Category Archives: Fine Dining

Octopus News at La Pietra Cucina

Big changes for all octopus lovers over at La Pietra Cucina. The restaurant has recently received larger and more tender varieties of octopi. The new octopus product is directly represented in the lovely soup appetizer – Braised Octopus & Chick Pea Soup with escarole and olivastro. In the past, the soup had a nice amount of thinly sliced, shaved, and chopped octopus (see pic here). Now, the octopus shines through in large chunks that peek through the luscious, rich broth.

Take a look for yourself and then go test out the extra chunky soup at La Pietra Cucina (while it lasts).

I'm chunky and beautiful

La Pietra Cucina on Urbanspoon

La Pietra Cucina
One Peachtree Pointe,
1545 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, GA
http://www.lapietracucina.com

St. Regis Atlanta: Room Service Breakfast

Squid Dinner 016

classy or crazy?

During a temporary brain lapse, I thought it would be wise to experience the newest 5 star hotel to hit Atlanta : the St. Regis in Buckhead. As it turned out, my mental break provided me with hours upon hours of joy (followed by weeks and weeks of no money). To cap off my stay and ensure the hotel remains in business for the next few minutes, I ordered the most expensive breakfast of my life: room service granola and eggs.

While the food was not exceptional (and we ordered quite simply), the coolest part of the experience was watching the dude set up a fully dressed table complete with coffee and all the necessary accouterments.

Squid Dinner 030

purple pleasure


My beverage of choice was a smoothie made with berries and vanilla protein powder. ‘Twas good.

Squid Dinner 117

guess who took home the tiny jams and ketchup?


House-made granola with a side of berries was a bit too sweet for my liking, and you could see the crystallized sugar on the little oat bits.

Squid Dinner 169

what's hiding under there?


Squid Dinner 168

poached eggs


The eggs came with an interesting serving of vegetables as well as toast. We did have to send back the first batch of eggs, as they were overdone.

But they got it right the second time around and all was good in the world,
Squid Dinner 152

except for my finances…..

La Pietra Cucina: For the Love of Soup

Many of you are probably saddened by the recent death of Soupy Sales. In honor of the comic, I wanted to dedicate this post to him.

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea who Soupy Sales is. But, I have been sick recently and eating loads of soup so the timing just worked out (don’t you just love when that happens?).

An in-house work meeting prompted a nearby meal. My office happens to be located directly above one of the best Italian restaurants in the city of Atlanta, La Pietra Cucina.

Newly renovated with a high level of service, La Pietra is a luxurious way to spend a lunch hour. Case in point: my chamomile tea came in a large wooden box, and looked more like decorative potpourri than drinking tea.

Anyway, as soon as I looked at the menu I knew what was in order: SOUP

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octopus can heal


Braised Octopus & Chick Pea Soup with escarole and olivastro

Boy, this really hit the spot. There was a strong lemony note within the broth that felt great on my throat. The octopus chunks varied in size and shape, which made the process of eating a joyous occasion – somewhat like enjoying alphabet soup as a child. The chickpeas added some heft and weight to the bowl; they also soaked up some of that good broth flavor.

For my entree, SOUP!

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swimming squiddies

Calamari in Sicilian Tomato Zupetto with vermentino, toasted garlic, couscous, pine nuts

How can you have octopus without squid?

I’ve had this dish before and it is a satisfying meal – a heavier feel than the octopus due to the olive oil, but the flavors pop in a different way. Large slices of garlic, halved caper berries & olives, soft couscous, and crunchy pine nuts combine in a warm tomato base that begs to be drunk. This one warms the belly.

I’m not sure if it was the back-to-back soup action or the fact that I ate OctoSquid for lunch, but I left feeling a bit warmer and healthier.

Post-Script: my lunch mates ate very well.

