Thursday, December 31, 2015

Loving Hut - Sandy Springs - Atlanta Georgia

You can find this location of Loving Hut at 220 Hammond Drive, Sandy Springs, GA 30328 - this is a row of buildings that climb up the hill to the City Walk Sandy Springs shopping center anchored by Kroger and across Hammond from Whole Foods. Parking is all long the row of buildings or in a pinch you can park in the main lot up the hill and walk down.

When you enter Loving Hut you'll be on the second floor - you order on the ground floor at a counter and find tables where you can upstairs. Ambiance is modernist and playful, more like a bakery than a restaurant. Specials seem to change frequently and are on chalkboards leading to the counter.

Loving Hut is a vegan restaurant, which appealed to the handful of Indian vegetarians where I work and who wanted to share a lunch with us (they usually bring in their own food). 

As a sidebar, I think it's hard for most Americans who are used to eating meat to understand the food needs of most vegetarian Indians - first there are varying degrees of vegetarianism - for instance, those in the South may be more apt to being vegetarian yet they occasionally eat fish if they're along the coast. Others will eat eggs but abstain from any forms of meat (eggatarians? ovatarians?) and all do dairy, mostly milk, clarified butter (ghee) and paneer (fresh milk cheese). Second, foods in India tend to be very well cooked as a practical matter, to extract the most nutrients as possible to feed the most people (and secondary to this it prevents bacterial illness due to bad water or food handling). Culturally, giving an Indian vegetarian a salad and thinking they will be satisfied is rather obtuse based on these two facts but there's a third. Most Indian foods tend to be cooked with herbs and spices that are very distinctive, especially the coriander, cumin, cardamon, ginger and tumeric (this last is what provides the distinctive flavor and color of what Americans know as "curry"). Meals that don't include these spices are very bland to most Indian people and just doesn't taste good to them, I've found.

In any case, I came with a group that included a handful of Indians about half are vegetarians so Loving Hut was an ideal restaurant to try. Personally I've eaten at many vegetarian restaurants and the best I've found are over by the Patel Bros - Chat Patti is one of my favorites. Most American vegetarian restaurants I've found to be very bland - across the street from Loving Hut is Sunflower Cafe which I've visited a handful of times over the years and every time I've been very hopeful and every time I've been very disappointed. So where am I going with this? I found the food that I tired at Loving Hut to be exceptional - I ordered the Basil Lasagna and the dish was superb, more like what you would receive in a good Italian restaurant instead of a vegetarian one. I think the secret was the sauce which was well above par.

We started with some spring rolls that I thought were OK, but nothing special. Other items ordered included a Felafal Wrap, a Black Bean Burger, Chow Mein, a House Stir-Fry, the House Curry, and of course the Lazagna Special. From the comments and small bites of each I tried, everything was quite good. I'm not sure if my Indian friends liked it much, the opinions seemed to vary. In all, the food to me was above par compared to other veggie restaurants.

The service was good but nothing special - since you order at the counter it's basically a drop-delivery to your table. No complaints but nothing to report here. This is now my go to place for vegan.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Loving Hut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, December 28, 2015

IHOP Store 406 - Sandy Springs - Atlanta Georgia

You can find this location of IHOP at 6120 Roswell Rd NE, Sandy Springs, GA 30328 just South of the intersection of Roswell Rd and Hilderbrand Dr. Traveling North on Roswell Rd from the perimeter, the IHOP is on your left past the shopping center anchored by Whole Foods.

IHOP has long been a favorite of mine, maybe due to not having any in my hometown. I first encountered IHOP (International House of Pancakes) while living in Florida and I must say that the locations there have much to be desired. When I tried my first in Atlanta (the location that used to be in Buckhead) I was quite surprised at how much better they are here than in Florida. The food just seems better and the service is quite a bit better. Also, the stores in Atlanta (at that time during the 80's) were newer and much cleaner than what I experienced further south.

This particular location is one of the few remaining that still has the iconic pinnacle roof - more like a modernist A-Frame than a restaurant and easy to spot from the street. This location is also one of the oldest in the South, the 6th to open and still in operation since 1966. Come inside and experience a hectic lunch or breakfast and you'll see some magic in how fast the food comes to your table. This location in particular has some of the best consistency of product that I've found at IHOP and yes, it will be busy and you'll probably have to wait. I try to come in a bit early for lunch and manage to get seated immediately.

My regular lunch group comes here occasionally as we try to accommodate the vegetarian in the bunch, Sidd, who doesn't eat meat but will eat eggs occasionally, making the local breakfast joints perfect for us. We tend to rotate through IHOP, Flying Biscuit and J. Christopher's, which are all within about a mile of each other in Sandy Springs.

Everything I've tried at this location has been quite good - I usually get the Chicken Fajita Omelet as it's my favorite menu item - with a side of the Harvest Grain and Nut pancakes. Add some warm maple syrup and you have quite a meal. Sid manages quite well with some scrambled eggs and some hash brown potatoes but has been known to eat a pancake or two.

The service here is quite good with quick servers who somehow manage to keep the orders straight, even with a bunch of "add this" or "sub that" - make sure you get the coffee as they leave a carafe on the table. All-in-all this is a terrific location that's quite busy - come try it and you'll see why.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
IHOP Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rumi's Kitchen - Sandy Springs - Atlanta Georgia

You can find Rumi's Kitchen at 6112 Roswell Road NE, Sandy Springs, Atlanta, GA 30328 - this is a free-standing building between Mellow Mushroom (look for the yellow dome-like awning) and IHOP just South of the Hilderbrand Dr intersection with Roswell Rd.

