Souperwoman

Buckhead is the part of Atlanta that doesn’t do casual.  Entering the town in a t-shirt and shorts is shun-worthy and every lady’s purse has a fancy foreign name written in beautiful calligraphy painted onto the front.  The restaurants and cafes don’t do casual either–it’s only natural, really.  Buckhead is all about the latest trends and fashions, in both clothes, speech, and, of course, food.  Needless to say, Buckhead is my place with my kinds of people to people watch.

Souper Jenny’s Cafe is all about the latest clean-eating fad.  Decorated in a rustic fashion, it is the perfect country cottage at the end of an urban plaza.  A favorite of mine since my youngin’ years, it is only natural that this would be my lunch choice when I come home to visit for the weekend.

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The outside garden welcomes customers with a sign of the changing daily menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches.  These are no ordinary lunch choices, though as each is a spin-off of a classic meal.

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The inside of Jenny’s is cozy.  It’s no gala-ready restaurant, but that’s not her purpose.  Inspirational quotes from Julia Child and paintings of flowers line the sunny yellow-painted walls.   Yes, even the walls represent sunnies and smilies.  In the back, a kid’s corner provides a room for babies and adults to color while munching.  This is a family-friendly, kids-welcome kind of Buckhead cafe–something few and far between in a town where kids are often dragged on leashes–literal leashes.

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Two smiling employees, often singing, stand behind a counter as you order on the spot.  Working with organic foods must make you smile.  It’s just a happy place to be.

The classiest countertop of gourmet clean eating.  Mostly organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.

The classiest countertop of gourmet clean eating. Mostly organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.

On this particular visit, I ordered the vegetable soup, a light vegetable broth with eggplant, squash and zucchini accompanied by a broccoli slaw of shredded broccoli and carrots in a lemon oil rather than the usual fatty and heavy mayonnaise.  With a slight tang, the broccoli and carrots are perfectly zested in a summery dish.

The broccoli slaw, featured here with butternut squash soup and a fresh roll.

The broccoli slaw, featured here with butternut squash soup and a fresh roll.

Mom ordered the curried squash soup, which brought the southern India to the southern state of Georgia; fresh organic squash pureed with curry gives all the flavor to a classically bland soup.  Accompanied by the soup was a tropical wheatberry salad.  Wheatberry is probably the best discovery ever made by some genius farmer.  As the whole wheat grain, it does contain gluten but tastes lighter than any other grainy product.  Mix this with my two favorite tropical fruits–pineapple and mango–and toss in fancy tahini oil, and I am bound to munch most of the salad while mom makes the mistake of going to get a fork for herself.  Silly mom.

Dad ordered the same salad, of which he was much more protective, but chose the classic Jenny soup called “My Dad’s Turkey Chili.” Her dad may have invented it, but my dad is the star glommer of the famous chili.

The famous turkey chili.

The famous turkey chili.

The full meal wouldn’t be complete, though, without the wheat roll that is still warm from the oven and an equally warm gluten-free cookie–your choice of chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin or white chocolate macadamia (yes, it’s fancy).  The rolls are the freshest you will ever have the pleasure of biting into and the cookies are so gooey that they taste like cookie dough (everyone knows that cookie dough is better than the actual cookie) without, you know, that raw egg drama.

Oh my goodness, so exciting!

Oh my goodness, so exciting!

Souper Jenny has become famous in Atlanta and has been critically acclaimed by some of the most important food critics in the area.  There must be a reason why, right?

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Jenny, herself, advertising one of several cookbooks.

It was the perfect weekend home and Jenny is to blame for it.  Maybe I should come home more often?

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“Desta” Means Joy

“Desta means happy, and we are here to make you happy.”

The sign above the menu display, set in front of the restaurant, doesn’t lie.  Desta Ethiopian Kitchen on the corner of Briarcliff Road and Clarimont Road in Atlanta has been a family favorite for years, so with my Easter visit home, I had to stop by to say hello.  “Hello” always turns into a full-out meal.  It’s gotten to the point in which the manager noticed my haircut from the previous day–the dedication I have towards this restaurant is intense.

