King Cake–Just in Time for Mardi Gras

The “King Cake,” like many traditions surrounding Mardi Gras, makes its first appearance after the Feast of the Epiphany at the end of the Feast of Christmas.  And for many New Orleanians, THE king cake is the one made by McKenzie’s Bakery.  Sadly, for those purists, McKenzie’s closed forever in the late 1990s.  But that doesn’t stop every Tom, Dick, and Harry from claiming THEY have the original McKenzie’s king cake recipe.

So as a public service to those for whom Mardi Gras sans McKenzie’s king cake is a tragic nightmare, I am printing below my sister, Sara’s, “original” recipe.  Enjoy and Happy Mardi Gras!

The traditional king cake, decked out in Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold.

New Orleans King Cake

Cake:

2 Pkgs of Active Dry Yeast
1/2-Cup Warm Water
1-Cup of Heavy Cream
1-Cup Sugar
1-Cup Butter (not margarine) Melted
1-tsp Salt
1 Grated rind of Lemon
6 Eggs beaten (be careful not to over beat)
6-7 Tbs. Of Orange Juice
8-9 Cups of Sifted Flour
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Icing:

Confectioner’s Sugar and Water enough to make a paste.
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Colored Sugar:

Add 1 Cup of sugar to 3 separate plastic storage bags.
Add 3 drops of food coloring of desired color.

Knead until sugar is consistent color.

Add more Food coloring to darken color to desired shade
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Cooking Directions:

In Water combine yeast and water in small bowl, stirring until dissolved and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, sugar and butter stirring until dissolved.

Add the salt, grated rind, eggs, orange juice, and yeast mixture blend thoroughly.

Beat in 3 cups of flour to make a smooth batter. Knead in 5-6 cups of flour until smooth (It will be sticky).

Round into a ball and place and place in a warm buttered bowl, turning to coat top.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise until doubled.

Punch down the dough and divide in half.

Roll each piece into a rope and form into rings and pinch ends together.

Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake 40 minutes.

Remove from oven and move to cooling rack and paint with icing (just enough to help colored sugar to stick; do not coat King Cake with icing)

Immediately upon frosting add colored sugar and pat into the icing forming a thin crust on to of Cake.

Place plastic baby in the underside of cake when cooled.  (No plastic baby; no problem.  Do like the grade school cafeterias, afraid of choking hazards, and use a red bean instead.)

Rawr!

A Taste of Tuscany Right Here in Virginia Highlands

It has been about three months since Foodiesaurus went away for her big European food crawl. Therefore, it’s been three LONG months since Foodie’s visit to Florence and, specifically, to Pipistrello Pizzeria and its Pizza Maialona con Bufalo and to Tuscany’s amazing gelaterias. That’s a long time—even for a dinosaur.

So, on one recent Sunday afternoon, Foodie set out to see how Atlanta’s Italian-inspired cuisine would fare by comparison. And it was good!

The first stop was Fritti in Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands area near Inman Park. The lunch menu highlighted Fritti’s Verace Pizza Napoletana, but a little lower I hit pay dirt: a locally-available Maialona. The Italian version of this traditional pizza (which you may recall I ate three or four times in eight days while visiting Florence) featured the same toppings, only in Italy the meats were mixed up and the pizza was topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Unexpectedly, the local version segregated each meat into its own triangular zone so when you cut the pie (as you would in Italy), you either ended up with a slice of only salame, only sausage, etc., or at most, a slice with half of one meat and half of another. I must confess, I like the Florentine version better and next time I order the Maialona at Fritti, I plan to request it “scrambled.”

The only other challenge I had with the Fritti Maialona was that the salame read more like pepperoni than the salame served in Florence Otherwise, the Fritti Maialona was terrific. I will certainly be back for more!

Next up was Paolo’s Gelato near the corner of Highland Avenue and Virginia Avenue. Featured on loads of local and national television programs and in magazines galore, Paolo’s truly is the best gelato I’ve eaten in the States. I think in Florence, however, I would consider the pistachio and straciatella I tried the second or third best gelato. All things considered, that ain’t bad and lucky are those (like me) who can get gelato of this quality not too far from home!

