Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fusion, hot or cold

Coconut rice pudding with mango. Lucy Mercer.A Cook and Her Books.

On the most perfect April Saturday afternoon in Georgia, one straight out of the Weather Channel’s Wish book, the hubs and I tasted our way through Roswell, a small town due north of Atlanta blessed with historic charm, a verdant setting and a vibrant foodie culture.

The afternoon was a fusion of ideas and influences ~  over three hours, we dined on everything from pristine Thai salads to Mama's meatballs to N'awlins beignets, and then on to Cajun fried pickles and Caribbean clam chowder and Bourbon pecan ice cream.

My friend Beth, whose Atlanta Culinary Tours are becoming must-do weeknight and weekend dates (see my Sweet Auburn Curb Market visit), recently added the Roswell tour after being contacted by Erin Susan Lark, a Roswell yoga instructor. Erin served as the tour guide, walking and talking us through a two-mile tasting course anchored on Canton Street in downtown Roswell. The tour  included three restaurants, one bakery and an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting.

We began with Rice, where Chef Kris Boonruang shared his philosophy and art, Thai heritage and cuisine. Chef Kris is a fine artist, with a painting in the collection of Atlanta's High Museum of Art, as well as other museums and private collections. He is also an artist in the kitchen, treating my fellow culinary tourists and myself to a lettuce wrap with larb (seasoned ground pork), cellophane noodle salad with Thai shrimp, and sticky rice pudding with mango. As interesting as the plates was Kris' discourse on gardening, art and creativity, including his routine of walking barefoot outside his home before sunrise or after sunset, each day.

Next stop on Canton Street was Table and Main, with owner Ryan Pernice sharing his restaurant's "simple, Southern, seasonal" style. We tasted Mom's meatloaf reinvented as a meatball, replete with sticky sweet tomato sauce, but my favorite bite was a scoop of Bourbon butter pecan ice cream, an ode to the South as true and sublime as Sidney Lanier's "Song of the Chattahoochee." ("Out of the hills of Habersham, down the valleys of Hall..." Roswell is near the Chattachoochee recreational area, and I can't help recalling the famous poem I memorized in middle school. "I hurry amain to reach the plain, run the rapid and leap the fall.." Oh, don't get me started...). A meal at Table and Main concludes with the check delivered in a Southern novel ~ lots of Flannery O'Connor to choose from, a bit of Zora Neale Hurston, some Faulkner, Shaara, Flagg and McCullers.

The bookshelf at Table + Main awaits diners' checks. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

A surprise for the staff are the comments that diners scribble in the books.

Diners pay their checks and comment on the literature at Table + Main in Roswell. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

After leaving Table and main, we crossed Canton Street and walked around the corner to get to Artisan Bakery, where Chef Hoyt Williams displayed a sugar-dusted pyramid of beignets and described in delightful detail the various breads, sandwiches and pastries produced at the bakery.

Mellow and full, we journeyed to Oli + Ve, a six-week old culinary shop, where we listened to the women owners talk passionately about the versatility of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars. We traveled from room to room, tasting and sampling the various vinegars and olive oils. (I purchased the lemon olive oil and the strawberry balsamic for homemade salad dressings, and just to open them, breathe in and daydream.)

It's hard to say that we saved the best for last, because each of the stops was so incredible and the food so extraordinary, but the Fickle Pickle really stands out for the quantity and originality of its offerings. While Chef Andy Badgett shared his tales of the restaurant biz and the culinary history of Canton Street, I scarfed down still-sizzling-from-the-Fry-o-lator Creole fried pickles dipped in remoulade. Followed by Caribbean clam chowder and a fried green tomato BLT and two kinds of cookies - soft ginger and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

Cajun Fried Pickles from the Fickle Pickle. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 On the ride home, mellow and stuffed to the gills, the hubs and I performed the post-mortem, discussing our favorite bits and bites of the afternoon. As we talked through the walk, I remarked that as good as the food was, the secondary pleasure was listening to men and women who enjoyed their work and wanted to share their knowledge of food and service with others...

...Like Chef Kris sharing his morning routine of walking barefoot around his home, gardening before dawn and after dusk.

...Chef Andy telling the history of the Fickle Pickle restaurants, a history marked not with years, but each of his six children’s birthdays. And throughout, a history of the Canton Street restaurant revitalization, as well.

...Ryan, a young man with a passion for the hospitality business, on Bourbon and The Band and a commitment to local, seasonal food and first-class service.

