The Christiane Chronicles: Restaurant health scores are overrated

Plus, where to find good locally made rum in Atlanta
Christiane Chronicales: Overrated
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Chances are neither your kitchen nor mine would get a perfect score from the public health inspectors who show up unannounced at restaurants and issue ratings (A, B, C, or U) that must be posted on the wall. Have you ever left a spoon on the counter or a carton of eggs at room temperature? Do you wear gloves, refrigerate cooked rice immediately, or use a special sink to scrub your hands in hot water? Didn’t think so.

I understand the need to keep the public safe, but unless a restaurant serves freezer-to-fryer food, most kitchens look like a battle scene during prime service. Some of my favorite restaurants have gotten silly dings over the years: Ecco, Murphy’s, Sushi Huku, Double Zero Napoletana, Busy Bee Cafe, Highland Tap, Nuevo Laredo Cantina, and Gladys Knight Chicken & Waffles (most of these have since been rescored). I sympathize with those restaurateurs who get caught in capricious, often overbearing rules.

I’m not suggesting you eat in a dumpster. Take note of the dining room and be sensible about it. All I ask is that you not obsess over the ratings on the wall. Otherwise you’ll be penalizing sushi chefs who work with their bare hands (the only decent way to make sushi) and the Mexican cooks who understand that the good guacamole only comes from room-temperature avocados.

Photograph by Dreamstime

Raising Cane
Rum, a spirit made from fermented and distilled sugarcane, is enjoying a cocktail revival. I’m especially fond of the sweet and grassy La Favorite Coeur de Canne, distilled on the island of Martinique, though you can also find good locally made rum. Georgia’s Richland Estate condenses its own syrup and makes single-barrel rum that reminds me of aged bourbon, while Decatur’s Independent Distilling Company produces rum made from grade-A molasses. But sugarcane isn’t just the foundation for rum; it’s also an integral part of Caribbean, Indian, and Vietnamese cuisine. Once widely cultivated and distilled in the Caribbean, this tropical grass grows in clumps and looks like bamboo. Some cut it into chunks, peel it (a hard job that requires a machete), and chew on the sweet and delicious pulp. Others use hand-cranked extractors to squeeze out the juice or chop it into rough skewers for grilling. If that sounds too labor intensive, stop by the new Saigon Tofu in City Market Plaza on Buford Highway for their refreshing sugarcane juice or skewers of sugarcane already threaded with shrimp.

Field Notes

  • I’m not surprised that the best oyster po’boys in town are served every Tuesday at the best oyster house in town: Kimball House in Decatur.
  • As a French person who is a purist about pastries and loves Jewish delis, I can assure you that the General Muir’s pastrami croissants, which often sell out before 10:30 a.m., are a dream come true.
  • You’ve never heard of chocolate tea? Don’t feel bad; I hadn’t either until I stopped by Xocolatl in Krog Street Market and sipped a hot cup made by steeping cacao husks with premium tea leaves.

This article originally appeared in our May 2016 issue.