January 29, 2010
The result: We were overwhelmingly impressed.
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January 27, 2010
January 21, 2010
Coincidentally, just weeks ago I participated in a focus group taste test of various proposed new fast food items. At that blind tasting I bit into 12 different items without ever learning which restaurant was proposing to sell them. I hope to never see any of those items on any menu anywhere. All were dreadful affronts to taste, health and common sense: For example, the world does not need a deep fried hamburger. (If I ever see any of those focus group products advertised, I will post a warning.) I was curious to see if any version of those items appeared on the new McDonald's menu. I am very happy to report that they do not.
For awhile now McDonald's has been serving coffee drinks under the McCafé banner. (It's easy to imagine what led to this: Some McDonald's corporate suits looked around, saw Starbucks' customer draw, and wanted a piece of the action.) Two new frappés join the lineup:
These frozen drinks—the McDonald's rep was careful never to compare them to a Starbucks frappuccino, but the inspiration was obvious—are available in chocolate and caramel flavors. Tasty? Yes, on the very sugary end of the sweetness spectrum. A splurge best consumed in moderation, a small in either flavor is 450 calories. (A McDonald's small chocolate shake is 440 calories. A tall Starbucks' caffè vanilla frappuccino with whipped topping is 320.)
Next up was the new Mac Snack Wrap. McDonald's is most famous for its "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun" Big Mac. This new wrap tucks one patty and the other Mac toppings into a tortilla:What inspired this? "The Big Mac is a staple of our business. For folks who are watching their carbs or counting calories, this is a way to enjoy the 'Big Mac' taste," says Vicki Chancellor, greater Atlanta McDonald's operators association president. "It's the perfect solution to enjoy the taste but with less calories. Wraps are easy to hold. Nutritionally, wraps are very popular at any time of day—our breakfast burritos are very popular." The Mac Snack Wrap, which McDonald's predicts will be especially popular among women, is 330 calories (210 fewer than a Big Mac). While it's healthy in the way that high cholesterol is healthier than a heart attack, it's not really a low-cal snack. Still, this seems a step in the right direction—a point somewhere between, perhaps, giving customers what they want and giving them what they need. (Of course, consumers are ultimately responsible to decide what, where and when they eat.) Personally, I'd prefer a smaller Mac burger option: Ever since I was 6-years-old I've wondered why McDonald's has only offered a Big Mac on its menu but not a Mac Jr. and/or a Mini-Mac.
Other new snack wraps are available with grilled or fried chicken. I didn't taste those, but at 260 calories the grilled chicken with honey mustard or chipotle BBQ are better options for calorie counters.
There are three new Angus Third-Pounders: deluxe, bacon & cheese and, as pictured below, mushroom & swiss:
Speaking strictly about appearance and taste, this is a great burger. It's visually appealing with higher-quality ingredients than standard menu items. The pickles on the "deluxe" look crisp and homemade rather than wilted and pulled from a jar. The mushrooms on this version look sauteed not canned. It tastes really very good and is priced at $3.99. Be warned, however, it's a whopping 770 calories (a Big Mac is 540)!
McDonald's is committed to value: "We've always had a dollar menu for lunch and dinner," says Chancellor. "In January we rolled out five breakfast items. So now people are able to get a meal for a dollar three times every day. People can afford to bring their family." The new $1 breakfast items include a sausage McMuffin, sausage biscuit and sausage burrito (none of which I sampled).
Some new items, like apple dippers and a fruit & walnut snack pack, are dramatically healthier than traditional menu items. Perhaps not quite as healthy as an apple, since McDonald's apple slices are treated with some preservatives to help maintain a fresh appearance for up to five days, but certainly healthier than fries. Of course, it is hard to resist those fries!
The biggest news about McDonald's may be its free Wi-Fi. McDonald’s is fast becoming the destination leader for Wi-Fi with more than 15% of all public hotspots in the country (there are just over 50,000 according to some industry estimates). McDonald's has the largest number of out-of-home hotspots under one brand. "Free Wi-Fi is a great value when you consider the convenience, quality (reliability, performance, support, and security) of service and pricing compared to other publicly available hot spots," boasts one press release. "Providing an opportunity for the average consumer to plug in and get affordable food puts us in a unique position in the marketplace," says Chancellor. "It's a win/win situation." She added that some locations will even have laptop computers available for consumers who do not have computers of their own. (The decision whether or not to provide computers is up to each individual franchise owner/operator.)
It is heartwarming to think that by providing free Internet access, McDonald's may help some of its customers find higher-paying jobs.
January 20, 2010
Truva serves authentic Turkish cuisine. Having never been to Turkey, I can't speak to the authenticity, but I suspect it's dead-on accurate since there were several Turks milling around the place.
