The Best Things We Ate, April 2016
Welcome back to the “Best Things We Ate” series! In true Spring fashion, this month was full of fresh produce, tons of fish and light, bright flavors that made everything sing. When I’m making a conscious effort to eat healthy, I’m always thinking about ways I can add more vegetables to a dish, whether it’s adding leafy greens and avocado to oatmeal (yes, savory oatmeal is a thing and it is DELICIOUS!) or throwing a whole mess of herbs into the skillet when I saute fish (see the Vietnamese dish below). The beauty of vegetables is their versatility and a meal is almost always made better by adding as much fresh, local produce as you can to it–even in the case of burgers (see the mushroom blend below).
So without further ado, here are the best things we ate in April 2016:
Cha Ca La Vong
I’ve mentioned before my love of this iconic Vietnamese dish (see my guide to the must-eat dishes in Hanoi here)–cha ca la vong is simply grilled fish marinated in turmeric and sauteed with green onions and dill, resulting in a flavor bomb that you add to bowls of noodles with peanuts, fish sauce and more herbs. Thanks to my friend Chris Shepherd (he’s the mastermind chef behind Houston’s Underbelly) I was able to eat at the restaurant that created this dish over 100 years ago when we visited Hanoi (it was so good I even wound up writing about it for Travel + Leisure), and I recently decided to try my hand at recreating the dish at home. I used snapper and was blown away by how easy it was to mimic those classic Vietnamese flavors with a few simple ingredients in my humble Atlanta kitchen. Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing the recipe soon!
Citrus Kale Salad with Maple Granola and Pancetta Vinaigrette
If you missed the recipe post for this incredible kale salad, I hope you’ll go back and make it now! It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s crunchy, it’s tangy, it’s decadent and yet, it’s super healthy and chockfull of good-for-you ingredients, from bright grapefruit to rich avocado and gluten-free granola naturally sweetened with maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon. The texture combo is insane, and that’s before you even consider the pancetta vinaigrette that gilds the lily.
Crudo at Gunshow
I’ve written countless times about Top Chef alum Kevin Gillespie’s dim-sum-meets-churrascaria restaurant, Gunshow–it’s easily one of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta and every time I go, I wind up ordering the entire menu, literally. I just can’t say no–the servers are actually the chefs, who come to your table wielding their latest creation so you can see, smell and savor each dish before you decide if you want to order it. The most brilliant marketing technique, to be sure. On my most recent visit, this crudo was spiked with green strawberries, ramps and sunflowers, resulting in a vibrant, show-stopping plate that I’m still dreaming about.
Blended Burgers at Empire State South
When I was invited by the James Beard Foundation to come try some burgers whipped up by Hugh Acheson at his legendary Empire State South (the restaurant holds a VERY special place in my heart, as they catered my wedding!), I knew I was in for a treat. But what I didn’t expect was that the burgers, which were blended up with a variety of mushrooms in place of beef as part of the Blended Burger Project, would be better than most I’d ever tried. Look, I love mushrooms as much as the next guy, but do they taste as good as a classic cheeseburger? Before this lunch, I would’ve laughed at the thought… now, I plan to make every burger from here on out with mushrooms. The result is a umami-heavy patty that’s better for you (and the planet!), full of nutrition and brimming with flavor. Be on the lookout for blended burgers at restaurants near you–chefs around the country are participating in the project and I can’t urge you enough to give it a try!
Foie Gras at Umi
It’s no secret that Umi is my all-time favorite restaurant, but I normally stick to raw fish when I eat at the sushi spot. On a recent visit, however, chef Ito-San brought out a new dish–foie gras with Japanese BBQ sauce (it’s the same eel sauce you’d find on unagi) and crispy rice. Whoa! Ito-San’s classic French training shined through in this indulgent plate, which was the perfect intermission between his pristine sashimi and innovative nigiri.
Savory Oatmeal Breakfast Bowls
I know, it’s sounds weird. But I promise you that savory oatmeal is, dare I say it, even more delicious than sweet oatmeal. I mean it’s topped with a runny poached egg–that should be enough said. But then you throw in some garlicky spinach, avocado and fresh tomatoes. This, my friends, is the breakfast of champions.
Branzino at Cape Dutch (Atlanta)
When Diane Lane tells you that she’s eaten branzino all over the world and this one is in, and I quote, “top .0001 percent”, you order the branzino. As it happens, this scenario actually happened to me a couple weeks ago when I was dining at my amazing friend Justin Anthony’s latest South African hotspot, Cape Dutch. The stunningly beautiful Diane Lane happened to be eating there with Liam Neeson and as she was leaving, she came over to our table and waxed poetic about the branzino. I couldn’t agree more–this fish, tender and juicy, is absolutely bursting with flavor thanks to the Brai it’s grilled on, the crispy skin adding the perfect amount of crunch. And when you add a little Peri Peri sauce… yeah, chef Philippe Haddad’s branzino is perfection.
What was the best thing you ate in April?
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
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