Want Fresh, Fast, and Healthy? Purely is the Place to Be

Being Italian, I had high expectations for the gelato at Purely. Non-traditional soft serve gelato sounded iffy at first. But no lie the gelato was so good I shed a tear. Italy will just have to wait for now.

Dominic Leong, owner of Purely, informed me that he studied the art of making gelato n Rimini, Italy, help start and ran the restaurant chain Pino Gelato (one of their locations is at Hartsfield Jackson Airport) for 12 years, and even modified the soft serve gelato machine himself.

Leong is the ultimate renaissance man. He consults and designs restaurants, as he did with Purely (his baby), creates the innovative menu, cooks all the food, and engages customers with his bubbly personality.

The Midtown Atlanta space has tall glass windows looking out to busy Peachtree Street, bright lime green painted walls with eye catching photos of the food, and exquisite glass chandeliers.

The concept of Purely is like other ‘make-your-own restaurants’ where customers design their own meal in an assembly line style. All the meat and vegetables are prepared fresh daily, and customers have the option whether to create their own concoction or choose from already created specialties. Purely’s food is fast, fresh and healthy, which makes it a perfect lunch spot for business people and college students. What’s more, most meals are under $10.

Even the presentation of the food is stunning. Organic vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, kale and mixed greens are showcased in a glass container so customers are more attracted to eating fresh food.

Diners start by choosing their base in a bowl. They have options of white or brown rice, mixed greens and even gluten free pasta. For tacos and salads, customers choose their protein with options such as slow cooked Mexican style pork carnitas and or all natural Caribbean beef barbacoa. After, adding fresh veggies of your choice, top it off with sauces such as creamy chipotle and sweet chili.

Tacos are served in cooked to order warm Chinese steamed buns, but customers also have the option of a traditional corn tortilla. I tried the braised jerk chicken taco served with kale, and a customer favorite – Asian sesame sauce, topped with grape tomatoes and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. The taco was sweet considering the sauce, but I was expecting more of a kick since it was jerk chicken. I also felt the kale and the lack of sauce made the taco a little dry.

The spicy chicken teriyaki taco with Purely’s signature sauce (like spicy mayo), fresh red cabbage, well-seasoned chicken, the dish was very different though, hitting all the right notes of spice and texture.

Fun fact, Purely’s bowls are 70% decomposable.

Food bowls have become the new hipster food trend of 2018. Specifically, poke bowls, which are often served with raw fish, salad topping and Asian sauces. I created my own poke bowl and added tuna and salmon with spicy mayo, poke sauce, lime juice, mixed greens, cabbage and edamame. With several competitors out there trying to master the poke bowl trend, Purely’s bowl deserves a spot at the top. The bowl made for a light flavor packed lunch.

Bubble tea has never tickled my fancy, but I decided to give it another try by adding strawberry popping pearls (like tapioca but made of real fruit) to my matcha tea. With one sip, I was in heaven! Purely uses oolong tea as the base instead of water which gives it a more robust flavor. And did I mention the matcha powder is imported straight from Japan?

Purely’s biggest hit are the bubble waffles. Bubble waffles became popular in Hong Kong and are a fancier version of the traditional American ice cream waffle only with batter filled spheres, making it look more attractive. I filled mine with matcha gelato and triple berry sorbet, topped with mango and strawberry flavored popping pearls and fresh peaches.

Sorbet isn’t typically my first choice, but the soft serve gelato version of it made the consistency creamy rather than icy. Although bubble waffle tasted like a regular waffle, it was rather soft than crispy, which can be messy to eat.

What Purely is offering is not totally unique, but having the best gelato, teas, buddle waffles and poke bowls – all in a vibrant atmosphere at affordable prices – is notable. I would return to create new combinations using the fresh, healthy and organic ingredients Purely offers.

~ By Daniella Boik, Go Eat Give summer 2018 intern. Daniella is a journalism student at Georgia State University and has a passion for food, books and skateboards. When she’s not writing, she is drafting her ideas while running long distance. Follow her on Facebook 

Dining at The W

Hotel restaurants typically don’t have a good perception when it comes to offering superior quality food or unique cuisines. But the W Atlanta – Midtown is an exception.

