November 2009

I spent the last week in the Bay Area, eating in spots from downtown San Francisco to San Jose’s Japantown (yes, San Jose has one too). I saw an incredible supermarket in Cupertino, an enormous flea market in San Jose, and I have pictures of much of this. So over this week (perhaps next) there will be a lot of articles about Bay Area eating and shopping.

In the meantime. we arrived late enough to need a 24 hour eatery, and one of the best diners near Snellville is the Metro Cafe in Stone Mountain.  We had two specials, a grilled lamb shank and grilled tilapia there, and we also had hot wings.

The hot wings fared best in our hands, large, dry and spicy.

The tilapia serving was enormous, and accompanied by a decent set of steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a ton of rice. The tilapia was good, but lacking in spices. Tossing some black pepper on the tilapia cured a lot of the lack of taste.

My daughter ordered the lamb shank, which she originally thought was good and then later decided was just ordinary. I had a taste. Yes, not much flavor from a chunk of meat that should have been flavorful almost by default. It was very tender though.

Sushi Mio is found in the strip mall on the southeast corner of Hilderbrand and Roswell Road, fairly close to F2O. It’s a neat place, with a good looking outside and a good looking inside. The pretty insides are one of the best things about this restaurant.

I came during lunchtime, looking for something unassuming and fast. Yes, I know these places serve sushi but I was looking for other alternatives. The non-sushi offerings at lunch are relatively sparse, but they had udon, yakisoba, ramen and three different kinds of donburi. I had one of the rice bowls.

Miso soup and a salad came with the donburi.

I enjoyed the donburi. The octopus sushi wasn’t bad either, and the soup and salad hit the spot. Service was excellent, easily the best part of the restaurant for me.  The calm pretty atmosphere is also a nice respite from most lunch places, which can be crowded assembly lines in this part of town.

Verdict: Good looking, excellent service, good food. Recommended.

Sushi Mio
6125 Roswell Road
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 256-1686

Sushi Mio Japanese on Urbanspoon

One of the problems with elevating one component of a cuisine over another is that you can denigrate the portion of the cuisine that has been dismissed. You can then effectively regard the “lesser” product as “substandard” and ignore it critically. I don’t think that’s what Cliff Bostock had in mind with his comments on Pure Taqueria, but I’ve been reading way too much Robb Walsh to not catch the potential implication: foods originating in Atlanta, created by Hispanics, that are largely targeted at “gringos” are critically insignificant and to be ignored.

Nevertheless, there are a series of dishes in the Atlanta Tex-Mex restaurant repertoire I’ve not seen elsewhere. I have relatives (some of them are well known) all over Texas and spent my share of time in that state. Some of these Atlanta Hispanic dishes are good, and if they are not seen anywhere else, aren’t they then Atlanta originals?

I’m mostly interested in what Frontera Mex-Mex calls a Crazy Taco. Usually done with a marinated chicken and covered with lettuce and white cheese, it’s cheap and quite good. Other places call it a Taco Loco. But where did it come from? Was this created by Hispanic Atlantans? Is it as original as chop suey was once believed to be?

Are we ignoring a regional original in our haste to be “authentic“? I don’t have time to research this during the holidays but I thought I would toss out the question and let it circulate among Atlanta food bloggers. I’ll pick up on this after the Thanksgiving holidays.

Myung Ga Won is just west of the intersection of Pleasant Hill and I-85, open 24 hours, and has been visited by two of the most active bloggers in Atlanta, Jennifer Zyman and Chloe Morris. The location is a bit hard to describe. From Pleasant Hill, it’s behind the McDonalds, though not really accessible by entering the McDonalds parking lot. It’s roughly across the road from the nearby Cafe Mozart, a description that would only make sense if you’re in the Cafe Mozart lot. That said, it’s easiest for me to do just that, enter the parking lot of Gwinnett Mall Corners and then cross the road (Day Drive) to Myung Ga Won.

One other item of note, it’s cash only. If you come, pick up a couple 20s on the way.

That said, it’s two stores high, and kind of light, fashionable and modern in decor. It’s not as heavy and formal, as say, Mirak Korean. Panels made of laminated wood are everywhere, forming tables, seating and walls. And because of the wild hours, once you sit, there is a button to call the waitress.

The menu is classically Korean, and as I didn’t want to buy bulgolgi once again, I tried a dish whose English name is “spicy pork stir fry” and in Korean goes by jae yook bokum.

banchan, or side dishes.

jae yook bokum, or spicy pork stir fry.

jae yook bokum, or spicy pork stir fry.

