red Brick Peachtree Pale Ale.

This is described as an American-style Pale Ale, I suppose that means it’s not as hoppy as an India Pale Ale.

Served with the pale ale were the Orange-Sesame Chicken wings.

These wings were leaps and bounds ahead of the first dish, and were quite tasty. It was as this point the three to a person rule got more than a little annoying, but I suppose it’s for the greater good.

Seeing as Sal & Mookie’s specializes in pizza, it should come as no surprise that the third course was a pizza.

This was a hearty slice of the Sicilian-Style Grilled Summer Vegetable-Pesto Pizza. Ignoring the long name, this was an excellent pizza and one that I hope is a new addition to the Sal & Mookie’s menu.

When they said the pizza was served with Laughing Skull Amber Ale, all of the Vortex logos around Sal & Mookie’s began to make sense. Apparently, after a hiatus, the Atlanta Brewing Company again brews the house beer for The Vortex in Atlanta. It’s always nice to know the back story to what you’re drinking, especially if it involves Harley riders and not so subtle coercion.

With the dinner beginning to wind down, we moved on to our last savory dish, but first the beer.

Red Brick Ale, the brewery’s first beer from 1993 was paired with the best dish of the meal.

Black Pepper Brown Ale “Painted” Lamb Lollipops really stole the show. The glaze added a perfect peppery punch to the lamb and the lamb itself was an amazing medium rare/medium and tender as could be.

Of course a beer dinner just wouldn’t be complete without a dessert and a dessert like beer.

Well, I suppose the Red Brick Summer Brew, a hefeweizen is somewhat of a dessert beer.

It seemed odd to have a hefeweizen without a slice of citrus, but serving it with a Banana-Nutella Cream Tart is a interesting choice. I never have been a big fan of bananas and whipped cream, but this came with nutella and a good crust, Overall this tart was a great way to end the meal.

It doesn’t seem fair to compare this beer dinner to the Sam Adams beer dinner, at least that’s what I thought after hearing Bob Budd. Budd was very adamant about people supporting the Southern and local craft breweries and how the Southern brewers craft beer that’s more pleasing to the Southern palate, ie sweeter.

There was one annoying thing about the dinner, the missing beer. I had read about ABC’s Double Chocolate Oatmeal Porter and was excited to try it. Of course, Mississippi and its “Bootleggers and Baptists” regulations or tax squabbles kept us from enjoying this 7% alcohol beer. Anyway, I had a great time at the dinner and thoroughly enjoyed Bob Budd’s beer, not to mention Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal’s food. I can’t wait till the next beer dinner; I just hope it doesn’t take a year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ruchi India - Jackson (New Location)

Back in February, I wrote about Ruchi India and my various dining experiences there. While the food was spicy, I found it to be lacking especially in comparison to their neighbor down the road, Spice Avenue. Fast forward to June and things have changed. Ruchi India has moved from their original and quite frankly sketchy looking location, and just where has Ruchi moved?

Well, Avery Boulevard and the Pan Asia’s former location is the new home of Ruchi India. It seems that the east end of County Line Road is becoming quite the little collection of ethnic restaurants. With Alvin and Kate meeting me there, it was time to see if anything had changed at Ruchi besides the location.

A little complimentary bread and sauces to start the meal.

The vegetable samosas were the first appetizer to the table.

I didn’t have a chance to try these at the previous location but they were a welcome start to the meal here. Inside the well fried exterior was a filling of creamy potato and quite a spicy kick. It seems that Ruchi hasn’t lost their touch when it comes to spiciness.

An order of chicken pakoras was the second appetizer.

It may sound odd, but these almost seem like a chicken hush puppy. With a doughy exterior but perfectly juicy chicken, these pakoras were a real treat.

Due to the number of entrees were ordered, we were given the choice of soup or salad. I immediately went with mulligatawny soup but was dejected to find that wasn’t an option, not even as an extra cost substitution.

Instead we all received a bowl of this tomato soup. I realize the soup is included with the entrée but do I really have to pay for a bowl of sweetened Campbell’s condensed soup?

After the reconstituted bowl of soup, the first entrée was an order of the combination biryani.

