Eating gets complicated when the power goes out, especially for families like mine that cook a lot. After giving away and throwing away our food last week, we spent five days checking out new restaurants, old favorites, and the hospitality of friends. (Thank you, Tyler, for the delicious clam linguini.) Here’s a rundown of the highlights to help when the grid goes down again.
Since my husband was ready to duct- tape the fridge to keep me from peeking in, we headed for dinner soon after the storm, deciding on Wang’s Mandarin House because we love the restaurant’s cold sesame noodles and Alex Ortega’s piano playing on Friday and Saturday nights.
The next five mornings were tough: no coffee, no hair dryer, no e-mail. Here’s my advice: Skip McDonald’s for High Point Coffee, where $5.25 buys a latte, an “everything bagel” with cream cheese, and free wireless. For a change of pace, leave the laptop plugged in at a neighbor’s (you know, the one with a generator) and thank them with a cinnamon bun from Gibson’s Donuts. Eat the sticky and delicious center first.
“We make dozens of cinnamon buns every day,” said Jennifer Naranjo, revealing the secret ingredient: Cinna-Butter Blend. “We put it in the apple fritters too.” Lunch was an easy choice. We’d heard enthusiastic reports about Overton Park Pizze Stone since it opened two weeks ago in the building formerly occupied by Rustica. The restaurant is a big hit, especially with its Evergreen neighbors. “We’ve already come up with a kid’s menu,” said chef Duncan Aiken, who owns the new eatery with general manager Scott Rambin.
Aiken, whose resume includes Jarrett’s, La Patisserie, Stella, and Café Society, has shaped an affordable menu with the Italian cooking he learned while attending culinary school in Florence. “Basically, I’ve replicated the pizzas I loved in Italy and given them names,” he said.
The “Lucca Brazzi,” for instance, is topped with olive oil, roasted garlic, smoked mozzarella, Parmesan, Reggiano, fresh arugula, tomatoes, truffle oil, and anchovies. “The ‘Lucca’ was the first pizza I had in Italy,“ Aiken said. “It had white anchovies, and it blew me away.”
Aiken keeps a tight rein on costs and quality because he makes his dough, pastas, and smoked mozzarella from scratch. “I make my own everything: pesto, pizza sauce, ravioli,” he said.
Last week, Aiken added seven new sandwiches to the menu, including the “Soprano”: mortadella, pepperoni, capicola, pepernata, smoked mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette stacked on homemade ciabatta. “I make the bread with no eggs and use olive oil instead of butter,” Aiken says. “It makes the bread sweeter.”
I’ll skip the great meals we had at Houston’s (try the chicken tender basket even though it’s not on the menu any more and a Stoli martini) and The Kitchen (chef Sabrina Ball’s cioppino was so authentic I wanted to lick the bowl) and head right to Bartlett, where the buffet at Eat Well Sushi & Grill is, in a word, unbelievable. Owners Linda and King Chow opened their sixth restaurant in early spring, offering a new concept for Memphis: all-you-can-eat sushi, along with a limitless supply of grilled Japanese and Korean food, soup, salad, and dessert. Generally, I’m not crazy about buffets, but the restaurant’s elegant presentation (orchid petals on the sushi trays), ambience (floor-to-ceiling tanks of tropical fish), price point ($10 for lunch, $20 for dinner), and over-sized glasses of sweet or unsweet tea erased all doubts.
“We want customers to try lots of different things, so we keep our food fresh and appetizing,” Linda said.
Former New York City chef Steven Chow (no relation to the owners) directs the impressive lineup, which includes rolls like “Spicy Girl” (tuna, avocado, stone crab salad, and Japanese chili), desserts (macaroons, mango mousse), and hot foods (wasabi mashed potatoes, grilled squid, Korean short ribs). Given all the choices, you will be tempted to try it all.