It’s tasty. The banchan were also good, and the utensils here are all of steel. You get a pair of chopsticks and a spoon. The chopsticks are for eating, and the spoon, if I recall correctly, is for the rice.

The time I went, the receptionist appeared to be the only “native” English speaker, a girl who looked to be of mixed parentage. I asked about that, as my daughter is 1/4 Japanese and has issues because of it. (Asians think she’s American. Americans think she’s Asian. Hispanics get mad at her because she has dark features and she doesn’t reply to them in Spanish.) That said, despite the very Korean clientele, it’s not much different from any late night spot. A guy in a Dallas Cowboys jersey sat talking to a man in Puma gear. Three women, well dressed and in fashionable coats, sat chatting and sipping warm drinks. People flowed up and down the stairs, usually friendly and open.

I like it. It’s a heavier late night alternative to something like, oh, IHOP.

Myung Ga Won
1960 Day Drive
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 622-1300

Myung Ga Won on Urbanspoon

Rich and buttery.

The meat is so marbled, the fat content so awesome, that the burger has a creamy buttery texture that no other burger has. Summits is on Highway 78 just a block or so south of the Highway 78-Highpoint Road intersection and on Sundays they show every NFL game. It’s a good stop, and the fans are, for the most part, civil with each other.

Oh yes, before I step out, the infamous wall of taps at Summit. And this photo can’t encompass all of it.

My last visit to Pure Taqueria was so successful, people at work were wanting me to make another food run. And if I were going to do that, I thought it worthwhile to eat there myself. This is the one new dish I tried:

They call it tres ceviche, with shrimp, fish, and octopus in each of the three containers.  I took most of this dish back to work, and it disappeared around 5 pm. Delicious.

Later this weekend, we went to the new Uncle Julio’s in Sandy Springs. Our timing couldn’t have been worse, as three large groups arrived before we did and the wait was quite long. And after the food arrived, I had the joy of watching my mother-in-law take the long strips of chicken fajita meat and steadily cut them into thin 1.5 inch long strips that would have been suited for a stir fry, perfectly sized for chop sticks. She was persistent in her resizing, even though she didn’t have any chop sticks.

These are Uncle Julio’s beef fajitas. I’m guessing, given the grain of the meat, that they are using something like flank. The fajitas are really good, though they arrived without a hint of steam or smoke and the onions are just turning transparent, let alone caramelized. So on taste, they are an A. On presentation, maybe a B.

Uncle Julio’s has good pork ribs (my wife had a plate they call a Juarez, a mix of fajitas and ribs) and an interesting tomato based sauce. And in fact, most of the dishes the waiters will steer you to are grilled foods. This restaurant is more like Outback or Longhorns than I realized at first.

If you’re a regular NY Times reader, you probably won’t have missed this, but to remind me (and give a link I can pass on to family), I’ll note that Mark Bittman, author of “How to Cook Everything”, has a list of 101 easy starters to make for Thanksgiving. The other comment, more of a tip, is that good newspapers have a “printable” mode for long articles, that you can find. If you use it, it’s far more readable as all the text ends up on one page and almost all the ads go away.

Uncle Julio’s is a chain that started in Dallas and is, in general, respected there and well appreciated by Texas expats.  And to make it clear, this is a border food restaurant. It says so explicitly on their catering truck. It says so implicitly in their choice of words and spellings, such as sopapilla instead of sopaipa. The former is used in what the Wikipedia calls the New Mexican style of sopapilla.

This particular Uncle Julio’s, a Sandy Springs location, opened Tuesday, November 18th. I actually dropped by on the 17th and they were handing out $10 discounts for showing up early. And I missed opening day, only to come back the next day. There was a large, but not overwhelming crowd. I managed to get a window seat and waited for the food. If I haven’t said already, it looks pretty good inside, the dominant elements (other than a very large amount of glass) are wood and plaster, with a whole lot of photos on the wall – vaqueros, mothers, sons, many still lifes. There are cow horns tacked on the wall and other indications that this didn’t come out of, oh, an environment such as Mexico City.

Waiters are well dressed, in white shirts and black aprons and ties. I asked some questions about fajitas (no, he didn’t know the meat they used on their fajitas. Yes, he did know that even at lunch, fajitas come out on metal plates), but drifted to the quail. Quail are what my globetrotting brother insists on when my family gets together for Christmas every year. Whether he come in from Stockholm, Berlin, Santiago, or Beijing, as regular as clockwork he wants his quail. So I couldn’t resist. Grilled quail is what I ordered.