I've been coming to Rumi's as a regular for many, many years and I've reviewed it a few times - my last review was in 2011 so I've decided it's time to freshen up my impressions a bit. I started my visits at the old location in 2010 and have continued as the restaurant expanded into it's beautifully rendered version 2.0 a block South. The interior is a fusion of modernist loft and elegant dining with Persian/Mediterranean accents - simply beautiful. I also like the open-kitchen concept with the tandoor-style ovens where they make the fresh flat-bread. With an elegant ambiance, great service and real cloth napkins, this is an experience worth sharing with your friends, family or business associates.

The daily specials change frequently but for the most part the menu is consistent with many signature dishes. Lunch is a bit shorter, I've not noticed the prices being less but the portions may be smaller (for instance, the excellent Sea Bass only has one piece during lunch instead of 2 during dinner - you can still order the dinner portion for lunch if you're hungry). Rumi's is quite good at adapting the menu slightly for your needs - for instance if you're a vegetarian you can have the felafals as sliders instead of a wrap.

The beautiful bar allows you to sample from a great wine list or try one of the specialty cocktails. I tend to look at the regional craft and select from there - I don't recall the brand but it was quite good.

Once seated you'll receive a basket of flat bread - more like a naan than a pita - the bread is prepared in tandoor-style ovens that you can see to the right of the open kitchen. You also receive a plate with a bit of feta, wonderfully buttery green olives, butter, walnuts, mint and tarragon. You mix the various ingredients together on the bread for a little appetizer - add a dip or two to make this exceptional. I always order and recommend:

  • Kashk Badenjoon - fried eggplant, cream of whey, crispy onion, mint - love this spread - really my favorite of the three apps I've had.
  • Mirza Ghasemi - smoked eggplant, tomato, garlic
  • Rumi's Dip (Hummus) - ground chickpea with tahini, garlic & olive

I also like their salads either in combination with lunch or as a side to the sandwiches/wraps:

  • Arugula Salad - Persian cucumber, mint, radish, feta, lemon vinaigrette - I love this salad and the greens/vinaigrette works well with any dish. It's very lightly dressed and prepares your palate for everything else to come.
  • Salmon Salad - seasonal greens, cucumber, lemon vinaigrette
  • Lamb Salad - mint yogurt marinated lamb sirloin, arugula, Persian cucumber, mint, radish - this is my salad when I feel like I need to lighten up a bit. The marinated lamb is quite delicious and they will cook it on the rare side - very delicious.
  • Mast Khiyar - a yogurt cucumber salad, a bit lighter than the dips above

Sandwiches I've tried include:

  • Falafel Sandwich - blended chickpeas, herbs & spices, relish, red onions, tahini sauce
  • Lamb Sliders - ground lamb, roasted tomato, mint, sumac red onion, yogurt sauce, open flatbread
  • Falafel Sliders - blended chickpeas, herbs & spices, sumac red onion, yogurt sauce, open flatbread (not typically on the menu)
  • Koobideh Sandwich - seasoned chuck, hanger & brisket ground bbeef blend, seasonal greens - this is my "go to" during lunch for a quick-and-delicious bite. It's combines fantastic flavors, a great side-salad and won't break your pocketbook.
For entrees I've had the following:

  • Chinjeh Lubia Polo - beef sirloin kabob, braised green bean & tomato basmati rice
  • Chicken Koobideh - saffron, onion & ground chicken breast, saffron & herb basmati rice - I get this occasionally but find it on the dryer side.
  • Roasted Salmon - saffron salmon filet, saffron & herb basmati rice
  • Koobideh Kabob - seasoned chuck, hanger & brisket ground beef blend, saffron basmati rice
  • Barg Kabob - beef tenderloin, saffron basmati rice
  • Soltani Kabob - boobideh kabob, barg kabob, saffron basmati rice
  • Lamb kabob - mint & yogurt marinaded lamb sirloin, lentil & raisin basmati rice - I love this dish
  • Chilean Sea Bass - saffron fillet, saffron & herb basmati rice - this is hands-down the best sea bass I've ever had, bar-none. Some of my friends always order the dinner portion during lunch, it's so good.
  • Shish Kabob - center cut tenderloin skewer grilled with yellow onion, red bell pepper, and zuchinni on a bed of saffron basmati rice - during lunch is isn't on the menu but is often offered up as a special. Get this as rare as you can stand it. The dinner portion is truly massive portion (fit for a king!) and very delicious. The meat is very flavorful and fork-tender. This is hands-down the best Shish Kabob in Atlanta.

All entrees can have the starch interchanged - there are also a few things on the menu that are usually reserved for the specials that you can change-up for an extra charge:
  • fava bean & dill rice
  • lentil & raisin
I frequently bring business visitors from our other offices to Rumi's and they've never failed to delight and accommodate us with parties exceeding 20 people. The restaurant also has a private dinning room in the back for special occasions - you will need to call ahead and negotiate your menu, etc in advance.

I consider this the only 5/5 star restaurant I've tried above the perimeter. Try it and you'll see why.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Rumi's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato