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Installation (Wordpress Part): Steakhead's Atlanta Eats Blog: August 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chima- A Fogo de Chao Alternative?

For those that have read my blog over the past 3 years, you know what a big fan of Fogo de Chao I am. When a new Brazilian Churrascaria called Chima opened in Buckhead my first thought was "Why bother?" After all, Fogo is right around the corner, and can you really improve on that concept? But armed with curiosity, an appetite and a 2 for 1 coupon, I went last week to find out.

My first impression was that the place must be popular. The dining room and adjacent bar was packed, and our 8pm reservation didn't yield a table until 8:50. This may be one of the few kinds of restaurants where I don't mind a wait that much since my goal is always to extend the meal (I have been known to have a full Fogo meal in 45 minutes because I can't contain myself). However, a 50 minute wait when you have a reservation is excessive.

If you are familiar with Fogo, the premise of Chima will be familiar. A salad bar with smoked salmon, various cheeses and salads etc. If there is one area where Chima may have outscored Fogo it may be the salad bar. There seems to be a few more choices including beef carpaccio (if the 'all you can eat beef" in the main course is not enough red meat).

Speaking of the main course, you know the drill. Gauchos serve endless selections of beef, lamb and some chicken, mostly on a skewer. A two sided card on your table alerts them when you are hungry and when you are taking a break. At Fogo, turning the card to green unleashes an assault of gauchos from all sides. Not quite the case at Chima. We had several lulls where there wasn't a gaucho to be seen. And that brings me to another point. Yes, the Chima gauchos wear some traditional garb. But it doesn't look that much different from the white shirts of the waiters and other staff. Therefore, it doesn't have that same unique appearance as Fogo where the gauchos really standout. As far as meat selections, I would give the nod to Fogo here as well. Some pieces were overcooked. Some pieces were cut too big, therefore cutting down on the sampling fun. The house special cut lacked the flavor that Fogo offers. And some of my favorite pieces were just plain missing- like the bacon-wrapped filet.

So for me, Fogo will still be my Churrascaria of choice in Atlanta. Chima was good, and the coupon helps (register at to get one). But its not like I am going to these places that often. So for the 2 or 3 times per year I do, there just isnt a good enough reason to go someplace else.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Shaun Doty & Fifth Group Opening The Original El Taco

It seems like the taco is about to get some attention from some heavy hitters in the biz. Shaun Doty (of Shaun's in Inman Park) and Fifth Group are coming together to bring you The Original El Taco in the space formerly occupied by Sala. I was never a big Sala fan, primarily because they strayed from two tenants of good Mexican in my mind- it was neither simple nor cheap. I hope Fifth Group learned their lesson from that. Here is the official release.

"The owners of Fifth Group Restaurants have joined forces with Executive Chef Shaun Doty, owner of Shaun’s, to create The Original El Taco in the former Sala space in Virginia-Highland. The new restaurant will open in mid-October. Doty is developing recipes for creative Mexican fare like tacos, tortas and salsas, and the Fifth Group Restaurants team is working with William Peace, Peace Design, to change the look and feel of the restaurant.

“The Original El Taco will be lively, bright, open, and - most of all - fun,” said Robby Kukler, co-owner of Fifth Group Restaurants. “We have known Shaun for years and when we found out he had been thinking about doing Mexican too, we knew it was a great partnership.”

“I love Mexican food and have wanted to do a restaurant like this for a while,” said Doty. “To have this opportunity to work with the pros at Fifth Group Restaurants is great.”

“We are going to create an easy, approachable destination for great Mexican food,” added Kukler.

Doty will work with a chef de cuisine at El Taco when the restaurant opens, while remaining executive chef at Shaun’s.

The Original El Taco is located at 1186 North Highland Avenue N.E. (formerly Sala) and will be open for dinner nightly. Fifth Group Restaurants sold Sala in mid-2007 and reacquired it in July 2008.

Fifth Group Restaurants is the privately owned company that operates Atlanta restaurants South City Kitchen® Midtown, South City Kitchen Vinings, La Tavola Trattoria and Ecco, as well as Bold American®, a catering and events company with onsite services at the Studio 887 and the Event Gallery at the King Plow Arts Center and offsite at private homes, offices and Atlanta's premier venues. For more information, call 678-302-3251 or visit

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Outback Gets A Facelift

I have always been a fan of Outback Steakhouse. Perhaps it's that dang Bloomin' Onion , which I can never pass up whenever I go there. Or perhaps I remain nostalgic from my days in grad school many years ago when going to Outback (and dealing with a likely 2 hour wait drinking Fosters at the bar) was considered a splurge. Or perhaps it's because I realize now with a 2 year-old that a night at Outback is up there with the best of them in terms of a fun and fulfilling dinner out with the family. And so while my reasons for Outbacks appeal may have changed over the last 15 years, the restaurant itself really hasn't. But that is about to change.

