September 2009


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.

Japan Fest is a long standing event, sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Georgia, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia, and the Consulate General of Japan. The festival is being held in the Gwinnett Convention center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth, GA 30097. I’ve been to it on and off for years, back when it was in Stone Mountain Park, and at least once after it moved to the convention center. They serve foodShoya Izakaya plans to be there, as well as Suno Dessert. The 2009 edition is this weekend, September 19th and 20th.

I go largely to look, but if you have a teen aged daughter, or a female member of the family young at heart, the Konnichiwa Club can have them dressed in a kimono. All I can say is, if you ever see it, you will be amazed.

Japan Fest

Chef Rob’s is on Roswell Road, a bit north of Clifton, a bit south of Hammond, on the left as you’re headed north. It’s in the Parkside Shopping Center, and a bit away from the road. The eatery wasn’t that hard to find, once I was in the parking lot, as their catering van was parked nearby.

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Inside it’s a small but very pretty restaurant, with yellow and red melding into earth tones inside. They have a small bar and nice looking bamboo style placemats on the tables. I ordered a soda, but that’s probably a mistake, as they serve a great looking and cold bottle of water with every meal.

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I ordered their 1/4 jerk chicken, as I really was looking for something with a little kick that day. It came with peas and rice and steamed vegetables. When it arrived, the meat was very dark, a product of the seasoning used. This is a wet jerk chicken, and has plenty of a dark brown sauce that comes with the meal.

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The chicken is very good. The spicing, as has been noted in other reviews, is full and rich and grows on you. I like spices that develop character and build, and I like some heat. Chef Rob’s chicken filled the bill on both criteria.

Afterwards I had a slice of Jamaican fruit cake. It’s a very dark cake, certainly not like the blocks of fruit I’ve seen around Christmastime. Still, you can taste the fruit in this very dark confection and also the rum used to candy and flavor the fruit. It was a pleasure to eat.

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Service is good but casually paced. If you need to eat and run, Chef Rob’s isn’t the place to be.

Verdict: Tasty Caribbean dishes and some very nice desserts. Highly Recommended.

Chef Rob’s Caribbean Cafe
5920 Roswell Rd NE
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 250-3737

Chef Rob's Caribbean Cafe on Urbanspoon

As Caribbean Flavors demonstrates, not all Caribbean is Jamaican, and not all Caribbean is created equal.  This is a Virgin Islands joint, not something easily determined from the outside. It’s located one block north of the intersection of Webb Ginn Road and Scenic Highway (Highway 124), a block past Poblanos and Bonefish Grill. It’s in the same strip mall as Lavender Asian Bistro. Inside, it’s pretty, clean and neat, with a nice yellow and orange color scheme (that seems loud I know, but the colors are well coordinated and muted) and there are a few tables surrounding the kitchen area.

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One thing that’s just true about Atlanta food writers, professional, blogger or just aggregation site fan, is that Caribbean restaurants are seriously underrepresented in their writings. People either don’t talk about them, ignore them, or forget to talk about them. Jamaican and Caribbean stores and restaurants abound on Memorial Drive and Covington Highway, and how many of these can even be found in the discussion of best Caribbean in the city? Even in other places where these eateries have expanded into, they’re not well represented. People would rather talk about the new bar in Grant Park, or a new paint job in Two Urban Licks, than find the next hole in the wall while headed to Stone Mountain.

I’m guilty of this too. I saw this restaurant while reviewing Lavender and then waited a while to check this one out. And wow, was I in for a surprise. For one, no frozen patties shipped in from New York here, and microwaved. The patés, as they call them, are hand made:

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That’s true of all the food here. It’s made from scratch. As this is a Virgin Islands restaurant, there is no jerk chicken. Dishes are things like rotí, or conch stew. Oh yes, and Johnny cakes, can’t forget those. These are a kind of fried donut, and Caribbean Flavors has good ones.

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They have a decent sized salad if you eat in.

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The conch stew is quite good

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But the chicken rotí is heavenly, bliss wrapped in a chickpea tortilla.

as served.

as served.

opened and half eaten

opened and half eaten

And they do a nice dessert too. This is made from scratch rum cake. They don’t fly in their desserts either.

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I took patés home, and when my daughter tried one, her response was,

“Oh my god, this is really good.”

And the words aren’t as important in gauging her response as the pitch of her voice, which drops when she wants to emphasize a point. It seemed as if my daughter’s voice dropped an octave when she was talking about Caribbean Flavor’s patés.

If I had any advice for those near Snellville, I’d say you have to try this restaurant. For those a bit further out, I can’t gauge what you should drive for. A great Caribbean restaurant could be around your corner. You won’t know until you look.

Service here is good and relaxed. The chef is in on nights and weekends and approachable.

Verdict: Good to excellent from-scratch Virgin Islands food. Very highly recommended

Caribbean Flavors
1195 Scenic Highway
Lawrenceville, GA 30045
(770) 978-6800

Caribbean Flavors on Urbanspoon

Notes: easiest way here from, say, I-85, is to exit at Pleasant Hill and head east. Go to Ronald Reagan highway. Head to Snellville. Exit on Webb Ginn Road and take a left. At the intersection of Webb Ginn and Scenic Highway (Poblano’s will be on your left), turn left and go one block. At the the gas station, turn left and immediately enter the strip mall-gas station on your right. You won’t see Caribbean Flavors at this point, but this is the right place to turn. Head to the far end of the strip mall.

Getting as many of these Guam boonie peppers as I can has been a many months campaign. Right now I have one. Other plants aren’t mature enough yet. I may have to winter all of them inside and cross fingers they survive until next year.

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What I don’t know is whether these structures on my plants are flowers or tiny compacted leaves.

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I picked up my family in South Atlanta and they were starving. They had no food of consequence and I needed a place to feed them. I suggested Holy Taco on the way home, and it worked out well (though their excellent quinoa salad wasn’t available that day).

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Beef tongue and shrimp tacos. The beef tongue was the better of the two, so says my daughter.

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Chicken and steak tacos.

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A pork cheek sandwich. It was very good, with very tender meat.

Flames is on Highway 124, about a block south of the Highpoint Road-124 intersection and is in the same strip mall as Tastees. Flames is a classic neighborhood bar, some tables and booths, some televisions, roomier than some bars. It also has a couple pool tables in the back, and as you enter, a bar to the left.

Once I was seated, my waitress asked, “What would you like to drink?” Her English had a light accent, as if she was from the Caribbean. I asked for the beers on tap and selected Heineken as my best option. It came in a pretty glass, costs about $4.50.

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The foods? Nothing special, until I saw the jerk chicken. I ordered that. Alabama and West Virginia were on the tube and people were playing Texas Hold ‘Em in one corner of the bar.  Some time later, the jerk chicken arrived.

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It was clear, almost from the start, that the chicken was smoked. You could smell it in the meat, taste it on your fingers. The chicken was really good. That little container of red in the photo? That’s hot sauce my friend, and has a bite to it. The ketchup was in bottles on tables, but not on mine. I went over and grabbed one, so I could suck down fries with my chicken.

I was surprised. This neighborhood sports bar does a very mean chicken.

Verdict: Good, dry, smoky jerk chicken is the star here. Recommended.

Flames Sports Bar and Grill
2671 Centerville Highway (Highway 124)
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 736-1007

Flames Sports Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

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