Sunday, March 25, 2012

Golden House - Atlanta

Odd as it may seem, the past few New Year’s Eves have seen the birth of an Atlanta tradition for me. However, the tradition is not what you’d expect. There are no tuxedos and champagne flutes, no cover charges and crowded bars, not even a small tv showing the huddled masses in Times Square. No, the end of the past few years have featured almost obscene amounts of Chinese food. Last year, it was a gut busting outing at Peter Chang’s Tasty China 2 complete with several bags of take-out to savor in Jackson. This year, Jennifer and I decided that, since it was Saturday, dim sum was in order.


Although we’ve both come to rely on Oriental Pearl for our dim sum needs, Jennifer proposed making the trek to Duluth to try Golden House, the new home of Chef Danny Ting of Wan Lai and Bo Bo Garden fame. A short drive and a somewhat long wait later, we were shown to our two top where the wait for the steamer carts began.


An order of pepper shrimp was first off the carts.
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Even though these pepper shrimp had been on the cart for too long and were cool to the touch, they packed a healthy dose of well seared shrimp.
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The peppers may have lost a bit of their snap, but the potent salinity of the black bean sauce and briny shrimp paste more than made up for it.


Sticking with shrimp, shrimp on sugar cane was next.
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As you’d expect this was a ball of lightly breaded, slightly sweet, and well fried shrimp paste. Although the crispy exterior and savory flavor of the shrimp were exceptional, I was pleasantly surprised at the complete lack of greasiness.


Continuing with even more shrimp, the ultimate dim sum litmus test arrived, har gao.
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It’s not often that I encounter such a sublime dumpling. From the slightly thick wrapper to the rich, juicy shrimp filling, these har gao passed the test with flying colors. Each dumpling was packed with large chunks of impossibly fresh shrimp that finished with a slight peppery tail.


An order of pork suimai provided a nice break from the shrimp overload.

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I don’t know how they do it at Golden House; these pork suimai had a tender wrapper and a juicy filling brimming with pork flavor but there wasn’t any of the expected greasiness.


Eggrolls are usual dim sum item, but I don’t ever recall seeing them wrapped in nori.
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These chicken eggrolls were a little doughy on the inside, but a healthy dose of chicken filling seemed to even things out.


Seen Juk Guen or bean curd rolls, one of my favorite dim sum dishes, was bound to make an appearance sooner or later.
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Light on the gelatinous sauce and light on the crunchy filling, these bean curd rolls still packed a pleasant pork and veggie filling.


Simply because they are so filling, I rarely order char sui bao or sticky buns at dim sum but I couldn’t resist trying at least one at Golden House.

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As you’d expect, these buns were thick, doughy, and a little sticky on the outside.
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Inside was a thick, sweet filling with a surprisingly large amount of pork and just a touch of crunchy veggies. Like many of their other dishes, Golden House was generous with their char sui bao filling and it made for a quality sticky bun.


If there was one letdown to the meal, it came in the form of steamed pork spare ribs.
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On the plus side, these were exceptionally meaty and very well steamed spare ribs, but there was nothing else there. Instead of the usual black beans or pepper slices, there was just well cooked pork.

I’m not sure why we ordered the sesame pork.

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These pork pastries seemed to be a different approach to a sticky bun.
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Extremely sweet and doughy, the sesame pork came with the usual char sui filling. A decent dish, but the steamed sticky buns were the better choice.


While waiting for an order of Jackson bound takeout, I decided to try one last dim sum dish, the shrimp and seaweed dumpling.

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As I had quickly come to expect, the shrimp was juicy and very well fried, but the nori wrapper kept throwing for a loop. With each bite of the shrimp, I had dim sum dumplings and chili sauce in mind but as soon as I tasted the nori, I halfway expected to taste lukewarm sushi rice and the punch of wasabi.


