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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Toddler Foodies "Tour de Chefs": no. 246, Le Fat, Cooks & Soldiers

We enjoy cooking with Mommy at home and, clearly, we love to eat.  But we recently developed an obsession with chefs after watching the movie Rataouille.  Mommy always tells us that chefs are artists who work very hard to perfect their art.  So, for our next few eating adventures, we're going to show our favorite ATL chefs some love by checking out their restaurants, starting with...
no. 246 (Decatur)
Owned by Chef Ford Fry and Chef Drew Belline
Executive Chef:  Andrew Isabella

Toddler Foodie Rating:  5 out of 5 Gummy Bears
:) = Great location right in the heart of Downtown Decatur, with (paid) public parking within walking distance.  Authentically warm, friendly, knowledgeable staff and versatile atmosphere that's suitable for family dinners, date nights, business lunches, and everything in between.  High chairs and a cute Kids Menu + crayons.  Tasty Italian-inspired fare made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including wood fired pizzas, handmade pastas, innovative small plates, hearty entrees, and delectable desserts.  Extensive wine and cocktail menu for mommies and daddies.       
:( = The restaurant isn't huge.  If your little ones are hyper and looking to run around, this probably isn't the best place to take them.  Bring them here when they're calm and ready to enjoy some yummy food. 
~ Mommy follows some specific rules when she takes us to nicer restaurants, like 246, that Yelp says are not good for kids.  Scroll down to the end of this post to learn Mommy's tips for going upscale with toddlers. 

~ If you're lucky, you will get to sit in Neil's section.  Neil is one of the best servers we've ever met.  In fact, we visited 246 primarily because of the great service he gave Mommy and Daddy one evening when they snuck out for a dinner date.  Neil, if you ever get to read this post - thank you for taking our messy eating in stride, not getting disgusted when one of us tried to show you our bare foot over the table, and teaching us all about the food we ate.  You rock!

"Another 5 Gummy Bear restaurant?!  I can hardly contain my excitement!  Bro, stop covering your face with your shirt and get excited with me!"
We've never been shy about professing our admiration for Chef Ford Fry.  (Remember our glowing review of Superica, his newest restaurant in Krog Street Market?)  We love that his restaurants focus on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients to make innovative dishes with a down-home feel.  We also appreciate how Ford Fry restaurants are "accessibly hip" - super cool in their own unique ways, yet not so trendy that you feel like you need to be a celebrity to eat there.  And, most importantly, the food at the Ford Fry restaurants we've tried has never disappointed us.  
Chef Fry owns seven restaurants in the Atlanta area and all of them are great.  We picked 246 because Mommy and Daddy had been there before, liked the food, thought the atmosphere could handle a couple of toddlers, and were huge fans of a server there named Neil.  So off to Decatur we went.

We arrived at 246 a little after 6 PM, while it was still fairly empty.  The hostess surprised us by giving us crayons and kids menus - not something you'd expect of a restaurant that Yelp claims isn't good for kids.  She led us to what we thought was the best table in the house, given our current obsession with chefs:  a booth right next 246's semi-open kitchen.  It was like Ratatouille... but in living color!  We were able to watch Executive Chef Isabella man 246's rustic "expo line," where he carefully dressed each dish using shredded cheese pulled from a large mason jar and even fresh flowers plucked directly from a hand-picked bouquet.  Watching Chef Isabella reinforced our admiration for chefs and their dedication to their craft.   

"I've got a kids menu and some crayons, and I get to sit near the wood that helps cook the pizza.  I'm lovin' life right now!"
Neil brought out to-go cups of water for us along with some fresh baked bread and premium quality olive oil for dipping.  While we munched on that, Mommy ordered a few different starters off the menu for us to try:  the special small plate of the day, which was salmon rillettes served with house-made flatbread and an arugula salad tossed with a blood orange vinaigrette dressing; blue crab toast (toasted, crusty bread topped with a crisp mixture of blue crab meat, avocado, and a fresh cabbage slaw); and the famous No. 246 meatball (one huge meatball that's big enough to share, swimming in delicious tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella).

