Friday, September 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: Flip Burger Boutique

When I was a kid, going out for good hamburgers meant driving down to Crestwood Boulevard and going to Hamburger Heaven, where I'd emulate the characters in (almost ashamed to admit this) my favorite comic series Archie and get a cheeseburger, fries, and shake. I called that the Comic Book Combo.

Now Richard Blais has elevated the Comic Book Combo to almost ridiculous heights with Flip Burger Boutique. I say almost because the restaurant and menu skate the line between creative and ridiculous with a wink.

The building itself looks like a converted diner, complete with patio. Inside, there's another wink with the colors, which are fast-food reminiscent reddish-orange balanced with elegant-modern white. The bar has mirrors in heavy white frames with two flat-screen t.v.'s in the same frames that play music videos. Unfortunately, the music on the screen does not match what's on overhead, which annoys me. Seriously, what's the point?

Here's how my first visit went:

We arrive at 8:00, just a few minutes ahead of the beginning of the rest of our party. It's a going-away dinner for one of Hubby's friends, who is leaving next week for a contract position in Ohio. Our party gradually trickles in and ends up being a whopping fourteen people. I nurse a 5 Alive, which is a potent antioxidant combo in a glass. I don't remember what's in it besides cranberry and grapefruit juices, but it tastes like a grapefruit screwdriver. One of our friends gets a Ginger Margarita, the first of many for him, and it prompts a discussion of what's more (or less) manly: an Appletini, or a Ginger Margarita? Our friend doesn't care.

I'm looking around thinking, "There's no way we're going to get a table," and, indeed, we get two of the "cubes" on the left wall. The recessed tables in white plastic-upholstered cubes (adult play center, anyone? wink, wink) supposedly seat ten. We can get seven in comfortably, which works out for us in spite of having mostly long-legged people.

We had all had (liquid) appetizers at the bar, so we order meal drinks and burgers. One of the nice things about being in a large party, unintentional footsie games notwithstanding, is that we should have a variety of things to try, at least until three of the seven at our table order the Butcher's Cut, which has caramelized onions, blue cheese, and red wine jam. After trying it, I can see why it's a popular burger: lots of savory flavor with a little bit of sweetness.

One of the guys at our table is a former line cook, and another one is a former chef. Both get the Steak Tartare burger. If you're not familiar with Steak Tartare, that infamous dish that lurks to surprise and dismay unsuspecting American tourists in Europe, it's raw meat finely chopped and seasoned, in this case with garlic, chili, capers, and Worcestershire. It comes topped with pickled onion and frisée salad, and smoked mayo. I try a bite, and the capers make it along with other smoky and bright flavors. It doesn't taste like raw meat, and it's obvious that the ingredients are all fresh and of top quality.

Hubby is a fish freak and gets the Tuna Burger, spicy yellow fin tuna topped with pickled ginger, smoked mayo, and Vietnamese herb salad. The tuna isn't really spicy, which is fine with me. It's a good choice for a burger because the tuna used is meaty, and the marinade highlights that aspect of it.

The "Burger of Today" is a Korean BBQ burger: meat and meat! All the right flavors on a bun without the menu in two languages and the "did I really eat all that?" feeling at the end. It comes topped with a US kobe short rib, Kimchee ketchup, shredded cabbage, pickled cucumber, onion, and radish salad. Okay, maybe I do get the "did I really eat all that?" feeling at the end in spite of trading bites.

One of the others in the party gets the Farm Burger, but she doesn't share. She and I do, however, split a Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow Liquid N2 Milkshake. It's not overly sweet, and in spite of not really liking marshmallows, I find myself dunking the burnt marshmallows into the milkshake to get that one-two punch of hazelnut-chocolate and gooey sweetness. Hubby observes us eating/drinking them and comments to my friend's husband that he knows that look on a woman's face, and it means that she's not going to need sex for two months. My friend and I agree that we may need to go outside for a cigarette after we finish them.