In the final analysis, the Virginia Highlands are blessed by Italians doing the food thing as well as if they were home. And we, the citizens of the Greater Atlanta area are the beneficiaries of this largess. You could spend a lot more time on a plane before finding Italian fare this good.

Rawr!
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RATING:

Fritti—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:


Paolo’s Gelato—

Overall:

Food:

Ambiance:

Firenze–Well Worth the Extra Five Pounds!

A few things I learned while in Florence may help you should you ever find yourself there—how to order a quarter liter of the house red wine in competent Italian (“un quarto vino rosso della casa”) and to always avoid eating anywhere all of the other diners are American. The rest has to be experienced. And that I did.

What remains of the ubiquitous quarto litro vino rosso della casa.

Although I brought a “list” of “must” eat places given to me by a friend of a friend whose friend recently lived in Florence for a year, I am certainly glad I stayed with a local possessing a really good palate. That’s because I tried two places off the “list” and both were full of Americans (see rule #2, above) and average food. The following is a list of places that didn’t make “the” list, but should have:

The night I arrived at my B&B in the San Gaggio area altrarno and south of the Porta Romana, I was looking for a nearby place for a bite. My hostess told me about some places a tourist might like, but we eventually got over that. After ruling out the nearest and best trattoria as already too packed for reservations, she recommended a pizzeria that I returned to three more times afterward—Pizzeria Il Pipistrello on Via Senese.

Although extremely local, one waitress spoke English well enough to help me order and at least one waiter did as well. That night, I ate the absolute best thing in the form of flat round dough, cheese, sauce and meat I’ve ever had. It was called Pizza Maialona con Bufulo, it featured three kinds of pork meat—salami, ham, and sausage—and buffalo mozzerella, and it was heaven. This was one of those dishes you start craving again as you leave the restaurant. In an amazing show of restraint, however, I didn’t eat it again until my third visit.

Pizza maialona con bufulo (notice the quarto litro in the background).

On my second trip to Pipistrello, I tried the comparatively austere but equally fabulous salami and ham pizza. And on the fourth and final visit, I mastered the positively mind-blowing “house” pizza, featuring just about everything and an egg baked in the center. Ummm. Filling. I found the prices to be reasonable. I ate and drank very well for a bit less than €15.

The Pipistrello "House" Pizza (featuring a real egg in the middle). Ummm. Filling.

Over the next several days, I also ate twice at a wine bar across from the Palazzo Pitti featuring an extraordinary menu, called Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Besides several fine Chiantis and Sangioveses, there was for a starter a gorgeous terrine of fois gras topped with sage and served with crostini, on a reduction of vin santo (that was reminiscent of a light cane syrup but with stronger molasses-like flavors as well) and scattered rock salt. The contrast of textures and sweet with salt was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. And it was good.

Fresh pasta triangles stuffed with spinach and ricotta and topped with shaved black truffles.

For mains, I had triangles of fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach and topped with shaved black truffles one night, and on a different night, a wonderful steak tartare with orange and mint. Here, the prices were a bit steep for the portions. I found it difficult to get out of there for less than €35.

Steak tartare with orange and mint. Served with a little mound of peas, carrots, diced potatoes, and halved grape tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the gelato front—two were noteworthy in my estimation. The first is the best: Vivoli near the Museo del Bargello and the Teatro Verdi. You pay in advance, and though it is packed with locals, the servers know enough English to hook you up with what you want. Here the gelato is served only in cups, and it is magnificent. The first time I visited I tried hazelnut and pistachio. The second, hazelnut and chocolate-hazelnut. All flavors were the best versions of their kind I’ve ever tried.

The second gelateria was also better than any other, except Vivoli. It was called Gelateria La Carraia and was near the Arno and the Ponte alla Carraia. Here, I tried the Tiramisu mousse combined with the espresso. It was heaven in a cone. Soft and light and *uh* words fail. With either of these, you can’t go wrong. Vivoli was €2.50 for about 5 oz; La Carraia charged €1.50 for a small cone.