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I'm cut by human hands


Hand Cut Pappardelle with bolognese ragu, grana padano

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order envy ensued


Black Spaghetti with rock shrimp, scallions, hot calabrese sausage

Both friends cleaned their plates 🙂

La Pietra Cucina on Urbanspoon

ENO with Top Chef’s Eli

After a full day of eating at Taste of Atlanta, I thought it would be a good idea to try out ENO in Midtown. My foodie friend, Hilla, joined us to test out the food prepared by one of the still-standing Atlanta Top Chefs, Eli Kirshtein.

why hello sir

why hello sir


Real-life Eli is not different than Top Chef Eli: full of personality, talkative, and excited about food (especially locally grown food). He explained some of the behind the scenes cooking techniques applied to the menu and was genuinely interested in our dining experience.

Appetizer was an easy choice for me: Octopus! (with watermelon and lemon vinaigrette)

let's run away together

let's run away together


If I remember correctly, the octopus is cooked sous vide which resulted in a tender, meaty consistency without the chewiness octopus-lovers are used to. While it couldn’t have been cooked any better, I prefer my octopus in a more rustic preparation (i.e. hunky grilled tentacles).
not your average ensalada

not your average ensalada


The market green salad was the celebratory dish of the night, partly because of the naturally low expectations house salads possess. Based on the constantly changing leafy green and herb delivery from local farms, the salad changes daily. Ours contained a variety of greens (including my new favorite, sorrel), marcona almonds, beets, parmigiano cheese shavings, greek yogurt, and a light vinaigrette. It was complex and so interesting it compelled us to order another one.

Hilla went with the Garlic Pork Sausage, Blis Maple, Pretzel Strusel, Mustard: and she sincerely liked the combination of the pig with the pretzel and mustard.
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Entrees:
Yellowtail Tuna Nicoise, Tobiko Gremolata, Wild Lettuce, Egg Yolk

side view

side view


bird's eye view

bird's eye view


the back side

the back side


totally tuna

totally tuna


The tuna was cooked black and blue, which I always appreciate and fear won’t occur when ordering tuna. The rarer the better. The lean protein needed the fatty egg yolk sauce, as well as the salty tobiko. Flavors worked well together. I didn’t eat the ‘wild lettuce,’ or in this case, sorrel within the same bites as the tuna, but I did fall deeply and madly in love with the citrus-y green. I wish I could find it to stock my fridge.

Hilla’s Painted Hills Short Rib Ravioli, Leeks, Pickled Scapes, Wild Mushrooms:
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She loved the pasta, liked the sauce & mushrooms, but stated that the short rib filling was too simple tasting – merely shredded meat with mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery).

The only flop of the night was the dessert course, which we shared:

looks can be deceiving

looks can be deceiving


Pistachio Cake, Madeira, Pear Sabayon: the cake was tough and heavy, almost brick-like while the gelled ribbon tasted of bitter alcohol.

ENO uses a variety supremely fresh ingredients, applying the most interesting cooking techniques to an ever-changing inventory. Some of that pizzazz get lost, mostly because the secrets remain in the kitchen. Ask lots of questions and you will be privy to a slew of facts, standards, and operations that don’t shine through the food. At the end of the night, you will feel well-treated and satisfied (just stay away from the pistachio dessert).

Eno on Urbanspoon

Bacchanalia: a meal that can’t be beat with people who can’t be beat

As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to share an outstanding meal with Planet Earth’s most fantastic people. Admittedly, I had a hand in this arrangement – I psychically coerced my out-of-town guests to dine with me at the most renowned restaurant Atlanta has to offer. That restaurant would be the nationally acclaimed, Bacchanalia.

We arrived late Friday night with empty stomachs and high expectations. The visiting folks hail from the culinary-rich New York City and Boston, so Bacchanalia had some work to do to prove its excellence.

Shortly after sitting and glancing at the menu, wine list, drink menu we were presented with a ‘gift from the chef’: a puffy pastry filled with an oozing, creamy, tangy, cheese (it tasted like brie to me)

welcome to our home

welcome to our home


Slam, bam, thank you sir!

Appetizer time – we had approximately 7 to choose from and there was some ordering overlap amongst us. Here is what we settled on.

lobstah

lobstah


Lobster poached in butter – 2 people tried this and reported it tasted like butter and lobster. Thanks!

Ball full of love

Ball full of love


Gulf Crab Fritter with citris and thai pepper essence: out of this world, without a doubt one of the best crab concoctions you can find ANYWHERE (that includes you and your cakes, Maryland!). The shape of the fritter was spherical; it was lightly fried and completely filled with warm, soft crab meat.The sauce was unbelievable – spicy and citrus-y, which happens to be my favorite taste combo when combined with a seafood item. Everyone agreed on the dish’s totality of success.

Onto the Entrees:

I come from NY

I come from NY


Wood Grilled Dry Aged Prime NY Strip – the lady who ate this as her meal told me the texture was “like butta” and “it had a smoky flavor from the wood fire grill” and “it was really soft, easy to chew, and should be requested at medium rare”. She added, (the steak) “was new and interesting, unlike any other steak I’ve ever had before”.

Duck 2 ways

Duck 2 ways


Different parts of the duck were cooked in different ways: the leg meat was confit (and in the small container on the side), while the breast was seared. Quote from the eater – “duck breat was perfectly cooked and the puree was the perfect combination to pair with the protein. It was very tender and dissolved in my mouth.” She was not as impressed with the confit application, but went on and on about the sliced breast.

don't doubt the trout

don't doubt the trout


Both girls that ordered the trout did not eat the fish skin (I know, crazy!) That means I got to add 2 long pieces of fish skin to my meal (coming up next). The skin was slightly crispy, but also a bit elastic. It tasted simple and pure. The trout meat was soft and the fillet easily broke into pieces with the touch of a fork. Elegant and enjoyable.

from afar

from afar


up close

up close


Milkfish with bok choy and a ginger-shiso broth: texture of the fish reminded me of a black cod, buttery, flaky, and uber tender. It was spectacular and it had a lightness to it, which is needed in a four course meal. I haven’t had cooked fish this intoxicating since July…. possibly…

Cheese course:

beets galore

beets galore


Sweet Grass Dairy Fresh Goat Cheese with roasted beets, raw beets, beet sorbet: the beets were super sweet and voluptuous and the sorbet was innovative and had an interestingly smooth mouth-feel. The classic pairing of goat cheese with the ladylike vegetable was appreciated and consumed quickly.

dates are for lovers

dates are for lovers


Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano with medjool dates: sugary, gooey dates in solid and liquid form combined with salty, hard cheese slices waltzed in step together the same way we know chocolate and pretzels dance. It was also fun to run a piece of cheese across the plate and pick up on the syrup.

Quick Palate Cleanser:

eat, drink, and be merry

eat, drink, and be merry


Warm apple cider with a shortbread cookie – no complaints and seasonal to a T

Time for Dessert:

don't call me a tart

don't call me a tart


Chocolate Pecan Tart

fall is for apples

fall is for apples


Quote from the happy eater, “my apple dessert was the perfect combination of warm, soft, moist apples and a crumbling, sugary topping”. I did taste an apple and it sure was moist and soft.

cookies and milk

cookies and milk


Chocolate Wafer with vanilla cream cookie and iced, lightly malted milk: an adult play on Oreos and milk. I enjoyed eating the thick, ice-y milk with a spoon. The creamy layer in the middle of the mock-Oreos was rich and heavy – but likable at the same time.

you will love my midsection

you will love my midsection


Valrhona Chocolate Cake with mint ice cream – the signature dessert and rightfully so. Dark, rich chocolate with an ooey, goozy, silky center accompanied by minty iced cream. I only got one bite because Lauren was seriously digging the sweet ending of her meal.

go ahead, try to eat all of me

go ahead, try to eat all of me


Churros with Mexican sipping chocolate: the waitress talked me into getting this dessert and I hardly ate it. Not a good sign. First of all, the chocolate dipping drink was thinner and not as chocolate-y as I anticipated. The churros were decent, but not piping hot and the size was overwhelming for this type of meal. It seemed a bit ‘Mexican chain restaurant dessert’ to me. Good thing my dear friend pushed her cookies and milk over to my side of the table 🙂

With most of us in a food coma at this point, the server came over with a parting gift:

I know, I'm overkill - no worries, 'cause I'm used to it

I know, I'm overkill - no worries, 'cause I'm used to it

Just when we thought it was time to wobble out, the server came back with a plate of warm madeleines and a promise this would be the last plate of food she would deliver. We wrapped up all of the extras and rolled out the door.