When trying to explain biryani to Alvin and Kate, my best answer was “think of it as an Indian take on fried rice.” I don’t know how accurate that is, but it seemed to convey the concept.

Like my previous visits to Ruchi, this biryani is all rice and no meat. There also isn’t the diversity of spices and flavors as in the same dish from Spice Avenue. All negatives aside, when I did have a piece of meat it was tender and quite spicy.

I was looking to give Alvin and Kate a very basic introduction to Indian cuisine, so I also ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala, the Glaswegian favorite.

With this dish, we encountered one of those annoying setbacks, overcooked meat.

Well, there was still a very pronounced tomato flavor and that Ruchi kick.

Knowing there was an abundance of chicken on the table, I tried to add a little variety with an order of lamb vindaloo.

Initially I was disappointed. For a vindaloo there was no real spiciness.

However I realized it was a cumulative effect, but in the end it was still a pretty mundane vindaloo.

Hoping to finish the round of entrées with a bang, I ordered the Chicken Tandoori. While I was expecting the big sizzling platter of piping hot chicken like at Spice Avenue, we instead received a platter that seemed like it had been set aside for a short while.

Don’t get my wrong, the chicken was quite juicy and very well roasted. The coating was also quite thick and had more than a little spice to it.

It was just a little less than what I was expecting in both presentation and flavor.

There’s no doubt in my mind that things have improved at Ruchi India. No longer are they surrounded by derelict buildings and they appear to have a decently full parking lot. The interior is no longer cavernous and empty, a slightly smaller but much more welcoming décor in its stead. However a few things haven’t changed. I’ll still give Ruchi the nod for sheer spiciness and heat to their dishes, but for more well rounded dishes and better cooked meats, Spice Avenue is still my venue of choice.

For my first review of Ruchi India, please click here

Ruchi India on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Local 463 Urban Kitchen - Madison

You never want to see a restaurant go under but for whatever reason, Atlantica in Madison closed its doors a few months ago. Beyond that, I completely forgot about the location. I don’t regularly drive on 463 and my one meal at Atlantica was completely forgettable. Well, that’s changed. Carpe Jackson is back on the beat with her (or his?) Restaurant Openings Report and the new tenant Local 463 Urban Kitchen was on the top of the list. Apparently Local 463 is Derek Emerson’s, of Walker’s notoriety, new restaurant. While I’ve never gushed about Walker’s, it is a pretty solid meal, so I figured Local 463 would be worth a look.

Arriving early to beat the lunch crowd, I was apparently a little too early. Tables were still being set, the beer was being delivered, and the hostess was nowhere to be seen. The few minutes wait gave me a chance to soak up the atmosphere. I’m not really sure where the Urban in the name Urban Kitchen comes into play, but I suppose the liberal use of grey in the paint scheme conveys the message. Décor aside, while I was being shown to my table, I noticed a few familiar faces. I’d heard rumblings through Jackson that a lot of the staff from Nick’s, Bravo and other places were recruited for Local 463 and it appears the rumors were true.

I’d had a chance to look over the menu before I came, but I still hadn’t made up my mind. Indecision always makes for an interesting situation. This time it resulted in the first of the three appetizers.

Shrimp corndogs with a grain mustard-mango ketchup were the first on the table and they were not the auspicious beginning I was hoping for.

A little greasy, there was no real corn meal or corn taste to the batter, it was just shrimp on a skewer. Well, there might have been some taste of corn meal or shrimp if the ketchup hadn’t dominated everything. I wouldn’t have thought to mix mustard, mango, and ketchup but it needs to be paired with something less subtle than shrimp.

When I saw Truffled French Fries on the menu, it sounded too decadent to pass up.

Well, next time I will pass these up. The fries might have been cut in house, but they were horribly fried.

I was expecting a subtle amount of truffle oil, instead this spring was truffle oil with a side of poorly fried potatoes and the cheese was nowhere to be found. This is an instance of too much of a good thing, way too much.

The last of the three appetizers was an order of Braised Duroc Pork Belly.

Pork belly can be one of those ethereal dishes that you just can’t get enough of. Here the belly was tender and pulled apart with ease.

