Holeman & Finch Public House
2277 Peachtree Road Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30309-1173
(404) 948-1175
holeman-finch.com

Atlanta is often grating to me:  the sensory overload from all that shopping and traffic.  However, it is a city that likes to eat–having one of the highest numbers of restaurant per capita in the country.

Last night, a dear friend took me to Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch, the cheaper, adjacent, sister restaurant of the well-respected Restaurant Eugene.  Upon walking into Holeman & Finch, I noticed all the cured meats hanging in glass cases.  In the open kitchen, the cooks were meticulously prepping the food.  But I did not expect all that their menu offered.  My friend just ordered a number of little plates for the table, and it was a feast of rich, rich food:  a meat plate with delicate strips of lard, duck hearts and head, griddled pork belly, crisp pig tail, battered and fried livers, crawfish pies, and shrimp salad with perfectly fried shrimp heads.  Nothing goes to waste, and everything is wondrously defamiliarized.  All complimentary greens were crisp and subtle, mixing well with their respective dish and dressing.

This spot also has a nightly tradition of serving exactly 24 handcrafted burgers at 10 p.m. No more, no less.  We had had too much to try their pursuit of burger perfection.

Felafel and Fries

June 4, 2010

I have been getting my felafel at a small stand on the corner of Gordon and Frishman in Tel Aviv. Most felafel stands offer you french fries, called “tships” in Hebrew. This stand fries them in wonton wrappers. The pitas are fresh, the felafel balls a bit mushy, but the “tships” are something else.

The felafel guy claims they were his invention but they have been spotted elsewhere in town.

Tel Aviv Breakfast

June 3, 2010

My favorite meal in Tel Aviv is breakfast. When the fried and I traveled to Paris 5 years ago he suffered the lack of a warm meal in the morning. A chocolate croissant was not enough. When we flew from Paris to Israel, he was totally surprised to discover that Israelis really know how to eat and eat well. I will set politics aside for this post, although politics is one thing that  is difficult to avoid here!.

Israel breakfasts include eggs, fresh vegetables, a variety of cheeses and spreads, including feta, homemade cream cheeses, and labneh, sweets, and fresh.

Breakfast 1 is from Cafe Idelson on Dizengoff, which was until recently Cafe Casit, the literary cafe where the Hebrew literary elite, including Shlonsky, Alterman, and Goldberg used to regularly meet. Now the cafe has been turned into a hip spot to see and be seen. See this video clip of the cafe in French new wave style (although these images are from the Ben Yehuda branch.).

The soft boiled eggs were lovely, and the pretzel sticks with poppy seeds made of fried philo dough were a nice touch. The cheese and cinnamon cake were delicious as was the salad, the salami, and the yellow cheese. I couldn’t finish this on my own however.

My next breakfast was at Cafe Dubnow 8, named after  Dubnow street, which is in turn named after the famous Jewish historian, intellectual, and theorizer of Jewish diasporism, Simon Dubnow. The cafe was close to “Beyt ha-Sofer” (The Writer’s House), where the literary archives are located. This Israeli breakfast was a few shekels cheaper and more modest.

The salad, feta, cream cheese, , butter, and preserves were all fabulous. The bread was tasty and filled with all sorts of grains. A healthy way to start the day in the archives.

We just visited London, and here are some quick impressions:

-The funniest food sign:  On the Tube, there was a sign that bluntly stated, “Please don’t eat smelly food.”

-The most awkward dining moment:  We ordered two bowls of ramen of the exact same variety.  One comes out and served to me.  I was enjoying some appetizers, so I offered my bowl to A.  The server comes out, minutes later, with the second bowl and perplexingly said, but that first bowl was for Asians.  Apparently, the second bowl was for non-Asians.  We asked for clarification, but didn’t get any.  The only difference we detected was that the “Asian” bowl had pork belly, while the “non-Asian” one had tenderloin.  Another example of the arbitrariness of categories and stereotypes.

