Bully Boy (O4W) – Great Vibe, Some Great Options

We arrived and the first item we notice was the incredibly cool vibe. This place was alive with energy.

We were escorted to the rear and a large round table. As a head’s up, the entire party needs to be present before seating, but hanging at the bar is fun. While this was a great location for conversation, the table was just too large for four people (really a 6-top) and we asked for a smaller, more intimate table and the hostess was quick to oblige.

The server informed us that everyone on the staff have been there since the beginning, a good sign. She knew the menu very well, made recommendations, and suggested we order in stages, which we did. For the first phase we ordered the snapper tartare, the yellow fin tuna wraps and the Virginia oyster sliders. She informed us that the sliders and the tuna wraps were served as a group of three and since as a group of four, we asked if they could make four versus three. She told us they could not. Huh? I just do not understand why restaurants, who have created a sharing menu, do not align the number of items on the plate to the number of guests at the table. The kitchen cannot fry eight instead of six oysters, cannot make four instead of three beds of lettuce and scoops of tartare? But they decided that they would not comply with this simple request. Maybe it is a POS system limitation…then change the POS. Rant over.

Back to the food. The first round had two outstanding dishes and one that was disappointing.

The Florida Red Snapper Tartare was served with red onion, cilantro and leche de tigre (a Peruvian marinade). Everyone at the table loved this dish. The fish was fresh and the flavors of the marinade were wonderfully outrageous. I would rate this a 10.

The Yellow Fin Tuna Wraps were served on a bed of Bibb lettuce and accompanied with dashi aioli, smoked peanuts and yuzu pickles. Again, everyone in our group loved this dish. It was very different from the tartare, with the peanuts offering a great crunchiness and the aioli a lightened creaminess. Make sure you squeeze some of the lime wedge onto the dish, really kicks up the flavor profile. I would give this a 10.

The Virginia Oyster Sliders were served on a soft roll with lettuce, tomato, pickle and datil pepper aioli. We were all somewhat disappointed in this dish. While visually appealing, the centerpiece of the dish, the two fried oysters, lacked anything other than fried coating. The other ingredients were great but it did not give any oyster flavor, whatsoever. Because of the lack of true oyster-ness I can only give this a 4.

For phase two we ordered three additional items.

The Roasted Mushroom Empanada was served atop a black garlic aioli. The first item you should note is the tense in the title. This is a single empanada, sliced in half and nestled in the aioli. Given our request for four items in phase one, we were somewhat surprised our server did not mention this was one empanada, we were now four people sharing one empanada. Be careful and let the empanada cool, as it arrives with a piping hot mushroom filling. While the mushrooms were very good, they were scant in ratio to the breading. The half of a half I ate was was pretty good, but could have been so much better if there was more filling and less coating. I will give this a 6.

We asked that if the Crispy Brussels Sprouts could be prepared without bacon and they could. They were tossed in a spicy Thai sauce and served with a slice of lime. Even without the bacon, these were very good, while I thought they were a little on the burnt side. A few seconds less in the fryer would have been my preference. Even with that I would give this a 6.

The Blue Crab Fried Rice was served as an Omurice Omelet, with a drizzled Thai lime Nam Jim sauce. While others at the table thought this was great I thought it lacked continuity. The omelet is supposed to “explode” when sliced, creating a visual wonder, ours was merely soft cooked eggs. The crab rice was overly-ladened with scallions or onions and the sauce overwhelmed everything. This was a great idea, but the flavors did not work at all together. I can only give this a 4.

While this review gives somewhat disappointing aspects to some of the dishes, I will absolutely return to Bully Boy. It just felt the kitchen lost a little focus during the prep stage. The ideas and creativeness were evident, the execution just needed a little work. Most importantly if you brand yourself as a tapas-style sharing restaurant, make sure you have the flexibility to allow the guests to share full portions of each plate.

Valenza (Brookhaven) – Not Great Food and Horrible Service

Our recent visit to Valenza in Brookhaven was disappointing. The food was fair, while the service is in desperate need of a major facelift. We arrived for our 700 reservation and decided on a table on the deck. It was a beautiful June night, with the temperatures in the mid-70s.

