September 2009


Sushi Nami Japanese is a restaurant found on Windward Parkway, west of the Windward Parkway – Highway 400 Intersection. Back in the days when I worked nearby, I recall stepping into this place at lunch with coworkers and then stepping out. The looks of the place just intimidated that crew. They didn’t think they could afford to eat there.

As it turns out, if you’re careful, Sushi Nami doesn’t have to be expensive. They have a number of sushi specials, they have donburi, they have noodles of various kinds (soba, udon, ramen). They have tempura and even hibachi style meats, if you can’t handle the raw stuff. All of these options are in the 8-12 dollar range. But they also do have sushi, and there are reasons for wanting to eat here, and try their sushi.

Take their sushi display cases, for example. They are glass faced steel refrigerators canted at an angle, the hinge joint facing the customer. This kind of setup allows exact control of humidity and temperature. With gas taps, they could control oxygen partial pressures as well. As the sushi chefs proudly said, the cases in Sushi Nami are the only ones like this in Atlanta, and are the kinds of cases preferred in New York.

To note, the nigiri here are expensive. Things like “medium fatty tuna”, delicacies in other words, are quite expensive, the rolls less so. The best buy are things like Sushi Nami’s stock sushi combinations.

I ended up ordering their chirashi sushi and a bowl of tonkatsu ramen. I was in here at lunch, after all. And it turns out this combination comes with a salad and miso soup.

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The salad wasn’t bad, the miso soup was very good. The next thing to arrive was the chirashi sushi. Chirashi sushi I’ve read is easy to make, the kind of sushi someone should try at home, if they’re inclined to make sushi at all. But with the ease comes a creative component, and this dish does display the artistic flair of Sushi Nami. I liked this dish a great deal.

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Finally, tonkatsu ramen. It came out later than the other dishes, and it was a good tasting bowl of ramen.

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Staff here are prettily dressed, usually in black, but I found the service a little fussy for my tastes. Not bad, mind you, but they’re a little overly concerned you’ll make what they think is the right choice.

Verdict: Pretty, graceful Japanese and sushi restaurant. The food is very good. It’s easy to spend $10 or $100 here.  Highly recommended.

Sushi Nami Japanese
5316 Windward Pkwy
Alpharetta, GA 30004
(678) 566-3889

Sushi Nami Japanese on Urbanspoon

I’m just up and a lady named “Aida” on the Food Channel is making a new reduction for steaks. Let’s see.. onions and a bottle of pale ale, a tablespoon or two of mustard (any will do, but she’s using a dijon style with cracked mustard seeds in it) and then she takes the reduction off heat and adds 2 tablespoons of butter. Then she pours any excess drainage off her steaks back into the sauce. It’s hard to go wrong with beer, onions, and butter.

I stopped in the Royal Oak Pub and they are sponsoring a 5k run for charity. More so, the entire Dunwoody Restaurant Group is the sponsor. I snapped a photo of their poster of the event.

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This is Royal Oak’s Tostada salad, nice n’ spicy. It’s not quite as big a favorite as their Mediterranean or Hong Kong Steak salads, but it’s a more than decent plate of food. You can’t see the squares of chicken for the tomatoes and lettuce but it’s there, heavy with cheese.

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In other unrelated news, the steady and cool rain has led my boonie pepper plants to grow a lot of green appendages, shaped like an upside down ‘U’, that I suspect are nascent flowers. I won’t know until later, though. Some plants have plenty of them.

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The weather is getting cold, though, and I’m fighting the onset of frost versus the birth and growth of a pepper crop.

Last but not least, Mellow Mushrooms have some of the most interesting shapes. This one is in Sandy Springs.

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Taqueria Los Hermanos is a small Atlanta based chain that began in Tucker, added a location in Lilburn and has expanded into Lawrenceville.  I found them when I used to live a stone’s throw from Tucker, decided it was good and a bargain, and I have eaten there ever since. I have reviewed the Lilburn location and liked it, but that was prior to having a good camera and photographing food routinely. So I went back to the Tucker location, took photos, and will try once again to explain, for so many northeast OTPers, what the fuss is all about.

