Found myself in Midtown Atlanta earlier this week, and it was lunch time. A quick Google search revealed that Pita Mediterranean Street Food was around the corner. It was a warm day, and I had a heavy laptop bag to haul around, but I decided to take a chance and go sample some Mediterranean street food.
Got myself a Falafel Pita that included falafels, pickles, turnips and hummus, and a side of pita bread and baba ghanouj.
Verdict? Strictly okay. The falafels were lacking in salt, and the sandwich tasted, plain unseasoned. The baba ghanouj was good, although I wish the pita bread itself was lightly toasted.
Best part of the afternoon? Chilling out at nearby Piedmont Park.
I started hearing about Flower Child from friends and acquaintances. My first thought was, it’s such a pretty name. “Flower Child” harkens back to the days of hippie freedom, organic living, love for Mother Earth, and so on. It is a fitting name for this restaurant, I think, because the food has a youthful flair to it. It is piquant and playful, full of flavor and texture contrasts… Definitely more hip than hippy, I think.
I sent a note to the restaurant asking if I could come in for a chef’s tasting. I got a prompt response: an invitation to lunch.
It was a cool spring morning in March when I showed up at Flower Child, Sandy Springs. I instantly fell in love with the high, airy interiors, tall industrial lamp fixtures, houseplants and knickknacks decorating the windows, casual seating, cheerful waitstaff. I introduced myself to the girl at the counter. She went and spoke with the manager Mark who came over right away and welcomed me.
I skimmed through the menu and ordered a mango-pineapple fresh juice (no sugar added), a small plate of Grilled Asparagus, and the Glow Bowl. I am not one for consuming liquids with meals (save warm herbal tea, sometimes) but I was unable to resist this fresh juice combination of two of my favorite fruits, yum. The juice was tangy and delicious. What it lacked for in sugary sweetness, it made up with freshness and flavor. I loved the juice but I was sorely disappointed to see that the glass was made from thin plastic (Grade 1, non-recyclable). I wish they’d used a glass tumbler instead. It would have been simple, elegant, eco-friendly, and sustainable.
The food arrived quick. The asparagus spears were crunchy and delicious, grill marks included. It was served with farro, barley and red quinoa, flavored with ginger miso. The dish had a gentle heat, and I enjoyed the combination of crisp asparagus and chewy ancient grains. In contrast, the Glow Bowl was a delicious Pad Thai-style preparation of sweet potato noodles in coconut milk, sunflower butter, bok choy, zucchini, onion, and shiitake mushrooms, spiced with jalapeños. It was comforting and delicious, and I marveled at the light texture of the sweet potato noodles. Worth replicating at home, I think!
I alternated between one dish and the other, taking a good long time to chew thoroughly and savor the flavors.
Mark came over to ask if I was enjoying the food. I could only nod, mouth full, happy smile on face. He mentioned that they served a vegan, gluten-free chocolate pudding made from coconut cream, cocoa powder and dark chocolate, flavored with vanilla paste, served with shaved coconut and sprouted almonds. How could I say no to that? The pudding was smooth and creamy, lightly sweetened, and absolutely delicious. I was sorely tempted to eat it all but I decided to be a good spouse who shared freely with her partner. I ate a little, and saved the rest to take home to my husband. (He loved it, although he wished it was less sweet). Alas, this pudding also came in a plastic, non-recyclable container, sigh.
I loved visiting Flower Child and eating there. I found the food light and playful, delicious, and full of flavor. I adored the cheerful, sun-lit space, large windows, and the wood-marble seating. I’d love to see if/how their menu changes seasonally, and if they will incorporate local ingredients and recipes into their menu.
Wondering when I can make another trip!
Flower Child 6400 Bluestone Rd #170 Sandy Springs GA 30328
A couple of weeks ago, we visited Asheville. It was a gorgeous Thanksgiving weekend. The trees were nearly bare, and the sunlight shone through brilliantly. We had a plan to visit Black Balsam Knob but it didn’t materialize. Well, it did but not the way we intended. Instead of getting to the summit of Black Balsam Knob, we meandered up a hiking trail that, I am sure, was a nearly dried-up stream. We walked through water and ice and snow for a while, then decided to turn right back. Sigh. I think we need to visit Asheville again. And make a plan to go to the summit of Black Balsam Knob.
All that walking got our appetites fired up, and we decided to go to the much-loved and much-talked about Chai Pani, Asheville. Once there, we ordered the Vegetarian Thali. As the menu states, the Thali comprises of dal, sambar, Konkani slaw, rice, paraantha, raita, dessert, paapad and entree of the day (happened to be Saag Paneer that day). Since both of us wanted to avoid dairy, we asked for an entree substitute. The server offered Chhole instead. Our platters arrived after a brief wait.
