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Date night at The Spence

I know I’ve been absent for a while. Jeff and I both got the flu last month so we’ve both been generally tired and “off” for quite some time now. After an entire month spent indoors eating dry toast for dinner and never seeing the light of day, it was finally time we got out into the world again.

This past weekend we took a date night to The Spence, one of Richard Blais’s newish restaurants in Atlanta. We decided to do our usual thing and order a bajillion small plates in lieu of entrees so that we could try more of the menu, which sounded incredible.

Started off with buffalo sweetbreads garnished with both creamed and powdered bleu cheese and a few sprigs of celery leaf. These were extraordinarily spicy, but still really soft and delicious.

Buffalo sweetbreads

Next was the porcini mushroom and shortrib pasta. It was pretty good, with chewy pasta and a runny egg. There was very little shortrib though, and I think the mushrooms were added as a powder because the flavor was there but they were nowhere to be seen.

Porcini and shortrib pasta

Then harissa spiced beef tartare with fried quail eggs and tater tots. This one was so yummy! I loved the tater tots standing in for the requisite toast, but there really should have been a lot more of them. We ended up just eating several spoonfuls of raw beef towards the end there.

Harissa beef tartare with tater tots

Another delicious dish suffering from a lack of sufficient toast: foie gras with Japanese green peaches. There was other stuff on it too that wasn’t mentioned on the menu. Some shallot slices that tasted like they were marinated in the peach juice, something that looked like yuzu gel but tasted like nothing, possibly crushed hazelnuts, and a pickled olive that took me by surprise. It was really tasty, but again there wasn’t enough toast to pile it all on so we ended up eating almost half of it straight up, which was not my favorite thing ever. Those little green peaches were incredible though.

Foie with green peaches and brioche

Jeff was full so we opted to skip to dessert. I could’ve eaten one more dish but I just hadn’t been too impressed by anything so far so I chose to skip it. We got the yuzu semifreddo with peach sorbet and chili oil….

Yuzu semifreddo and peach sorbet with chili oil

It was gross.

The semifreddo had almost no discernable flavor and the chili oil was CRAZY overpowering. The menu also didn’t mention that there would be flavorless cracker crumbs and bitter cacao nibs, which is strange because chocolate is a common allergen and should always be mentioned up front. There was also one lone sprig of cilantro that completely freaked me out when I wasn’t expecting it. None of the flavors in this dessert went together at all, it was really bizarre and easily the worst dessert I’ve ever had.

All in all, I wasn’t too impressed with The Spence. It was incredibly noisy, so noisy that you kind of have to just give up on talking to each other until you leave. Our waiter kind of sucked too, he acted like he had just decided that we weren’t going to order much from the beginning and that we were wasting his time. Maybe he was just having a bad night but his mood really seemed targeted at us. And maybe this is a weird thing to critique, but I hated the off-center plating of most of the dishes. I know it was intentional, but it didn’t appear intentional. It always just looked like the food had slid to one side of the plate in between the kitchen and the table, made me feel like I was eating rejects.

So, not my favorite Atlanta restaurant. Sucks because there were so many yummy-sounding things on the menu that I wanted to come back and try, but now not so much.

Moving on…

We parked the car at home after dinner and walked into Decatur looking for a place to grab a nice cocktail or two and ended up at The Pinewood. We basically had the whole bar to ourselves, so we really were able to relax and talk and enjoy our drinks leisurely.

I started with the Pinewood cup. It’s white whiskey, mint, sugar, bitter lemon soda, rhubarb bitters, and seasonal fruit. It was fruity and delicious with just enough booze.

Pinewood cup

Jeff got a Brown Derby which includes bourbon, honey, and fresh grapefruit juice. He always orders well, I liked his better than mine!

Brown derby

We were there long enough to try two more cocktails. He had a Dark and Stormy and I had a Porch Punch. The punch had peach and anise flavors; I really enjoyed it. Jeff’s cocktail was extra gingery from its house made ginger beer.

We’ve actually been to The Pinewood once before with some friends, and I even took photos but never got around to blogging about it. The food we had on that occasion was all excellent. I remember some really stand-out fried green tomatoes and the creamiest broad bean hummus.

So if you’re ever in Decatur, definitely give The Pinewood a try. The Spence though, I’m not sure if I would recommend as much.

It was a really nice date night though. I’m glad we’re both feeling better and getting out and about again!

For my fellow Atlantans: What restaurant do you recommend we try next?

For Everyone: What’s the worst dessert you’ve ever had?

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What we ate in Boulder: part 2

Whew! The wedding was this past weekend and now I can finally say that I’m done with cake decorating for a while (I have another one to do in September.) I’ll show you the week-long process I went through to make it next time, but for now let’s wrap up our Boulder vacation with more delicious food!