Inspired by its Georgia location, TRACE restaurant incorporates southern cuisine in the menu, using seasonal locally sourced ingredients.

The Midtown Atlanta hotel can be described as urban chic at best. Glamorously dressed people can be found getting out of their uber expensive cars into the illuminated car port. The lobby feels like a trendy lounge with live DJ, as patrons cheer their martini glasses.

TRACE is located up a flight of stairs, on the second floor of the hotel. Walking past the bar feels like you have entered a massive den/ library/ man cave. The bar is beautiful, but the stack of cookbooks by local authors displayed on the shelves catches my attention. Krista Reese, Kevin Gillespie, to name a few…

The interior of TRACE is contemporary, yet comfy. Tall glass windows line one of the walls of the room, while the exposed ceiling creates a feeling of a warehouse. Then there are colored pots and pans covering an entire wall, dark wood floors, and giant blue gray screens hanging from the ceiling. I feel like I’m in a 21st century barn!

Cocktails are the main attraction at TRACE. In addition to regional brews and global wines, hand crafts cocktails with unique names are rotated off the menu often. My favorite was Anger Management (perfect after a tough week right?) with mango vodka, agave, pineapple and orange juice. The powdered habanero around the rim of the glass is sure to give you a burn with each sip. Gotta Wear Shades (I told you the names are creative) was also quite refreshing for a bourbon drink. It had fresh blackberry/ blueberry juice, peach bitters and Ridgemont Reserve 1792.

The menu is sectioned into shared plates, salads, entrees and sides. Southern favorites such as fried gulf oysters, deviled eggs, and thrice cooked wings are nostalgic starters. The oysters are fresh are corn flour battered, served with spicy rep pepper jelly aioli. The mushroom and goat cheese toast is hearty and delicious. Grilled salmon is seared crisp on the outside and tender in the center. It feels more of a personal entree than an app plate though. Everything comes with generous portions of healthy greens sourced from GA farms.

The crab and avocado salad was my favorite. Again, a good portion of greens is topped with fresh steamed jumbo lump crab meat is perfect for seafood lovers, and the grilled avocado adds a surprise element to each bite. Gulf catch  of the day, grouper in this case, was chewy, though well seasoned with with black pepper, and sat on some very spicy cooked kale. Another twist I enjoyed was the pimiento mac and cheese. Though the pimento made the dish a bit runny, the toasted bread crumbs added a crisp nice texture.

For dessert, I tried the chocolate mousse cake, a rather rich flourless version with dark creamy mousse. The raspberry and chocolate sauces were a bit runny for my taste, but good enough to lick the plate clean!

Global Businesses Thrive in Minneapolis

“Supporting new small businesses, creating jobs and stabilizing communities.” Sounds like a tag line that every city in the US aspires to achieve. But thanks to the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in Minneapolis-St Paul, this has become a thriving reality.

I visited the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis during TBEX North American conference. At first glance, the 50,000 square foot indoor market seemed like a diverse food court selling Indian, Mexican, African and many other cuisines, scattered with a few global art and jewelry stores in between.

Then I discovered that this vacant Sears regional distribution center had been converted into an incubator for immigrant and small businesses. Located in a low-income community in South Minneapolis (over 32% of the population living below poverty line), the building is home to 40 independent small businesses selling food and gifts from all around the world. NDC provides these family-owned business loans, entrepreneur training, technical assistance, real estate incubators, and marketing materials so they can follow their passion, be self sustainable, and grow their businesses.

Visitors to Minneapolis come to the Midtown Global Market primarily to experience the culinary diversity. My tour starts with Turkish coffee at Mapps Tea & Coffee where owners Yildiz and Erdogan Akguc offer coffee and teas from East Africa, Turkey and other corners of the globe. Since I need a treat to go along with my coffee, I head over to Salty Tart Bakery to try one of their award-winning baked everyday from scratch coconut macaroons. Owner and chef Michelle Gayer-Nicholson has been nominated for the James Beard Award twice and been named “Best Pastry Chef” by the editors of Bon Appetite magazine.

Salty Tart Cafe

The corner where Holy Land Grocery, Butcher Shop & Deli stands breams with excited shoppers, as they pick up fresh olives, cheese and Middle Eastern breads. At the food counter, the Palestine owners serve falafel, shawarma, burgers, and rotisserie chicken.

