This is a chocolate shop that I’ve enjoyed for a long time. For many years it was a member of the Schakolad chain, but more recently they’ve gone independent.

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We like their spicy chocolates and we like their truffles. Truffles here cost about a dollar each (a box of 24 runs $30.00 I believe), and are well worth the trouble. I tried a dark chocolate truffle as a comparison piece. A di Amano chocolate starts out modestly and has flavors that build and then linger, it seems, forever. I like that, as it reminds me of the best hard cheeses.

di Amano Chocolate
1100 Hammond Road NE
Suite 430-A
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(770) 730-9770

Barberitos is a smallish chain which started in Athens and grew. They deal in border cuisine, and are the kind of restaurant that insists they’re not a fast food chain. They call themselves quick to serve instead.

There is some basis for making this kind of distinction. They prep their foods every morning, and rather than using only generic ground meats in their preparations, they do grill steak, and you can get grilled chicken as well. The cheese they use is the Mexican white you’ll see at Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, not a big wheel of Longhorn cheddar. Salsas are fresh. Their chipotle hot sauce has a bite to it.

When I arrived, a little after 11 on a Saturday, they were still preparing the meats of the day, apologizing for their slowness – they had done a large catering event the night before, or were explaining what they put in their cheese dip. In a word, it seemed as if everyone knew what they were doing and were ready to explain it to anyone who showed. This is not ordinary in a fast food quick to serve restaurant.

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The items served here are, unless you’re selective, heavy on rice and beans. The quesadillas are not. They have a salad that’s acceptable if you’re avoiding carbs.

The salsa bar is appealing and the chipotle hot sauce has a kick to it.

The salsa bar is appealing and the chipotle hot sauce has a kick to it.

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Anyway, the salsa were enjoyable, the cheeses went over well with me. I thought I had a good, decent quesadilla here. Not blow you away but good enough. I probably liked the atmosphere here most of all, of a new restaurant starting its day, and how engaged the staff was and proud of the work they did. At this restaurant, it came shining through.

Barberitos
5610 Roswell Rd., Suite 110
Sandy Springs, GA 30342
(404) 943-1000

Barberitos on Urbanspoon

Hammock’s is a cozy place, living in repurposed space, and with nothing really like it nearby. In terms of having a deft versatile menu, it compares well with No 246, which we recently reviewed. It’s not as exotic a menu as 246, but has both tapas style dishes and main courses, and plenty of variations of oysters, clams and shrimp.

It’s really good looking inside and could be used for a variety of purposes. You could eat a burger, get a brew and watch some sports – they have a large screen or two. You could eat light, exploring the various seafood options this restaurant provides. And it is upscale enough for a business lunch or a sales presentation.

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Staff here have been excellent when I have visited, one of the strengths of this restaurant.

Hammock’s Trading Company
7285 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(770) 395-9592

Hammocks Trading Company on Urbanspoon

One of the hardest things to do is write meaningful reviews of restaurants that are difficult to categorize. This comes into play in Chinese in a large way. A lot of Chinese eateries are American Chinese. They derive from a 19th century American fad, the dish chop suey. The development of this fad, and a very loving tribute to hyphenated Chinese cuisines in general, can be found in Jenny 8 Lee’s book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles“.

The old Cantonese style American Chinese restaurants therefore have had over 100 years to perfect the style, the pace, the ambience of their cuisine. They specialize in making nervous eaters relaxed about their food. Service is king, the food is more a queen. The dishes are not spicy, and focus on the freshness of the proteins and the texture of the vegetables. A good moo goo gai pan is a classic “old style” dish.

Newer authentic restaurants feature bold spicing, and a lot of new Chinese staff. Mainland China is hardly a service culture. The people themselves are outspoken by even American standards. No subject is taboo, except politics (and perhaps sex). As a result, the service is rough. Some of the things servers say to customers and to each other can be shocking. Even in better places, things happen. I was chased out of Peter Chang’s once by a waitress who was convinced I didn’t tip her. Turns out, her busboy had pocketed the bills I had left on the table.

Before the meal, to whet the appetite.

I enjoyed the flavors and the heat of this spicy lamb dish.

So what to make of a place with old fashioned quiet and service, Americanized menus, but bold spicy food? What is it? How would an American know? Thing is, that’s exactly what you get from Hunan Gourmet. It feels like a hybrid of flavor authenticity and the old style Cantonese super service.

I’m not sure why this combination makes this place almost uncommented upon, but it does. The whole 3 comments on Yelp about it immediately contrast it with the nearby Canton Cooks (not even the same cuisine, but famously authentic, with wait staff who noisily eat in front of everyone). On Urbanspoon, MA seems to “get it”, or at least MA agrees with me about Hunan Gourmet’s signature virtues:

Great, family-staffed place. Friendly service. Quiet inside dining – not your typical noisy, chaotic joint.

I think, in a nutshell, by working so hard to act like the mid 20th century ideal of a Chinese restaurant, it’s hard to know where authentic begins and American Chinese ends. But if what you want is nice quiet service, good spicy food, and time to think, there aren’t many places like it in the city.

Hunan Gourmet
6070 Sandy Springs Circle
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 303-8888

Hunan Gourmet on Urbanspoon

We’ve spoken about the Brooklyn Cafe before, but never had the initiative to get past their vegetable plate, until now. This is the Brooklyn Cafe’s pork tenderloin sandwich, with a side of grilled zucchini.

pork tenderloin sandwich

Brooklyn Cafe
220 Sandy Springs Circle
Atlanta GA 30028
(404) 843-8377

Brooklyn Cafe on Urbanspoon

I’ve been to this Five Seasons location before, but long before I was food blogging. I’ve wanting to write a short article on it, but just hadn’t found the time to get into the eatery. This time I made it during lunch (so no beer, pity), but did get a taste of one of their specials, an Italian Sausage burger.

Italian sausage burger

It was good. The menu at Five Seasons is ambitious, but execution and flavor doesn’t make it up to the Leon’s or Holeman and Finch level. Still, it’s a good place to eat, easily a cut above Joe Pub, and the slightly higher prices keep the fresh beer flowing to your table.

5 Seasons Prado
5600 Roswell Road Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30342
(404) 255-5911

Five Seasons Prado on Urbanspoon

It was a funny set of events that left us at La Petit Maison this last Saturday evening. We don’t often eat French, but a bistro like this one offers the best chance for my wife to enjoy French food (she’s not good with milk, cream, cheeses or butter, but enjoys bread). As an appetizer, we tried La Petit Maison’s escargot.

Plenty of butter and herbs in this dish. La Petit Maison has excellent breads.

I liked them. Drenched in butter, these actually are the first snails I’ve had that tasted good. Experiments with escargot in my youth and early teens inevitably led to disaster, and once I was married, French wasn’t a cuisine we frequented. The closest equivalent I have to these tasty morsels is a good cooked oyster.

La Petit Maison
6510 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 303-6600

La Petite Maison on Urbanspoon

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