If you know me, you know that I love Japanese food. Every time we go on vacation I try to find the best sushi restaurant in the area for us to try. This time, I found two that I could not choose between, so we went to both!

First up was Amu Izakaya. An izakaya is a casual restaurant that focuses on sake and beer with an extensive menu of small dishes, few of them being what most people would consider sushi.

Amu Izakaya

We started off with a small bottle of sake which was served to us in this gorgeous earthenware pottery. Now I really want one of these for the house!

Sake at Amu

We ordered lots of small dishes to share, starting with a fluke sashimi and snapper carpaccio in yuzu cream with salmon roe. I’d never had fluke before but loved the clean lemony flavor. The snapper was soft and bright-tasting.

Fluke sashimi at AmuRed snapper carpaccio at Amu

We had two kinds of Pacific oysters, one was Kumamoto but I can’t remember the name of the other. Both were excellent and still chilly on their bed of ice. We also shared some grilled eel with the skin still on. It was fatty and soft and delicious.

Oysters at AmuGrilled eel at Amu

Then our favorites of the night, gindara misoyaki and a green tea soba with duck soup for dipping. Gindara (black cod) is my very favorite fish but I can rarely find it anywhere to prepare at home, so it’s become a treat I just have to have anytime we see it on the menu. This one was fall-apart perfect with it’s little ribbon of crispy skin and thin salty miso glaze.

The duck soup was out of this world with big chunks of duck floating in the rich broth. The soba were cold and springy, chewy and sweet. Easily the best soba dish I’ve ever had.

Black cod misoyaki at AmuDuck soba at Amu

Finally, dessert. I’ve had mochi ice cream once before and didn’t care for it. Apparently I just had a bad one, because these little mochi ice creams were so addictingly good! There was only a thin skin of mochi incasing the creamy, not-too-cold ice cream in flavors of green tea, red bean, and pistachio. The pistachio was the clear winner for both of us.

green tea, sakura blossom, and pistachio mochi ice creams

Amu is the kind of authentic izakaya experience I wish we had in Atlanta. There are a few very good ones in Atlanta, but none as classy and traditional as Amu. Definitely check this one out if you have the chance.

Before I show you yet more Japanese food, here’s a few shots of one of the best lunches we had on the trip at a Latin restaurant called Aji.

duck taquitos, ceviche, and pork empanadas

We decided to share a bunch stuff because there were too many yummy things on the menu to choose from. We had a snapper ceviche with pickled red onions, a pork empanada with a corn masa crust, and duck taquitos with a spicy slaw. All of these were excellent and we had a hard time deciding wether to order something else or just get more of these!

We did eventually decide to split the enchiladas though, and it was definitely the right choice. They were filled with crisp grilled vegetables and topped with the freshest guacamole, salsa, and thin tomatoey enchilada sauce. I could have eaten ten of these if I weren’t so stuffed.

Enchiladas at Aji

And onward to our sushi dinner! We hit up Sushi Tora after reading many reviews claiming that it’s the best sushi in Boulder

We started with the tempura mushrooms that were amazing. There were shiitakes, oyster, and a few enoki mushrooms, all lightly fried and served with bitter green tea for dipping. I could not stop eating them. Usually mushrooms soak up too much oil when fried, but these were still fresh and springy with a deep earthy flavor.

Mushroom tempura with green tea at Tora

We got two snapper nigiri in a yuzu pepper vinaigrette that were outstanding. And any time monkfish liver (ankimo) is on the menu we have to have some. This was a particularly good bit of it too, firm but creamy with a slight peanut butter flavor.

snapper with yuzu at ToraMonkfish liver at Sushi Tora

Various maki rolls that were all really tasty and cut to the correct size. I have a pet peeve about sushi that is prepared too large to be eaten in one bite. Very happy to be able to inhale these as intended. ­čśë

Maki rolls and yellowtail nigiri at Tora

Jeff got an uni gunkan. I can’t stand the stuff. I used to try it every time we went out for sushi hoping that I just hadn’t had the good stuff yet, but it always makes me gag. Tastes like ice cold runny peanut butter and fish flavored snot if you ask me.

Uni at Tora

And because why not, more mochi ice creams! This time we got blueberry and salted cherry blossom. The blueberry was crazy good, and the cherry blossom tasted mostly like vanilla but with a faint almost rose-like aroma in the back of the throat.

Blueberry and sakura blossom mochi ice creams

Sushi Tora definitely lived up to the hype. So glad we were able to find two excellent Japanese restaurants in Boulder.