At Safari Express, brothers Sade and Jamal Hashi sell many of the same classic East African dishes that have made his Eat Street location a smash hit, including their delectable sambusa, homemade chapatti bread wraps, and rich meat and vegetable stews.

For authentic Mexican tamales, head over to La Loma Tamales where owners, Enrique and Noelia Garcia, cook like they would back home in  Mexico. The family now has 6 locations around the Twin Cities area.

I had to check out what Hot Indian Foods was all about, specially after I saw that you can get a discount if you do a Bollywood dance move! The food truck and restaurant serve fusion Indian food, such as burritos, and tacos stuffed with Indian chana masala, chicken tikka or aloo gobi.

Hot Indian Foods

Even if you are already full, Manny’s Tortas is a must visit, not just for the Mexican sandwiches, but Manny (the chef/ owner) himself. He moved to MN to learn English, worked his way up in restaurants, and opened 2 locations serving authentic Mexico City style sandwiches that everyone loves. Try the Manny’s Special with Steak, Onion, Mushroom, Tomato, Jalapeño, grilled together then topped with Ham & Cheese.

Manny’s Tortas

Grand Italian Ice is a good place to end the tour, with homemade Italian ice and Swedish wish cookies. It is believed that you will have good luck if you can break the cookie into 3 pieces with a slight press with your finger.

Grand Italian Ice

If you want to take produce to-go, stop by at Grass Roots Gourmet, which sources meat, cheese, and condiments from producers within 100 mile radius. They offer grab and go lunches, and delicious shortbread cookies.

Midtown Global Market

Most of the restaurants have bar stools or few tables, but there is more seating in the center of the market. Diners can also enjoy free live performances on weekends at the market’s stage. One thing you will not miss at the Midtown Global Market is diversity of people, cultures, cuisines and music. It is a great place to learn about the world without having to leave the building!

 

Top 5 Meals of 2015

It has become an annual tradition. Each year, I write a blog about the 5 best meals I ate. This is very hard to do since my job involves eating and traveling “for a living.” This year, I traveled to 14 countries and 5 states in the US. Needless to say, I ate a lot of good food!

After considerable thought, these memorable meals made it to my top 5 picks of 2015:

Machneyuda Restaurant in Jerusalem – This concept restaurant is run by three genius chefs – Yosef “Pappy” Elad, Assaf Granite, and Uri Navon. They run the business like a party. The quirky website and non-descript menu that offer dishes like “Entrecôte Django Unchained Style,” and “Lamb with lot of tasty stuff,” with pairings like “yummy stuff, some sauce” offer some clues. The waiters are not just friendly, they are singing, dancing and even doing shots in the kitchen…at work! The food is served in unpretentious sharing plates and is absolutely to die for. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding Machneyuda market.

The biggest surprise for me was the dessert. Our server cleared out our table (we were 5) and laid out aluminum foil to cover it. On it, was orchestrated a symphony of cake, chocolate sauce, caramel, candies, nougats, cookies, ice cream and whipped cream – spread around the entire table within matter of minutes. It looked very haphazard as it was happening, but then appeared to be a delicious pile of artful looking happiness. We dug in with our spoons feeling like kids, and started dancing to the Israeli pop tunes.

Catalina Rose Bay in Sydney – Located on the world-famous Sydney Harbour, this family run restaurant is known for serving the highest quality meat and poultry sourced from all over Australia. Sydney Seaplane Highlights Flight Fly/Dine experience, included lunch at Catalina overlooking the Rose Bay. We start by enjoying fresh oysters on the shell paired with an Australia white that is produced not too far from the bay. The warm Sydney sun refreshed us as we watched the Seaplanes go by. I had the Poached Western Australian Marron Tail (something I had not had before), and the small sushi plate with delicious fresh tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll. Dessert was caramelized fig with bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry and sugared pistachio. It was a memorable dessert, though the others I took bites off were pretty good too.

