Cliff Bostock: Perfect foodie gift, yuletide Chinese and Christmas music in restaurants

The holidays have once again wrapped their red-and-green fingers around our delicate necks to strangle the life and last dollar out of us. That’s my way of saying “Happy Holidays” before feeding you some quick bites this week.

PERFECT FOODIE XMAS GIFT: Everybody in America is a dining critic these days, but Atlanta’s Dining Diva is and always will be Christiane Lauterbach, who has published Knife & Fork, a monthly newsletter for 35 years. It’s available only in print and, if you’re old enough, the word “mimeographed” might come to mind when you see it. Lauterbach also writes for Atlanta Magazine, where she was lead dining critic for many years.

Every issue includes restaurant gossip and reviews of kinky discoveries as well as mainstream newbies. In her latest issue, she mentions discovering “phenomenal hand-crafted baguettes…technically too short and plump to be baguettes, not particularly crusty, but beautiful beyond words.” They are at Little’s Food Store (198 Carroll Street, 404-963-7012) in Cabbagetown. Get one!

To subscribe ($30), call Lauterbach at 404-378-2775. Usually, she offers a Christmas special.

YULETIDE CHINESE: It’s a cliché but heading to a Chinese restaurant on Buford Highway is a perfect way to avoid the hassle of holiday dinners at home. My most recent meal there was at Dim Sum Heaven (5203 Buford Hwy., 770-451-4290). It has been around a while but, despite it’s many positive reviews, I’d never checked it out.

It’s much like the usual hole-in-the-wall on Buford. The décor is typically nonexistent., but if you’re into gurgling ceramic frogs and walls covered with yellowing, laminated photos of dim sum dishes, you’ll love it. Actually, you will be glad those pictures are there, because the staff speaks very little English. Further, there are no dim sum carts, so you don’t get a real-life view of the small-plate dishes before ordering.

The menu is gigantic — not just dim-sum — and ranges from Chinese-American favorites to exotic treatments of animal innards. I’m embarrassed to admit that my favorite large-plate entrée was Mongolian Beef. It was, however, too sweet – nothing that couldn’t be remedied with a shot of hot chili oil or some rice vinegar. Our favorite dim-sum snack was the crackly curry chips. I couldn’t bring myself to swallow shrimp dumplings that tasted unbearably fishy. But I did love the crispy-fried, creamy tofu cubes topped with barely submerged shrimp. The restaurant’s soup dumplings have received a lot of positive press, but you won’t hear me raving. They were tough-skinned, with very little broth and a knot of flavorless meat. In fact, the things are not housemade. They are frozen! A plate of beef with scallions was a yawner. The least appealing dish was braised chunks of grouper with snow peas.

Dim Sum Heaven gets bonus points for being open until 1 a.m. every night of the week. It’s also dirt-cheap.

AUDITORY HELL: Numerous studies have demonstrated that Christmas music causes brain lesions, yet restaurateurs continue to torment us with it. Please help make Christmas great again by complaining wherever you hear it. Remember: Jesus loves you but he hates Christmas music.