Like Gola e Cantina, another great favorite of mine violated the rule I’d been given about “don’t eat within sight of any famous tourist destination.” While Gola e Cantina is near the Palazzo Pitti, Ringo is near the Ponte Vecchio on the Borgo San Jacopo, and it’s three umbrella-covered tables outside sit pretty much in the street. Yes, there is a sign above the door that reads: “Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, Hot Dogs.” Ignore all that. The food here is really good anyway.

The first time I shared the bruchetta with pomodora, basil, and ham, and ate the Insalada con Bacon as my main. OMG. Both were incredibly fresh, the second featuring avocado, round slices of very small zucchini, tomato, and Italian ham.

At the very strong urging of my hostess, on my second visit to Ringo, I violated a rule I had no intention of breaking: the “thou shall not eat American food in Europe” rule. But in this case, I’m glad I did. In fact, the hamburger at Ringo is among the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere. It was served on a firm egg-washed bun with tomato, pickles, catsup, onions, and mustard or vinegar or something else really wonderfully tangy. Nothing is served on the side but a fork and knife, which you will need. It is so good, I actually ate it again a few days later. Just to be sure, you understand.

Amazing fork and knife burger. Better than all but one I've had in America.

One thing to be aware of at Ringo, is that each dish is made by one person and is served one at a time. So each time I ate with two other companions, we were served at different times. And it turns out, the shared starter plate was a really good idea. The cost was very reasonable at about €80 for three including at least two glasses of wine per person and several bottles water for the table.

Another place I ate more than once was the local trattoria I couldn’t get into on my first night—Ruggero. For a starter, I tried the ground chicken liver in olive oil spread on crostini (reportedly very traditional, and actually very delicious). For the main, I was served breaded veal in an onion-tomato gravy with large, flat green beans in bacon. Again, very good. By the second visit, all I wanted was a salad, which is understandable given all of the other stuff I’d been eating until then. That day they had one featuring copious amounts of sliced mushrooms. I asked for a side of sliced salami, which request they graciously obliged.

Finally, for the lunch of my last full day, I tried a place that reportedly hosted Sarah Jessica Parker on her visit to Florence—Cambi (or Antica Ristoro di Cambi, if you want the full treatment). There I ate the most famous dish of the city—Bistecca Florentine (por un, per favore). What I received was a 750g delicious, rare T-bone, marinated somehow into a state of fabulousness not attainable at, say, Shula’s. I was advised to go traditional with the sides and so had white beans I sprinkled with salt and fresh ground black pepper and then drizzled with EVOO (fagioli con olio di oliva). Solid.

Bistecca Florentine con fagiolo con olio di oliva. (*that sucking noise Hannibal Lecter made in Silence of the Lambs*)

I must say, this is the only place I ever felt I absolutely had to ask for a take-away box. I wasn’t sure if this was considered rude, but they were very obliging and I enjoyed the remainder of the steak the next morning with breakfast. I can’t imagine how big the Bistecca por due must be!

These were not the only places recommended to me, but by the time I dodged the various Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday closing days of sundry establishments, the eateries listed above were the ones that made the cut. And, believe me, the five pounds I earned are not regretted in the least. Florence was a beautiful place to bulk up and make food memories to last a lifetime.

Rawr!

The Waterford Harvest Festival: I bet you’re sorry you missed it NOW!

The Waterford Harvest Festival goes on for nine days at the beginning of each September and features many instructional sessions on subjects ranging from butter making and beekeeping to square-foot gardening and cooking demonstrations.

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I went for the last three days just to eat and learn more about the Grow It Yourself movement on Ireland. During the time, I attended an Irish beer and cheese tasting, a ten-course feast, and a day-long street market.

While in Waterford, I did eat very well indeed. The main thing I learned, however, is that the Irish seem to underestimate how good their food really is.