The server approached and filled our water glasses and directed us to the wine list. It was a good ten minutes before he returned, not an extraordinary timeframe, just a precursor of what was ahead. We asked for his recommendation for a white wine (similar to a Chablis, since we were not familiar with the Italian and New Zealand offerings on the menu). He brought a taste of an Italian, which was not to our liking; we were looking for a little fruitier. He said the two NZ wines were more aligned with that desire and we asked for a taste. This obviously rustled his feathers as he just stared at us, I guess one taste is all a customer can request. We ordered one of the NZ wines, not especially pleased with the server’s attitude, c’est la vie. The wine was delivered 15 minutes later, not exactly what we were looking for, but reasonable enough.

And now the real wait started. It was probably another 30 minutes before we saw him again. When he returned, the first words were, “Are you ready to order?” We asked if there were any specials. He again seemed irritated and rattled off, “We have tuna tartare, a fish and a veal chop.” No other explanation. We asked about the tuna tartare. “It is an appetizer dish and it is a normal preparation, but no avocado.” Service was now borderline rude and unacceptable. Three people ordered the tuna and I ordered the octopus for appetizers.

The tuna tartare was not anywhere close to a “normal preparation,” more a crudo than a tartare. Large slices were served in a bowl with halved olives with an olive oil. While we were surprised at the presentation, it was delicious. I would definitely order this again, but they should change the description. I would give this a 9, and the highlight of the food.

The octopus was not as good, it was very salty, seemingly prepared in a salty brine and very spongy. It was accompanied by chick peas, thinly sliced onions, olive oil and a touch of chili oil, which added a nice little zip. There were two tentacles and then some slices. The saltiness was much too distracting and I was not a fan of the texture and would give this a 4.

For my entrée, I ordered the squid ink pasta with Georgia shrimp white wine, oven dried tomatoes, Calabrian chili, and basil. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and that is the only positive I could state. The shrimp still had their tails attached so the first 5 minutes was me removing each of the tails. While eating, additional tails which were hidden crunched as I ate them, a very bad feeling. The sauce was good, nothing special and if there were oven dried tomatoes in the dish, they were indistinguishable. Other than the texture of the pasta, the dish was underwhelming. I am being generous again with a 5.

A friend ordered the spaghettini with meatballs in a San Marzano tomato sauce and my wife ordered the capellini (substituting penne) which was described on the menu served with fresh tomato, basil, and parmesan. The spaghettini was engulfed in sauce; it has been a while since I have seen that much sauce smothering pasta. My wife “fresh tomato” was not as described since it did not include fresh tomatoes; it was also engulfed in the San Marzano tomato sauce. We would have retuned at least two of the dishes, but it was getting late and we just decided to avoid another prolonged wait. I did not taste their pastas, so I cannot give either a number rating, but my guess it would be close to mine.

We shared a chocolate pudding for dessert. It was served in a bowl topped with whipped cream and hazelnuts. The dish was 70% whipped cream and a dollop of chocolate pudding underneath. This probably deserves less, but I will give it a 4.

We did have a great time with friends, but the food really needs an uptick, and the service needs a complete overhaul.

MF Sushi (Inman Park) – Why Do I Keep Going?

I sometimes question why we keep returning to restaurants. Is it the food…the service…the panache? Or just a relentless desire to prove they can do better. MF Sushi is one of those restaurants that you know can do better, yet they cannot seem to get out of their own way in one or aspects of each visit.

The latest two issues were the host(ess) and the size of the nigiri. On the last visit we were punished with the rear room and they told us we needed to request the sushi bar room when we reserve. This time I did, not only specifying the room, but also stating I did NOT want the back room. When we arrived, they immediately took us to the rear room, while the front room had only one table occupied. We politely asked to be seated in the room we requested.

The server this time was top notch. She knew the menu, was polite, the food arrived as expected and she was pleasant throughout. The food was very good, but the size of the nigiri was minuscule, borderline embarrassing. The scant amount of wasabi confirmed the chef was punishing us for something. Was this the result of our desire to eat in the room as requested? Do not know.

While the food was excellent, the overall experience is making it difficult to return.

St. Cecelia (Buckhead) – Reaffirmed as Fantastic

Our latest visit to St. Cecelia confirmed my earlier opinion that it is one of the best restaurants in Atlanta and our last visit was an anomaly. The meal and service were fantastic.