Daily specials at Taqueria Los Hermanos in Tucker

Daily specials at Taqueria Los Hermanos in Tucker

To misquote James Carville, it’s the tacos, stupid. TLH has some decent burritos and they almost always offer fancier specials, but the tacos are what bring people back. And it has to be understood that the typical Los Hermanos fan lives near the eatery.  Outside of the mom and pop taqueria joints his or her regional options are otherwise chains. So, you can have that generic ground beef taco or you can have one of TLH’s tacos. And to be plain, the pastor wins.

This taqueria not only offers a choice of meats it offers a choice between different flavorings in meats.  I usually buy a carnitas taco (shredded pork in a green tomatillo sauce) and the pastor taco (marinated pork in a red chile-tomatillo sauce). This is what these two tacos look like.

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Carnitas taco, with tomatillo sauce

Pastor taco

Pastor taco

Notice the difference in the sauces? Notice the difference in the way the pork is cut up and prepared? The result is flavor and texture differences that are not to be missed. When I first starting coming here, I would get the pastor, the carnitas and the fish taco. Taqueria Los Hermanos has an excellent fish taco. This time I tried the cesina taco, which looks like this.

cesina taco, with marinated steak as the filling.

cesina taco, with marinated steak as the filling.

The cesina and the asada tacos offer potential taste and flavor differences as well. It’s this kind of upgrade over Taco Bell style tacos and the flavor contrasts that bring people here again and again.

Taqueria Los Hermanos has a good salsa and usually has good dry chips. I caught a few bad chips this time I went, which really isn’t like them. I’ll note that my daughter likes their asada burrito, and has had good luck with it.

Now, as time has gone on, other places on the northeast side of Atlanta have begun to catch up with this formula. El Jinete, for example, offers a variety of tacos. Most chains, however, want you to buy three of the same kind of taco. There isn’t any choice allowed. And the mom and pop taquerias offer much the same flavors of tacos at half the price. But the mom n’ pops offers tacos that are half the size too, and not everyone is comfortable in a restaurant where they are the only English speaker.

This leads to the final advantage of the Lilburn and Tucker Taqueria Los Hermanos chains: they’re very well located for someone who is shopping. The Tucker location is right by a Publix. The Lilburn location is at the intersection of two major roads in this part of town.

Verdict: Inexpensive and good a la carte tacos power this chain. Highly Recommended.

Taqueria Los Hermanos
4418 Hugh Howell Rd
Tucker, GA 30084
(678) 937-0660

Taqueria Los Hermanos (Tucker) on Urbanspoon

Bo Bo Garden is a restaurant with a great deal of coverage in the blogs and media (Jennifer Zyman twice, with a first article on her blog and an excellent follow up on Creative Loafing. Foodie Buddha has also weighed in here). However, it hasn’t been followed by a mad rush of patrons to talk the place up, etc. I decided to come here on a whim after a checkup. I had been looking for this restaurant for a while, getting lost as usual, and had found it a couple days before. Bo Bo Garden is in the “strip mall that never ends” on the east side of Buford, a little north of and on the opposite side of the road from Quoc Huong and Asian Square. It sits in the corner, so it’s not terribly easy to see. Once you find it, you’ll probably have the “how could I have missed it?” reaction that I did.

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It’s a nice looking restaurant for a Buford Highway place, with pretty wooden paneling inside, and a menu that’s all over the walls in Chinese. Some of the items have pictures, which makes them easier to order, and there is a table menu for English speakers as well. As I was the only non-Chinese in the place the day and time I was here, it couldn’t have been much of a problem for the staff to accommodate me.

What I saw, I liked. I liked that I was in an eatery where there were live animals for sale in the back. Live fish, and sea snails were available for those who liked them. I had never seen sea snails kept in a pen for sale, and got up to walk over to see them. I liked that a well dressed 50something couple was taking their equally well dressed 80something parents to this restaurant, and a tanned, tattooed 20something mother of three was taking her mother here as well.

It was quite a family affair.

I had some of their hot and sour soup. It’s not a soup I order often, because it’s easy to make badly. Bo Bo Garden’s version was excellent, with a lot of flavor and a decent dose of pepper.

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Their #12 lunch, a vegetarian tofu dish, was just what the doctor ordered.