I believe that the real secret to Irish food lies mainly in the exceptional quality of available ingredients. That, and the ever-growing skill of local food artisans in showcasing that bounty. Nonetheless, there seems to be a sort of national low food-esteem that events like these have been organized to combat.

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At the beer tasting, for example, the presenters, Kevin Sheridan (right), a local cheesemonger, and Cormac O’Dwyer (left), founder of Dungarvan, a local brewery, were cast in the role of apparent revolutionaries addressing a surprisingly skeptical crowd.

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The basic mindset they seemed to be working to change was that foreign food and foreign ways were by definition “more proper.” They suggested this radical notion against a backdrop of some of the best cheeses, locally-made whole grain crackers, and beer I have ever encountered.

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My special favorites were the starter cheese–a delicate, almost fluffy-textured Triskell goat cheese–and the last beer we sampled–a very unusual and interesting new stout called, “Black Rock,” with far less chocolate and a bit more tobacco than most others I’ve tried. There was also a very versatile and pleasant, if somewhat typical, blond ale.

An audible grumble later echoed through the room, however, when brewer and cheese-guy suggested such fabulous beer could be paired with many foods even better than wine. Further, the presenters felt compelled to argue a person seen drinking beer with food should not be deemed lacking in refinement. From the reaction of the group, it appeared this was a radical proposition.

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The next day, at the feast, I asked my compatriots what they thought of paring beer with food. (We were all drinking it; in my case a different blonde ale from a brewer called “Metal Man.”) Almost to a man, they would favor wine for the sake appearances and even seemed a bit uncomfortable eating the cheese course while drinking beer in such a group setting.

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The feast was magnificent, though laced with foreign influence–particularly, that of the French. The starter, for example, was charcuterie. And it was fabulous with Irish pork chorizo, prosciutto, and other sausages along with a pate that reminded me of south Louisiana hog head cheese. And to finish was the aforementioned cheese course.

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But by then, I was too full to continue as in between, there had been a mixed grill featuring trout, lamb, beef burgers, bacon pork chops, and sausage. Mmmmmm. And after that, fresh berries with lovely cream. I also vaguely recall gorgeous vegetables, but as I mentioned earlier, there was this ale….

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After such a display of quality and abundance, I am firmly convinced the Irish can and will take their proper place among the great cuisines and food exporters of Europe–especially with events like as this. Rather like Louisiana’s efforts to market their food in the 1980s, first, you must convince the locals. Once that is accomplished, and the producers are ready, the right marketing will easily demonstrate to the world what I discovered last weekend–that Ireland is a great food destination!

(Oh, and a special shout-out to Boho Kitchens, which is a couple of young Floridians transplanted to Waterford who make the best chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever eaten! Much love.)

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Rawr!

The Sunday Market along the South Quay:

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The Winding Stair is worth the climb

The Winding Stair restaurant is a quaint little bistro on Bachelor’s Walk looking out at the Ha’penny Bridge over River Liffey in Dublin.

20110912-101042.jpgThe name is taken, perhaps obviously, from the entry which is a stair that twists back upon itself before lead to the dining room.

Decor is like something out of a Bogart and Bacall movie but on a smaller scale. The bar is dark heavy oak and a large espresso machine.

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On the opposite wall is a chalkboard listing the rather lovely wine list and featuring bookshelves containing the kind of odd assortment of titles a decorator would choose for the broken clothbound and gilded spines. There was Albert Schweitzer in the original German alongside Coleridge. See what mean?

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The emphasis of the kitchen clearly was organic and local food though. In other words, exactly what I hoped to find.

There is an early bird menu at 5 p.m., as well as daily specials but, after a quick scan of the main menu, I wanted only the mussels and chips (pomme frite) served with a gorgeous paprika enhanced aioli.

The mussels were harvested on the west coast of Ireland and were generally quite fine– flavorful in an onion and white wine broth. A few were gritty however and several had not opened.