best seafood in Sydney

Boulanger Patissier Le Fournil Notre Dame in Marseille, France – My husband and I got to this bakery in the South of France early Sunday morning when the aroma of fresh baked goodies were oozing out of this tiny neighborhood bakery. There were sleepy residents, some still wearing pajamas, lined up to get bread, croissants, pastries, macrons, and Tropezian cakes. We got a few assortments to share with our cappuccinos. Till this day, we still talk about how the croissants flaked into a thousand pieces and melted the moment it touched our tongues. It was so good, that we had to eat another. Though so simple, it was by far the best breakfast I had this year!
best croissants in France
Marea in New York City – My close friend know that I am a big snob when it comes to Italian food. I can just about dismiss majority of the Italian restaurants in the U.S., but when I find a good ones, my heart melts into clarified butter. This is what happened at Marea, 2 Michelin star restaurant located on Central Park South. My friend and I had to wait for a long time to a spot at the bar (reservations few days in advance are highly recommended), but it was great people watching too. Everything at this high end Italian eatery boasted freshness of ingredients, integrity of flavors, and perfection in cooking. Some of my favorites were the tender Noca Scotia lobster and burro found in Astice; al dante and earthy Funghi Risotto; flaky and dressed Branzino: as well as the fried doughnuts dipped in lemon ricotta and dark chocolate Bomboloni. The portions are not small and you may end up eating 10k calories, but now you can die and go to heaven on earth.
best Italian in New York
Yachiyo Ryokan at Himeshima Island in Japan – It’s hard to imagine that one of my top 5 meals was at a 1-lady run Bed and Breakfast in a sleepy island off the coast of Kunisaki. I stayed at this beautiful family run 8-room inn surrounded by gardens, where we were served a delicious seafood dinner with ingredients that were probably swimming just a few hours ago. I had eaten a lot of good sushi throughout my stay in countryside Japan, but this was an unbelievable spread. Every inch of the table was covered with a fresh piece of fish or vegetable that was delicately prepared and artful served. The Japanese chefs take great effort in presentation as you can see from this picture. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a website and the manager, Michuri-San, speaks limited English, so good luck finding it.
best sushi in Japan

Toco Hills opens its doors to Masti Indian Fusion

A little over two months ago, the Toco Hills Shopping Plaza in North Druid Hills opened its doors to an Indian restaurant with a twist. Meaning “fun” in Hindi, Masti draws a party when it comes to Indian street food. Kabob dogs, Butter Chicken Tacos and fish and chips are just a few of the unique mash-ups found on the menu.

Masti Flyer

By pairing international recipes together, Masti aims to bring familiarity into the mix and steer away any reasons why one might avoid eating Indian food. Its varied menu aspires to attract any and everyone from the most selective eater to food critics.

Masti’s décor is inviting, full of color and customer service goes above and beyond. Take note of the wall décor replicating designs you would see on traditional costumes worn by Indian women.

Masti offers A La Carte Specials, Daily Specials and a full menu for your choosing. To gather an idea of their endless options, the Go Eat Give team sampled items from the appetizers, main entrees and dessert menus. Complimentary rice chips were served as we tried a few traditional and fusion options.

rice chips

Mango Lassi

mango lassiSimilar to a smoothie, Lassi is a yogurt based drink blended with fruit (in this case mango), cream and water.

Deconstructed Aloo Tikki Chat

We dove right into Aloo Tikki Chat, a chickpea curry topped with paneer and lentil filled potato patties. This dish is usually enjoyed during teatime in India, the duration between lunch and dinner where heavy snacks such as chat, sandwiches and samosas are eaten. Aloo Tikki Chat was filled with a blast of flavor and holds a spice you can adjust to your liking. Definitely a must try!

Butter Chicken Tacos

butter chicken tacosMasti used a pancake made from rice batter typically seen in North India, to wrap rice and buttered chicken in the shape of a taco. The pancake was overbearing the buttered chicken and would have been more appreciated as separate items. Fun approach to the taco, but not highly favored at our table.

Amritsari Fish & Chips

fish and chipsHands down one of our favorite items on the menu. A popular street food found in North India, the Amritsari Fish & Chips is executed by frying tilapia in chickpea flour and difference spices. Masti did a fabulous job replicating a meal you could order from a food truck in India.