While I can hardly comment on the menu selections of Golden House, I can say that they are in serious contention for my favorite dim sum spot in Atlanta. Obviously many more visits are required before I can produce such a weighty verdict, but in the meantime I can take comfort in knowing that the Blissful Glutton did not steer me wrong. Chef Danny Ting and Golden House truly do serve the best har gao in Atlanta. Those dumplings alone are worth the drive to Duluth. I can hardly wait to stand in line for them again.

Golden House Address & Information

1600 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth, GA 30096 // 770.921.2228

Golden House on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hot and Hot Fish Club - Birmingham

It was three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon in mid January when I was handed the charge; I had to be at the Atlanta aquarium at 9 am the next morning to pick up a dog. Ignoring the fact that this was a rather ridiculous situation to be in, I had a choice to make. Do I head for Atlanta that night and try to find something decent for dinner around midnight, get up at the crack of “Oh Christ” o’clock and storm the interstate on Friday morning, or do I break the trip into two pieces with an overnight stay in Birmingham? For the sake of my sanity, I went with the last option if only because it would finally give me a chance to stop by Hot and Hot Fish Club.


Like Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill, I’ve been meaning to pay a visit to Chris Hasting’s Hot and Hot Fish Club for years, but I rarely find myself looking for dinner in the Pittsburgh of the South. Typically, I’ll be cruising east to Atlanta and the most I’ll devote to Birmingham is a late lunch. Since neither Highlands nor Hot & Hot are open for lunch, I’ve made do with enjoying lunches at Chez Fon Fon and Bottega while perusing the Stitt and H & H cookbooks at home. Now, more than two years after first hearing of the Birmingham institution, I had reservations for the last dinner seating at Hot and Hot and it would all be thanks to a little dog that would be called Kip.


With the temperature hovering in the high 20s, as I pulled up to the restaurant, I was happy to see a valet run to my door. Even though it was a 15 yard walk to the front door, I still bundled up in an effort to keep warm. However, once I was inside, it was a whole separate world. A mostly full restaurant and a lively tempo made for a welcoming respite from the cold. I had gotten a reservation at the chef’s table, but I was surprised to find that meant saddling up to the bar that surrounded the open to the public kitchen. Decked out in their whites and long-brim fly fishing hats, each chef was hard at work in their own world. I was seated in front of the dessert station, the perfect spot to see skilled hands at work on frying doughnuts and apple dumplings in a small, tabletop fryer and forming countless quenelles of ice cream.


But before dessert, I had to make a choice from the appetizer section of the menu. Reading through the 10 or so options, I couldn’t help but notice the surprising lack of seafood. Save for oysters on the half shell, there wasn’t a hint of fish in the section. However, that peculiarity was quickly forgotten once I settled into indecision between sweetbreads and the charcuterie plate. Although the waiter promised that everything on the charcuterie plate, head cheese, duck prosciutto, veal tongue, pork rilettes, foie gras torchon, lardo, and housemade pickles, was made in house, he praised the sweetbreads as a better choice. Swayed by the promise of well seared glands, I went with the sweetbreads.
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Oven roasted and served with McEwan and Sons grits, rainbow chard, and rich jus, the sweetbread was a picture of lightly charred decadence.
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True to the waiter’s word, the sweetbread was beautifully roasted, buttery and juicy. As good as the sweetbread was on its own, the combination of creamy grits and a sweet and meaty jus only amplified the richness. Thankfully the rainbow chard provided just enough bitterness to rein in the excesses of the first three dish ingredients. Well balanced and sublime, my only qualms related to the quantity. As good as the sweetbread was, one to an order seemed a little stingy and with the charcuterie plate costing a dollar more, I couldn’t help but wonder if that appetizer and its plethora of components carried a better bang for the buck.


Not wanting to leave Hot and Hot Fish Club without trying a little seafood, the night’s simple grilled fish, cobia seemed like a fine choice.
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Served with turnips, artichokes, sun chokes, Snow’s Bend Swiss chard, pearled barley, and a citrus reduction, this cobia was what I came to H & H expecting to find.
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A touch dry on the edges, this thick and meaty portion of hickory grilled fish was perfection in the middle.

