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Former Top Chef Hopeful Cooks 'With Heart and Balls' in Atlanta

Where: 656 N. Highland Ave. [map], Atlanta, CA, United States, 30306
October 8, 2009 at 3:38 PM | by | ()

Axed Top Chef contestant Hector Santiago may be large in stature, but what he serves are small dishes—tapas, to be exact. Tapas, for the unfamiliar, are small plates meant to be shared among many and are traditional in Spanish cuisine. At his Atlanta restaurant, Pura Vida ("Pure Life"), Santiago has taken the communal style of eating and practices a "no-rules approach" to cooking. For him that means melding unusual flavors and eschewing tradition to come up with dishes like...Tofu "Ceviche." Oh, boy. Memories of Jennifer's seitan-stuffed peppers from Episode One are coming to mind.

A few questionable choices aside (Trout Ceviche with jelly, canchita corn and milk, anyone? We didn't think so.), many of these cross-cultural menu items are appealing precisely because they're unusual. We're dying to know more about his take on Duck Confit, which comes with caramelized plantains, and Chicken Picadillo Empanadas with a chile-sugar cane vinegar "pique." And, you can't go wrong with Button Mushrooms Pinchos in chipolte garlic butter, Santiago's take on Spanish champiñones.

In a city ruled by soul food and Southern cooking, Santiago is experimental and led by his corazón (or, "heart and balls," in his words) when cooking, not structure. He gets props for introducing world flavors to Atlanta, and for being brash enough to deep-fry steak on the show. We'll stick with the slow-cooked shortribs, thanks.

Related Stories
· Pura Vida [Official Site]
· Top Chef's Eve Aronoff Brings The World To Your Plate In Ann Arbor [Jaunted]
· Top Chef coverage [Jaunted]

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