No Comic Book Combo would be complete without sides. No one at the table gets the fries because when we ask what's special about them the server says they're hand-cut and not frozen. Sounds good to me, but everyone but me goes for the Vodka-Battered Onion Rings with Beer Honey Mustard because of the two magic words: vodka and beer. I order the Tempura Fried Okra, which comes with Sriracha Ranch. The onion rings are tasty, but not overly impressive. The okra is fresh, but the tempura itself is a little oily, and one bite of the Sriracha Ranch sets my mouth on fire. There's the spice for those who need it.

The wine list is short, but it has a good variety. I drink a glass of the Bianchi Malbec, which is a fruit bomb with blackberry/blueberry nose but ends up being a little green until it opens, and then it still has a white pepper kick on the end.

For such a specialty restaurant, Flip has a great range of flavors and things to try. Also, almost everything on the menu is less than ten dollars, although sides come a la carte and are not included with burger prices. Cocktails can be right around ten bucks as well.

So that brings us to the final question: what would Archie and the gang think? Well, just like the combo of Archie and Veronica, who are now married, by the way, Flip has reasonable prices for those who may have champagne tastes but who are on a beer budget. They even have a Comic Book Combo, which they call the Lunch Combo: burger, fries, and milkshake (Foie Gras extra) for $12. Yep, it's a good place for us grown-up kids.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Medium noise level, decor as described above, dark lighting
Food: Very Good to Excellent
Wine list: Good
Wait staff: Very Good; handled our large party of grown-up kids (and there was no doubt of that!) very well
Desserts: Milkshakes! Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Limited
Kid friendly? Maybe, but would stick with older kids. Like us.
Would I go back? Yes

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tasting Notes: Macedonian Wines & Restaurant Review: Saba

If you'll pardon a little whining... I got sideswiped this evening while driving home on Clairmont just north of Buford Hwy (where the QT is). I was going south in the left lane, and suddenly, WHAM! I was knocked partly into the center turn lane. The other driver and I turned off into the parking lot of a chiropractor, who, surprisingly, did not immediately run out and offer assistance (they were closed). So now my back and neck are sore, and luckily I've got some good stuff left from my surgery. I'll be seeing my own chiropractor tomorrow. If anyone happened to see a gold Honda Civic get bumped by a large green truck in the location described above at around 7-7:15 this evening, I'd love it if you'd contact me: cecilia(AT) The other driver swore he was "going straight in his lane." I don't think so, not if he knocked me out of mine.

Okay, on to the fun stuff...

I follow Hudson Rouse of Two Friends Import Company on Twitter (@2FriendsImports), and he was kind enough to come introduce himself to us when I was in the blogger's tent at the Decatur Book Festival. I've been curious about the Macedonian wines he distributes (if I recall correctly, his business partner and best friend is Macedonian). He poured three last night at a tasting at Saba in Oakhurst. All three came from the Popova Kula winery, and all are the 2005 vintage. One thing that we noticed was that the nose was always harsher than the wine itself and mellowed out with swirling.

1) Vranec, a native grape varietal that should make Pinot Noir fans happy
Bright fruit/sharp cherry nose; smooth cran-cherry with a light butter finish
Rating: Very Good

2) Merlot:
Clove, cedar, and dark fruit nose; dark cherry and tobacco, dry with a mildly spicy finish. I thought it was really interesting and complex. Macedonia was outside of the area of the phylloxera epidemic, so these are non-cloned Merlot grapes.
Rating: Very Good

3) Cabernet Sauvignon:
Blackberry nose; dark fruit, and not really oaky; less complex than the Merlot, but would probably go really well with food
Rating: Good

To be fair, Hubby and I disagreed on the last two. He liked the Cab better.

We stayed for dinner after the tasting. No, I don't turn my nose up at reviewing places that could be considered chains because every restaurant has its strengths and weaknesses.

Saba in Oakhurst, unlike the now dead and departed one in downtown Decatur, has full table service. The mixed green salads are, as advertised, mixed greens tossed with an orange vinaigrette that balances out the bitterness of some of the greens. Hubby had the spaghetti and meatballs. I had a bite and was surprised by the amount of fennel flavor in the meatballs. I had the special Chicken Parmesan, and although the chicken itself was a little overcooked, the cheese used tasted like it had a good measure of Parmesan and not just some sprinkled over Mozzarella. The generous chicken breast was served with spaghetti and marinara sauce, and the pasta was cooked to "just right" al dente. We each had a glass of Da Vinci Chianti, which is a good Chianti with enough acidity to stand up to food, but not enough to put in batteries like some table wines. We finished with the chocolate chip Cannoli, two small crispy shells with Italian cream and chocolate ships, and Red Velvet Cake. Both desserts were finished and were good representations of their respective dessert genres (yeah, sorry, I've been doing a lot of writing lately).