Kabob Dog & Paneer Dog

IMG_2981Masti’s twist on hot dogs offer options for vegetarians and meet lovers using either Paneer Bhurji, a cheese commonly used in Indian dishes or kabobs. Respectively, they are both placed in toasted hot dog bun topped with relished onions, bell peppers and Masti Sauce. Another unique approach to Indian-American fusion, but doesn’t really sell in flavor. Could be a favorite among children.

IMG_2988

Faloodi Kulfi

Fall in love with this rose and vanilla combination topped with sweet noodles, basil seeds and rose syrup. Faloodi Kulfi is a popular Indian dessert and is your answer to scorching weather!

Galub Jamun

IMG_2998A sweet tooth satisfaction, Galub Jamun is a warm doughnut ball swimming in honey and rose infused syrup. Pair it was a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’re in for a treat.

If you’re curious to try one of Masti’s not-so-traditional combinations head over to Toco Hills with a friend and share a few options family-style. The large portions will be sure to fill you up even when sharing. Don’t forget to grab a spoon full of one or two options at the Paan table. You can choose from an array of these natural mouth fresheners ranging from betel leaves to dried papayas.

IMG_3009

 

Masti Indian Restaurant
2945 North Druid Hills Rd, Suite C, Atlanta, GA 30329
www.mastiatlanta.com

Dinner with Alice in Wonderland

Fancy eating inside a fake train car, ordering off crucifix shaped menus, sitting in a prison cell, served by video game characters, ninjas or maids, or being surrounded by cats – all in the name of dining at a restaurant? Tokyo is perhaps the leading city in the world when it comes to the number of concept restaurants. Locals and visitors fancy themed ambiances, that are more of an amusement park, that also serves food and drinks. In fact, the quality of food at these kind of restaurants is average, but what you go for is the look and feel.

alice restaurants japan

I decided to give it a try and visited “Alice in a labyrinth” or simple “Alice” restaurant in Ginza district of Tokyo. Based on the storybook, Alice in Wonderland, this place is accurately themed when it comes to the decor, outfits, and food. Customers are granted access through a large door, which opens like a page of a book, and led down a rabbit hole corridor adorned with passages from the story. Young waitresses are dressed in blue and white frocks – all known as Alice, while the manager sometimes appears as a Cheshire cat.

alice teacup

Playing cards surround the ceiling and floors, lamps are made out of vintage hats, and we sit in a tea cup shaped booth. Alice comes to our table and greets us. She brings a menu the opens up like a pop-out puzzle book. Items point to themselves saying “Drink me, Eat me!” Yes, there is a potion – non alcoholic soda – you can drink to make yourself bigger or smaller (it’s a gimmick of course).

drink me potion

There is no Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, cartoon or movie running in the background; just an American pop channel. The restaurant suggests “Welcome to the tea party of Alice” but there aren’t any high-tea snacks on the menu. Food options include an assortment of international dishes like salads, pizza, pasta and ice cream.

Focus is mainly on presentation. Characters like Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, and the White Rabbit make their way on the plates. Everything is made to look cute, but doesn’t taste like restaurant quality food.

alice restaurant tokyo

alice

Even though the concept may seem attractive to kids, it is more popular among young girls. People in their 20’s may come for a date night or a girls night out.

alice2

Alice’s Fantasy Restaurants has branches in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, each with a different name, but similar theme. 8May_Alice_in_Wonderland_Cafe_Restaurant_1

Door County, WI: 5 Ways to Have A Cherry Good Time

With summer right around the corner, have you decided where you will go? If you are looking to beat the heat in a spot with plenty of outdoor activities, you should check out the under the radar spot, Door County, WI. Many in the surrounding areas refer to Door County as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. Known for their cherry production, they seem to find their way into many a dish. Here are five spots to get in on all the cherry action in Door County.

1. Renard’s Cheese Shop

What’s a visit to Wisconsin without some cheese, right? Renard’s is a third generation family cheese shop. Led by Chris Renard, he is one of 60 master cheesemakers in the United States. Their signature cheese, a white cheddar cherry is a unique and delightful flavor. Did I mention cheese curds are highly addictive and abundant at almost every meal you’ll have in Door County?

renards cheese2. Cherry French Toast at The White Gull Inn

Ever heard of a little show called Good Morning America? They voted The Cherry French Toast at the Old Gulf Inn the best breakfast in America. Having tried it myself, their Cherry French Toast doesn’t disappoint. Made with fresh, Wisconsin cream cheese, you’ll want to have some bacon or sausage to balance out the sweetness. The beautiful space is also a real Inn, so you can stay here as well.

white gult inn french toast

3. Orchard County Winery

Orchard County Winery uses 3.5 million cherries annually. Who knew cherries could produce such fantastic wines? There is a current trend of rosé. If you like rosé wine, the wines produced at Orchard County Winery are a delicious alternative, as it isn’t as sweet as you might expect.