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I liked this place. Seriously true to their Chinese audience, and even their humble lunch dishes had a lot of flavor. I’d be very happy to come back here again.

Verdict: Inexpensive and tasty Chinese foods. Highly Recommended.

Bo Bo Garden
5181 Buford Highway
Atlanta, GA 30340
(678) 547-1881

Bo Bo Garden on Urbanspoon

Totori Fresh Grill and Sushi is a restaurant that lives near the corner of Five Forks Trickum Road and Sugarloaf Parkway, a bit more on the Five Forks side of the intersection. It’s in a tiny strip mall, the last restaurant in the mall, and as you head from Sugarloaf Parkway down Five Forks, the restaurant would be on your left.

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My wife, half Japanese, was very interested as they were setting this up. She has little interest in paying for the show of a hibachi restaurant, and thinks the food selection in the typical hibachi is severely limited. I, for one, have openly stated on this blog that Asian foods are often too expensive, unlike the Japanese restaurants I encountered on Guam. There, young Japanese newlyweds were the target audience,  and there were plenty of inexpensive restaurants to feed them.

Totori is a concept restaurant, done professionally enough that my first reaction was, “This has to be a chain.” After reading John Kim’s post on Yelp and the review of the restaurant (posted on the wall) done by the Gwinnett Daily Post, this appears instead to be a well crafted “one of” for now. They are indeed aiming at the classic hibachi audience for Asian food, but they intend to cut it off at the feet by offering their food with no frills and at competitive prices.

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I think making too extreme a comparison, though, is doing this restaurant a dissservice. Totori serves rice bowls, for example, and udon. They serve tonkatsu and chicken katsu. They serve bulgogi, half a dozen appetizers and close to a dozen different sushi rolls. This isn’t fast food, it’s convenience food.

When you enter, you walk up to the storefront and order. The grill is open to view, the rice cooker is in plain sight. If you want to stand and watch them cook, you can. They bring out your food, and after you finish, you bus your own tables. If you want silverware, you walk to a table and get it. They offer chopsticks, and a variety of forks and spoons, both metal and plastic.

Menus I found to be a little messy. Things on menus outside were not on the menus inside, nor were they on the takeout menu. As professionally done and well written as the posters on the wall are, the takeout menu is shot through with typographical errors. One my daughter caught is “Frech fried”.

Staff here were either born overseas, or retain the courtesies of their ancestors. When I paid for my meal, my card and the ticket were handed back to me in concert and the staffer bowed. I like that.

The food? Mostly good, though some dishes were just okay, and others were quite tasty. For me at least, the veggie and shrimp tempura was just ordinary. My wife liked their tempura a lot more than I did. The best dishes in our hands were the rice bowls. We tried a bulgogi rice bowl, and a steak rice bowl with their spicy sauce (meats can come with one of five sauces). Both were quite good.

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We also had their California roll, one of their hibachi combos, and a bowl of nabeyaki udon. The udon took a while for them to cook, and the tempura was delivered separately. My picture of the udon is pre-tempura.  The California roll wasn’t bad. The hibachi combo was really the same food as the rice bowls, but presented differently, and generally is a larger serving of food. I got the hibachi sauce and after trying my daughter’s steak bowl, knew I had gotten the wrong sauce for my taste buds. I would have preferred the spicy sauce. The udon was decent.

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Almost all the dishes in this eatery are under 10 dollars. You really have to buy a lot of food to get a 12 dollar dish. And that’s a nice feeling if you’re wanting to save a few dollars here and there.

In conclusion? This eatery is roughly comparable to places like “Tin Drum”, which try to give access to Asian foods to a broader audience than before. I really wish this one was close to work,  because I suspect I’d be having lunch here quite a bit. But for now, it’s in Lawrenceville and my fingers are crossed that they’re making money and will expand. I think a few of these would be good for the metro area.

Verdict:  Hibachi style food without the show and the cost. Rice bowls and hibachi style food are the stars here. For those on a budget, highly recommended.

Totori Fresh Grill and Sushi
1430 Five Forks Trickum Road
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(678) 985-2203

Totori Fresh Grill and Sushi on Urbanspoon

There are certain books that are useful (e.g. Chilton’s Total Care Care Manuals), certain books that are entertaining (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), certain books that are, at times, profound (Studs Terkel, in The Good War, interviewing Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi), and then there is the rare masterpiece that manages to be entertaining, informative, and profound.