-The most difficult thing about London lunch:  Most of the restaurants waited until at least noon to open for lunch.

-The most counter-intuitive aspect:  It’s easier to get a pint of beer, then a glass of tap water.  As learned at the Anne Hathaway house, historically it was safer to drink beer than to drink water.  Perhaps an accurate precedent, or American diners have just come to expect water.

-Our new favorite dessert:  Posset, rich layers of cream or milk, sugared, and lightly curdled with wine.

-Consistent:  it’s almost an annual event for us now, and though it seems to have lost some lackluster, Wild Honey still serves up some great food, with a great wine list, and knowledgeable staff.

-Most enterprising: Alan Yau keeps opening great restaurants.  The latest Cha Cha Moon.

-Most liked this time around:  Tayyab’s, near Brick Lane.  Some of the best Pakistani food we’ve had.

Asia-fying Crawfish

April 28, 2010

An interesting, fun story in the NY Times today about SE Asian entrepreneurs spreading the Cajun love for crawfish in California, Texas, and Atlanta.  In agreement here:  not that I’m biased, but my Vietnamese relatives in the bayou make the meanest crawfish boils anywhere.  Disagreement:  NYTimes editors, how can you write about New Orleans crawfish and use the term “crayfish”?  If you’re going to write about the further creolization of crawfish, you’ve got to at least creolize your English.

A Visual Feast

April 15, 2010

I am paralyzed by all that I want to say and write about SE Asia.  So for the time being…some pix.

First meal in Saigon: shellfish late-night, in a residential neighborhood:

Food on the move in Bangkok:

Lots of good mango:

Roast duck and dim sum at BKK airport:

Crab soup in Hanoi:

Sidewalk cafes spilling into the cathedral’s yard:

A Hanoi food stall:

Banana flower salad from Hwy. 4:

Herb-roasted duck, fried basil leaves, and the best buns ever:

Escargot noodles:

Family dinner in Saigon:

Close up of food (notice all the sauces):

A Saigon drink stand with pickled-fruit drinks.  Iced coffee being made:

Dim sum at the Legend:

Diners provide their own instruments & music in Saigon restaurants

Last meal in Saigon at a local restaurant.  Open-air space, overlooking a huge roundabout:

Cục Gạch Quán
10 Động Tất
Tân Định, Q. 1, Hô Chí Minh City
038 48 01 44
http://www.cucgachquan.com/

With Vietnam’s maddening changes and uncertain future, there’s a bit of nostalgia for the past…or at least a repackaging of the past.  In Ho Chi Minh City, I went to Cục Gạch, a restaurant that crafts vintage Saigon for a higher aesthetic and culinary experience.  This is a must, if you’re in Saigon.

The food is of classic southern affair:  all served sparsely and beautifully.  Simplicity and fresh ingredients from the rich southern region, combined with subtle, yet striking culinary know-how.  My favorites were the lotus salad and the chicken wings fried in fish sauce.  The homemade desserts, healthy and not so sweet, were quite tasteful.

This is one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had in Vietnam.  Tran Binh, the restaurateur, combines his architectural profession with a brilliant eye for vintage items to create an atmosphere suitable for his impeccably simple home cooking.  Case in point: the restaurant’s audio and visual centerpiece  is a stereo system encased in dark wood, complete with a mint tube amp and reel-to-reel tape deck.  The divas of south Vietnam, like Khanh Ly, were crooning with their velvety voices and lyrics.

In Ho Chi Minh City’s current socialist capitalism, postsocialist society, or whatever you call it,  hypocritical irony abounds, and this is as comforting and, at least it should be, as troubling as the new Saigon gets.  You feel like a guest dining with an upper middle-class Saigonese family.  The spaciousness of the house, the custom woodwork, the Toto bathroom fixtures, the plethora of food and drink…if all this is what everyone is rushing around to attain, then why did we wage a war–where millions were displaced, millions died,  and millions more were wounded, physically and psychologically–when current Vietnam, it seems, merely wants to relive old Saigon?