Score card:
Atmosphere: Cozy; pretty much the same layout as the space's previous incarnations (Oakhurst Grill, Calavino's), but darker
Food: Good to Very Good
Wine list: Good -- has something for every taste
Wait staff: Very Good
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Yes
Kid friendly? Probably
Would I go back? Yes

So, thanks, Hudson, for doing the tasting and for introducing me to wine from a region I was not familiar with! I'll definitely seek out Macedonian wines in the future.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tasting Notes: Freedom, thy name is Tempranillo

I've got a confession to make. Next to Zinfandel, Tempranillo may just be my favorite grape. Consequently, I was really ready to enjoy this past Thursday's tasting at JavaMonkey, for that reason and because I hadn't been out of the house all day.

The wines are all 100% Tempranillo and come from Spain, so I'll just list names and regions:

2007 Campos Reales (La Mancha):
This one has been a favorite in the past, so I'm wondering if this vintage may not be quite as good as previous ones. The nose is buttery and a little musky, and it opens up to blackberry. It is light to medium-bodied with a lot of cranberry and a little pomegranate. Someone designated it as "Ocean Spray [juice]" wine.
Rating: Good
Note: According to my blog archives, I reviewed the 2008 Campos Reales in April. It was bigger, fruitier, and more complex than this 2007. So, if you're looking for a good, basic Tempranillo, go for the 2008.

2006 Sierra Cantabria (Rioja):
Although it's from Rioja, it's not a Crianza. Blue/blackberry nose, and the middle has a nice structure from the oak. The problem with this one is the major pepper kick at the end that someone described as "caustic."
Rating: Good

2007 Emilio Moro Finco Resalso (Ribera del Duoro):
Dark fruit with a little toasted almond on the nose. Sour cherry and currant with a silky texture that again went a little rough on the finish. A second tasting later revealed that it had smoothed out, so just let it open.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2005 Urban Ribera (Ribera del Duero):
Can tell on the nose that this will be a "hot" one with 14.5% alcohol. The dominant flavor is blueberry. Someone designated it as "blueberry pie," but I didn't get enough butter for that.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Codice Tinto (Vino de la Tierra de Castilla):
This one has a hot nose, too, but it smoothed out with some good swirling. In addition to its dark fruit, it has some clove, spice, and a little butter. This medium-bodied wine could have come earlier in the tasting.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Venta Mazzaron (Tierra del Vino de Zamora):
With its smoky nose and bacon overtones on the palate, this was the table favorite. The combination of fruit and smoke made me want to pair it with a Belgian entree, maybe cherries and meatballs (yes, that's a real Belgian dish).
Rating: Very Good

Random Thoughts:
A trio of Emory students came to the previous wine tasting, Blends, armed with camera and notepads to do a feature for the student paper. The next to the last paragraph cracked me up:

Although the relaxed venue was enjoyable, wine aficionados may not want to head to JavaMonkey. A fellow taster sitting next to me was rather pretentiously swirling and sniffing his wines, a behavior that may be common at many wine tastings, but which seemed out of place at this one.

Don't worry, wine aficionados, you can come sit with us. We sip and swirl non-pretentiously.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Girls just wanna have lunch

I had a minor medical procedure last Friday, which has dampened my wine drinking a little, so I've been recovering at home this week. My mom came on Sunday to help take care of me as well as so Hubby would catch a break with cooking and housework during a crazy work week for him.