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One such masterpiece is the cookbook Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art. This is a book I owned, loved, lost and recently purchased again. I love it for its matter of fact descriptions of how the Japanese eat, how they cook, how they prepare food, and in certain very fundamental ways, how they think. The first chapter sets the tone, 20 pages on the Japanese meal, and it just develops from there. No detail is too small to be covered. Shizuo Tsuji, the author, even shows you how to use chopsticks. Further, the book is chock full of small details, such as:

Nigiri-zushi is representative of Tokyo food. The reasons for this might relate to the fact that Tokyo – or Edo as the city was known before 1868 – is situated on a bay that was once rich in seafood of all kinds. No doubt influenced by the bountiful catch of their wide, placid bay, the people of Edo always knew the taste of truly fresh fish and craved it.

There are very few pictures but plenty of diagrams, and I love the functional simplicity of the line drawings in this book. Simply put, this would have to be on my short list of books to be left with on a desert island.

The Book “Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes“, was a choice I made in part because I wasn’t 100% sure that the previous book was the one I lost. I wanted to fill out my bookshelf on this subject and this book isn’t a bad addition. Tsukemono is central to the Japanese meal. As Ikuko Hisamatsu says in the preface:

For most of the Japanese nothing can replace enjoying plain, hot rice with tsukemono and dinner is not complete without it as the final course.

There are lots of pictures, visual step by step instructions on how to make various Japanese pickles, and if you’re at all acquainted with the topic, then you know that pickles aren’t just made with vinegar in Japan. I liked the book, whose focus is getting the reader to be able to make pickles.. utilitarian, in other words.

The final choice isn’t so much a cookbook as a history of food in Korea, and was an attempt to find something covering Korean cuisine that was as good as Shizuo Tsuji’s text.  Nonetheless, “Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History” by Michael J. Pettid also does have 23 pages of Korean recipes at the end. I like this book, though at times reading it feels a little overwhelming. I tend to think though, with the explosion of Korean food throughout Gwinnett County and the Buford Highway region of town, it was time to learn something.

Summit’s Wayside Tavern was a surprise to me. Walk in, and the left is full of sports memorabilia. There are helmets worn by famous football players, and bats used by well known  baseball players line walls and fill display cases. Then you get to the right and the wall of taps. There isn’t any disguising the wall of taps, the single longest series of taps I’ve seen since I’ve begun reviewing. It was 112 beer taps when I stopped counting, and the bartender says there are about 150 beers on tap counting the bar itself. Yes, this place has an amazing selection of beers available to be drunk.

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The menu speaks of some serious attempts to provide bar food with some quality. The burgers are large, they have buffalo burgers and American kobe beef burgers. The pastrami is supplied by a quality vendor of meats. That said, the food prices also reflect the cost of their ingredients. A pastrami sandwich, for example, runs about 12 dollars here.

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I had a Terrapin brown ale just to start, some buffalo wings, a pastrami sandwich. The beer was really good. The wings were also really good, though the TMI sauce is hardly over the top – I doubt it was even as hot as Tabasco. I liked the huge chunks of carrot and celery with the wings and the decent size of the serving.

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The pastrami sandwich had great meat, great cheese. The inside of the sandwich had no issues at all. The outside of the sandwich needs work. It’s a pretty soft bread, that 19th century style rye, and it isn’t hardy enough to handle this sandwich. It needs a roll, for sure, because the sandwich falls apart when you try to eat it all. Given the cost of their sandwiches, they should put as much effort into getting good bread as they do good meats. I’d love to see what Summit sandwiches would look like on an Alon’s sandwich roll.

Verdict: Enormous beer selection. Decent eats. Highly Recommended.

Summit’s Wayside Tavern
3334-A Stone Mountain Highway (Highway 78)
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 736-1333

Summits Wayside Tavern on Urbanspoon

Atlanta Things To Do on raveable

Location: Summit’s is in a low lying building a block before the Highpoint Road – Highway 78 intersection while heading east on 78. While there isn’t much up-front parking, there is plenty in the back of the building.

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