First Taste: The Spence

June 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Spence
75 Fifth St. NW.
Atlanta, GA 30308

My first real interaction with Richard Blais’ newest restaurant, The Spence, was through a preview dinner of sorts at the end of August last year which I wrote about here.  After watching the opening date of this restaurant get pushed back time after time, perhaps The Spence was merely striving to encourage an element of suspense or perhaps it just took longer than expected to get all of the elements coordinated the way they intended.  Either way, it’s finally arrived to much hype and fanfare, and I was curious to see how the sophisticated yet whimsical comfort food theme stacks up to some of the other dining experiences in Atlanta.

click here to read more about whimsical comfort food at The Spence


Back in New Orleans: Commander’s Palace

May 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Commander’s Palace
1403 Washington Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70130

(504) 899-8221

I’ll spare you the history lesson as I’m sure either their website or wikipedia can do a more formal and precise job of it than myself, but suffice it to say that Commander’s Palace in New Orleans has been around since 1880 and has maintained a sterling reputation for service and quality throughout their history.  Considering how accustomed one is to seeing restaurants come and go, it’s amazing to think that there are a handful of restaurants in our country that have managed to hold steadfast to their reputation and stay true to their cuisine while managing to evolve just enough to stay relevant and win over new audiences.

As far as my own personal history with Commander’s Palace goes, it was a name in my household that was synonymous with decadence and luxury and was the name was thrown around in an almost joking manner whenever someone was looking for requests on where we should eat for any particular occasion.  I deduced from a childhood and then some of this banter that their food was both spectacular and expensive, and if I were to eat there it would indeed be quite a luxury.  As such, my curiosity developed over time and my first experience there actually lived up to my expectations from the impeccable service to the rich cuisine.

In my handful of pleasant experiences there, I have somehow always gone for their jazz brunch on Sunday and nearly always ordered a steak dish of some sort with turtle soup.  I remember fondly the different tender steaks I have had there with their marrow sauce or wine sauce or mushroom accoutrements and the ever-classic standard-setting rusty orange turtle soup with the perfect drizzle of sherry that really enhanced the complexity of flavors within.  I held steadfast to my love for Commander’s Palace and recommended it for the impeccable service, experience, and cuisine to many and would occasionally take guests there for a special New Orleans style experience that grew to become quite dear to me.  Unfortunately, it took one poor experience there a few years ago where the combination of errors in food execution and service left me distraught and uncomfortable to the point of embarrassed in front of my guest especially considering how much I had fondly talked about the place.  It’s sad how one bad experience somewhere can make you reluctant to go back, but it did.  There are entirely too many other restaurants worth trying to go back to some place when there is a fear that they will disappoint you–especially at a fairly high price tag.

As fate would have it, I was recently invited out to eat there for jazz brunch on Sunday while I was visiting home.  I was willing to put aside my previous negative experience to see if Commander’s Palace could live up to the fond memories and hold up to some of the great dining experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have in the past few years.

Click here to read more about Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace

Kanpai Cafe

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Kanpai Cafe
Taiwanese Grill Restaurant

3466 Holcomb Bridge Rd.
Norcross, GA 30092

(770) 840-8999

Writing about my experience in Taiwan and staring at many pictures of food has left me with the desire to seek out some authentic Taiwanese food in the Atlanta area.  It’s certainly not a style I’ve seen or noticed much in my experiences eating out, but it does exist.  Unfortunately, it often exists mixed in with other more approachable styles to cater to a wider audience.  A large part of what made the food in Taiwan and Japan so awesome was that many places only really focused on a handful of related items.  Their dedication and expertise established over time reflected in the quality of the product.  I was willing to set aside my general bias against large, scattered menus to see what I could find.

After a positive experience making my own Taiwanese beef noodle soup (niú ròu miàn/牛肉面) at home, I figured it would still be nice to try to find something nearby for those days when I don’t feel like simmering down broth and bones all day.


Click here to read more about Kanpai’s Taiwanese food in Atlanta

Wulai: Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Deep Fried Bees

February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the side ventures I was most excited about involved soaking in a hot spring as it was something I had never experienced before.  Not to mention after being held in cramped quarters on the flight over, walking around most of the time, and then having my muscles relentlessly worked through during one of the most intense 2 hour Thai massages that I’ll probably ever have, a desirable steaming soak to relax and ease tension was indeed in order.