Trivia: They had German POWs work here when Orchard County was just farmland.

4. Seaquist Orchards

Suppliers of cherries to all the surrounding businesses, Seaquist Orchards are available to tour as well. How do they pluck all those cherries? Instead of hand picking, they use a machine that shakes the cherries off the trees using an upside down umbrellas like feature. There’s more. Seaquist Orchards has a bakery on site too. Besides dips, spreads, jams and jellies (there are plenty of samples everywhere), the cherry pies are something to behold. They produce 1200 pies per week with 3 lbs cherries in each pie!

upickcherries5. Island Orchard Ciders

Island Orchard Ciders, relatively new in comparison to the other restaurants and wineries in the area, opened in 2011. Cider is made from both apples and cherries. Cider is much more than a weak alternative to beer. It pairs well with seafood, pork and spicy Asian foods. The founders also recommend it for brunch. Hops used in the ciders are grown locally.

Tip: The proper way to drink cider is from a ceramic container.

cider

Besides the abundance of lovely cherries, there’s more to Door County, WI that makes it a super summer getaway. There are many unspoiled vistas in Door County. If you are looking to beat the summer heat, Door County is a good choice as it is relatively cool in the summer and there are plenty of outdoor activities perfect for families or individuals.

Do you love to support local businesses? When is the last time you went anywhere in the US without seeing a chain store, restaurant or hotel? In Door County, you won’t find a single chain at all. Hotels and restaurants are independently owned by families that live in Door County.

Get ready to loosen your belt as you imbibe and indulge in all the cherry fun in Door County, Wisconsin!

~ Malika Bowling is the author of  Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta, Food Blogging 101 and founder of Atlanta Restaurant Blog. She has been a contributing writer to USA Today and Urbanspoon. Malika holds the title of President of the Association of Food Bloggers. Follow her on twitter @ATLEatsNTweets and on Instagram @malika_bowling.

New Brazilian Steakhouse in Atlanta

Last night, I got a sneak preview of the new Brazilian steakhouse Chama Gaucha which opens today in Atlanta.

Located in the upscale Bulkhead neighborhood, Chama Gaucha has a large sophisticated space. Drawing inspiration from the menu’s Brazilian flavor and style, the interior is simultaneously glamorous, intimate and bold. An organic palate of tans and browns, uniquely designed fabric panels and gold textured ceilings yield an upscale yet comfortable dining experience. Outside, a multilevel patio offers fire pits and casual seating invites guests to revel in the energy of Buckhead while amidst the relaxing white awnings and flowing draperies.

Reintroducing a bygone era of Brazilian cowboys, who ended days preparing dinner around a fire pit, Chama Gaucha embraces and elevates the fireside culture and rustic culinary traditions. With locations in Houston, San Antonio and Chicago, the Buckhead restaurant is the fourth to open and the first in the Southeast.

Cordeiro

I took my friend Amanda along for the test. Amanda is a Brazil native. She is also a good cook and fair critic. It was impressive to see that most of the servers spoke fluent Portuguese and were knowledgable about what they were serving. We started off with traditional Brazilian cocktails, caprinhinas made with lime, sugar and Cacacha. They were up to the mark. Chama Gaucha’s bar also boasts a list of signature cocktails and martinis including the “green tea martini,” a blend of citrus vodka, Cointreau and chilled green tea, red and white “Chama sangria” crafted with seasonal fruit and “garden in Rio,” a blend of pineapple rum, cucumber and fresh lime juice.

A bowl of happiness arrived when my favorite Brazilian cheese bread “pão de queijo” was served at the table. The airy balls were fresh, warm and melting in my mouth. The cheese was not as sour as the one you would find in the state of Minas, but still good enough to pop in more than one rolls.