The menu is extensive, with soups, salads, cold and hot appetizers, flatbreads and more than a dozen entrees. Our server, Eric, who certainly ranks among the city's best servers, did an outstanding job of guiding us through the list of unfamiliar dishes by making recommendations, describing recipes (some of which are based on the owner's and/or chef's mothers' traditional recipes), explaining ingredients and answering questions. Turns out, Turkish food is more familiar than we'd realized, since it shares many similarities with Greek and other Mediterranean cuisines (and, according to Eric, is the foundation of them).
Our feast started with assorted cold appetizers. Haydari—made of yogurt, walnut, mint and garlic—was a favorite. The hummus and other spreads made of peppers and eggplant were also yummy. The stuffed eggplant was sweetened with currants and so tasty it was easy to understand how it won over Eric, who says he never liked eggplant before tasting that dish for the first time. The stuffed grape leaves were definitely the best I'd ever tasted, with the leaves so tender and without any bitterness.
Next came a tray of assorted hot appetizers: Everything on this tray was tasty yet two items most impressed: The calamari was crisped to perfection yet the seafood was tender not tough. The Albanian Liver, made of beef liver, was cubed, flash fried and then sauteed. The flavor was mild like turkey liver (I was surprised to learn it was beef) and the texture soft. Dipped into the sweet chili sauce, the flavor combination was amazing. Even Dean liked it, and he's never enjoyed liver previously.
Crispy pan-seared salmon was drizzled with aioli and arugula oil and served with sauteed spinach and purple potato cakes. I could have been satisfied with a meal of the potato cakes alone.
The lamb shank is braised in coriander and mint and served on roasted eggplant:
The Adana Kebap is a log of traditional hand-chopped lamb—reportedly, the chef wields two knives to cut the meat into pieces that look like they emerged from a meat grinder; a grinder would be faster yet using knives ensures maximum tenderness—served atop fluffy Turkish bread and with peppers and onions, rice, and salad.
All three entrees were amazing. If forced to choose a favorite, I'd have to go with the lamb shank, although the kebap is a close second.
Desserts include baklava, sutlac (rice pudding) and karan dip. All sweet without being too sugary.
Turkish coffee is very strong and served in lovely cups the size of a child's tea set:
Raki, the traditional Turkish spirit, tastes like Good & Plenty candy.
Truva's interior space offers a pleasing pop of energetic orange paired with restful teal against an off-white backdrop. I found the whole restaurant very welcoming and cozy, at least until a belly dancer wriggled at the end of my table. Don't get me wrong—I'm fine with the belly dancing concept and think it adds a great vibe to the place. But I enjoy it more when the dancer is somewhere more distant than immediately in front of my table. How am I supposed to feel, other than fat and lazy, when faced with a good-looking skinny woman displaying far more energy than I can muster just inches from where I sit and stuff my face?
Bottom line: Truva is a great new addition to the Atlanta dining scene. Run, don't walk, to savor this top-quality flavorful fare.
January 18, 2010
January 13, 2010
This French red Rhone wine scored a 94-point rating from Wine Spectator and seized spot 22 on that magazine's list ranking the best wines of 2000. As noted previously, Dean and I don't typically put a whole lot of weight into such matters at our own dinner table, but that knowledge did inspire us to set our two bottles aside for a special occasion. We recently shared the wine with wine-loving friends over a dinner of coq au vin—and, yes, I did use a cup of this wine in the chicken recipe.
This dark wine had a very pleasant earthy character—not barnyard but rather mushroom and wet potting soil. Chewy with lots of dark fruit and cocoa notes that lingered long, this earned a hearty thumbs up.
When it was released, this wine retailed for approx. $35; today it's priced at approx. $70.
These recipes come courtesy of The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States:
Creator Cameron Bogue, Beverage Manager Cafe Boulud, and Pleiades, in NYC says that he drew inspiration from Latin culture where fresh picked fruit is dipped into salt and dried chili pepper. Combining these flavors with another Latin favorite, the Caipirinha, accentuated the caramelized flavor of grilled pineapple.
1 ¼ oz. Cachaça or aged rum
2 slices grilled pineapple*
1 oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Muddle grilled pineapple, lime juice and simple syrup in bottom of a shaker. Add ice and Cachaça. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass rimmed with sweet and spicy mixture.
*For grilled pineapple: Cut fresh pineapple, slice lengthwise and grill until the simple sugars are caramelized with beautiful grill marks.
From Spice & Ice – 60 tongue-tingling cocktails, by Kara Newman (Chronicle Books, November 2009)
This sangria may look delicate, but don’t be fooled by its appearance: it packs a good dose of heat. One of our drink testers referred to it as “a pink pit bull.”