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Playing off the superb combination of cobia and citrus, the Swiss chard provided an earthy bitterness while the pearled barley was a toothsome compliment to the cobia.


Despite being seated in front of the dessert station, I decided to pass on a third course, but the manager had a different idea. Before I could voice an objection, an order of the espresso ice cream was placed in front of me.
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In addition to the espresso ice cream, the plate featured lemon granite, citrus marmalade, and chocolate sorbet.
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Well made and rich, this espresso ice cream was full of potent ground espresso.

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Besting the espresso, the chocolate sorbet was dark and almost sinfully decadent. Carrying over the well balanced features of the previous two dishes, the lemon granite and pomegranate arils provided tart punctuations to bring me down from my chocolate and sugar high.


Savoring the last few bites of dessert, I couldn’t help but notice the kitchen was winding down for the night. Ingredients were packed into plastic containers, stations were cleared and a massive stockpot emerged from the back. Looking to be 100 quarts if it was a cup, that pot was filled with water and set on a low heat where I can only suppose it would be left to simmer overnight. It’s that sort of groundwork that has garnered Hot & Hot Fish Club awards such as Bon Appetit’s “Top Neighborhood Restaurant”, features in Food and Wine Magazine, and multiple James Beard nominations for Chris Smith as Best Chef Southeast. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at H & H. The flavors were excellent, the food well prepared, and the service nigh on impeccable. I can only hope that I won’t need another dog centered mission to get me back through the front door.

Hot and Hot Fish Club Address & Information

2180 11th Ct S, Birmingham, AL 35205 // 205.933.5474 // Hot and Hot Fish Club Website // Hot and Hot Fish Club Menu

Hot and Hot Fish Club on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rama Jama's - Tuscaloosa

The first time I heard of Rama Jama’s was during an Alabama football game. I don’t remember who Bama was playing that night, but in between commercials, they played a segment called Todd Blackledge’s “Taste of the Town”. In that episode, Blackledge paid a visit to Rama Jama’s for a pretty fair looking burger. I don’t remember what happened during the game, but three years later, I still remember Rama Jama’s.


Wanting to finally scratch Rama Jama’s off my to-try list, I pulled off I-20 and made my way to the little building under Bryant-Denney Stadium. When parking, I couldn’t help but notice the wall that sits in homage to both Alabama football and this small restaurant.

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Listing both the dates of the, at the time, 13 national championships and a variety of endorsements for the restaurant, there’s little doubt that Rama Jama’s is proud of their product and their school.


The school spirit continues inside as every square inch of wall space is devoted to Bama posters, newspaper clippings, magazine covers, etc. After doing my best to soak up all the Alabama history and memorabilia, it was time to see this cheeseburger that the CBS sports analysts, Verne Lundquist and Tracy Wolfson, had dubbed the best in the SEC.

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The National Champ Burger is Rama Jama’s take on the bacon double cheeseburger, although the second patty was conspicuously absent.
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From the first bite, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. This burger features an overcooked, under seasoned patty that has no real beefy flavor. A few thick slices of bacon provide a little salinity and interest but this burger is best eaten covered by the small mountain of lettuce, onion, tomatoes, pickles, mustard and mayo.


Maybe I would have better luck with a simple, chili dog.
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While better than the burger, this chili dog is nothing special. Little more than a grilled ball park frank with a helping of smoky chili, this chili dog gets the job done but without much fanfare.


Not wanting to completely write off a Tuscaloosa institution, I was soon back at Rama Jama’s to see if my first visit had been a fluke. This meant diving headfirst into their menu with a Swiss and mushroom burger.
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Like the National Champ Burger, this patty arrived covered in plenty of toppings.
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Much like the first time, this burger was subpar at best. The mushrooms, mayo, and Swiss did make this a passable lunch but a properly cooked patty would have been preferable.


Continuing the overcooked cavalcade at Rama Jama’s, the RJ’s dog was the second and final victim of the day.