Although it was expensive, my wonderful friends concurred in unison “it was an experience that is worth it – treat yourself once a year”.

Bacchanalia on Urbanspoon

Day 2 Las Vegas – Lunch & Dinner: Sushi Samba & L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

After eating Joe’s and Michael Mina meals back to back, it was time for a moderately sized meal. It was time to reel it back and settle down. This was attempted at Sushi Samba located in The Shoppes in The Palazzo hotel.
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I kept it light by sharing a seaweed salad and a tasting plate of seviches and tiraditos (a peruvian dish made up of sliced, raw fish marinated in lime juice; similar to seviche without the addition of onions thus resulting in a subtler taste)

you don't have to pick just one

you don't have to pick just one

Top Left: Jumbo Shrimp passionfruit, cucumber, cilantro
Top Right: Yellowtail ginger, garlic, soy
Bottom Left: Kanpachi yuzu, sea salt, black truffle oil
Bottom Right:Tuna grapefruit juice, jalapeño, almond

Fresh fish, clean flavors, many textures, small plates = the best way to eat (for me)

Sushi finished out the meal (yes, the same sushi I was dreaming about during my juice cleanse:

need some sushi at sushi samba

need some sushi at sushi samba


my soulmates

my soulmates


Spicy tuna roll, salmon avocado riceless handroll, shrimp tempura roll, uni ikura = a happy family

Also, since it’s vacation I just HAD to get a mocktail:
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Citrusy sweetness with fresh mint = awesome

Successfully edited lunch, although I did see a couple of people who had very heavy lunches while walking back to the hotel.

I ate too much

I ate too much


man, that turkey knocked me out

man, that turkey knocked me out

A few hours later it was time for my momentous meal at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. If you’re a Top Chef fan, you already know Mr. Robuchon was named the ‘chef of the century’. And you clearly saw how well-regarded he is by both his peers, young chefs, and the food nerd world. If you’ve read any of OctoSquid’s previous posts, you also know how pretty the chef’s food looks and the level of detailed care put into each and every plate.

After walking a solid mile inside the MGM Hotel, you will find the 2 Robuchon restaurants side by side. Walk into the hipper looking restaurant with tones of black and red:
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If you recall, I didn’t have the guts or the budget to enter the greatness of The Mansion.

Anyway, once you are seated at the bar it’s hard not to take notice of the surroundings:

food is art

food is art


you better believe the produce is fresh

you better believe the produce is fresh

Dried legumes and brightly colored produce was arranged around the room inviting me to head into a foodie wonderland. I was Alice in a French, culinary-loving, wonderful land. I was ready to hit the ground running.

After much, much, far too much research, I had settled on the Discovery Menu. Here goes:

discover me

discover me

L’AMUSE-BOUCHE: opted out of the Foie gras parfait with port wine and parmesan foam for something without animal organs.

no recollection

no recollection


Looks like there is some eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, herbs. Forgive me in advance, I don’t remember a ton from this meal because it was the cream in my Oreo sandwich of fabulous meals – meaning it sort of got lost.

LE SAUMON FUME: Smoked salmon in an herb gelée with a light wasabi cream

from the top

from the top


from the side

from the side


Can you even believe this is food? Edible food? It’s so interesting to look at – I stared down at the food like Fatty McFatterson in Mallrats trying to see a sailboat in a Magic Eye poster.
I’m not going to lie about the dish, even for my good friend, salmon. The texture was weird. Jello mixed with salmon chunks. The wasabi cream/green sauce was excellent and spicy/herb-y, but I wasn’t won over. I appreciated the artistic elements and the intriguing techniques, but my tongue didn’t get that swagger.