Recipe makes two (2) cocktails:
1 red chili pepper, sliced
2 ½ oz. white wine
1 oz. vodka (infused with hot peppers, if desired)
1 oz. triple sec
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1/3 oz. elderflower liqueur
½ oz. cranberry juice
1 Tablespoon cucumber, diced
In a tall glass, muddle the chili pepper. Add a scoop of ice, and stir in the remaining ingredients. Top up the glass with lemon-lime soda.
Adam Seger, of Nacional 27 in Chicago, says that this cocktail is his version of a Mojito with Pomegranate, Ginger, and Chile.
2 lime quarters
16 mint leaves
1 oz. ginger-habañero syrup**
1.5 oz. dark rum
1 oz. pomegranate juice
Muddle lime and mint in a 16-oz. pint glass until juicy and aromatic. Add syrup, rum, and pomegranate juice. Stir, fill with ice, and then stir. Top with soda, and stir once more.
Optional Garnishes: Sugar Cane Stick, Mint, Candied Ginger
**To make ginger-habañero syrup: Heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to just before boiling with 1 seeded habañero and 2 oz. sliced fresh ginger. Remove habañero 5 minutes after taking off heat. Cool and strain out ginger. Keeps sealed in refrigerator for 3 weeks.
January 6, 2010
Francis Ford Coppola and Winemaker Corey Beck created two collections meant to showcase Sonoma County's appellations. Director's Cut wines are limited production made from grapes grown in distinct sub-appellations selected for specific terroir traits. The Director's label appears on bottles of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made of grapes grown in diverse vineyards across the entire Sonoma County. In short, the difference between the two wine series is like the difference between a movie that's a star vehicle and one that's built around an ensemble cast. I sampled the debut release of the Director's series.
Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Sonoma County
Lighter than anticipated, this ruby-hued wine opened with whiffs of cherries, blackberries and faint pepper. Soft and supple in the mouth, it sipped of juicy red fruit, stewed plums and light toast. Despite weak tannins and a quick finish, it held its own when paired with a sturdy dish of pot roast and root vegetables. This Cab would also pair nicely with chicken. (The wine benefited from leaving the uncorked bottle sitting on the counter for a few hours; it gained some depth and thus is recommended for decanting or aeration.)
Suggested retail: $21. (FYI, the Director's Cut Cabernet Sauvignon, which I have not sampled, is $29.)
Francis Ford Coppola Director's Merlot 2007 Sonoma County
If you believe Cabernet Sauvignon is always richer than Merlot, a side-by-side tasting of these two releases will persuade you to think otherwise. This wine boasted a pleasant surprise of character. Deep and complex, it offered up notes of stewed cherries, juicy plum and spice. Hints of cocoa and toast added welcome twists. The spicy flavors gained intensity over the long, pleasing finish. This food-friendly wine paired well with roasted chicken, but would also make a welcome costar to beef, lamb, pork or vegetarian dishes.
Suggested retail: $21.
Bottom line: Opt for the scene-stealing Merlot over the Cab in this series.
Photos courtesy Talbert Communications, Ltd.
My objective: Stock up on bars of Marabou dark chocolate, which is made in Sweden.
This is the best chocolate I've ever tasted. After hoarding it (read: hiding it from my husband) and limiting myself to the smallest possible bites to make my secret stash last as long as possible, I have consumed the last bar that I picked up on my most recent trip to Norway (which was August 2008—that I succeeded in making 2 bars last this long should impress you). I'm not aware of any place in Atlanta that sells the stuff and online sellers charge outrageous shipping fees. So, I'm on a mission to find a way back to the land of fjords.
January 2, 2010
The 12 tubing lanes face the famous Memorial Carving of three Confederate Civil War heroes: Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Lt. General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson: Inside and at the back of the snow play area is a tiny bunny hill for kiddies too small to tackle the tubing lanes.
Snowball targets are available to test skill (and, presumably, help minimize the lure of taking aim at human targets): Snow Mountain also provides the gear and accessories needed to ensure Southern children don't miss out on the opportunity to create fun memories of building snowmen or forts.
Zipping down the snow tubing lanes can satisfy the need for speed. (No worries about the climb back up: There are two moving sidewalks to ride on.)
Bottom line: Memorable winter fun most highly recommended for families who may not otherwise have access to snow.
Stone Mountain Park is located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, 16 miles east of downtown Atlanta. It operates independently and is not technically part of the state park system. To get to the park take I-285 to Exit 39B then take Hwy. 78 East to Exit 8. Tickets to Snow Mountain are $25 per person age 3 and up and include a two-hour tubing session plus unlimited time in the snow play area. Persons must be 42-inches or taller in order to tube. Due to limited capacity, advanced reservations are strongly recommended.