Thursday, June 14, 2007

Closed: Carlos' Cuban Cafe - The Food almost makes up for it

You know you're in ATL late when the place gets quiet. There's still people here, but they pass in clusters of 2 or 3, not the steady stream of people that were tromping past a few hours ago.

Most of this week, tonight included, has been unremarkable from a food point of view - the standards: MoMo's, Gordo's, Bonefish - and Atlanta Bread Company in the airport. On Monday, though, I branched out a bit, to mixed results. Carlos' barely counts as branching out, to be honest - I'd had lunch there once before a few months back, and it was just good enough to merit a return.

Carlos' starts off with good points in my book just based on the name. There was an amazing little hole in the wall in Santa Fe called Carlos' Gospel Cafe. Gone now, but they had a green chile stew that would peel paint off the walls and cure a hangover. The Carlos' in Tallahassee has the name in common with the Santa Fe establishment, but not much else. I stopped by around 8:30 - didn't seem late to me, but there was only one other table, and by 8:40, they were out the door. It was just me, a couple of wait staff, a cashier, a hostess, at least a couple of cooks, and I'm guessing a dishwasher. Lesson one: unless Carlos' does a raging lunch business, this place may have another thing in common with the Santa Fe Carlos' before too long. What may be a tendency toward overspending on staff did not extend to the physical space. This is a bare bones restaurant - not kitchy like Gordo's, but just a little run down.

I ordered Pollo de la Hija. The food, preceded by a small basket of garlic bread was definitely the highlight of the experience. Not inspired, exactly, but well thought out and well balanced. The chicken was tender and flavorful, served in a broth that was largely wine, but flavored with a little citrus (lime?) and a whole handful of interesting savory flavors I couldn't quite peg. The sauce was particularly good with the rice, which in turn was a great contrast to the sweetness of the maduros. Well thought out, and well executed.

And here's the funny thing - if this had run me $6, I'd have been raving about this little undiscovered gem. As it was, the chicken was one of the cheaper items on the menu at $18. Given the price of things, it seemed like the place was a little too up on itself; pretending to be fancy, when the reality had more to do with the plastic covered tables and uneven floor. Worth another trip? On the basis of the food, maybe. But not particularly soon.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Caffe Medici and Irie Bean. Fancy and Dumpy. New wave espresso in Austin.

For an updated Medici review, see my 6/6/2011 post here.

Visited a couple of relatively new espresso places in Austin over the last few weeks. These places are sprouting like weeds - Little City and Ruta Maya blazed a path, JP's brought in the big guns, and now there's a slew of new shops - Epoch, Clementine, Medici, Erie Bean - making Austin distinctly Portlandish in it's coffee options. It's sort of the same way we were Palo Altoish in our dot com boom (and crash).

Caffe Medici
is in Clarksville, West Lynn and 12th St, just a mile or so from downtown. It's a beautiful little shop, all rich woods and high ceilings. The building itself is an old Clarksville house complete with big paned windows and an open space that still suggests the individual rooms that were there before. The owner of the place is from JP's (the original Pacific Northwest level coffee spot in Austin), and they bring their coffee up from Cuvee Coffee in Houston. To top it off, they have what may be the prettiest espresso machine I've ever seen - a gorgeous cherry red La Marzocco FB70 with matching Swift grinder. A thing of beauty. So all of this matters not at all, or not much, if not for the coffee, and the coffee is really good. Cuvee makes a nice blend - it's bright with a sharp little winey bite at the front and really long finish. It's not exactly easy to drink - the sharpness is the opposite of the over-roasted mellow flavor that is the sort of running standard in corporate coffee - but I think it's extraordinarily good. Even better, the coffee blends effortlessly well with milk, which every barista there can actually steam. This is not a little thing - even good places fall down flat on this. But Medici just nails it. Latte Art. Good stuff.

Irie Bean is sort of the other side of the spectrum from Medici. The espresso is still obsessively good, but these guys are low budget and have an almost Flight Path Cafe level funk. It's in the little green shopping center on South Lamar, in the spot where Indie Pop used to be. Claim to fame: they also serve beer, and they've got a gorgeous back patio that includes, among other things, a bench made out of grass, and the back of a cement mixer truck turned into a playhouse. Like I said, funky. Irie Bean uses Texas Coffee Traders coffee, which is a much more conventional dark roast than Cuvee. It makes for a rich shot, though they tend to run a little long if you don't ask for them to keep to a short pull. Everything about Irie lacks precision but it has a lot of heart.

So there's two. Fancy and Dumpy. High budget and low brow. Both startlingly, surprisingly good, both raising the bar for what is rapidly becoming a really good coffee town.

Caffe Medici on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Roasters - surprisingly good espresso in Amarillo

With a couple of hours to kill before my flight, and a very limited set of options open (Amarillo is quiet on Sundays) I ambled over to Roasters to get a little espresso. Truth be told, I actually started at Starbucks, but a few hours is a long time, and the sameness of *$ in every singly solitary town on the planet gets a little oppressive after a while.

Roasters is shockingly good. First clue - a gorgeous 3-group La Marzocco GB5 and a trio of San Marco SM90s. A GB5 in a slick scandanavian style coffee shrine in some hip neighborhood in Portland or Atlanta or Austin is a sign that an owner knows what it takes to play in a crowded market. A GB5 in a low-budget strip mall shop in Amarillo is a sign of someone seriously obsessed.

The double is a little long - maybe 3 oz - but rich and earthy. The body is a light (very dark roast) but the char doesn't overpower the shot, and there's a woody lingering finish that is close to the level of shots I've had from JP's in Austin. Another couple of unexpected touches: Espresso is served in pre-heated thick ceramic cups and the beans are roasted on site in a small batch Probat.

At risk of severe jitteriness on my flight back to Tally this afternoon, I'm considering a small latte to see if these guys can pull off a decent rosetta.

Heads up, EspressoMap - this one may merit a spot on the list.

(FYI - stick with the straight shot - cappuccino a bit of a over-foamed chocolate sprinkled (!) disappointment)


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