The Christiane Chronicles: Atlanta’s fermentation fad is great, but about that quinoa craze…

Rants and raves from veteran dining authority Christiane Lauterbach

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Sour Power
These days chefs are fans of fermentation. They’re putting up their own sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour pickles as if their life depended on storing food pioneer-style through the winter. They favor sourdough bread made from ancient starters and culture their own probiotic yogurt in the kitchen.

In a related phenomenon, local fermented beverages like hard apple ciders from Urban Tree Cidery and mead honey wine from Monks Mead are becoming as popular as beer and wine. And kombucha—fermented tea—is everywhere.

I am addicted to the natural fizziness of nonalcoholic fermented drinks such as doogh (a kind of yogurt soda, customarily served in Persian restaurants such as Rumi’s Kitchen in Sandy Springs) and its relative, Turkish ayran, often flavored with a pinch of salt or fresh mint. You can find both in bottles at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. Korean makgeolli, a delightfully refreshing low-alcohol drink made with rice and yeast, is gaining popularity outside the Asian community, and many liquor stores sell it, especially in Gwinnett.

Fermentation is finding its way into bars, too, with serious mixologists making their own “shrubs” by macerating fresh fruit with sugar and mixing the drained syrup with vinegar as a base for their cocktails. Or they’ll pick some up from Shrub & Co., which offers flavors like apple, grapefruit, and spicy ginger.

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

I have been cooking quinoa since the 1970s, when I bought it at Rainbow Grocery and learned to hydrate it properly by soaking, rinsing, and simmering it in water or broth, then letting it sit covered for an additional five minutes before fluffing it with a fork.

I don’t know what is going on in restaurant kitchens, but lately I have eaten more than enough hard quinoa, soggy quinoa, and smothered quinoa. David Sweeney—who owned Dynamic Dish and recently completed a seasonal stint at the Red Barn Cafe at Tiger Mountain Vineyards in North Georgia—seems to be among the few chefs who understand how to prepare this super-healthy grain.

Restaurants all over town, on the other hand, are throwing quinoa into mac and cheese, burgers, tabbouleh, fried rice, and other hateful dishes, turning a grain I love into something entirely mediocre.

Field Notes

  • The view is more memorable than the food at Nine Mile Station, a beer garden on the roof of Ponce City Market. The schnitzels are over-fried, but the drink menu includes solid Southern suds as well as fancy imports.
  • Who is the Taco Cowboy? It’s Tom Catherall, and it’s the name of his Mexican restaurant in Virginia-Highland. The place was called Tom Tom—his childhood nickname—but he lost the rights to use it in a legal battle with Here to Serve, the company he once owned with his once wife.
  • Two transatlantic Delta One flights have me convinced that even Restaurant Eugene chef Linton Hopkins can’t make airline food taste good.