Atlanta has a considerable Ethiopian community, so venue choice is endless.  This particular restaurant–my favorite of the many I have paid visits to– shares a plaza with two other Ethiopian restaurants and a street with at least five other cafes.  Desta seems to be the most popular, however, and for good reason.

The deck is perfect for warm summer nights and cooler Atlanta fall evenings.  Half covered and half-open, customers can choose which side of the tree they would like to sit, and yes, there is a giant tree growing out of the middle of the structure.

Trees in Africa.

Trees in Africa.

Sitting inside is cozy as the eye catches decoration of traditional tapestries and cultural paintings.  The owners have expanded within the last year to an upstairs to host parties in a romantic setting.

Desta is a frequent trip for us, so my family has, over the years, tried everything on the menu at least once–I’ll have one of everything, please.

Our usual is the Veggie Platter, and it’s what I recommend if you are new to the Ethiopian food phenomenon.  The veggies allow you to try some of the country’s most popular dishes in small amounts, so if you don’t like something, it’s not a waste.  Try one, try all, the veggies will not disappoint.

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Being lentil-based, most of the samples are of either a lentil or a bean and prepared with Ethiopian spices with the most famous of them being berbere–a red curry-type spice.  Though they vary in spice, none of the dollops are highly spiced as most of Ethiopian cuisine is fairly bland.

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The main culprit to deliciousness, berebere.

If you are a meat eater, the rest of my family would advocate that you order the Goden Tibs, grilled prime short ribs garnished with rosemary.  Being vegetarian, I wouldn’t know, but the rest of the family insists that the beef be placed next to my veggies, and when the still-sizzling pan is brought to our table, mom and dad drool as they lightly drum their hands on the table in anticipation.

Sizzling goden tibs, mixed with grilled tomatoes and jalapeños.

Sizzling goden tibs, mixed with grilled tomatoes and jalapeños.

If not in the sharing mood, I usually order a plate of fish tibs.  They sound like a plateful of processed fish sticks battered in bread crumbs, but, believe me, these are grilled pieces of white fish that have been lightly spiced and doused in fresh lemon juice–perfect for a spring and summer evening meal.  The best part about ordering fish tibs?  You get to choose a savory veggie for a side.

Fish tibs mixed in a llight lemon toss.

Fish tibs mixed in a llight lemon toss.

 

I always order the miser, a spicy red lentil that has been simmered in the famous berbere spice.  I could eat miser every day of my life for three meals a day; given the chance, I would gladly take on the challenge.

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A bowl of heaven with injera and Ethiopian cottage cheese, a popular accompaniment.

But of course, Ethiopian food wouldn’t be truly itself without the accompanying injera bread used as proper utensils.  I may never use a fork and knife again; not even my favorite pair of chopsticks can compare to–Ethiopians had it right when it came to inventing utensils. Why doesn’t everyone use some that you can also munch–less dishes and an extra junk drawer in the kitchen? Made from teff flour, plentiful in Ethiopia, the light and spongy sourdough is used to pick up pieces of the meal to add yet another flavor.

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My favorite part of the meal is cleaning up the last of the sauce or veggie with the drenched injera.  It’s the perfect mixing of all the flavors.

Mom always orders the popular honey wine, known as Mead, which is a drink of fermented honey that she describes as sweet and desserty.

The best part of Desta?  The scent will stay on your fingers for the rest of the evening, reminding you throughout the night that you’ll want to go through the experience all over again.

Desta has repeatedly been voted as one of Atlanta’s best ethnic restaurants and has remained one of the most popular of the Atlanta Ethiopian phenomenon.

Going home for the summer, I already know that this will be my first meal home.

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Da Vinci’s Critic

After a rough evening for the girls in the suite, we all decided to treat ourselves with a visit to Italy–well, I guess the next best thing to a road trip.  Only one of us had previously paid a visit to this next restaurant and she insisted that we HAD to go there; her pushiness came with good reason.

The entrance and patio of Da Vinci’s Table leads the way to a stone archway into the restaurant, which is very inviting.