Hmmm, I wasn’t impressed.
For one, I couldn’t understand why a Thali would contain both sambar and dal. Now, a dal may be made with toor, moong, masoor, chana and/or many other legumes. However, this particular one, I believe, was made of toor dal (pigeon peas). Sambar is made from toor dal too. A combination of both sambar and dal ends up being way too heavy! In addition, both preparations were sweetish to taste. Oddly enough, the Chhole was rather sweet too. The Thali came with a pile of basmati rice (which also adds to the “heaviness” of the meal) and one homely paraantha. I helped myself to the house lime pickle that helped cut through the heavy, sweet nature of the various items. The red cabbage slaw was tangy, so that was helpful too. The Paapad was beautifully roasted. We skipped the raita and the sweet rice pudding.
I tweeted about my experience. A day after, the owner Meherwan Irani responded, asking me to explain. I described my experience over a few tweets. I also had an email exchange with Daniel Peach, the chef at Chai Pani, Atlanta (read an email interview I did with Daniel).
All this led me to think deeper about authenticity and how we define it.
Indian cooking dates back centuries, if not several millennia. Over the years, many new ingredients (e.g. potatoes, tomatoes) have made their way into traditional Indian cuisine. Any recipe may be altered, really. As someone who tries to avoid excessive sourness in her food, I substitute kokum for tamarind a LOT. Many Punjabi preparations use onions and garlic. I sometimes skip those ingredients. Red chillies are often used for the spice factor. Sometimes, I rely on ginger and whole peppercorns instead. P is vegan, so we use dairy substitutes in cooking, baking, etc.
Suffices to say that I cannot exactly talk about authenticity.
But I like to think that what makes a recipe somewhat authentic is the use of that one ingredient which defines the preparation. For instance, sambar relies on tamarind for sourness. You can susbtitute kokum, but then what you end up with isn’t exactly sambar. It is, at best, a delicious tangy dal preparation. Hummus needs chickpeas, period. We use sprouted moong and all manner of legumes in place of chickpeas sometimes. The end result is always delicious, healthier even. But authentic? Probably not.
Some folks claim that a true biryani must be made with mutton. Ahh, I am a fan of the vegetable biryani!
There are many, many examples. So, the case rests, I think?
It was a lovely Sunday afternoon. We happened to be in Sandy Springs, and lunch was beckoning. P suggested we go to Aladdin’s Mediterranean Grill & Deli on Roswell Road. I enjoy Mediterranean food, so off we went.
It has been a long time since I have eaten at a restaurant and enjoyed the experience so immensely, PLUS I managed to get a few good photographs (thanks to the gorgeous light and the wide windows at Aladdin’s), so I thought a blog post was merited.
The menu is fairly simple at Aladdin’s. I wish I had clicked a shot of the blackboard with the handwritten menu. There are many vegetarian options. P had visited Aladdin’s earlier for an office team lunch, so he ordered for both of us.
It was simply wonderful. The flavors, the freshness, the vibrancy of ingredients, the casual atmosphere… the trio of giggling kids at the next table, their serious-faced parents (Mom looking every bit stylish and Middle Eastern, as I’d imagine) and the Arabic music playing in the background – all in all, a supremely relaxing and delicious lunch experience.
Let’s take a moment to talk about water?
How adorable, right? Giant glass tumblers filled with cool water, a dash of rosewater, fresh mint leaves and lemon slivers make for a refreshing beverage.
We ordered a bowl of Lentil Soup and the Vegetarian Platter. The lentil soup was simply flavored yet hearty in taste and texture. It came with a generous portion of pita croutons. I would have happily dumped the whole pile of croutons into the soup and slurped it all down, but I controlled myself… Sigh.
The Vegetarian Platter contained: Baba Ghanoush, Tahini sauce, four Falafels, Dolma, Jerusalem Salad, Tabouli and Hummus dip.
Can I just say that every item was delicious? It’d make for such a hackneyed description and a boring blog post but I think you understand my drift? These are the same dishes that grace the menus of most (if not all) Mediterranean eateries in the U.S., yet the freshness of the ingredients and the simplicity of preparation made for a delicious lunch repast.
I wasn’t planning to eat the pita bread but their pillow softness was so tempting that I couldn’t resist. Made myself a generously loaded pita sandwich. The Tabouli salad was loaded with fresh parsley and lime (or lemon) juice with none of the mouth-puckering sourness. The Dolma was perfect. I am not the biggest fan of this stuffed vine leaf preparation but I enjoyed it this time.
I turned down dessert but I will give it a try next time.
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