On Tuesday, I was finally ready to venture out of the the house, so we went to lunch at Duck's Cosmic Kitchen. This was a place I'd driven by frequently and had seen the sign for, but hadn't tried until Hubby and I recently stopped in for a quick breakfast. The menu, although short, has a good variety of "bistro fare" including sandwiches, pizzas, and "small plates." They also have a different soup daily as well as other specials. Mom got the special sandwich, which had raw vegetables and hummus. She deemed it to be very good. I had the California pizza, which has chicken, mozzarella, garlic, avocado, and tomatoes as well as tomato sauce. I thought the presentation of the avocado, one long slice per quarter-slice of pizza, was a little odd, but the flavors worked well together. I also had a "Cosmic Side Salad" with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, dried cherries, blue cheese, and vinaigrette. I thought it was a good bistro-style salad, and the mix of textures and balance of flavors were just right.

Duck's does have a short beer and wine list. The reds are heavily weighted toward California, but the whites show more variety, and they even offer a rose and small bottles of sparkling. Even better, they suggest food pairings for the wine.

Dessert looked wonderful, especially the bittersweet chocolate pie, but alas, that will have to wait for another time. We did bring home a donut for Hubby to have for breakfast the next morning, and he was very happy. I've had the chocolate chip and walnut scone, and it was fresh-baked and really good.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Nice and casual; maybe a little too casual for a business lunch
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Limited, but not bad
Wait staff: Excellent, very warm but not hovering
Desserts: Look very promising
Vegetarian friendly? Yes
Kid friendly? Maybe? It is Decatur, after all.
Would I go back? Definitely!

When Mom's in town, shopping is definitely on the to-do list, so yesterday we ventured to Perimeter Mall and Nordstrom to check out boots. I would prefer to not shop in a high-end department store, but I wear a 10 1/2, and that's the only place I've consistently found cute shoes in my size. I had heard good things about the Nordstrom Cafe on the third floor, so we went there for lunch.

The cafe is set up cafeteria-style with sandwich/panini, salad, and "special" sections. They also offer pizza, pasta, and desserts. They have Roma Tomato Basil Soup daily as well as a soup special. I had the Chicken Mozzarella Ciabatta, which has thinly sliced grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, balsamic glaze, spinach, and pesto aioli served on a parmesan ciabatta with chips. I also got a cup of the Roma Tomato Basil soup. The sandwich was very good once I distributed the meat from where it was concentrated in the middle to the whole sandwich. I didn't really taste the balsamic glaze, but everything else tasted fresh. The soup was a little creamy, but the tomato flavor was not overpowered, and it had a nice texture, like thick tomato sauce. I also liked the parmesan cheese toast that came with it.

Mom had the Blue Cheese & Pear Salad in an attempt to be healthy. Overall, it was good, although the dressing and the candied walnuts likely sabotaged her efforts. Also, the pears looked and tasted like apples. That's not a switch I would have expected, at least not without notification.

Dessert was, sad to say, disappointing. We split a Tiramisu, and it was not what we expected. If there was any amaretto at all, it was a tiny layer on the bottom. The creamy part was very sweet and tasted like vanilla pudding rather than mascarpone cheese. I had been worried about sharing a dessert with my mother because it has been known to lead to a battle for the last bite, but we each ended up taking a couple of bites and leaving the rest. That, my friends, qualifies as an epic dessert FAIL.

The other thing to know about Cafe Norstrom is that they have wait staff to help clear the tables, refill water, and bring to-go boxes. They will leave a little tray at the end with a couple of chocolate mint sticks so that you'll leave them a tip. There's no chance to do so ahead of time, even if you pay with a credit card.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Somewhat noisy
Food: Good, but watch out for sneaky substitutions
Wine list: Tiny
Wait staff: Good, attentive
Desserts: The Tiramisu was meh; the cake pieces look huge, but I'm wary now
Vegetarian friendly? Somewhat
Kid friendly? Yes
Would I go back? Maybe

Random note with intuitive ramble: The inspiration for the title of this blog post is from Weird Al Yankovic's 1985 album "Dare to be Stupid," on which he parodied Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Yes, I have the Weird Al album. My karaoke buddy Ms. Vegetarian and I did "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" to much acclaim one evening. Another song that was received well was Peter, Paul, and Mary's "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Mary Travers died yesterday at age 72 from leukemia. She will be missed, and I'm grateful to my parents for exposing me and BabySis to the music from their generation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tasting Notes: JavaMonkey Thursday Wine Series -- Blends

Last Thursday's wine tasting focused on blends of different grapes. I tend to like blends because they show the winemaker's creativity and style. It's like some magical alchemy, wherein the different grapes somehow keep their characteristics and become something more. Here are the wines:

2008 Côté Est, (Côtes Catalanes, Fr):
60% Grenache Blanc and Gris, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Marsanne
This one has a very floral nose that carried to the roof of my mouth on the first sip. It also had Meyer lemon, acidic but not harsh. Of note, it's imported by Eric Solomon. I had a chance to sip on this one for an hour while I waited for Hubby to arrive and was pleased that the floral and lemon smoothed out.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Kamiak Cellar Select White (Columbia Valley, WA):
60% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, and 5% Late Harvest Gewurztraminer
Mineral lime nose, but this "dense" wine (as Hubby called it) had flavors of caramelized sugar and melon. It was almost a dessert wine, but just as easily could pair with spicy food.
Rating: Very Good

2005 Tenuta Rapitalà Nuhar (Sicilia, It):
78% Nero d'Avola, 22% Pinot Nero
The nose, which promised dark cherry, teased because it fell flat on the palate. There was some spice and a bit of fruit on the edges. I heard comments that it tasted much better with cheese. The web site is funny for its tropical backgrounds and pictures of a serious-looking guy in a linen suit.
Rating: Good

2006 Château Saint-Sulpice (Bordeaux, Fr):
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc
The nose on this one had a little funky earthiness over the fruit, which had sharp acidity and currant/berry flavors.
Rating: Good

2007 La Posta Cocina Blend (Mendoza, Argentina):
60% Malbec, 20% Bonarda, and 20% Syrah
Blackberry nose, and the wine itself is a fruit bomb (but in a good way) with blackberry and blueberry. Very smooth and drinkable, this one was the favorite of the evening.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Luzón (Jumilla, Spain):
70% Monastrell, 30% Syrah
Synthetic vanilla nose, big with dark fruit, cedar, butterscotch, and licorice.
Rating: Good

Belated Tasting Notes: Old vs. New World Wines at JavaMonkey

I was out of town for the August 20 wine tasting at JavaMonkey, so fellow oenophile Dan Browning took some notes for me. Hubby and I met Dan and his lovely wife Kirsten at a Feast wine dinner, and we're very happy to count them among our friends, especially with this shared interest. Dan did send me his notes almost immediately, so it's my fault that these notes are a little late. Thanks, Dan, for doing such a great job!

Here are Dan's notes:

Today I'm serving as substitute blogger for my good friend Cecilia Dominic the Random Oenophile, who decided to go chase tropical storms for her vacation. She will be cross-posting this entry on her blog, which you should read anyway because of its wealth of wine and food info. She usually recounts the fine bi-weekly wine tastings at one of our mutual favorite joints, JavaMonkey in Decatur, as well as her other oenophilic and gastronomic adventures. If you haven't been there, I strongly encourage you to go check it out – great wines and beer, excellent food, and oh yes, fine Free Trade coffee by the cup or by the pound.

Anyway, on to the wines. This week's tasting was billed as an “Old World v. New World” matchup, but of course Jess (the proprietor of said JavaMonkey) wanted to throw in a wrinkle, so the tasting was essentially a blind one, with the exception of identifying the predominant varietals of each wine. That is, we got a sheet with the six wines listed, two chardonnays, two sangioveses, and two syrahs, but that was it. We were left to deduce which wine was from the Old World (which, by the rules of the tasting, pretty much meant Europe) and which was from the New World.

Our first pairing was the aforementioned chardonnays. Chardonnay #1 was grassy, perhaps slightly vegetal (but in a good way – maybe a hint of green pepper?), with some overtones of pink grapefruit, a little lemony also, and it had some funkiness (again in a good way) and a nice long finish. This one was a double thumbs-up from all tasters with whom I spoke, and was one of my faves. I guessed this as an Old World (hereinafter OW v. NW).