The restaurant isn’t big; in fact, it’s almost not cozily tight.  However, the dimly lit main room decorated with strings of lanterns and well-placed Christmas lights (I’m a stickler in how they are placed, but these were nicely put), gave a really cozy atmosphere that will bring me back again.

da vincis inside

The four of us sat at the front of the restaurant, surrounded by several families and a birthday party, hosting about ten people, indicating community popularity (always a good sign).  The seating area is properly divided from the entrance by a wooden divide so that the door can be seen, but customers feel that they are placed away from the outside elements–more important than you’d think.

We started with the rustic bruschetta and who knew that ciabatta topped with spiced olive oil and marinated diced tomatoes could be so delicious? My life was forever changed.  In fact, they were so delicious that the six slices we ordered were not enough for the four of us and so another six were ordered–our lives changed for the second time that night.

The heavenly bruschetta, currently being savored again at the moment.

The heavenly bruschetta, currently being savored again at the moment.

Two of the girls ordered the cheese ravioli as one of them directly said, “I just want bread with as much cheese as you can stuff in there.”  The waitress commended her on her choice, and the chefs seemed to make the bread as cheesy as they possibly could. Previously complaining about how neither of them had eaten all day and should probably order two dishes (after the two servings of bruschetta), both of them couldn’t finish just the one ordered plateful.  With their arms holding their stomachs as they comfortably leaned back in their cushioned chairs, both sighed with satisfactory smiles adorning their faces.

Cheesy cheesy cheesy

Cheesy cheesy cheesy

My roommate ordered the Alfredo Fettuccine topped with blackened chicken and was equally satisfied, even asking the waitress for a to-go box–something not usually done with this girl.

I’m a pescetarian and a bit of a health nut, however, so I need lots of menu choices.  For me, there were very few.  I have been to thousands of Italian restaurants (exaggerated, but you get the point), and I am usually able to find something that will make me full but not bloated from the excessive amount of cheese and bread.  The other girls may have liked all the milk fat and gluten, but my stomach–and my soul–can stand very little.  I ordered the house salad topped with grilled shrimp–I know, how exciting.  It was as good as a house salad can be, but nothing particularly special, and the shrimp was as good as grilled shrimp can be. I enjoyed it, but I was not in love, that’s for sure.

The restaurant is great for any outing.  They do advertise it as “American-Italian,” so the food is not going to be anything extravagant.  If you’re on a search for the new Italian dish, whatever it may be, that has been recently imported from beautiful Naples, don’t expect to find it here.  If you are looking for some over-priced ravioli to share with friends, though, then you’re in luck.

The food is good, not great, well, except for that bruschetta–I could go for some of that right now.

Hmm, that gives me an idea.

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Here’s what we started.

I’ve always been writing.  I’ve always loved it, but I don’t usually share.  My journals were never locked but were heavily guarded under my pillow and held onto like a teddy bear. It was no secret that if touched, one ran the risk of being bitten by little baby piranha (me).

I’ve always loved food; it’s always been my favorite after-school activity, and the yearly school ‘About Me’ poster asking me what my favorite school subject was stated that ‘lunch’ was what I planned to study.  At age five, my dream job was to be the head chef of McDonald’s with the goal of making the food healthier.

Really?

Yes, really.

Restaurant outings with mom and dad’s fancy friends who found the kids’ menu unacceptable were always a treat. My favorite meal was “mussels in a white wine simmer”–said just like that–and handing the menu back to the waiter only to see his shocked face was always the evening’s best entertainment.  Mom and dad had never been more proud and little baby Oly was little baby food critic.

That’s where the fancy taste began, I guess.

I continue to love food whether it’s ethnic, health-oriented, or fancy schmancy.  I love writing.  I love talking about food.  A food blog is the way to go in solving my life question of how I can combine these loves

Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta:  organic, vegan, favorite.

Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta: organic, vegan, favorite.

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Family trips to Poland (the homeland) included treks to cafes in search of the best paczek (Polish doughnut).

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The 18th birthday cake of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries…never a huge fan of cake, I guess.

Other journals may still be hidden under pillows–shh, it’s a secret–but this one needs to be shared.

Travels, food, writing…here’s what we started.

Warning: Taste Buds’ Hearts will be Stolen

From the plaza, Simply Thai doesn’t look like much. It might as well be just another Asian fusion restaurant next to another bar (Simply Thai shares the plaza with Fat Frogg Bar and Grill).

But when my good guy friend opened the door for me and one of my best girl friends, we all three looked at one another in awe. Dimly lit, the restaurant sways a silky red curtain between the two rooms within it, creating a romantically beautiful ambience. I could not have imagined a more perfect image of what I want when I go out for fancy Thai food.

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Feeling out of place in our shorts and comfortable t-shirts among the golden Thai Buddhas adorning the bar counter, we sat outside on the patio. The three of us, being Thai food lovers, carried high expectations; with the beautiful display inside, we were already impressed.

The waitress was average in friendliness, but because of the company we gave each other, none of us really minded.

Bekah went for the Dragon Roll, a delicacy of tempura shrimp, cucumber, and crab salad, topped with eel, spicy sauce, and avocado, while Nick and I both ordered the Simply Thai Lemongrass dish: his with chicken and mine with tofu (a vegetarian life for me). Nicely spiced with an emphasis on herbs rather than spices, I was pleasantly impressed.

Avocado adorns a rice roll of eel and tempura shrimp.

Avocado adorns a rice roll of eel and tempura shrimp.

 

We ended the evening with the popular Thai dessert of Mango Sticky Rice, a sliced mango atop a bit of sticky rice and drizzled with warmed and sweetened coconut milk. The display of all four of our dishes was exquisite.

Tropical Mango and light sweetened condensed milk...who needs cake?

Tropical Mango and light sweetened condensed milk…who needs cake?

If looking for a date night, definitely sit inside, but if with a group of friends, the casual patio sitting will be enough to bring anyone back.

I know the three of us will be.

 

Taaza Indian Bistro: Not Quite the Bistro

Inconspicuously placed on the same plaza as Biscuitville and O’Charley’s, one would never guess that hidden within is a burst of Indian culture in the heart of Burlington, North Carolina. As an Indian Food Connoisseur with a thirteen-year obsession with Palak Paneer (a curry with farmer’s cheese and peas), I have high expectations when entering the subcontinent’s microcosm.

If one is looking for a bazaar-filled bistro with an ambience that makes one feel like like being on the subcontinent, look past Taaza. The simple setting is set up as cafeteria-style dining, and I have to say, I almost left. I do not want to eat my last meal with my mom in a cafeteria—a café, sure, but not a cafeteria. I have enough of cafeterias, though, during the school year when mom isn’t around to pay for a real meal.

Seeing the snarky look on my face, mom told me to sit and smile politely, but when the waitress gave us plates to serve ourselves at a buffet—buffet style—another wave of wanting to leave crashed on me. There is just something about buffets that turns me off; I think it might be the conspicuous amount of food that has been sitting under a heat lamp for who knows how long. Another motherly glare sat me back down in my booth, but I still asked, desperately, if any menus were available.

Thank god they were.
Once the initial trauma of having to eat at a buffet left my terrified mind,we both ordered mango lassis, a mango and yogurt drink that is both refreshing and a semi-healthy–almost–dessert drink. Though more sugary that usually, the drink did hit the spot in my cravings for something sweet.

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For dinner, I ordered the Shrimp Curry and mom ordered the Plain Rava Dosa with extra spice, and they were both absolutely delicious. The curry was nicely spiced without an overwhelmingly amount of spice that masks the flavor, yet it was spicy enough to take me on a cheap trip to India. Mom had a mini-freakout when she ripped off the first piece of her dosa and realized how crispy the dough was—I think we may have frightened the waitress several times that evening.

Crispy dosas are really exciting, okay?

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Though the ambience made me put on my snide-face—one I later realized does not make a good impression—the food put a wide smile on my face and further enhanced my love for Indian food.

If you are looking for a romantic date-night restaurant, you may want to venture elsewhere, but if you want to enjoy a date with friends—or family—who want to explore or have already begun to share your love for the curry and dosas, Taaza is a great choice for semi-authentic Indian cuisine.

And, when you go, be sure to try the Indian doughnuts; you’ll never try another Krispy Kreme again.

Gulab jamun are a sweet way to end the spice with a bit of thickened milk and a lot of rose-scented syrup--the gourmet doughnut.

Gulab jamun are a sweet way to end the spice with a bit of thickened milk and a lot of rose-scented syrup–the gourmet doughnut.

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