There are a large variety of places to soak in hot springs in Taiwan and they even vary greatly in type from sulfuric volcanic springs to mud springs to sodium bicarbonate springs.  The type in Wulai (烏來區) that we visited are sodium bicarbonate which makes them one of the more odorless varieties.  The town of Wulai is also a great place to experience a bit of the local Taiwanese aboriginal or Atayal (泰雅) culture which is why we chose it as our destination.  While we went at the end of November, it is to be noted that in the spring, the area is alight with bright pink sakura blossoms as well which I’m sure adds to the beauty tenfold.

Traveling to Wulai from Taipei was fairly easy but it did take a bit of time to get into the town.  You can take the MRT green line all the way south to Xindian Station, and from there you can take a bus to Wulai.

This is the last you’ll see of the big city before departing the bus to Wulai.

Click here to read more about the food and sights of Wulai

Taipei Side Trip to Tamsui & Hunan Dinner

February 1, 2012 § 4 Comments

We took a ride on the MRT north on the red line to check out Tamsui (淡水) towards the end of the day.  Most of this MRT ride is above ground, so this long route to the northernmost point  gives you a great scenic overview of Taipei.  We found ourselves walking along a very long promenade along the water that was lined with food and carnival games and quickly becoming packed with people as the late afternoon gave way to evening since most people.  This place seems to be one of may refuges for those out looking for some fun at the end of their Monday.  Still full from all the eating we’d already done and knowing we only had another large dinner waiting for us, we could do little more than stare helplessly at the food available. There were tiny quail eggs grilled in little molds and skewered for easy transport, salted/pickled plums lacquered red with sugar like candy apples, beautifully grilled squids pressed flat on skewers, little bowls of fish balls swimming in broth, and promises of very large soft serve ice cream cones towering a foot tall in a variety of mystery pastel flavors.

Also, there were plenty of carnival games where you could win giant inflatable bottles and cans of beer along with other silly inflatables or fluffy animals.  There were plenty of machines packed down with piles of cute toys all in this box for you to try to win as well.

Click here for more of Tamusi & some delicious Hunan food

Taiwanese Breakfast: Youtiao, Shaobing, Soy Milk, Xiao Long Bao, & Taipei 101

January 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

After securing some coffee and green milk tea from a convenience store in the morning, we set off in search of a more traditional Taiwanese breakfast beyond the neighborhood we were staying.  It wasn’t long before we stumbled across one of the many places serving up some youtiao (油条), shaobing (燒餅), soy milk, and of course xiao long bao (小笼馒头).

Click here for more about Taiwanese breakfast & Taipei 101

Taipei: Serving Up Ramen and Their Very Own Lu Rou Fan

January 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite things about Taiwan is that not only does it have some dishes and food of its own that are delicious in their own right, it’s easy to find a large variety of authentic styles of cuisine due to the rich cultural blending over the course of its history.  There is an especially notable influence of Japanese culture from their 50 year rule over Taiwan, and the Japanese restaurants I tried there were easily as good as what I later experienced in Tokyo often at a fraction of the price.

I’m not entirely sure when my ramen cravings began.  I got the idea in my head at some point last year when the weather turned cold and my weekend Buford Highway explorations turned to the quest for “broth, broth, broth.”  Good luck finding really fantastic ramen in the states is all I have to say.  I managed to find a few places that have been reasonably good, but I knew they weren’t as great as they could be.  I became wildly curious about getting to try ramen on this trip especially after hearing there was excellent Japanese food to be found, and I suggested it just about every day.

Our host guided us to a place that he felt was the best nearby.  Rakumenya 樂麵屋 (7, Ln 10, Yongkang St, Taipei City (台北市大安區永康街10巷7號) is one of the more popular ramen places in the area and his food opinions so far had yet to lead me astray.

We saddled up to a busy bar while the noodle slingers and broth ladlers greeted us loudly in Japanese…sort of like the Moe’s burrito chain where they always call out a greeting in unison, only here they had something far more superior to offer than fast food burritos.

check out the menu with the pictures of perfectly styled ramen:

Click here to read more about delicious ramen and lu rou fan