"So this is why I have two hands -  so I can color and dip bread in olive oil at the same time."
Blue crab toast.
Photo taken by 2-year-old Toddler Foodie.
All the small plates we tried were delicious.  The salmon rillettes had a nice, creamy texture and slightly salty and citrus-tart flavor that contrasted well with the unflavored, crisp flatbread and tangy, peppery arugula salad.  (We have a long-running love affair with salmon, so we were fine with scooping the rillettes onto our forks and eating it by itself.)  The blue crab toast was tasty, too; but we didn't love the slaw because we tasted something bitter in it - Neil thought it might have been radishes.  In any event, we found a way to eat the things we liked in the blue crab mixture and then push out with our tongues any bits of radishes we tasted, causing Mommy to play catcher as she rushed to grab chewed bits of food from our mouths before they landed on the table.  And then there was the meatball.  It was as big as Daddy's fist, big enough for all three of us to share.  It was sturdy enough to hold its own under the weight of the delicious tomato sauce and cheese smothering it; but soft enough for our little teeth to chew easily.  Perfection.

"We really need to concentrate on eating all these small plates so we can move on to the piiiizzzzzza."
After we finished our small plates, we moved on to some entrees.  We walked in knowing we needed some of 246's acclaimed wood-fired pizza, so we put in an order for the Pepperoni (which is actually sausage and fresh basil).  We also knew we wanted pasta, but we weren't sure which one to pick.  Fortunately, 246 offers half-orders of their pastas so that noncommittal folks like us can try multiple options.  We got a half order of the spaghetti (squid ink pasta tossed with shrimp, pequin peppers, and a buttery garlic-lemon sauce) and a half order of the garganelli (tossed in a lamb ragu and drizzled with a slightly spicy yogurt-based sauce).

Clockwise from top:  Pepperoni pizza, garganelli with lamb ragu, squid ink spaghetti, salmon rillettes.
Of the two pasta dishes, the squid ink spaghetti was our favorite.  The sauce was light and summery, with strong notes of  lemon and a little black pepper, and the shrimp were plump and tender.  And we had never seen jet black spaghetti before!  Mommy told us the spaghetti was made with black paint that came out of a squid when he was scared.  This fascinated us and somehow made us like the spaghetti even more. 

"This is rock and roll spaghetti!"
It goes without saying that we loved that pizza.  246 does pizza right.  The crust has that great tangy, charred flavor found in all well-made wood fired pizzas.  And 246 does not skimp on the toppings.  We had fun picking the big, juicy clusters of sausage and aromatic basil leaves off our slices and eating them before diving into the crust.  (We picked the toppings off Mommy's slice, too.)  By the time we'd done damage to the spaghetti and pizza, we barely had room for the garganelli.  We each tried one bite and decided we liked the spaghetti better.  Mommy liked the gargnelli, though.  It was the polar opposite of the spaghetti - heavy and gamey with a distinct peppery heat.  Of the smorgasbord of food we tried, it was our least favorite.        

Of course, after a meal like that, we had to make room for dessert.  So we ordered the ricotta fritters, which were like little doughnut balls drizzled with dulce de leche.  Of course we loved those fritters.   They were like a fancier, creamier version of funnel cake.  Mommy would only let us have 1.5 fritters each because she said they would make us hyper.  She's such a Debbie Downer!

Ricotta fritters.
Photo taken by 3-year-old Toddler Foodie.
As for us, we're not Debbie Downers.  We have only positive things to say about no. 246:  delicious food, incredible service, and a welcoming atmosphere for grownups and little ones alike.  After visiting 246, we totally get why it's one of Atlanta's favorite restaurants - and why Ford Fry is one of Atlanta's favorite chefs.  Thanks, no. 246, for a great visit.  We'll see you again soon!