Well that wraps up the trip. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves a ton and really liked Boulder, but we didn’t quite fall in love with it the way we did with the Pacific Northwest. I happen to love rainy gloomy weather, so a city like Seattle is actually a good match for me. It’s kinda funny to say that I would miss the rain in such a sunny and beautiful place as Boulder, but that’s just what I like.

Ok! I cannot wait to show you the wedding cake process from last week. I’m still editing the photos from the wedding, but I should be able to show it all to you soon.

If you had to pack up your life and move to another city of your choosing, where would you go?

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Cakes and Ale Anniversary

Tuesday marked 2 years of marriage for Jeff and I. I’m gonna avoid all the mushy stuff and just tell you about the amazing dinner we had at Cakes and Ale, a local Decatur restaurant we’ve been meaning to try for a long time.

Cakes and Ale menu

Jeff at Cakes and Ale

They claimed to be pretty booked, so we had to come in early at 6:30 to grab seats before the rush. We figured we could just grab a few cocktails and take it slow.

I started with a truly delicious whiskey cocktail with flavors of orange and honey. Not too sweet and just boozy enough. Jeff went with a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, one of our favorites and one that we just tried to clone recently with our 4th ever home brew!

Orange and honey cocktail

Ok so, I have stated many times throughout my life that the only seafood I don’t like is the oyster. BUT, while we were in Seattle we were served a plate of Kumamoto oysters that we weren’t expecting┬áduring an omakase sushi dinner and loved them. Cakes and Ale had three types of oysters that you could order individually for a little snack, including the Kumamoto, so we asked for 2 to see if we still enjoyed them.

Kumamoto oyster with shallot mingonette

These teensy little beauties nestled in their curly-lipped shells were served with a lightly acidic shallot mignonette. They were just as tasty as I remembered. Apparently, I just like Washington oysters.

First appetizer was the arancini with citrus and fennel pollen. These little balls of creamy risotto were perfectly fried to a light golden crispness and were barely kissed with the aromatic fennel pollen that was more of an aroma than a flavor.

Arancini with citrus and fennel pollen

Next was the tatsoi (asian spinach) salad with shaved carrot and radish, citrus avocado puree, fresh cilantro, and peanuts. So refreshing! I think the farmer’s market has a type of asian spinach so I might try to recreate this one at home. The cilantro really made it.

Tatsoi salad with cilantro and peanuts

Then we moved on to the heavier stuff. First was the gnocchi verde with rabbit ragu. Wow guys…incredible. Perfectly pillowy gnocchi and the most intense and luscious ragu ever. Rabbit reminds me of the flavor of slow roasted pork, very soft and sweet.

Gnocchi verde with rabbit ragu

We decided to split the ribeye with crispy fennel and horseradish cream for our entree. It takes nearly an hour to prepare, so we ordered it pretty early in the evening and tried to take it slow so there wouldn’t be too much down time waiting for it.

Ribeye with crispy fennel and horseradish cream

This thing was huge! Very little fat and perfectly salted and crusty on the outside with a meltingly soft center. The crispy fennel reminded me of fried okra, and the horseradish cream wasn’t too spicy and complemented everything on the plate. Well worth the wait.

We both ordered another round of cocktails before getting down to dessert. This was the Spring Fever, with a bitter lemon soda that served as a nice palate cleanser.

Me at Cakes and Ale

I chose dessert. We had a meyer lemon tart with an almond crust and almond praline, topped with meringue and resting on a bit of raspberry puree.

Ya’ll know I love lemon desserts, right? This one was beyond tart to the point of being downright sour, but I loved it that way. Jeff kept making the sour lemon face with every bite though, and eventually relinquished the last few bites to me. Score.

Meyer lemon tart with meringue

Cakes and Ale was outstanding. We’ve been avoiding it because it’s, well…expensive. And every time I’ve checked their ever-changing menu online I haven’t been too excited about the offerings. I’m really glad we just went for it because everything was beyond my expectations and the staff was super-friendly and helpful. They also have a bakery and coffee shop next door that we’ll have to hit up for breakfast some time.

Well that was dinner. Now, presents! Well, one present. I assumed that we weren’t exchanging gifts this year because we’re going on vacation soon (more on that later,) so I didn’t get Jeff anything. He, however, schemed to get me a little something that I’m very excited about. Check it out!

stock lens taken with 50mm lens

That’s the stock lens that came with the Canon Rebel camera Jeff got me for Christmas. But I took the photo with my new “Nifty Fifty” 50mm/f 1.8 lens!

I tend to gravitate towards these super wide aperture shots (only a small part is in focus and the rest is fuzzy) and this lens is awesome at making those shots happen easily. It’s fixed focal though, meaning you can’t zoom but rather have to physically move yourself closer or farther from your subject. It’s taking some getting used to, but it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

What is your significant other’s best quality?

What’s a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try for a long time?