The kumquat marmalade really complimented the belly but the rest of the sauce just didn’t seem to match up. It was almost like there was a savory sauce and sweet topping without any real harmony.

As for the Falls Mill cheese grits? They seemed to straddle that line between too al dente and a rustic stone grind, but, regardless they were quite good.

When it came time to pick an entrée, I was at even more of a loss. The Super Kobe Burger and the Burger 463 both looked like sterling choices, but I was in a burger daze. I instead decided to satiate my beef riddled tendencies with the Dr. Pepper Braised Short Ribs.

Served with a stroganoff potato pave and crispy spinach, I was racking my brain to think of the last time I had seen beef paired with something sweet like Dr. Pepper.

Well, the ribs had certainly been braised as you could almost blow on them and they would fall apart. Annoyingly the exterior was dry, but the interior was moist and full of that beefy goodness that short ribs are famous for. One thing that was missing was the flavor of Dr. Pepper or any sweetness at all. Actually the best part of the rib was the small section that had been dusted with salt. It provided just enough salinity to really bring out the beef.

The stroganoff potato pave, while a nice compliment to the ribs, was unlike any stroganoff I had ever seen. The greens were also a bit odd, seeming more dehydrated than cooked.

Fortunately my dining companion had an itch for a sandwich and decided to satiate that itch with a Monte Cristo.

What is there not to like? Fudge Farm Ham, roasted turkey breast, gruyere cheese stuffed between two slices of bread, battered, fried, and dusted with powdered sugar.

I usually don’t associate turkey with sweets, but with the blackberry compote and powdered sugar, this was a fantastic sandwich.

I’m not exactly sure when Local 463 opened, but I imagine there are still a few kinks being worked out. A lot of the dishes needed a little something extra, but there’s a solid foundation here. There’s also a pretty brisk lunch business. I realize there’s still a new restaurant buzz to this place, but I was surprised at the crowds for a Thursday lunch. In the meantime, it looks like Chef Emerson has done well again, but only time will tell.

Local 463 Urban Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Olga's Fine Dining - Jackson (Part 2)

It’s been more than a year since I last ate at Olga’s. Every time I pass it on the interstate or frontage road, I feel a slight pang of guilt. I know I should give it another try, but when it comes to choosing a restaurant, it rarely crosses my mind. However all that changed when Kate was free for lunch and guess which restaurant she had a coupon for? I suppose it takes an out of towner to make me rediscover Jackson.

Lunchtime at Olga’s has a slightly different atmosphere than the one dinner I had experienced. Granted it would have been more than a little odd to have someone playing Christmas carols on the piano in the middle of June. Anyway, as before the service was prompt and attentive and it was no time at all before the first part of lunch hit the table.

Crawfish and Corn Chowder was the soup of the day and I was immediately a fan.

Usually a chowder is heavy on the veggies and light on the meat, but here that was an abundance of both. Like any good bisque, this cup was decadently creamy, but there was a nice kick of cayenne to balance the richness.

I remembered trying the Pirogis the last time I was at Olga’s and I had come away a little disappointed. This time I knew what to expect.

The mushrooms and onions are still very well cooked and the pirogi soft with a very smooth potato filling. While everything was juicy and a little oily, it was still bland. Maybe even a little salt and pepper before cooking would help, but there’s just not much here.

In an odd sense of déjà vu, I took the waitress’ recommendation and went with the day’s special, a rib eye sandwich.

This was a pretty hefty sandwich and extremely well cooked, a perfect medium rare.

There was also a very nice Creole mustard that went quite well with the steak. Unfortunately the sense of déjà vu continued as this was a poor cut of beef. Beyond chewy and full of gristle, there was no way to eat this sandwich without making a hash of it.

That really seems to sum up my experiences at Olga’s, at least as far as steaks. Everything is very well prepared, it’s just a poor cut of meat. I realize this wasn’t an expensive sandwich and restaurants need a healthy margin to stay afloat, but bargain basement select meat just doesn’t cut it. If I do make it back to Olga’s, I’ll be sure to avoid the steak, but I’m still torn on the pirogis.

For part one of Olga's Fine Dining, please click here