First came a chipotle salsa and dry chips. The chipotle was rich in flavor and had a decent bite to it. The chips were excellent.

The quail, when it arrived, came on metal, but it really was a heavy duty plastic plate with a metal liner. This thing is much easier for a waiter to handle than a comal, and when it arrived, the plate was hot. The quail were flattened. I wasn’t quite used to that but the taste didn’t change. The quail were tasty and  tender and the grilled flavor came through. The grilled jalapeño looked so good I ate it. And it was fairly mild (as jalapeños go) until the very last bite, which packed a surprising punch. Delicious though.

The Spanish rice was good. The beans were rich in flavor but had too much salt for my tastes. I ordered extra pico de gallo and it was pretty good as well, though the tomato chunks had that “shipped green” feeling, hardly grown on the vine. The tortillas were good, and exceptionally soft. I was scooping up my sides and making soft tacos out of them.

About this time a group of 99X staffers showed up on a table next to mine. It was pretty obvious, as one of them had a station shirt on with the word STAFF in large letters. It was kind of fun, as this is one of the stations I listen to. I was also almost done at the moment, but managed to be talked into Uncle Julio’s sopapillas.

They’re cute. Smaller than I’m used to, they sometimes don’t open well and make it harder to pour honey inside. But yes, I felt almost transported back to Texas.

Verdict: Quality Tejano food at reasonable prices. Highly recommended.

Uncle Julio’s Fine Mexican Food
1140 Hammond Drive
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(678) 736-8260

Uncle Julio's Fine Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Coffee and tea are probably the most common sources of a bitter taste in most people’s diets. Beers can be bitter, as can certain additives in fancy cocktails (such as Angostura bitters). For older folks, a common bitter flavor is the aftertaste of a chlorhexidine rinse. But Chinese foods also use bitter tastes, such as this beef with bitter melon in black bean sauce, from Canton Cooks:

To note, bitter melon is quite bitter, but hardly in the same league as chlorhexidine. The most interesting bitter flavor I’ve run into recently is Chinese broccoli. If you go to Ming’s Bar BQ and order a dish rich with broccoli, they’ll ask, “leaf broccoli or crown broccoli?”, or perhaps “Chinese broccoli or crown broccoli?” The Chinese product has a stem and a large dark green leaf, and a very mild bitter flavor. I’d say the dominant flavor and textures I note in Chinese broccoli are the freshness of the green vegetable and the sweetness of it.  The combination of green freshness, sweetness, and a bitter so mild it could be a bubblegum flavor are an interesting and refreshing combination.

Have you encountered an interesting flavor combination recently? Care to post about it?

F2O is a chain, with seven locations in two states, and it’s one with quite a decent reputation. The one I’ll be describing is on Roswell Road near Hilderbrand Drive. It’s a nice looking place on the outside and a nice looking restaurant on the inside.

Despite the looks, the layout of this restaurant leaves certain things to be desired. Service? You stand in line and order. Once finished, they give you an oversized flag to take to your table. Seating? It’s cramped, seats so close if there were two of me side by side (very possible in this restaurant), my elbows would clash. Privacy? Forget it. The seating has been deliberately arranged so that people must look at other diners in very many circumstances. This place would be a seating and privacy nightmare if full.

The crowd was largely female when I showed. There were a few men, mostly in starched collars and business shirts. Women were largely attractively dressed. No Blackberries, no PDAs, no patrons with heads buried behind a laptop screen. Phones, yes, but no sign this restaurant had anything of an IT crowd.

While standing in line, you can pull out a placemat sized menu and you can also read one of the many signs announcing specials. Their blackened tilapia looked attractive but I ended up settling on their chicken tortilla soup and their grilled salmon.

Both were exceptionally good. The chicken had grill marks and the chunks were pretty big. The soup tasted fresh and the half bowl serving just the amount I wanted. The salmon serving (3/4 size) had a salad with baby greens and an excellent side, the wheat berry rice. The rice was peppered with the brown grains of wheat, and bits of stuff that was rounder. Perhaps the spheres were broken wheat, or maybe couscous. The salmon itself had a sweetish sauce and was topped with corn and nuts. The salad had fresh tender greens and perhaps too much dressing. The greens didn’t need that much flavor, they were good enough to stand on their own.

It’s nice to say that the best part of this meal was the meal itself.

Verdict: Trendy, attractive and fast, this place gets you in and out with some flair. Highly recommended for the food.

6125 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(404) 567-8646

F2O Fresh To Order on Urbanspoon

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