Next, we headed to the salad buffet. There were different kinds of pre-made and make your own salads, cheeses, salamis and vegetables. Since Brazil has a lot of diversity, dishes like potato salad, tabbouleh and Cesar salad are pretty common.Salad Bar

Once we were ready for our entrees, we had to flip over the card from No to Yes, and traditionally dressed Gauchos brought a variety of slow roasted meats to the table. There was costela, a richly marbled beef rib, frango e linguica, marinated chicken drumsticks and pork sausage. Amanda’s favorite was the grilled picanha, thinly sliced prime cut of sirloin, while I enjoyed the fact that there was a shrimp dish too. Traditional side including Brazilian mashed potatoes, fried bananas and fried polenta were served table-side family style to accompany the meat. We missed key Brazilian staples – feijoada (Brazilian black beans), rice and farofa (ground cassava).

Filet Mignon e Frango

Amanda has tried every Brazilian restaurant in Atlanta, and some of the best ones in the world. Her verdict was that the meat at Chama Gaucha was of excellent quality and she would definitely go back.                                                                                              

Chama Gaucha
3365 Piedmont Road, NE, Suite 1350
Atlanta, GA 30305
404.842.0011
www.chamagaucha.com 

Philly’s International Vegan Nirvana

It was an unconventional find but I had to discover it for myself. When I heard of a new place in Philly taking the local food scene by storm, I was curious. Flora vegan restaurant is located in suburbs of Philadelphia, in the Jenkintown neighborhood. It’s not easy to get here if you are just visiting for the weekend and don’t have your own car. A cab ride from downtown is about 30 minutes and the train – walk – can would take an hour. Even so, dinner at Flora was the best meal I had in Philly.

The 16-seat enterprise was the vision of 4 friends who have known each other since high school, worked at family establishments, and decided to start a small neighborhood restaurant that caters to a niche clientele. None of them are trained culinary professionals but have learned basic techniques by working in the kitchen through school and college. They wanted something intimate, local, customizes and healthy. With limited seats the chefs able to present artfully created unique dishes to diners.

What distinguishes Flora from other vegan restaurants is originality and flavors. Unlike other places that substitute tofu and gluten to make imitation meats, Flora retains ingredients in their original form. The dishes are inspired from all around the world, and adapted to vegan personalities. They also try to source food from local areas, including their own gardens. In fact, many of the people who come here are not necessarily vegans, but hooked on Flora’s promise to deliver a healthy, nutritious and fresh meal in a romantic restaurant setting.

Menu changes with the season and offers 3 or 4 course options. We start off with couple of salads that are pleasing visually and to taste. Sliced carrots delicately spiced with Moroccan seasoning, puree of chickpeas and garnish of homemade pickled radishes and parsley leaves come together in a symphony of flavors. As expected, the dish is light, healthy and delicious!

moroccan spiced carrots

Thinly sliced roasted beet with grapefruits drizzled with a crunchy pistachio vinaigrette are a clear evidence that cheese is not always essential to a well rounded salad. This plate is too pretty to eat, but we managed to clean off every morsel.

beet salad

One of my favorite dishes was the roasted brussel sprouts with a tangy onion marmalade, and wafer thin crackers made out of rolled out and fried sushi rice. The brussels are cooked to perfection – soft with a crisp bite. It takes a creative genius to bring together such varied combinations!

roasted brussels

A vegetarian Thai coconut curry with peppers, eggplant, okra, potatoes, rice and peanuts, is fragrant with herbs and spices, as it should be when freshly prepared. It is the perfect comfort dish on a chilly March evening in Philly.

coconut curry flora restaurant

We continue this culinary journey around the world with a twist on Mexican tamales. This one is stuffed with mashed lentils and served with a salsa verde sauce. The chipotle kicks in at every bite making this the spiciest dish on the menu.

tamales

For dessert we head to New Orleans. I can never refuse fresh warm beignets with melted chocolate. I peek into the tiny kitchen to see if they are actually being made to order and yes, powdered sugar is drizzled on top as they make their way to my table. As soon as I finish the treat, I want to order another one.

beignets

It was a refreshing change to eat food that tastes fresh, original and true to its flavors. Add to that stunning presentations and we have the perfect vegan restaurant.