Let’s start with the space, one of the prettiest around, with 25-foot ceilings, romantic lighting, banquettes, tables and a private room on the second floor. You can choose from two dining areas, either near or away from the bar and open kitchen.

We started the meal with a Large Salumi and Cheese platter, which included Prosciutto di San Danielle, Cacciatorini and Calabrese meats, plus Manchego and Thomasville Tomme cheeses. Included on the platter were honeycomb, fig mostarda, and gnocco fritto. The large was true to its name with three piles of meats and enough cheese segments to pair with the meats. The cured meats ranged from the mild prosciutto to the spicy calabrese and addind a bit of the honeycomb created a delightful sweet-spicy combination. I would have liked little more honeycomb, it was really good.

BurattaWe followed the meats with the Burrata, served with strawberries, atop crumbled pistachios and two thin slices of sourdough bread. While the meat-cheese platter was abundant, the burrata dish was scant. It was more the burrata was one of three components versus the center-staged star. The three items together created a wonderful flavor-texture delight.

Pasta w SeafoodFor my entrée I ordered the Squid Ink Mafaldini with Calabrian chilies, charred calamari, clams, and shrimp. Mafaldini is best described as the curly edges of the lasagna noodle. The dish was delicious and the amount of seafood was focused on the calamari and shrimp with a few clams added, which I was fine with. The pasta did have a bit of a zip to it from the chilies, which I really enjoyed.

My wife ordered the Spaghetti Grosso, a simple pasta with San Marzano tomatoes, basil, and smoked ricotta salata. While the pasta was great and the sauce rich in flavor, it was a little on the salty side.

ArtichokesFor side dishes we enjoyed both the Asparagus with almonds and the Artichokes with salsa verde, the latter being our favorite.

Service was spot on from beginning to end.

I am back to recommending St. Cecelia as a great restaurant in Buckhead.

ABCV (NYC) – Vegan Nirvana

ABCV is a Jean George vegan restaurant attached to ABC Kitchen. With a few communal tables in the front, a long bar on one side and a smattering of tables in the rear, securing a reservation is tough and having people leave at a socially responsible time is even more difficult. We waited over 45 minutes past our reservation time as the campers at our assigned table refused to leave.

Once seated we ordered most of the menu and enjoyed all of the dishes. I would never have guessed that I would write a review of the food at a vegan restaurant with such superlatives, but it was one of the best meals of my life, the flavors and textures exploded on the palate and the creativity of the kitchen was overwhelming.

Dishes are designed for sharing, so you can experience the vast varieties of culinary creativity. Some of the dishes I would recommend are:

Lasagnette

The lasagnette with ramp pesto, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, ricotta was our favorite. The earthiness of the mushrooms and ramps and the sweetness of the asparagus were softened with the richness of the ricotta. Fantastic

The group also loved the fire roasted white yam, coconut yogurt, tamarind, tandoori masala. I never would have guessed this combination would be so sweet, and the balance from the tamarind and tandoori masala was great.

Morel wontons, lemon broth, green peppercorn, fava beans, spring garlic. This simple presentation was mild and delightful.

For some rich, deep flavors, order the dosa with smoky eggplant, tomato chutney, coconut yogurt, cilantro.

Salad

A refreshing option was the strawberries, sugar snap peas, avocado, ice wine vinaigrette, basil. It was an example that the chef was fully capable of creating a pleasant, versus bold combination.

Cauliflower

The Roasted cauliflower with turmeric-tahini and pistachios was another surprise. The cauliflower offered a moistness I have not experienced from roasting this vegetable and it was elevated with the coating of the turmeric-tahini.

Lettuce Cups

The most fun dish was the avocado lettuce cups, with toasted cumin, serrano and lime, and peppitas. The challenge was to use your hands or use a fork and knife. I opted for the former and it was a challenge with bites number two and three. We all loved the variety of freshness and spice.

While the evening started very rough with our wait for the table, management finally understood their missteps and brought a few dishes and ensured our server was overly pleasant during the first three-fourths of meal. Our original server’s shift ended at that point and her replacement was not in the same league. So, the beginning and the end were very rough, but the meal itself was spectacular.

Fox Brothers BBQ – Minority Opinion…I was Disappointed

Menu

I know I am in the minority and this is not what most people say about Fox Brothers BBQ, but I was pretty disappointed. I was really excited about the prospect of enjoying what many have described as the best Q in Atlanta, and as we waited in the parking lot for our table, the visuals of the plates going by and the smells that permeated the entire area raised my hopes.

Lopez

Immediately after being seated we ordered the Lopez and the Fried Pickles. The Lopez was tater tots smothered with brisket chili and cheese. There was barely any chili on our serving smothered, suffocated and overwhelmed the tots; it broke the rule more was not better. On the other hand, the fried pickles were pretty good, but they were extremely salty; you had to dip them in the ranch dressing to soften the saltines6. I will rate the Lopez a 2 and the pickles a 7.

Ribs and Pulled Pork

Onto the main event…we ordered a Combo Plate (chopped brisket and sausage) and an Everything Plate (doubling up on the ribs and pulled pork).

Sausage & Brisket

Ribs. Of the smoked items, the ribs were the best. A good amount of seasoning and the smoking created a great crust and fall off the bone preparation made these very good, but I was not a big fan of the seasoning. Dipping the fall off the bone meat into the BBQ sauce lessened the overwhelming seasoning. I give the ribs a 7.

Pulled pork. This was very inconsistent. While I really liked the first bite, the second was incredibly disappointing. There was no smokiness in the latter and it was similar to biting into boiled pork. I immediately went from a believer to a nonbeliever. This is rated a gentlemanly 4.

Brisket. Let’s start with the portion size, ridiculously skimpy and a slap in the face to all BBQ lovers. My guess is 2 ounces. After tasting my portion, it did not bother me that much as one forkful was enough. Again, there was little smokiness to the dish. I’ll be generous and give it a 3.

The best of the sides was the mac & cheese. This was delicious, a creaminess that was fantastic, the shells were cooked perfectly and the cheese melted to great lusciousness. The M&C deserves an 8.

The other interesting side was the Frito Pie, chili, cheese, onions inside a Fritos bag. It was both fun and tasty, and for a side a good option. I give it a 7.

Service was great. Our serve ensured we ordered enough for the three of us and kept our sweet tea glasses full. Best art of the meal and deserves a 10.

Overall, I was expecting greatness from Fox Brothers and was very disappointed.

Mission & Market (Buckhead) – Needs a Re-Boot

As much as I would like to continue to recommend M&M, our latest two visits were not up to the standards that made our initial visits so memorable. It does not appear I am alone, since the dining area on a beautiful Saturday evening had more empty tables than occupied, while other restaurants (in particular Little Alley next door) were booming.

If you are using Waze or GPS set your guidance for Little Alley Steak House, and drive past its valet and Mission and Market is just beyond it on the right. If you place Mission and Market in the GPS it will take you to the rear, delivery entrance.

Once you arrive, there are two dining areas, the bar in the front and the dining room in the rear, plus outdoor seating overlooking Lenox. Our server arrived immediately upon our being seated and started very strong with recommendations on food and wines.

I ordered the Grilled Spanish Octopus Hazelnut Romesco, with Shaved Vegetables. It was beautifully plated and while the Romesco sauce was delicious, the octopus was flavorless, with a spongy texture that was more aligned with it being boiled. Likewise, there was little seasoning on the dish. It was disappointing.

I also ordered the special entrée of the evening, which was described by the server as grouper over a risotto infused with white asparagus oil. I asked the server if it also contained white asparagus and she replied there were pieces of white asparagus as part of the accompaniments. The dish arrived and it was beautifully plated. The four, small fish pieces were inconsistently cooked. The biggest drawback was the complete and total lack of seasoning. There was little in the fish itself I could recommend. On the other hand, the risotto was delicious, great flavor.

For dessert we ordered the chocolate tart, which comes with Jeni’s coffee, cream and sugar ice cream. We asked if we could substitute the salty caramel ice cream from one of the other desserts and the server was agreeable. She approached a few minutes later and informed us they were out of the other, and offered plain vanilla. The dessert was the best part of the meal, fantastic flavors in the rich, dense chocolatey goodness.

I almost felt sorry for our server. She was performing her tasks plus, delivering some of the food and bussing the finished plates. While we very much enjoyed the room and the company, the food was extremely disappointing, for the second straight visit. Others at the table said the duck was extremely salty, while my wife enjoyed her salmon.

Mission and Market started strong last year, but it needs to refocus on the food if it expects me, and others to return.