...The women of Oli + Ve sharing their knowledge of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Chef Hoyt discussing the variety of baked goods produced by his store.

Fusion is what you make of it. It can cross cultures, it can cross the street. It can be Cajun fried pickles with spicy remoulade  or the most divine pecan ice cream with real Georgia pecans infused with a buttery Bourbon streak of caramel gold.

Fusion is hot or it’s cold. It’s strawberry infused balsamic vinegar paired with lemon-infused olive oil because a saleswoman recommended it. It can be the irresistible idea of a pimento cheese fritter that Chef Andy kept talking about as I dove again and again into the basket of obscenely hot and crunchy fried pickles. (Salty and fried. Do not judge me, we’ve all been there, girlfriends).

There are so many culinary roads to go down with this post, but I think I’ll journey back to the first stop on Canton Street, Rice, and my version of Chef Kris Boonruang’s sticky rice pudding with mango.

Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango

 This is my adaptation of a traditional Thai home-style treat. I based the recipe on one found at Serious Eats that uses jasmine rice instead of the typical Thai glutinous rice. I like the richness of the full-fat coconut milk, but light coconut milk may be substituted.

1 cup raw jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced

1. In a medium saucepan, preferably nonstick, set over medium heat, combine water and rice. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat. Cook until the water is absorbed.

2. Add the coconut milk, sugar and salt; stir and bring to a boil. Cook for two minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let the rice sit for 10 minutes, to completely absorb the liquid.

4. Serve pudding warm or at room temperature, garnished with mango slices.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party on a given theme. The theme for May is fusion.

Check out more #letslunch stories and recipes here:

Ana‘s Miso Salmon with Mango Salsa at In Foodie Fashion
Cathy‘s Bacon-Studded Polenta With Tomato Gravy at ShowFood Chef
Eleanor‘s Wok Picadillo at Wok Star
Ellise‘s Salty Lime Sablés (Margarita Cookies) at Cowgirl Chef
Emma‘s Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans
Felicia‘s Mexican-Lebanese Hummus at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama
Jill‘s Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words
Joe‘s Grilled KimCheese Sandwich at Joe Yonan
Karen‘s Ukrainian-German Cabbage Rolls at GeoFooding
Leigh‘s Venezuelan-Italian Cachapas Con Queso at Leigh Nannini
Linda‘s Project Runway Pelau: Rice & Beans Trinidad-Style at Spicebox Travels
Linda‘s Edible Salad Totes at Free Range Cookies
Lisa‘s Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books
Maria‘s Spanish Shrimp with Bacon, Cheddar & Chive Grits at Maria’s Good Things
Nancie‘s Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott
Patricia‘s Buttery Tofu, Pasta & Peas at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook
Patrick‘s Kimchi Jigae and British Mash at Patrick G. Lee
Rashda‘s Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Renee‘s Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I
Steff‘s Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials
Vivian‘s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei

Thanks Beth and Erin of Atlanta Culinary Tours for a delightful afternoon, tasting, walking and talking. Check out Atlanta Culinary Tours’ fantastic tours ~ I highly recommend the tour of Sweet Auburn Curb Market, too! (and full disclosure, this was a gratis tour for media.).

My pictures from the tour were not so great, but my fellow bloggers took gorgeous pictures ~ check them out:

Words and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.


showfoodchef said...

You had me at mango! Wonderfully written post - happy lunch fusion! :D

Rashda Khan said...

Lovely post & love the pictures!

Ellise Pierce said...

Two of my favorite things: mangoes and rice pudding. Never thought of putting them together till now. Brilliant!!

Bellwether Vance said...

Wow! I'm stuffed just reading this. I adore rice pudding...but I never make it. Why is that? This version sounds even better than what I could imagine. And fried pickles. Well, I just wouldn't let myself make those at home. I might as well handle snakes. They're that dangerous!

Felicia said...

That trip sounds like fun! I'm so glad you shared it with us. Love your take on Thai coconut rice with mango,too -- sounds like it could be a great match for classic Southern fare.

Anonymous said...

i love mangoes...

The Teacher Cooks said...

Lucy, I want to go on a trip like this. It sounds like so fun. I have seen some of them on Groupon and other sites. I am checking out your friend's site! Nice pudding!

Eleanor Hoh said...

Late to respond but this is one of my fav Asian desserts, thanks for highlighting it and bringing it!