Le Fat
Executive Chef and Co-Owner:  Guy Wong

Toddler Foodie Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Gummy Bears due to kid-friendliness, not quality of food.  The food is awesome.
:) = Convenient location on the Westside with a few free, reserved spaces in the adjacent parking garage.  Elegant décor reminiscent of Southeast Asia's French colonial era.  Extremely friendly and attentive staff.  Well thought out menu featuring authentic Vietnamese staples (phovermicelli dishes, spring rolls) along with a few inventive Asian-inspired dishes.  Carefully considered wine and cocktail list that's perfect for stressed out mommies and daddies.  High chairs available.  Sinks in bathrooms are just high enough for toddlers.     
:( = The food is a little pricey - don't come here expecting Buford Highway or Pleasant Hill prices.  Also, Le Fat has only been open for two weeks, so it's difficult to determine what type of crowd the restaurant ultimately wants to draw.  The sophisticated décor, expertly designed dining spaces, and impeccably dressed staff suggest Le Fat is meant to be a place where grownups can enjoy high quality Vietnamese cuisine in an environment that's more upscale than anything Buford Highway has to offer.  But the larger, family-style servings suggest that Le Fat has an interest in remaining true to the Asian tradition of making mealtime a moment of togetherness.  Right now we think Le Fat is best for grownup time or date night; but we're looking forward to seeing how the restaurant will evolve over time.      
Note:  Currently Le Fat only serves dinner, starting at 5 PM.  However, a reliable source told us they're going to start serving lunch in May, and the lunch menu may include banh mi.  We can't wait!

"We're so ready to get in there and eat some Vietnamese food!  Do you think it will taste like the food grandma cooks at home?"
For the next stop on our Tour de Chefs, we visited Le Fat, a brand new Vietnamese restaurant on the Westside.  Le Fat's Executive Chef and co-owner, Guy Wong, is a rising star in the Atlanta dining community.  Our Vietnamese Daddy and Filipino Mommy feel a sense of closeness to his story - he's the son of Asian immigrant entrepreneurs who started a corporate career before deciding to become a chef-entrepreneur himself - and we have a lot of respect for what he's accomplished at such a young age.  And we think, based on our social media research, that he might have his own Toddler Foodie at home.  That makes him even cooler in our book. 

Mommy made us the earliest reservation possible at Le Fat, dinner at 5 PM.  We got there right before 5 and had to wait a few minutes for our table while the staff finished up preparations for the evening.  Fortunately, Le Fat has a spacious waiting area in the front complete with bar stools and a pastry display for waiting patrons to drool over.  So we didn't mind the wait too much.

The hostess brought us to our table, where a high chair was already set up for us.  We felt Mommy tense up a little when we stepped inside the dining area because Le Fat is such a gorgeous restaurant.  She had visions running through her head of little fingers covered in peanut sauce making prints on the hand-painted walls.  (Thankfully, her vision never transpired.)  Despite Mommy's momentary panic attack, we took our seats and prepared ourselves for our meal.  We started with summer rolls  (Vietnamese spring rolls wrapped with rice paper and filled with grilled pork, shrimp, vermicelli, and fresh herbs) and the Softshell BLT Bun (a Chinese-style steamed bun stuffed with a fried soft-shell crab, bacon lettuce, and sambal mayonnaise).    

"We know there's delicious food sitting in front of us right now, but we just need two more minutes to play with our chopstick swords."
Our appetizers were delicious.  The spring rolls were made with fresh, premium ingredients, and we could definitely taste the difference from the spring rolls we're used to eating at other restaurants.  But our favorite appetizer was the Softshell BLT Bun.  The good sized soft-shell crabs were flawless - crisp, not soggy; seasoned but not salty.  Pairing those perfect crabs with warm, crunchy bacon and cool lettuce and tomato was a genius, game-changing move.  Mommy is probably going to frequent Le Fat just so she can get those buns.