Nevertheless, I was served so so many, the dish was still more than enough for one. The broth certainly enhanced the already tasty mussels but it was a bit too salty to sip afterward.

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The chips were thickly cut and crispy. No oil was evident and their flavor was fabulous, especially when paired with the smoked paprika aoili. Mmmmmm. The Portuguese Syrah I drank was also really nice.

The service was also helpful and attentive, although the dining room admittedly was sparsely populated when I was eating at a little before 5 p.m.

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Overall, this was a very enjoyable meal and the sort of place that should be supported as Ireland earns it’s place at the big-people table in European cuisine.

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four Bones

Food:
Four Bones

Ambiance:
Five Bones

The Old Jameson Distillery–The Early Bird gets the extra whiskey!

Time for me in Dublin being fairly limited, I decided to skip the Guiness tour and hit the bottle instead. Sadly, the working Jameson Distillery has long since moved out of Dublin the result of space limitations and to be closer to their barley producers. What remains of the old site however is a rockin’ good time for the Irish whiskey lover, like me.

First off in the tour is a short film explaining the history of Jameson and a revelation of its shameful secret–it was founded by a Scotsman. That’s okay, though, as the whiskey he produced put a lot of Irish barley farmers, distillers, coopers, warehousemen, etc., to work, and it’s also awfully good.

Now at the end of the tour awaits your choice of three cocktails featuring Jameson or one straight up. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but if your Irish, you’ll drink it like me–nekked.

The trick to getting extra whiskey is a move I invented called the “buzzer beater.” The very second the word volunteer leaves your tour guide’s lips, raise your hand. (This really works well for women, as your counterparts will still be trying to decide what everyone else will think of them.)

What you are volunteering for is a taste test. Jameson versus an American whiskey and a Scotch. Here, they don’t go for comparisons with quality opponents, like Makers Mark or Laphroig. Instead, they beat up on the highly beatable yet commercially successful Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker Black. Here’s another clue: if you still have the ability to smell, Jameson will beat the panties off the competition.

In my not-at-all-humble opinion, Tennessee sour mash tastes like razor blades, and Johnnie Walker is better as an aftertaste as it’s a bit too hot going down for me. But hey, didn’t I tell you? Extra whiskey.

The tour is fantastically interesting too. And not too long. Our tour guide was extremely interesting and pleasant. There is a bit of pressure (I felt) to hurry along after the tasting, so I gave up the rest of mine as shooting liquor is against my religion. After all, I explained to the Aussie next to me, “I’d better quit. I have to be able to walk.”

Rawr!

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Murphy’s Ice Cream has changed what I mean when I say “creamy”

Finding Murphy’s Ice Cream meant crossing the Liffey River from the suits and order of downtown straight into throngs of foreign tourists, religious figures, pan handlers, gypsies (pardon me: Romani), and hawkers of goods and services appealing to all of the aforementioned–then hanging a right.

Along a relatively quiet side street is a small shop serving ice cream that would change the way I defined several terms I thought I knew the meaning of. Terms like creamy, fresh, smooth, and satisfying.

An Irish food blogger, I can has cook recommended the brown bread flavor, so I had a small cup of it to start. He wasn’t wrong.

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The cream comes from Dingle, I was later told, as I’m sure, did all the dairy. That local sourcing showed in the indescribably fabulous flavor range and mouth feel of this magical stuff.

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You see, I hadn’t ever before experienced ice cream as refreshing. Cold, sure, but that’s not the same thing.

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The same with “creamy.” Apparently, I had confused that with a certain mouth coating quality. Not the same thing.

This stuff even had Haagen Das beaten, notwithstanding HD’s emphasis on simplicity and texture. As it turns out, nothing can beat Ireland at dairy. Nothing.

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As an added bonus, there was an audit going on while I was there. And audits mean free ice cream for the American blogger who chats up the corporate representative from Dingle itself.

In this instance, the young ice cream server was being tested on his ability to produce a peanut caramel sundae topped with whipped cream. OMG! I’d say he passed.