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Bacon, mustard, and caramelized onions do their best to dress up the humble hotdog.
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Despite the too crispy bacon and mostly burnt onions, this was a pretty fair hot dog. If anything, the RJ’s dog proved that bacon can only help a seemingly lost cause hot dog.


From what I’ve read, outside of their cheeseburgers, Rama Jama’s is known for their hearty breakfasts. That very well may be the saving grace for this restaurant under the south end zone, but in my experience, Rama Jama’s is best for soaking up a little Alabama nostalgia. Bottom line, come for the memorabilia and maybe a milkshake but try somewhere else for lunch.

Rama Jama’s Address & Information

1000 Paul W Bryant Dr., Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 // 205.750.0901

Rama Jamas on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bayou Teche Brewery Beer Dinner - Sal & Mookie's - Jackson

As readers may recall, last week was Mardi Gras and, despite nature’s best efforts to quite literally rain on the parades, the annual litany of beads, costumes, king cakes, and excess came and went. However, for those of us that were unable to attend the larger festivities, there was solace in a beer dinner. In celebration of Mardi Gras, Sal & Mookie’s partnered with the Knott brothers of Bayou Teche Brewery to bring Jackson a Lundi Gras party. Never one to intentionally miss a beer dinner, I joined the usual suspects, Sam & Stephen, for another celebration of fine food and brews.


In Louisiana tradition, this beer dinner featured a little lagniappe, beginning with a Grenade punch and fried boudin boulettes.
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Heavily seasoned pork and rice, fried and served with mustard is a fine start to any meal.

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Paired with the boudin balls was a hurricane style Grenade punch. Made with Bayou Teche’s passion fruit passionné beer, this hurricane may lack the alcohol punch of your usual hurricane but the bold fruit flavors more than make up for it.


Once everyone was seated, the second beer of the night, Bayou Teche's first seasonal beer, the courir de Mardi Gras, was brought to the table.
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A French style biere de Mars, the courir de Mardi Gras is only available during the Mardi Gras season.
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With promises of anise flavor, a plate of fettuccine with Tasso, mussels, red bell peppers, and fennel in a Pernod cream sauce accompanied the courir beer. Oddly enough, even with fennel and Pernod, there wasn’t much anise to this pasta.


Making a second appearance, the Grenade was the next Bayou Teche creation.
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On its own, the passion fruit flavor of the Grenade is much more subtle than the hurricane.

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Typically a high point of a Sal & Mookie’s beer dinner, this salad of baby spinach with grape tomatoes, dried apricots, roasted yellow bell peppers, toasted almonds and buffalo mozzarella in a passion fruit vinaigrette, while perfectly fine on its own, did not live up to the salad standards of previous beer dinners.


Touted as a beer for all things Cajun & Creole, the LA 31 Bière Pâle was the third beer of the night.
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Belgian malts & American yeast and hops make for beer tailor made for south Louisiana.
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A fine way to test that claim was a Louisiana crawfish étouffee with Ellis Stansel’s popcorn rice.
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A little spicy on its own, the étouffee was an excellent match to the pale ale


Nearing the end, the Boucanée is homage to the cherry wood frequently used for smoking meats in south Louisiana.

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On its own, the beer was a little odd. The smokiness seemed out of place.

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But when combined with the cherry wood smoked Compart Family Duroc pork loin with white bean and tomato puree, the beer’s unique flavor shone brilliantly.

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Sure, it’s a more refined version of pork and beans but for the smoked meat fans, it worked.


Somehow, the Knott brothers were able to craft a Belgian Dubel that was legal in Mississippi.
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Called a Mellow Dubel, this beer’s flavor was true to its name.

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Paired with a slice of Broad Street Bakery King Cake, it was a fitting end to the Lundi Gras dinner.


While the attendees of this dinner may have missed out on the parades of the city and the courirs of the country, Sal & Mookies and Bayou Teche still put on a crowd pleasing beer dinner. It may not have been Bourbon Street, but boudin balls, beads, and Louisiana beer were still a nice consolation.