Graduations And Reunions

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - by Charles Siskin

I rarely go up to Atlanta anymore. There is really no need to as most of Atlanta comes to the beach. That’s true for Chattanoogans as well. However I’ve made the trek twice recently. Once at the invitation of my two youngest granddaughters who requested my presence while their parents were out-of-the-country and several weekends ago when my oldest granddaughter graduated from high school.week

It’s nice to be wanted by your grandchildren more so when they are suddenly teenagers. Well the 11 year old thinks she is a teenager and it is definitely not my place to tell her otherwise.

I should note that while I couldn’t be present for all three graduations, (one from grammar school and another from middle school all in the same week as the high school event) we did have a family celebration at an exceptional restaurant just across from the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett where the high school graduation took place.

My youngest daughter made a reservation at a restaurant called, Luciano’s.  Really? an Italian restaurant in the hinterlands of Atlanta where I thought it was Olive Gardenland. However, much to my surprise and delight, I might add, we had a veritable feast.

To begin with the restaurant itself was totally first class with a professional staff of young people (aren’t they all young at my age?) that saw to it that we were pampered as were the many other diners who were celebrating family occasions as well.

We opted to not have wine or even beer at this celebration so we toasted with, in my case, water with the perquisite lemon. Does that yell “palate cleanser” or scream “boring”?  Wrong it says, “Designated Driver”!

Baskets of warm bread were brought out and we did not get little saucers of olive oil. Instead we received an outstanding sundried tomato dip. Never thought of that but it was quite tasty and Mary, my drama queen grandchild (wonder whose genes she inherited?) and I shared the bread. I ate the crust and she ate the middle. That’s what I call grandparenting!

Trying to order lighter fare my son-in-law ordered a Cobb Salad.  It arrived looking like a buffet platter for two easily. The salad was artfully presented with mucho slices of grilled chicken breasts overlapped as was the slices of egg and avocados. There was thinly sliced prosciutto and slices of pancetta(so much pork it screamed “Oink”!) plus  sliced tomatoes and nestled somewhere at the bottom of the bowl was a bed of crisp romaine. Thankfully the blue cheese dressing had the decency to come in a separate bowl most likely too embarrassed to appear otherwise. Well wouldn’t you be?

My wife had the Zuppa Di Mare that included the catch of the day which were thick chunks of what I decided was Mahi Mahi plus mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, scallops (the usual Zuppa  suspects) all in a very tasty tomato broth. In San Francisco where I have had this soup on many occasions at my favorite seafood restaurant, Tadich in the financial district, they call it Cioppini.

One of my daughters and I opted to order two kinds of pizza, Salsiccia with a tomato sauce base, onions, Italian sausage and gorgonzola and a vegetarian with Mozzarella,spinach, mushrooms, peppers and sundried tomatoes. Their pizzas come on flat bread which is another variation of thin crust pizza.

What I didn’t have that is an excuse to drive back up next time I visit with my older daughter, who only lives a few miles away, is the Potato Chips fried to order, tossed with truffle oil and parmigiano reggiano with a garlic aioli for dipping. That sounds like something swoonable that will take my cholesterol level to new heights.

Prior to that on my “Best by Request” visit with the grandchildren, I convinced my long time Chattanooga friends, John and his awesome wife of half a century, Lee, to come to Atlanta and have a reunion since it had been some time since we had visited and also to have lunch with me while I had a window of opportunity. We met at the Shops of Buckhead, the Atlanta version of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Since Lee had taught French and spoke it fluently, I chose, at my daughter’s suggestion, Le Bilboquet which is totally French right down to the Zinc Bar at the front of the restaurant.  Because it was still chilly in late March, we decided to sit inside although outside would be perfect on a warmer day but not those sweltering Atlanta summer day.

I would not hesitate to say that for me Le Bilboquet is a “Special Occasion” restaurant even for lunch. While the food was well presented and tasty, my portion of calamari salad was small and my $17 glass of white wine- if that’s not reminiscent of Paris-  was not extraordinary. (West of there at Trader Joe’s I can get 2 decent bottles of white wine plus change for that price).

John had the Croque Madame which is your basic ham and Swiss but as opposed to the better known Croque Monsieur this sucker has a fried egg on top.

I will go back to the shopping center again of course but this time I’ll hit the Shake Shack the New York import that is known for its burgers and milkshakes. Also for the shopping experience with famous name stores like Hermes but many of which I have never heard of, however I know my bride is familiar.

Okay I did buy some hot looking glass frames at Warby-Parker the well known on-line eye wear company that has opened what might be one of their first retail stores. Now that was a super shopping experience for me and their frames are really cool. That is what my middle granddaughter said and if anyone knows cool it’s that 14-year old.

As for me I know that Atlanta is always evolving so each trip always brings new experiences plus an opportunity to visit with the family when they are not coming down to the Gulf which continues itself to evolve as well along my stretch of beach highway.

ZUPPA DI MARE aka CIOPPINI

What you will need for the tomato base:

1 can of a good brand of crushed tomatoes

2 cloves fresh garlic crushed

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

A serious pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (none if you don’t want it spicy instead offer it at the table)

½ to a whole cup of white wine or honestly I like a dry red and serve either with the meal

Seafood Options:

Shrimp peeled and deveined

Scallops, mussels  and calamari rings (currently none available at Whole Foods)

A thick fish like mahi mahi or a lighter fish if you must

If you want to impress a small lobster tail would be a serious WOW factor

Prep:

Sautee the garlic in olive oil till it turns golden then put in your tomatoes and let the mix simmer for up to 10 minutes

Add you wine at that point and let the mixture reduce a bit but remain soupy

Add your seafood starting with the thickest then next add the shell fish and finish up with shrimp, scallops and calamari

Careful not to overcook any of the last three items as rubbery is not good!

Cook the lobster separate if you choose to add

To Serve:

Get out your best tureen and ladle the Zuppa into it and garnish with chopped parsley for added color and serve with thick slices of French of Sourdough bread to dip in the sauce

A toast:

Raise that glass of wine and say, “per la buona salute” (to your good health)

Then like all good hosts finish with “mangiare” (eat!)

Ciao



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