Chardonnay #2 had more of a green apple flavor up front (thanks to Kurt for identifying the correct apple varietal). It definitely showed some oak barrel aging (unlike Chard #1), and had a slightly shorter finish than #1. It was also a bit sweet, almost a candy apple flavor but not quite that sweet. It was good, but the other Chard was my preference. I guessed NW.

Sangiovese #1 was a light to medium bodied red, very smooth, with a slightly tart flavor – sour cherries was the best description I could come up with. It had some “legs” - for the uninitiated, “legs” refer to the coating trickles left on the inside of the glass after swirling the wine up the sides of the glass. The viscosity of the wine thus observed is a rough measure of its alcohol content (or ABV), i.e., the longer the legs, the higher the alcohol content. As a general rule, OW wines are lower ABV than NW wines. My guess here was OW.

Sangiovese #2 was darker, very big and punch on the nose with more legs. It was a little “hot” (in terms of ABV, not just temperature, although I could have done with having the reds served closer to “cellar temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit). It was chewy and sticky, definitely peppery, with more of a dark cherry flavor. I picked up some tannins (but not too many); others noted a hint of anise. I guessed NW.

Syrah #1 was a little hot on the front of my tongue, and it was hard at first for me to pick out any distinct flavors as the high ABV smacked me upside the palate at the beginning. I eventually settled on “dark berries” as the flavor-in-chief, with some chocolaty aspects as well. There was definitely a lot going on with this wine, although it was just a bit too fruit-forward and high intensity for my tastes – I'm guessing, however, that this would have been Cecilia's favorite of the evening. I guessed NW.

Syrah #2 was perhaps my favorite wine of the evening. It was dark and slightly sweet, with big legs, but not quite as in-your-face as #1. I got some dark berries again – but that's characteristic of the varietal – maybe blackberries in this one, or perhaps blueberries also. There were also some tannins and a little minerality, but not so much as to overwhelm the other flavors. I also got a hint of anise on the sides of my tongue as I tasted this one. I guessed OW.

Now for the revealing of the hidden truths. First, I must pat myself on the back for going 6 for 6 on the OW v. NW identifications (not that they were particularly difficult). Here's the full lineup:

Chardonnay #1 was Verget Macon-Villages 2007, Burgundy (France)
Chardonnay #2 was Mark West Central Coast (California) 2008
Sangiovese #1 was Stella 2007 from Puglia, Italy
Sangiovese #2 was Niner 2006 from Paso Robles, California
Syrah #1 was Clos LaChance Black-Chinned Syrah 2006, from California's Central Coast
Syrah #2 was Saint Cosme 2008, Cotes-du-Rhone (France)

I hadn't thought about this until now as I was looking over the lineup, but Jess (and Joe, wine rep from Prestige Wines, who is always a fine source of knowledge) chose all of their New World wines from one specific region, the Central Coast of California (Paso Robles is pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the Central Coast). Very sneaky of them...

That's my report from the wine tasting. Thanks to CD for allowing me to fill in for her in her absence. And thanks to you readers for letting my indulge this diversion into another of my life's passions. Salut!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dangerous Magic in Two... One...

Before I get to posting seriously, I'd like to thank Dave Kell of the inDecatur blog (see "Favorite Blogs" for a link) for organizing and putting together the Decatur Bloggers' tent at the Decatur Book Festival. It's fun to meet other Decatur bloggers and to have the opportunity to talk to people about the Random Oenophile blog. I spent an hour there today (Saturday) and will be there from 3:00-4:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Normally I hate August. It's hot. It's humid. It lasts forever. But one redeeming quality of the month is that it's restaurant week somewhere in Atlanta. Just as the various restaurant events work their magic to take our minds off of the misery of August, I couldn't help but notice how the Concentrics designers combined elements to create effects that ranged from sleight of hand to grand illusion. Not that that's a bad thing; for me, eating out should be an escape from reality beyond just not having to cook or do dishes.

Concentrics Restaurant Week brought me and Hubby to Two Urban Licks. The hostess desk is back-lit or surround-lit or, well, you get the idea, in lurid red. I'm not sure of the effect they're going for, but it makes me a little nervous, like I'm being purified under red light by the trendy patrol. Once we make it past that point, it's much easier to relax, especially when walking around the open kitchen in the center of the room, where chef Cameron Thompson surveys his domain. We're shown to a booth along the wall, and our very friendly server appears almost immediately to take cocktail orders. Although we're there for restaurant week, and they're not part of the prix fixe, we can't resist the Salmon Chips, or smoked salmon, capers, and red onions served on large potato chips:

It's the first fun surprise of the evening in that I think I was expecting chips made out of salmon, and this feels somehow elegant and decadent at the same time, like a grown-up play on the "fish and chips" concept. But that's the fun and magic of Two Urban Licks: the exaggeration. Everything in the restaurant combines to make you feel small and big at the same time. For example, there are large flower sculptures on the wall that could be Shirley Franklin accessories, but the view off the patio is a gorgeous one of the Atlanta skyline. Entree portions are huge, as you can see from the Bistro Steak:

Oh, and did I mention that was just two thirds of it? I forgot to take a picture before starting to eat it. I got another two meals out of the tender meat and potatoes.

Dessert portions are more reasonable, as you can see with the Spicy Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with Espresso Ice Cream and Raspberry Sauce:

The "spiciness" of the cakes is sneaky in that it shows up on the side of my tongue and in my throat after I swallow the bite. At first I think I'm allergic to something in it, but once I figure it out, I'm kind of like a little kid: "Do it again!" I need the ice cream, which, unfortunately, is made with real espresso. It's not a nice surprise when I pop wide awake at 4:00 the following morning.

One interesting thing about Two Urban Licks is that they have a "wall of barrels," from which they serve the wine. I have the Steele Cabernet Franc (Lake County, California), which is a little rough until it opens up to its dark fruit, but the finish is gorgeous and long with the fruit fading into cedar and vanilla. It's a good pairing with the steak.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Intimate but open, medium-high noise level
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Interesting
Wait staff: Very Good to Excellent
Desserts: Stimulating (would like to go back to try the Nutella bread pudding)
Vegetarian friendly? Somewhat
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

Midtown Restaurant Week brought us to another Concentrics restaurant, One Midtown Kitchen. I'll admit, we were drawn by the special of the evening, Memphis-style barbecue ribs served with a watermelon-corn salad and fries. I'll go ahead and get the picture out of the way here:

If Two is a journey into a culinary wonderland, One is a smooth ride to the heart of a bustling urban restaurant. This time the light illuminating the valet circle is a cool blue, and inside beyond the heavy curtains is somewhat dark. It's kind of like the culinary version of Space Mountain. To continue the analogy, the atmosphere is busy almost to the point of being chaotic which contrasts to the attentive service, so I'll let you figure out the hospitality sleight-of-hand there. Again, it's not a negative reflection on the restaurant at all; I'm impressed that our server is able to stay warm and friendly in spite of a packed house and being constantly in motion aside from when she pauses at tables. She even corrects the mistake that another server made with my black fig salad with good efficiency.

The ribs themselves are very good. I thought that Memphis-style meant a dry rub, but these have a sauce that is tangy with a little bit of a kick, which is cooled by the watermelon-corn salad. The wine, the 2005 Rojo Grenache Tempranillo also balances them nicely with its raisin/concord grape nose and smooth palate with hints of berry. Yes, I have the warm chocolate torte with mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. Thankfully there's no insomnia this time.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Busy, medium-high noise level
Food: Very Good
Wine list: Good variety
Wait staff: Excellent
Desserts: Very Good
Vegetarian friendly? Somewhat
Kid friendly? No
Would I go back? Yes

The only complaint I have about both these restaurants is the noise level. It seems that more could be done to dampen the cacophony because it's not very conducive to an intimate date-night dinner. One is worse than Two in that respect; I found myself escaping to the bathroom to give my ears a break. It could have a little to do with how busy it was, but others have shared that opinion as well. I admit to some sadness as well that tonight was Trois', the third restaurant in the series, last one.

The bottom line is that if you're looking for an escape from reality with good food and wine, One Midtown Kitchen and Two Urban Licks are good options.

Good news! I now have a web site where you can learn more about me and even read some of my fiction.