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Sunday, November 30, 2014


     Old Norcross is a picturesque historic village in North Atlanta that has special significance for me. It's where John proposed under a canopy of magnolia trees. It is also a little stretch of Americana in the middle of suburbia that transports you away from the rushing city. It is teeming with sprawling parks, regal fountains, old and new architecture faithful to the style of the late 1800s, boutiques, gift shops, and plenty of places to eat.
     Paizanos is modeled after the traditional Italian eatery. Pizza pies are the specialty, but they include the obligatory pasta dishes on their menu. The location is small but comfortable, the bar is attractive and the service is excellent. It was just perfect for a family lunch on a laid-back Sunday afternoon.
     There were nine of us at the table so there was quite a variety of dishes. I didn't take a bite off each person's plate so I can only describe my own, but everyone seemed satisfied with their choices.
     We started on a great note. Their garlic rolls or "knots" came piled in a deep and ample bowl with a serving of marinara sauce on the side. They were meaty, lathered in garlic oil and bejeweled with chunky pieces of garlic that I didn't dislike, although some at the table mentioned they preferred their garlic minced rather than chopped.
     A cheese pizza came for the two youths in our party and it garnered oohs and aahs from everyone. Even I found it attractive and fragrant in spite of my general indifference toward pizza. Some of the other items represented included lasagna, three different chicken presentations- Florentine, Parmigiana and Alfredo, all accompanied with a side of pasta. After quite a long stretch of lively conversation, a reverent silence came over the table broken only by satisfied sighs.
     I ordered the Gnocchi Alfredo and there were no surprises. The sauce was a little thin but the flavor was solid. John ordered yet another chicken option, Marsala. He said it was 'standard'. Nothing different from what he's had a hundred times before.
     In all honesty, the afternoon was more about family gathering together than having a gastronomic experience, and Paizanos is ideal for that purpose. You get what you expect from the popular menu items, plus those sinful bread knots. What more could you ask for?
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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cuban Guys

     Fast, cheap and authentic are the words that come to mind when describing these little joints that have popped up around Miami. The menu is quite full of everything you would expect to find in a Cuban sandwich shop. Plantain chips, yucca fries, cod fritters and their signature crispy string fries, all fresh and prepared on the premises, from what I could see.
     John ordered the Original Frita, a thin slice of meat heavily seasoned with paprika, grilled onions and a shower of string fries on a Cuban roll. He didn't care for the seasoning so he wasn't impressed.
     I had the Pan con Lechón, pulled pork marinated in garlic 'mojo', grilled onions and their signature blanket of string fries on toasted Cuban bread. I have to say I liked it. The pork was tender and tangy, as I expected. I do think a little more meat and fewer string fries would make these sandwiches top notch in the fast-food kingdom.
     I wouldn't make a special trip for their food, but they add variety to the options for inexpensive, casual meals. That's a good thing.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ChillN Nitrogen Ice Cream

     Tucked away in a drab and nearly lifeless strip mall on the East side of Miami's US1, is this minuscule place with the most delicious little secret. When you take a panoramic view of the shopping center, traffic is nearly undetectable except right in front of ChillN. Hoards of people huddle inside and out like bustling ants on a hill, perfectly willing to wait for a turn to place their orders.
     Given my vast ignorance in matters of chemistry, my expectations of flash-freeze nitrogen ice cream were not high. I couldn't shake the images of creepy cryogenic experiments from my head. What I found was the creamiest ice cream I've ever had this side of my beloved gelato. The flavor choices, add-ons and miscellaneous elements available can be combined in nearly limitless ways to build your personal cup of heaven.
     I chose pumpkin frozen yogurt with Nutella and brownie bites. John had one of their specials or 'Equations of the Week', chocolate ice cream with cookie bites. Both the yogurt and the ice cream were satisfyingly dense and velvety and the flavors mild yet distinctive.
     These little unexpected gifts from Providence make life so much sweeter!

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finka Table and Tap

     What do you get when you mix Cuban 'vaca frita', Korean barbecue ribs, Peruvian ceviche, ranch-style decor, and '60s oldies music? No, not chaos. Not if it's done with creativity and attention to detail.
     Finka defines eclecticism. The broadly diverse fusion menu is not an accident or the result of an absence of purpose. It's deliberate, and the ingenuous minds behind it knew exactly what they were doing. The concept for this gastropub was born to the descendants of Cuban cuisine royalty. The founders of Islas Canarias, a staple in Southwest Miami for over 30 years, are the grandparents of Jon and Eileen Andrade, the young creators of this buzzing new establishment.
      Even before you walk in, you get a preview of what awaits in the form of  'the Finka Couch', a bull made entirely of horseshoes that doubles as a bench and sits politely to the side of the door. Once inside, the place speaks 'ranch'- wagon wheels, blown glass pendant lamps hanging from ropes, and stable tools on the walls.
     My aperitif was called 'Summer Love', a mystical concoction that included elements such as honey vodka, cardamom syrup, and egg whites among others.This unlikely mixture resulted in a perplexing flavor. It was bitter but also sweet; it left a trace of aromatic spice but also of fragrant flowers. Based on such polarity, I shouldn't have liked it, but I did... very much.
     John ordered a Two Brothers (Ebel's Weiss) beer and thought it tasted like a Miller Light. I'm not sure how the Two Brothers would interpret that.
     In spite of its variety, the menu is not unusually lengthy but it's an intentionally smart and comprehensive representation of the three main cultural themes.
     John ordered the Korean pork ribs served over a bed of truffle fries, which looked more like potato sticks than fries. Hubby picked the bones clean, but he insists it was out of his general penchant for ribs, not because these were particularly exceptional. I had the Vaca Frita with glass noodles and found the dish generous, savory and comforting.
     Dessert options were not plentiful; in fact, they don't actually have a dessert menu yet. From the limited choices available, I made an executive decision and ordered the 'natilla', the Cuban version of custard. This one comes in a glass with a layer of pulverized Oreos at the bottom, then natilla, chocolate fudge and topped with walnuts. It was good for that last bite of sweetness to end the meal, but John tasted it and said, "Oh, so 'natilla' means pudding." It was that ordinary.
     Without a doubt, this is a place of sharp contrasts, bold flavor couplings and unexpected culinary turns. It works. Nevertheless, most of their repeat customers are probably going to be of Latin background and authorities on many of these specialty dishes. Caution must be taken to present assertively full-flavored dishes with consistency.

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