"I'm having way too much fun with this spring roll!"
"I need a minute, guys.  I'm having a moment with this incredible soft-shell crab."
For our main course we ordered a couple of our favorite Vietnamese dishes:  Salt & Pepper Calamari (fried squid tossed with peppers and Vietnamese spices, served over shredded cabbage) and Bo Luc Lac (aka "Shaking Beef" - marinated, stir fried beef and onions served piping hot over a lettuce salad). 

Top:  Salt & Pepper Calamari
Bottom:  Bo Luc Lac ("Shaking Beef")
Photo taken by 3-year-old Toddler Foodie with Mommy's help.
We should stop here to say that bo luc lac is one of our favorite Vietnamese dishes that Mommy makes at home, so our expectations for this dish were high.  But Le Fat's Bo Luc Lac did not disappoint.  It was splendid.  The keys to good bo luc lac are high quality beef and well crafted marinade/seasoning.  Le Fat clearly took no shortcuts with respect to the beef.  The meat was tender, naturally flavorful, and totally void of unwanted sinewy or fatty bits.  And the seasoning was on point:  slightly, but not too, vinegary; a little sweet (the sugar in the luc lac marinade caramelizes on the beef when it's cooked); and a little salty (traditionally, luc lac marinade contains soy sauce and fish sauce, which both add saltiness to the dish).  The only negative thing we have to say about Le Fat's Bo Luc Lac is that it had too many onions.  Aside from that, the dish was pretty much perfect - better than Mommy's and grandma's.

"Do you think we should tell Mommy that we think Le Fat's Bo Luc Lac is better than hers?"
"Nah, let's keep that to ourselves.  We need to stay on her good side."
The Salt & Pepper Calamari was delicious, too.  In terms of flavor, it wasn't too different from the salt & pepper squid we get at other Vietnamese restaurants in town.  However, we could tell this calamari was made by an expert chef.  It wasn't over or undercooked.  The breading wasn't soggy or oily.  And each piece of squid tasted fresh and was fully intact.  At some restaurants, it seems like the squid were pulled out of a bag in a freezer, dropped into the batter, and fried in one big clump.  This was not the case at Le Fat - we could see that each squid was carefully hand-battered and fried to perfection.  If you've ever made calamari at home, you'll know that this process is tedious and time consuming.  So we give Le Fat props for not taking any shortcuts with their calamari.

(Parents, a warning:  don't be like Mommy and accidentally scoop up some of the crispy bits in the calamari and dump them onto your kids' rice.  The dish is sprinkled with bits of green and red chili peppers that may be a little too spicy for toddlers.)     

We ate most of our dinner, so Mommy let us get dessert.  We decided to try Le Fat's house made taro ice cream and blackberry-yuzu sorbet.  Do we really need to tell you how amazing these desserts were?  Le Fat offers an array of ice creams, sorbets, and desserts.  We're sad Mommy wouldn't let us try all of them.        

"Intently eating ice cream.  Please try your call again later."
Overall, we think Le Fat is a winner.  We're eager to see this restaurant do well not only because we are fans of Chef Wong, but also because we think Atlanta needs a good upscale Vietnamese restaurant.  As for whether Le Fat is a place where you should bring your kids, we're not quite ready to suggest that yet.  In its current state, Le Fat is a better spot for adults - so you may want to save it for parents' night out.  You'll be really glad you did.

Executive Sous Chef:  John Castellucci
Toddler Foodie Rating:  5 out of 5 Gummy Bears
:)  = Complimentary valet parking in a covered deck.  Large dining area with a moderate noise level that drowns out toddler outbursts.  Extremely friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable staff.  Delicious, inventive, and eclectic menu of Spanish Basque-inspired tapas and sharing plates.  Generous portions.  High chairs.
:( = No changing table in the bathroom.  That's the only frowny-face comment we can make about this awesome restaurant. 
Notes:  If you want your little ones to try some really unique food in an upscale environment, Cooks & Soldiers is an excellent option - and the restaurant will welcome you with open arms.  Just be forewarned that they do not have a kids menu, and the other diners at this new, trendy spot are mostly grownups.  Go with your kids if you think they're up for it, or go for Date Night.  But, seriously, just go.  This place is a must-try.      
"Dare me to eat this whole fish by myself?"