I was recently invited to check out the new Outback in Johns Creek, for what they are dubbing as the new prototype of Outback restaurants. While there are a few new items on the menu, its pretty much the same at first glance- Bloomin' Onions, steaks, shrimp on the barbie- you know the routine. What is different is the look of the place. The Johns Creek location, which just opened this week, is one of 4 locations in the country to sport the new look.

As you will see from a couple of pictures below, they have gone with almost a Southwestern motif- lots of earth tones, and nice use of wood, stone and metal. In fact, when you look at the outside, it has more of the look of a Santa Fe saloon than the ranch house style of the traditional restaurant. Speaking of saloon, the bar is now separated from the main dining room, with the idea of keeping the TVs away from the dining room experience. There is still plenty of seating in the bar area and they still have Fosters, so for those looking to watch a game, eat and have an oil can, no worries.

I'll be curious to see how long it will take them to retrofit the existing Outbacks to this theme, and when my more local restaurant in Dunwoody will get the upgrade.

The New Outback in John's Creek

The New Outback Dining Room

The new Outback bar.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Almost Famous at Straits

I wasn’t sure about what to expect when I walked into the celebrity-owned Straits last night. Chef Chris Yeo has partnered with Ludacris to bring his popular SF-based Malaysian concept to Midtown in the space previously occupied by Spice, and at first it may seem like an odd pairing. I mean, Yeo has been wowing Bay Area foodies for years with his take on Singaporean cuisine, and Luda (yes, we are that tight, he calls me Steak) gets people grooving to “Move Get Out the Way” (at least, that’s what I think the song is called- my only exposure to it was that they used to play it at Falcons games when TJ Duckett plowed through the line.) I’ll give them both credit, though. Ludacris partnered with a seasoned chef that brings something different to the Atlanta market, and Yeo partnered with someone who will bring in the customers. I was sort of hoping that one of them would be in the restaurant that night, but Yeo had just left town, and if Luda shows up, supposedly it’s usually after midnight. But heck, I was there, so I am sure that made someone’s night.

When I first walked in at 7pm, the place was mostly empty. Sitting at the bar sipping on a Kirin, Tears for Fears was playing (somewhat loudly) over the sound system, and I was thinking to myself “Would Luda approve of this?” It was a nice tune, however, reminding me of my days as the “guy on the scene” in 1985 (I was that hip, even at 17!). The bartender was quick to tell me that not only would it pick up, but the kitchen would likely be open until 2am that night. Why, I asked. “Because it’s Tuesday.” (Of course, silly question). There are also upscale private rooms both upstairs and downstairs for those looking to take their groove to a higher level. One day.

As the night went on, the place filled up, the music got louder, and let’s just say, more contemporary. So on to the food. The menu is filled with many small plates and you are encouraged to share everything. Even the entrée’s are quite small, so the two of us easily devoured two appetizers and two entrees. Their signature appetizer is the Kung Pao Lollipops, and these rock. They are chicken wing drums (prepared more like a “General Tso” style, than Kung Pao- but Kung Pao sounds better), covered with minced peanuts and jalapenos. I could have eaten 10 of these (you only get 4 per plate).

For the main course, we had the Tamarind Beef and the Origami Sea bass. The Tamarind Beef was served with a delicious black pepper oyster sauce. Unfortunately, the beef was slightly overcooked and not very tender for a filet. Also, this was one of the rare dishes that suffered from not enough sauce. I found myself using the beef to mop up any residual sauce on the bottom of the plate. The Sea bass was outstanding. It was cooked and served in something like a parchment covered box which kept the fish hot and moist. Flavor exploded from each bite. And given that there were quite a few mushrooms (Steakhead’s big food aversion), I still cobbled up my share.

As I look at Straits, I could definitely see myself going back for drinks and grazing on the small plates. There were so many that caught my eye (like the Crispy Wontons, Sambal Udang, and Straits Spareribs to name a few). And who knows, if you time it right- both day of week and after midnight- you may see someone famous.

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