As delicious as the whole of the sundae was, this little (Read: huge) bonus also gave me the opportunity to analyze its components. The caramel was the most buttery and flavorful you can imagine; the whipped cream, light, and again, fresh.

Murphy’s Ice Cream taught me many things I never expected about how delightful dairy desserts can truly be. I may never eat American ice cream again! (Yeah, right.)

Rawr!

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Overall:
Five bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Five bones

(Warning: little bones pics may be added later. I don’t know why that necessitates a warning but it seemed amusing at the time.)

Momma’s Place–but only if you like food

Come here.

Why? If the funky-cool juxtaposition of the old, pink and lavender dining furniture with the seriously hard-core steel breezeways and red and slate walls running through the space or its near-total integration with filmIreland’s filmbase isn’t enough, then for heaven’s sake, come for the food.

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The hostess recommended the special lemonade and smoked trout tartine. The lemonade was made at the time of order so I was able to ask for less sweetness than I feared might otherwise occur. The pomegranate and mint provided a lovely richness and balance to the acidity you usually find in even the best lemonade.20110909-033643.jpg

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The tartine was a pair of wheat crostini topped with a yogurt-dill dressing, lovely smoked trout, which was slightly pink and not too smokey, and finally, olive oil dressed arugula. The result was a nod to the traditional smoked trout and dill but a deviation with the addition of the yogurt and cucumber that imparted a new level of freshness. No fishy taste it turns out is NOT all you can ask from smoked seafood.

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In final analysis, Momma’s Place is a great place for brunch, lunch, even a light supper, as it’s open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four bones

Food:
Five bones

Ambiance:
Four bones

(I will add pics and graphics some other time, Chrissakes.)

Foodie Goes to Ireland–for Indian?

And before you ask, yes, there is a method to this madness. You see, I’ve heard good things about Indian food but living, as I do, in the American South haven’t yet experienced it in a restaurant.

So being jet-lagged, wet, and cold from my day’s travels, when my host gave me a list of nearby places including the Mint Leaf, I jumped on it! My convoluted reasoning went something like this: Ireland close to England; England former occupier of India and popularizer of all things Indian; therefore, Indian in Ireland would be better than Indian I normally ate. Turns out, I wasn’t far off–whatever the cause.

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I dined from the early bird menu and as it was lunch time back home, dinner at five o’clock seemed like a great idea. For €16.95, there were a choice of appetizers and entrees plus a beer or wine of your choice. I went with the samosas and chicken bhuna (I think) and house red wine. I have no way of knowing whether these were good examples of either dish as I’ve never eaten either before. All I can say is everything was delicious.

The wine was every bit as good or maybe a little better than a $20 bottle in the States. The meat samosas (they also come in veggie) reminded me of really good, Indian-spiced taco meat in the best kind of eggroll wrap, fried in triangle-shapes like spanakopita. There wasn’t a trace of oiliness, the spices gave the lamb stuffing a warmth without overpowering, and the chili sauce was fabulous.

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The chicken entree was served in a red curry slash brown onion reduction, medium-hot. Definitely a touch of turmeric was present, as it was in the basmati rice side, but other than that, my untrained palate was unable to discern.

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Beautiful dishes, well-prepared, good service, and decent-sized portions. I was not disappointed (which, sadly, cannot be said for my past encounters with this cuisine). My newly-informed opinion is we Americans in the South should demand more of our Indian restaurants. This is really great stuff it turns out!

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four bones

Food:
Four Bones

Ambiance:
Four bones

(I’ll insert little bone graphics when I get back home. Dammit.)

Heading out and hoping Italy gets it together before I get there! But first it’s off to lovely Ireland in Autumn.

So I’m in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and locally-grown is featured even here–in a restaurant called, One Flew South.

Having a farm bacon goat cheese frisse salad and a lovely Ben Marco Malbec. I won’t lie to you: it’s hellaspensive, but at least it’s available as an alternative to the endless chain-restaurant-lined corridors you might have found here just five years ago. Another Ruby Tuesday, I can do without!

Rawr!