LES HUITRES: Poached baby Kusshi oysters with French « Echiré » butter
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This was pretty simple, which is how I believe oysters should be. The butter was a nice touch, and one that I am not accustomed to when eating raw shellfish. Added a richness factor to the briny, slimy creatures.

LE HOMARD: Maine lobster in a tomato sauce and green asparagus

uh uh uh uhwsome

uh uh uh uhwsome


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Now we’re talking. If I remember correctly, the top picture is the full portion (what Lauren got) and the bottom pic is my tasting menu serving. This rocked it out – big claws, spicy tomato sauce, pops of green color in asparagus form. Loved this course, but didn’t feel the larger portion was worth the $60 odd dollars we paid.

Didn’t get the foie gras ravioli, so instead they gave me this:
LES ANCHOIS: Fresh marinated anchovies with sliced eggplant confit

I'm better than a Monet

I'm better than a Monet


As I mentioned in the past, anchovies with eggplant confit, a perfect rectangle is formed with strips of anchovies and red pepper sauce covering the buttery (in texture, not taste), creamy eggplant. Chives and onions for garnish.
I would put this photo in a frame in my living room.

LA SOLE: Dover Sole with a warm leek salad and crispy potato

sole or soul?

sole or soul?


Huge improvement from Michael Mina’s version. Crisped fish skin, paired with soft fish flesh, and a couple of crunchy potato chips on the side. Cooked like only a trained chef could cook it.

Instead of the lamb/quail course I got:
LE KAMPACHI: Lightly seared kampachi with crispy onion rings

who else loves the word 'kampachi'?

who else loves the word 'kampachi'?


Another homerun! Just enough sauce, with the fantastic combination of the mild flavored fish and the bold flavors of capers, olives, and onion rings. It tasted delicious, but I can’t articulate much more (Oreo affect).

Time for dessert:
LE SAVARIN:pastry soaked in aged run with a tahitian vanilla cream.
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This dish did not leave a lasting impression. I’m forcefully trying to remember it by staring at the photo to no avail. The cream was excellent and very vanilla bean-y (see the speckles?). Also, it was fun to try edible metallics (gold). Still….not for me.

LA FRAISE: Strawberry meringue around a fennel parfait and creme fraiche ice cream

so right, even after 45 courses

so right, even after 45 courses


Unreal – loved everything about it. Melt in your mouth strawberry flavored meringue, hint of savory herbs surrounding a clean tasting, cold, creamy, iced, cream. The garnish made it super fun to eat, and I absolutely love colored dust that tastes good.

Not part of my tasting, yet I must include Lauren’s dessert.
LE CHOCOLAT: Chocolate sensation, « crémeux » Araguani, Oreo cookie crumbs

good friends are gold

good friends are gold


breaking in

breaking in


Mesmerized by the gold, I loved this masterpiece before I tried a bite. A true case of eating with your eyes. Love at first sight. It was sweet and creamy, but also had the crunch factor from the chocolate disc, and a bit of tartness from the fruity gel dots on top.

And because the French can’t end without coffee:

don't quit on me

don't quit on me


which came with an original, monogrammed chocolate.

What a day. Don’t even ask me how I ate a big lunch AND dinner the following day…..DAD!

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

First Dinner in Las Vegas: Michael Mina’s Cookbook

For the first real-deal meal, I decided to eat at Michael Mina’s namesake restaurant in the Bellagio hotel.

Here’s why:
1. Ran up and down the boiling, hot strip all day long and was exhausted.
2. Had tickets to Cirque Du Soleil’s “O” at 10:30PM at the Bellagio. (total snooze fest, should have seen LOVE).

all you need is love

all you need is love


I mean, how could I not see the show with an entrance way like this:
enter if you're smart

enter if you're smart


3. No interest in trying a steakhouse or meat-centric restaurant.

We were running late because when traveling the Las Vegas strip everything appears closer than it actually is. After sprinting back to the hotel to change, and then running through a crowd to the Bellagio, Lauren and I split up to save time. I went to pick up the Cirque Du Soleil tickets while she searched for the restaurant to secure our table. When I finally arrived at the restaurant, Lauren (who had already read the menu) suggested we opt in for the Cookbook Tasting Menu. I didn’t originally plan to go all out on my first dinner since I knew what meals were in my future. So, I thought about it for approximately 3 seconds before I excitedly agreed. For some reason, other people’s excitement and fervor for food rubs off on me very quickly.

