After digging a little more,  it turns out that Jennifer 8 Lee, of Fortune Cookie Chronicles fame, has a web site and the web site has a blog. At first glance, it’s much more fragmented a view than her far ranging book, but there are nuggets to be dug out of her posts. For one, she’s using Google ngrams to trace food trends through word usage, an idea that, when I saw it, struck me through as if an arrow had been driven through me.

Let’s take a quick look at a food fad. The one that first comes to mind is sushi. Did you know that in American English, the word “sushi” is now more common than the word “burger” or the words “apple pie”? Hey, I can show you that in a Google ngram. Switch the idiom of English you’re analyzing a bit,  to British English and you’ll see  different results. The chop suey fad disappears, for one, as does interest in food circa 2002-2003.

Interested in peppers? Checking out various pepper names shows a spike in interest in the word “tabasco” roughly about 1930. The word “jalapeno” takes off roughly about 1980, “habanero” about 1990. If you check out American and British English, you’ll see very different levels of interest, and a marked decline in interest among the British starting around the year 2000.

Obviously this kind of analysis isn’t restricted to foods. You can look at fabrics and plastics, or the effects electronic devices have on our language. That said, you can still compare “salsa” to “ketchup” and “granola” to the various Chinese foods that Jennifer Lee spoke about in such depth.

The surgery was a success, and the boot is gone. There are lingering pains here and there, but I can fit into a shoe for the first time in months, as opposed to wearing slippers. I can be decent company for someone going out. That’s definitely a plus. So I went out, tried Kampai, a steak, seafood, and tapas joint, in Lawrenceville, located where the On the Border used to be. Nice place, I liked it. Photos and a review shortly.

My boonie peppers are alive but not doing well. Some may have died. I need some warmer weather, about 80 during the day and better than 50 at night to be sure. Till then I water them and keep my fingers crossed.

The New York Times has an interesting article on the effects the lack of slaughterhouses have on the locavore movement. Higher slaughterhouse standards are causing slaughterhouses to close. Therefore, farmers trying to supply regional meat are having to book time for slaughter before animals are being born.

Finally a pic. I got a new scale – the Ozeri – that could weigh to the gram. The spice mill I finally devoted to sichuan pepper left my daughter bereft. Before, the mill had black pepper and she was enjoying being able to grind her own. I bought another. I’ll make sure that one stays pepper oriented.

Ozeri scale versus the one we've had for 25 years.

Home made inari-zushi, which was delicious.

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Seen at Target, a home sized molcajete.

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Seen around town, these tiny Smart Cars.

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Seen at a party recently held, the Smoke Jack truck, a catering and restaurant firm out of Alpharetta, showing off their wares.

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Sushi Avenue on Scenic Highway in Snellville is the third restaurant in a small Atlanta chain that began with the original restaurant on Ponce De Leon and was continued with a second restaurant in Decatur Square.  It has been around at least since 1997, and though by almost all measures is a popular restaurant, it hasn’t been visited by any media or bloggers in some time.

The chopsticks wrapper shows the origin of this Snellville restaurant.

The chopsticks wrapper shows the origin of this Snellville restaurant.

What we saw today was a place that had newly opened, and was conveniently located on Scenic Highway just opposite the large mall that houses O’Charleys and Texas Roadhouse. The new “Grand Opening” sign simply cannot be missed.

Front of the restaurant.

Front of the restaurant.

Upon entering the eatery, you enter a longish room, with 4 booths to the left, a sushi bar in front of you and a bit to the right. To the immediate right, there are a couple more tables and there are also a few tables past the sushi bar. We were seated at a booth, and given a large menu, as well as a sheet which had a few dozen sushi choices, both nigiri and various rolls. Both staff and chefs appear to be Japanese.

From discussions on Citysearch and Yelp, I expected a very limited menu, but that’s not what I saw. There are dozens of dishes available at Sushi Avenue, including things most hibachi restaurants would never have. There is yakitori, for example. There are three different kinds of gyoza. Edamame is available. Donburi of various kinds can be obtained. You can order tonkatsu, and chirashi sushi is also available. For those looking for something other than garden variety teriyaki meats or tempura, I’d strongly recommend perusing Sushi Avenue’s specials.

My wife ordered a tempura and chicken teriyaki plate. My daughter was dying to try donburi, so she ordered the oyakodon. I ordered otsukemono (Japanese pickles) and their salt grilled salmon, a couple sushi rolls and some nigiri. It wasn’t long before the pickles, miso soup and a couple small salads arrived:

pickles on the left, salads and miso soup on the right.

pickles on the left, salads and miso soup on the right.

The pickles were good, the miso soup was good, the salads were good. Soon after the salt grilled salmon showed up, followed soon after by the sushi.

Salt grilled salmon, the hit of our meal.

Salt grilled salmon, the hit of our meal.

Rolls and nigiri from Sushi Avenue.

Rolls and nigiri from Sushi Avenue.

The salmon was the hit of the meal, firm but tender and it tasted great. The sushi was good as well. The maguro (tuna) nigiri was blessed with a thick slice of tuna, richly red. And soon after those two came, my daughter received her donburi and my wife got her tempura.

Donburi

Donburi

Chicken teriyaki and tempura.

Chicken teriyaki and tempura.

I only got a taste of the donburi after a while, but my daughter ate too much for it to be a bad dish. My wife’s dish, she really enjoyed the tempura but the teriyaki was just okay. She told me after the fact that she probably should have gotten the nabeyaki udon along with some tempura. She also said with a contented smile, “We can take my mom here.” As my mother-in-law is full blooded Japanese, that is fairly impressive praise.

To summarize, this was a very good meal. It wasn’t a perfect meal, but a very good meal. What impressed me was the breadth of the menu and the authenticity of the experience. I’ve talked about what makes a Japanese meal in America authentic before, and that’s when a Japanese restaurant gives you enough real choices to have some sense of the quality, breadth and character of the cuisine. It’s not about the Brookwood High roll or the Super Duper Snellville Roll in the end.  And it makes me wonder if Sushi Avenue, in all its guises, has been seriously underestimated.

Verdict: Good food, good sushi, good service, with a diverse enough cuisine to deliver an authentic Japanese experience. Highly Recommended.

Sushi Avenue
2118 Scenic Highway, Suite F
Snellville GA, 30078
(770) 985-1800

Sushi Avenue Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sri Thai is a Thai food and sushi restaurant right on the corner of Scenic Highway (124) and Highway 78, in the same strip mall as Provino’s Italian Restaurant, Books for Less, and the Snellville Diner. It follows an older Thai restaurant that wasn’t as successful and perhaps is haunted by the older restaurant’s lack of success. I know I avoided it in part for that reason, and also in part because Danthai, which is very close to me, is better than their predecessor. But I snuck into this place for lunch, recently, just to see if that was a true impression or just a lingering prejudice.

The inside of the restaurant is prettier than I recall, and the waiters are dressed all in black. The place is a little small, and probably couldn’t handle a huge crowd. The menu they present has two sides, one a side with Japanese dishes and another a side with Thai dishes. The bento (lunch) boxes looked good, with picture of various sushi rolls and good looking slices of sashimi. I know they are advertising $1 sushi specials, and while those aren’t bad, the fish tends to get awfully thin in dollar sushi.

It’s also not unusual to have the Thai food/Japanese food pairing. The restaurant Wild Ginger, off Savoy Road, does the same. I’ve been relatively outspoken about my Japanese preferences, so I didn’t want to explore that in this restaurant. I wanted a simple curry and wanted to see how the meal went.

My daughter was with me. She had the basil roll. I ordered a masaman curry, with beef. Masaman is a milder curry with coconut milk, and is particularly good with beef and cashews. It stores well and ages well. And my favorite place to get it was the now closed “Bites”, where Eric, the cook/owner, went out of his way to make the food both look and taste good.

Imagine my surprise when I get my dish and it comes out looking great. This is not exotic food in Thailand, and serves a role similar to mom’s beef stew. But they went the extra mile to make the dish look fantastic. It tasted good too. The serving size was appropriate for lunch and the price – $7.50 as I recall – was reasonable.

Service was complicated slightly by language issues. Some of the staff had some trouble with things I said, and were probably new to English. Otherwise I had no problem with service.

To end, we had their mango ice cream (with cooked banana, wrapped in pastry), and it was as good looking as the curry.

Verdict? This is hardly a test of how they operate during peak dinner hours. I came in during a quiet period at lunch. But what I saw was promising, and I’d go back again, to find out if they stand up to a dinner crowd.

Sri Thai on Urbanspoon

Haru Ichiban is on the southeast corner of the intersection of Pleasant Hill Road and Satellite Boulevard, a bit south along Satellite, facing west from the strip mall that lies along the south of Pleasant Hill. It’s a bit hard to find, and a little inconspicuous. There is nothing on the outside that says this is a great place to have Japanese food.

Once inside, however, you can see the excellent review they received in 2000, the Zagat rating, the Atlanta’s top 50 ranking. You can see the long clean sushi bar, you can see the Japanese waitresses, the Japanese cooks, and the largely Japanese clientele that come to this restaurant.

My first exposure to Japanese food on a regular basis came on the island of Guam, which is a popular Japanese tourist destination. My favorite Japanese haunt there was the Yakitori II, a restaurant specializing in yakitori that sat on the edge of the harbor of Agana and had glass on three sides, so you could see out into Agana Bay while you ate. The bay is shallow, shallow enough that you could watch people spear fish while you were eating. The visual experience, particularly at sunset, was phenomenal. The culinary experience was that Japanese food need not be expensive, or so sophisticated the cuisine was the out of reach of an ordinary person.

While in Guam I met my wife, who is half Chamorro, half Japanese. My mother in law is full blooded Japanese, and yes, when I find a restaurant and my whole family is visiting, I have to please them both. The place I go to most often is Haru Ichiban, because it’s just more authentic than most restaurants in Atlanta.

Just how authentic is Haru Ichiban?

It should be understood that the order and presentation of food in a traditional Japanese meal is not the same as a western meal. Most Japanese restaurants in the United States follow a western format. Gone is the central place of rice, gone are the pickled vegetables (tsukemono), gone is the floor seating. Instead you are likely to be served a salad with a traditional dressing, followed by miso soup, then followed by an entree, and then dessert if so desired. Whether the waitress is in a kimono or not doesn’t change the essentially western character of the presentation of the food. In this respect Haru Ichiban is no exception.

By authentic, in this context, I mean that Hari Ichiban serves a broader variety of foods than a common hibachi (Benihana style) restaurant. This popular kind of steakhouse will specialize in grilled meat and shrimp served teppanyaki style, along with tempura and teriyaki steak and chicken, and fried rice. An overwhelming number of Japanese restaurants are serving just these dishes. When I go out to eat, I’d prefer to see something a bit more sophisticated than fried rice.

And in this respect Haru Ichiban does succeed. Appetizers do include yakitori. They have a variety of udon and soba dishes, a variety of ramen dishes, a number of sushi and sashimi specials. If my wife wants tonkatsu (breaded pork), she can have tonkatsu. If she wanted donburi, she could have donburi, even unagi (BBQ eel) don if she wanted.

These by the way, are the lunch dishes. There is a much larger variety of food at dinner, and as Haru Ichiban has changed their menu recently, I won’t speak of what can be found at dinner.

The lunch menu is considerably expanded. Lunch specials have been reordered and renamed. The old “Crazy Tuna Special” is now the special tuna combination. I’ve always liked it, more so when I get the spicy tuna roll. I recently had their chirashi don, a simple sushi where a bowl is half filled with chirashi rice and a variety of sashimi are placed on top.  It was pretty, from the deep red of tuna to the light yellow of a slice of egg, to the pale colored ginger they favor here.

Nigiri sushi slices are thick. There is none of this 95% rice, 5% fish stuff going on here. I’ll note that a good number of the Japanese patrons seem to have sushi at lunch, though in all honesty, they’re usually more creative with what they eat (a lot more ribbon sushi, for example).

The ramen this restaurant serves is quite special, as anyone who attends JapanFest can attest to. Haru Ichiban usually has a booth there, serving ramen and they run out quickly. My personal favorite is their seafood ramen, served sio (salt) style. Sio style implies the use of a chicken broth, as opposed to soy. If there is one complaint I can make about Haru is that their soy based noodle flavoring can be too strong sometimes. But the seafood ramen with sio style sauce is light, and the tiny purple octopus that are found in the ramen are just delightful.

Take home? Very good Japanese food, more authentic than most. It’s the one Japanese restaurant on the northeast side of Atlanta I dare take my Japanese mother-in-law. Highly recommended, for both lunch and dinner.

Haru Ichiban on Urbanspoon

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