Our "Tour de Chefs" continued this week with a visit to Cooks & Soldiers, a four-month-old restaurant on the Westside.  Cooks & Soldiers' Executive Chef, Landon Thompson, is a Georgia native who learned about Spanish cooking at another local foodie favorite (and a Cooks & Soldiers' affiliate), Iberian Pig.  Chef Thompson, along with Executive Sous Chef John Castellucci, are rising stars in the Atlanta restaurant community right now.  After visiting Cooks & Soldiers, we can see why.

"Chef Castellucci, this expo line looks great.  What's your secret?"
Thank you so much, Chef, for letting us check out your kitchen!
We stopped by on an early weekday evening right after 6 PM.  (We had the best intentions to arrive earlier, but life and Atlanta traffic got in the way, and we couldn't make it happen.)  Mommy was really excited when she discovered that the restaurant had an adjacent parking garage and complimentary valet parking.  Unexpected complimentary valet parking is to Mommy what ice cream for dessert is to us:  the universe's way of telling her she behaved well that day.  Score one Gummy Bear for Cooks & Soldiers.

Even though we were a bit late for our reservation, the hostesses were super nice to us and had a table ready for our arrival.  As we walked into the dining room, we immediately noticed two things:  first, it's spacious, and the tables aren't too close together.  Mommy had expected a tighter layout similar to Iberian Pig's, so she was prepared to cling to us tightly as we walked through the dining room to make sure we didn't knock other people's drinks over.  But there's plenty of room in Cooks & Soldiers.  Second, it's pretty loud.  The high, industrial ceilings create pleasant acoustics in the room that move sound around quite a bit.  What does that mean for toddlers?  We could make random outbursts without causing too much disruption to other people's meals.  Score another Gummy Bear for Cooks & Soldiers.

Our hostess brought a high chair right away, and our server immediately dropped off water in to-go cups with lids.  After looking at Cooks & Soldiers' menu and deciding that everything looked yummy, Mommy let our server drive.  She asked him to recommend a few dishes and ordered most of what he recommended.  He was really helpful and knew the menu backward and forward.  He started us out with a great feast of tapasPato Ahumado (a mixture of smoked duck confit and other yummy ingredients, including brandied cherries, served atop perfectly toasted slices of crusty bread), Chistorra in a Blanket (Chistorra sausage wrapped in a sweet croissant, served with a maple-mustard allioli dipping sauce), Patatas (fried potatoes served with idiazabal cheese fondue and "Basque ketchup" - imagine regular ketchup, but with a slightly smoky flavor); Pulpo (grilled Spanish octopus, "charcoal potatoes" cooked with squid ink, a piquillo emulsion, and a little shot of rosemary oil served in a little plastic dropper); Bikini (cute little grilled ham and cheese sandwiches made with white American cheese, Jamon Iberico, and truffle oil).

Top (left-right):  Pato Ahumado, Patatas, Bikini
Bottom:  Pulpo
Photo taken by Mommy while she was trying to keep our little hands from immediately grabbing and eating the hot food.

Every small plate we tried was delicious - and, yes, we ate all of it!  Our favorite dishes were the Bikini and Pulpo.  The Bikini was basically the most perfect - and fanciest - grilled ham and cheese sandwich we had ever eaten.  The truffle oil gave it a nice woodsy flavor.  And the Pulpo ... oh, the Pulpo.  Generous servings of octopus tentacles grilled to a slight char, so tender that Mommy didn't even have to question whether they'd be a choking hazard.  The piquillo emulsion and rosemary oil added oomph to the dish without overpowering the octopus's smoky-sea-salt flavor.  We liked the Pato Ahumado and Patatas, too (well, we mostly liked the cherries on the Pato Ahumado).  We did find that a few of the Patatas were a little salty, but we were able to counter that saltiness with the idiazabal cheese dip.