On to the meal.

First course: Tartare of Ahi Tuna (page 171)
Sesame Oil, Toasted Pine Nuts, Garlic, Chiffonade of Mint

everything your palate desires

everything your palate desires


Each of the ingredients were presented in small piles outlining the large, white plate. The servers set the plates downs and then expertly mixed it all up to create the tartare table side. To this day, the tartare was the best I have ever eaten. Perfect amount of spice, nuttiness, and texture contrast. I order tuna tartare at almost every restaurant that offers it (as long as it’s not a chain). Even though it is viewed as played out in the food-nerd world, it could never be played out on me. I love that I can eat it with a spoon, fork, cracker, or toast point as is served at Michael Mina. If there are a few cubes of tuna left on my plate, you better believe that I’ll be grabbing the tasty nuggets with my fingers. No tuna left behind. Tuna tartare is my spinach/artichoke dip – comforting, heartwarming, and flavorful.

Second course: Maine Lobster Pot Pie (page 189)
Baby Carrots, Fingerling Potatoes, Black Truffles

I'm pretty

I'm pretty


What a stunner! This was clearly Mina’s signature dish, as I spotted almost every table had a pie. We got the single serving versions, while some of the larger tables had immense, crust covered pots dissembled amongst the wide-eyed patrons. Again, the servers masterfully presented the dish as they cut the top crust off and displayed the pie innards.
I am cooler than your best friend

I am cooler than your best friend


You can see the large black truffle slices and the chunky lobster meat at first glance. I think it’s safe to say that this was amazing. Perfectly cooked lobster is an understatement. I am used to a whole, steamed lobster after a day at the beach. Simple and messy. This dish taught me how to enjoy lobster with class and without getting my hands filthy. I normally don’t even bother with the tail meat and focus on the claws, roe, tomalley, and other lobster organs/intestines. The meat served in the pot pie was as tender as can be, coated with a creamy sauce that did not overpower. It made me want to go back in time and eat every lobster tail I had ever disregarded, in the hope it would taste like Michael Mina’s version.
The top crust was made to take a dive and swim with the potatoes and carrots. Accompanying vegetables served as constant companions to the star protein. Being my first pot pie consumed, it will be difficult for any future pie to compare.

Third course: Miso-Glazed Black Cod (page 203)
Baby Bok Choy, Chuka Soba, Mushroom Dashi

from the top

from the top


from the side

from the side


My kinda dish. Buttery, soft cod with a healthy glaze of salty sweetness. Light and mild broth with just the right amount of noodles and veggies. I could eat this for dinner a few nights a week and live happily ever after.

Fourth course:Phyllo – Dusted Dover Sole
Dungeness Crab Brandade, Sauce Dijon, Haricots Verts
No picture of this one may come from the fact that I did not enjoy this dish. Far too rich and heavy, especially when included in a tasting menu. The flavoring was too much butter, not enough dijon. Only savory plate that was not cleared.
Disclaimer: this dish was not included in the Cookbook Tasting Menu, but was substituted for a beefy plate of food.

Fifth Course:Tasting Of MICHAEL MINA Signature Desserts (page 152)
Mini Root Beer Float, Coconut Cheesecake, Chocolate Pot De Créme

a little bit of this, a little bit of that

a little bit of this, a little bit of that


The description of the dessert tasting is sufficient for explanation purposes. Nothing blew me away, but it was sweet and satisfying.

Fantastic way to start the trip, even if I did fall asleep during “O” immediately following dinner.

so full and trying to hold it together - game face

so full and trying to hold it together - game face

Michael Mina (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon