I’m going on vacation soon so this is a teaser. Hopefully I can put up a couple more shorts over the next week or so. I easily have enough information for a few days of posting, just no time recently. Hopefully things will be smoother and less frantic after the trip is over.

Mings BBQ, well known for inexpensive pork and duck dishes, also has a few that will challenge folks. This is one of them.


I found it to be a good dish. Not as good as the pork intestines at the not-so-famous Tasty China on Peachtree Industrial (the Shaighainese place, not Sichuan), but still worth a try. Crispy outside, and gelatinous and delicate inside. My waitress tried to warn me away from the dish. I personally think it’s worth a try if you have a risk tasking personality.

For dim-sum, East Pearl is remarkably efficient, getting as much done in 2-3 carts as others get done in 6-7 carts. They’re fast. The carts arrive quickly. The upshot is you can start and finish a meal as fast here as any place in town I’ve encountered. The quality is nothing to sneeze at, either.


tasty, fatty duck.

tasty, fatty duck.

It’s on a side road off Shackleford, a bit north of the Nam De Mun farmer’s market (the former Gwinnett International Farmer’s Market), across the street from the new Hibachi Buffet. The building is modest, and gives no hints of the quality of the dim-sum they serve.

fried tofu.

fried tofu.

Sweet bean paste inside. Delicious.

Sweet bean paste inside. Delicious.

I’ve been for dinner (never seen anyone else review their dinners), which focuses on seafood, and found it to be a hit or miss affair. The ones doing best with dinner are large Chinese families with an intimate understanding of the menu. I know that many Chinese like it for dinner. I’ve had glowing recommendations from Chinese staff at other restaurants for East Pearl. But unless you can read Chinese and navigate a complex menu, then I’d suggest trying dim-sum, and saving dinner for a time when you have a Chinese friend to assist.

East Pearl
1810 Liddell Lane
Duluth, GA 30096
(678) 380-0899

East Pearl on Urbanspoon

It’s part of the Assi Supermarket food court, but not the part facing the chairs and seating. Rather, Sky is in that section that looks out into the market itself. So, to get there, weave your way through all the boxes, pass China House (the noodle shop), and go round the corner.

Sky BBQ, for my daughter and I, is about the duck. Chloe and Bliss got us hooked on Chinese duck, mostly by talking about how wonderful Canton Cooks is. The first ‘wor sue duck’ I had there was excellent, and it demonstrated the three virtues of a good duck: crispy skin, creamy liquid fats, and tender, chewy dark meat. This triple whammy is what I’m looking for when I cruise for duck. And yes, Sky BBQ delivers.

Duck. Crispy, fatty, chewy, oh so good.

There are no frills here. I got duck to go and my daughter and I ate when we got home. It’s good for a booth-style eatery in a supermarket. Yes, Ming’s BBQ is nearby and more full featured, but don’t forget the little duck spot in Assi if you have a hankering for the duck triple whammy. You can get plenty triple whammy at Sky BBQ.

Gwinnett Place/Duluth
1630 Pleasant Hill Rd
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 807-7289

Sky BBQ on Urbanspoon

Saigon Flavors is something of a local favorite, offering a good bowl of pho as well as Thai and Chinese dishes to their customers. Service is attentive and good.

larb beef.

Saigon Flavors serves a good bowl of pho.

Besides pho, we had their larb beef, some bubble tea and a rice (Com Dia) dish. We didn’t have enough of their Thai or Chinese offerings to judge those, but based largely on their Vietnamese cuisine, I’d say this could easily become a routine stop on the way to the mall.

Saigon Flavors
3200 Woodward Crossing Blvd
Buford, GA 30519
(770) 932-7705

Saigon Flavors on Urbanspoon

I haven’t been eating out much recently, but a transformer explosion wrecked the evening meal a couple days ago, so we trekked down the road to Golden House. A former Danny Ting joint, his restaurants are noted for their excellent casseroles. So I tried one, finally. In English, the name of the dish is Eight Pleasures with Bean Curd.

Definitely the star of the meal, there were mushrooms and scallions, chinese cabbage, shrimp, pork, and octopus in the dish. Mine arrived at the table first and disappeared fast.

One pot dishes are found throughout Asian cooking. In Japan, it’s the nabemono dishes that people know well. I find it hard, for example, to pass up a good seafood yosenabe. And for those who have never had the full blown presentation of a Japanese one pot dish, there are few better places to go in this city than Nakato. But for Chinese, or Vietnamese, where to go? I’d say I’ve found a good one in Golden House.

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

Before last week, I knew of two menus at Ming’s BBQ in Duluth, the take out menu, and the large picture menu, usually containing specials. But last Friday I saw a third menu, with what seems like specials on one side, and various family options (meal packages up to 129.00 or so) on the back.

The orange menu has a lot of specials and items not found on the take out menu.

They had some interesting specials that day, including this rack of lamb special

A Ming's special.

Both my daughter and I thought highly of Ming’s lamb.

Ming’s BBQ
2131 Pleasant Hill Rd.
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 623-9996

Ming's Bar B Q (Duluth) on Urbanspoon

You could see this restaurant being built while driving up and down Pleasant Hill. It was born on the ashes of Blue Marlin Seafood, which displaced an older cafeteria. I wasn’t sure what kinds of food this restaurant would specialize in, if it were going to be more mainland Chinese, or the more common American Chinese (which, as Jennifer 8 Lee will tell you, is an entirely respectable regional Chinese cuisine).

Grand opening!

They had been advertising  their opening for days. My wife and I planned on checking it out  that very day. Hey, nothing to lose, right?

Impressions: the inflated dragon of the opening was cute, and the faint lingering smell of firecrackers was still around when we made it to the restaurant. There were just a few customers at that time. Inside, the chairs had ‘skirts’, red coverings with golden bows tied in the back, as if an obi had been shorn of everything but the bow. The menu? Quite a few items seemed familiar, especially if you have spent some time at Ming’s BBQ, but others seemed quite new (to me at least).

Chinese casseroles? These dominate about 2 pages of the menu just  past the appetizers.  I’ve been asking about. Chloe told me that anything cooked in a clay pot counts as a casserole:

Anything baked in clay pots. Usually meat+veggies w thick sauces and starchy ingredients (taro, black beans, tofu, bean curd)

I also found this useful description on a Chowhound thread, from the user ‘Autumnwine’.

I consider claypot the parallel of crockpot cooking when it is done at home (you throw things together, it comes out delicious, althought it has a shorter cooking cycle), and the parallel of a skillet meal from Denny’s when it is served at a eatery. It is a utilitarian, no frills kind of food, more so than soup noodles. I imagine it would be hard to be a restaurant specialized in crockpot, but then again, if there should be a restaurant like it, it probably would be in New York. I didn’t realize SF had such restaurants.

Anyway, that is just my 2 cents.

I can’t call it the specialty of Golden House, but I’ve not seen casseroles featured so prominently anywhere else.

Otherwise, dishes were organized by the meats (or lack thereof) used in their preparation. So there were duck, beef, pork, chicken, and vegetable/tofu dishes. There were plenty of soups, most of those noodle dishes. Almost nothing was marked as exceptionally hot, so the place struck me as southern Chinese cuisine. This was reinforced by the presence of dishes here (i.e. duck tongue) that I’ve also seen at Ming’s BBQ.

My wife ordered green beans and a mixed vegetable plate. I ordered a duck with vegetables dish. My daughter ordered salt and pepper pork, and I talked my wife into getting garlic chicken. It has a texture profile very similar to wor sue duck and I thought my wife would like it.

Before any food arrived, there were appetizers.

Spanish peanuts, pickles, and bits of duck.

Note the bits of duck mixed with the pickles? Those were pretty good. My daughter scooped up those ASAP.

About  this time Chinese families started arriving. It was impressive, watching three to four generations show up, ten and fifteen strong, ancient elders 2/3 my height but happy and proud. It wasn’t long before all the confused and curious were outnumbered by ethnic Chinese. Didn’t take an expert to know who this eatery was catering to.

A good plate of green beans

Garlic chicken was the most successful dish at our table.

Salt and pepper pork. Finely sliced jalapenos added spice to this dish.

Duck with vegetables. The duck was good, the various mushrooms were better.

The most successful entree was the garlic chicken. It was easy to eat, easy to understand, and clear texture differences between skin, fat, and meat made the dish worthwhile. The salt and pepper pork wasn’t bad, but didn’t blow anyone away either. I ended up picking out the jalapeno slices out of the dish for the spice. The duck dish was good, the meat tasty, but the selection of mushrooms made the dish for me. That said, I’d probably order half a duck the next time I’d go.

Oh yes, if not said before, serving sizes here are enormous.

I don’t claim to understand everything this restaurant can provide. But for those who want a respite from American Chinese, something a bit more authentic, and perhaps try a casserole, Golden House can provide.

Golden House Restaurant
1600 Pleasant Hill Road
Duluth, GA 30096
(770) 921-2228

Golden House on Urbanspoon

Notes: soon after I wrote the first draft of this article, Chloe tweeted that “Bo Bo’s chef” is here. I suspect this means that Golden House is Danny Ting’s new eatery.

The first time I really enjoyed duck was the Wor Sue duck at Canton Cooks, and when it’s good, it’s a dish with three signature virtues. It has a crispy outer skin, a liquidy layer of fat just under the skin, and then tender flavorful meat. Guess what? Those same virtues were featured big time when we recently had the smoked duck at Peter Chang’s.


Crisp skin, tender and very juicy meat, and the layer of fat that leads to a triple texture whammy as you imbibe. Yes, the dry fried eggplant was great, the Shan City chicken was good, but this dish was the best at the table, by far.

Peter Chang’s
6450 Powers Ferry Road
Atlanta, GA 30339
(678) 766-8765

Peter Chang's Tasty 2 on Urbanspoon

Nyonya Asian Cuisine is a little hard to categorize. Though it advertises itself as (among other things) “a spirited fusion of flavor”, to a large extent the menu is common to dozens of neighborhood American-Chinese eateries sprinkled throughout the United States, and whose cuisine, culture, and origins have been exhaustively documented by Jennifer 8 Lee. It does add some Thai and Malay touches, and various Nyonya “specials”, but these additions don’t dominate the cuisine. The additional foods and spices are more a garnish on the neighborhood Chinese concept as opposed to the center of the restaurant.

There are Malay restaurants in this town, such as Rasa Sayang and Penang, both good but really timid representations of Malaysian cuisine.  I once had a Malay coworker of Chinese origin. She would share her food. I know what she ate, and I also know that anything she made for me that I could eat, she had to prepare specially. In short, it was the hottest cuisine I’ve ever been exposed to, and you can’t find a hint of that in Rasa Sayang or Penang.

I was curious about what Malay foods Nyonya might  have, and honestly, how hot their food could get. I chose the hottest item on their menu and then didn’t say anything else about how I wanted it prepared. I ordered their rendang beef, the hottest item on their lunch menu.

To note, the inside of the restaurant is pretty.  It’s clear within a moment’s glance that this restaurant goes out of their way to please people. If it’s the neighborhood Chinese, then in terms of service, it’s a best of breed. I saw tables where the meals were being served with brown rice instead of white rice. They just seemed to be going out of their way for their customers.

First to arrive was a salad. It was pretty, small squares of starch sitting atop good looking lettuce leaves. It wasn’t a huge portion, but lunch sides never are.  Soon after, the Rendang beef arrived. It had just enough spice for me to say, that yes, they understand how to make foods hot. But as “medium heat” entrees go, a little on the mild side. It was though, a good dish, quite full of flavor.

I  don’t want to make too much of a fuss about heat, because they have a “request” level of heat. If the staff here has any familarity with the more common 4 level heat scale used in this city (mild, medium, hot, ethnically hot), then they could easily make food I couldn’t eat. Their stock heat says more about their clientele than it does about how spicy they can make food.

As of the moment, and without more visits, all I can tell you is that Nyonya is cut above your local neighborhood restaurant. It will offer you hints of different flavors, a touch of Malay or Thai styles in an otherwise Chinese base cuisine. More than anything though, I just get  the feeling they’re very willing here to go the extra mile to please customers. And so, I’d class them as a Chinese equivalent of a restaurant such as L’Thai Organic.

Verdict: If you want your General Tso’s with a side that offers a hint of coconut milk and lemongrass, and service that’s better than most, Nyonya is certainly a restaurant worth considering.

Nyonya Asian Cuisine
7294 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
(770) 394-3071

Nyonya Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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