"You say potato, I say PATATAS!"
For our main course (as if we really needed a main course after devouring all those tapas), we ordered the grilled whole fish of the day and a side of sautéed collard green florets (young collard green stalks), which were the off-menu special veggie of the day.  That day's fish was Lou de Mer a/k/a European Seabass a/k/a we may never eat the tilapia Mommy makes at home again.  What an incredible fish!  Naturally buttery, juicy, tender flesh with a crisp, clean flavor.  Find the freshest specimen you can and grill it perfectly, just as Chef Thompson's team did, and you end up with a piece of seafood heaven.  We have to throw in another Gummy Bear just for that fish.  And poor Mommy is going to have to step up her fish game at home from now on.
We were stuffed after eating all this incredible food, but we just had to try a dessert a - or two.  Not wanting to pump us full of chocolate right before bedtime, Mommy ordered the Gateau Basque (a traditional Basque almond cake served with lavender pastry cream, "sparkling cider"- apple flavored gelatin squares coated in colorless, flavorless Pop Rocks, and brandied cherries).  Because we're toddlers and toddlers love cereal, we also got to try the Fruity Pebbles (croquettes made with Fruity Pebbles cereal and milk... no we're not kidding).  A dessert made with cereal and milk?!  There's Gummy Bear #4.
Fruity Pebbles for the win!
"What is this popping and crackling going on in my mouth right now?"
Even though we ended up taking some of our leftover fish and desserts home for Daddy to try, we were totally stuffed at the end of our visit.  Mommy feared someone would have to roll all three of us out to the car on a serving cart.  The awesome thing is, we think the crew at Cooks & Soldiers would have done that for us if the need arose.  They were some of the most hospitable, attentive restaurant staffers we've ever met.  And for that, Cooks & Soldiers gets the coveted fifth Gummy Bear. 
Chef Thompson, Chef Castellucci - congratulations on your success!  We can't wait to visit you again.

Which Atlanta chef will we feature next in this post?  Stay tuned to our blog!  You can sign up for email updates by adding your email address in the field to the left of the page.
Toddler Foodie Mommy's Tips For Going "Upscale" With Toddlers

~ Research the restaurant ahead of time.  Check out our blog to see if we've been there, or take a peek at Yelp or Urbanspoon reviews.

~ Call in advance and talk to the host about whether the restaurant is kid-friendly or not.  Tell the host you're planning to bring toddlers in and give him/her details about whether you need a high chair, booster seat, etc.

~ If you're having dinner, make a reservation for an early time.  The best times are between 5 and 6 PM.  Grownups looking for adult time will generally arrive between 7 and 8 PM, so if you're concerned about disrupting them, try to get in and out early.

~ Bring noiseless distractions - coloring books, stuffed animals.  If you're planning to distract with an iPhone or iPad, turn down the volume or bring headphones.  And refrain from bringing squeaky toys into the restaurant.  Mommy made that mistake once and really regretted it.

~ Arm yourself with toddler-friendly snacks, just in case your little ones decide they don't want fancy food that day.

~ If the outing begins to go awry, stay calm and don't stress out. The more stressed you get, the more stressed the toddlers will get and the more stressed your server will get.  Stress = poor digestion. 

~ Know when it's time to cut the visit short.  The other diners will thank you - and you'll thank yourself.

Happy eating! :)



  1. Replies
    1. We're so glad you think so! If you have your own tips to share, feel free. We're always looking for fresh perspectives. :)

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words little dudes... Come back soon! 😃

  3. Thank you, Chef Thompson! We will definitely visit again soon.