Flora Restaurant 307 Old York Road, Jenkintown, (215) 779-7945

Note: Bring cash or check and BYOB

Restaurants Doing Good in Philly

Having already given the city their brilliant talents, several of Philadelphia’s restaurateurs and food purveyors also give back for the greater good of the community. And while Jose Garces and Marc Vetri have both established foundations that make an impact, Philadelphia diners have a chance to show their generosity as well. At Rosa’s Pizza, for example, patrons can pay an extra dollar for a slice of pizza for someone less fortunate. This pay-it-forward approach even caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who recently featured the shop on her show.

Here’s the scoop on those in the Philly food scene paying it forward:

Education & Health Initiatives:

  • Di Bruno Brothers, the specialty food retailer and importer, celebrated its 75th birthday by raising $75,000 to build the Neighborhood Kitchen at St. James School in North Philadelphia. The facility provides nutritional support to the school’s students—that means on-site lunches and meal deliveries for under-resourced families. The Neighborhood Kitchen also develops programs to engage students in the cooking and serving process, offering them hands-on opportunities to learn about the culinary arts and nutrition.
  • Focusing on specific needs of immigrants, Garces Foundation runs programs addressing health, language and cultural skills and nutrition. Each quarter, the foundation hosts Community Health Day, giving uninsured patients free dental care, physicals and medical screenings. Classes in English for the Restaurant and Everyday Living help narrow the language and cultural gap for restaurant workers. And each summer, the foundation hosts Luna Farm Field Trips to the Garces family farm, where children grow fruits and vegetables, cook their own healthy lunch from their harvest and engage in fun forms of exercise. The group also supports after-school and summer tutoring programs for children at Southwark School in South Philadelphia.
  • Children at a dozen local schools eat well thanks to Marc Vetri’s Eatiquette initiative. Funded by the Vetri Foundation, the program provides students with balanced, from-scratch meals loaded with fruits and vegetables. Serving lunches family-style, the interactive program enlists the students as peer servers and in doing so encourages respectful conversation, teamwork, patience and sharing, as well as basic table service skills, an awareness of how healthy food makes them feel and other niceties of dining. org
  • Not content to rest on the success of his popular restaurant Tequila’s and Siembra Azul, the hand-crafted tequila he spent years developing to perfection, David Suro Piñera established the Siembra Azul Foundation. Since 2007, the foundation has supported the efforts of several local and international groups dedicated to providing health care services and educational support such as English language classes, computers and school supplies, among other projects.

hunger burgerPay-It-Forward Restaurants:

  • Hunger Burger, a new addition to Reading Terminal Market, gets in on the giving with its “buy one, feed one” initiative. For every burger sold, the restaurant’s owners—husband-and-wife team George and Kim Mickel—donate a portion of their proceeds to feed a child in need. Various groups will benefit from this good will, including Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program.
  • Rosa’s Pizza is an unassuming pizza spot that has made a big difference in the lives of those with limited to no financial resources. Customers can purchase a $1 slice of pizza for themselves and pay another $1 to underwrite the cost of a slice for someone in need. Customers making a donation write a message on a blank Post-It Note, which is then stuck to the shop’s wall. Each day, about 30-40 people cash in a note for a slice. When Ellen DeGeneres heard about owner Mason Wartman’s program, she featured him on her show and surprised him with a $10,000 check.

  • Leave it to Federal Donuts to find a way to turn chicken backs from his fried-chicken-and-donuts menu into serious change to help some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens. Partnering with the Broad Street Ministry, which provides free meals and services to people in need, a group including CookNSolo (Steve Cook and James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov) launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to open the Rooster Soup Co., a philanthropic restaurant that will sell soups made from Federal Donuts’ unused chicken backs with the net profits supporting Broad Street Ministry. The campaign raised $179,000, and the search for a restaurant location is now underway.


No Tips Allowed:

  • Tipping the staff at Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood is discouraged, but the staff isn’t complaining. That’s because chef/owner Brian Oliveira and Cristian Mora pay them $13 an hour, an unheard of sum for servers, as well as paid time off, paid sick days and health benefits.

 ~ Courtesy of VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, formerly known as Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.