Pork


Umaido is a restaurant with some buzz and I expect the buzz to only get hotter in the coming weeks. First blogged by Gene Lee and then followed on shortly by Chloe Morris, the story of this ramen shop has been told and told well on those blogs. Now, there are places in town that serve ramen, and do it well. Haru Ichiban comes to mind. But I don’t recall seeing anything at Haru that looked like the pork ramen product on Gene’s or Chloe’s blog, and after mentioning this shop to my wife, she was very interested in trying this place.

We came on a weekend after having a heavy lunch, and were planning on having something lighter for dinner. Umaido is just off the Lawrenceville-Suwanee exit of I-85N, to the east, in a strip mall full of interesting Korean eateries, and just a little before Super H Mart. It’s near a Cafe Mozart, which might be easier to spot on first glance than Umaido itself.

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Inside, the long grey concrete walls and totally unclad roof make me feel as if Umaido is industrial, designed by Beethoven, as the theme is as subtle as the intro to the Fifth Symphony.  Otherwise the eatery is thin, with one long table in the middle surrounded by bar stools, and smaller tables otherwise set against the bare grey walls. The place where the ramen is cooked is open to view, prompting Chloe’s comment that the cooking is well worth the watch.

Staff is dressed in black, and they have headbands with .. not sure if it was red kanji or a rising sun motif. Service was plentiful and good. Almost everyone in the restaurant at the time was Asian, or part Asian. The table was stocked with plenty of extras.

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In the metal jars, there were thin red pickles and garlic. In the 2 liter container was tea. Soon we ordered, and so we ordered the gyoza (dumplings), the chasyu rice bowl, and three ramen soups, two miso and one spicy. We ordered drinks as well. Since they didn’t have any diet drinks, I ordered green tea:

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The gyoza arrived first (sorry no photos; they were eaten too quickly), but they were obviously grilled and plenty good. The rice bowl came with it, and no, it didn’t survive the end of the meal either. The meaty squares are pork, tasting of marinade, ginger and other spicy influences.

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Soon after the ramen came.

miso ramen.

miso ramen.

spicy ramen.

spicy ramen.

Both kinds were good. My wife didn’t eat the egg (perhaps shocked at the color) but nothing else survived the carnivorous side of the family. My daughter pretty much ate everything, and as they were offering free extra noodles, I added those to my broth and took care of those as well. The egg was actually mild, and nothing to shock anyone who ever ate an egg sunny side up.

By the end, everyone left happy, full, and pleased. My wife was talking about how this place is going to collect a huge lunch crowd and I hope so. It would be a nice plus for Suwanee and Greater Atlanta for this eatery to become a huge success.

Verdict: Good, tasty, inexpensive, worth a drive. Very Highly Recommended.

Umaido
2790 Lawrenceville Suwanee Rd
Suwanee, GA 30024
(678) 318-8568

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Mitra was a recommendation by Mike Miller of Benny’s Bar and Grill. He told me, “The restaurateurs know of this eatery, but it would be good for your readers to discover it.” So I spent some time checking it out. The site was interesting (though they seriously need to turn their online menu into a PDF file), and was just intriguing enough to bite. We decided to go on a weekend, as the drive is otherwise a problem during the week.

With the exception of the very nice waterfall motif on entering the restaurant, it’s very unassuming on the outside.

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The inside, however, is one of the best looking, most romantic places I’ve seen.  In terms of a date restaurant, among places I’ve reviewed, only Varasano’s Pizzeria comes close. The lights are low, the music is good, appropriate, and contemporary. I caught my daughter singing along at points, when otherwise she’s usually plugged into an iPod. There is inside and outside seating; outside is under fans if I recall correctly.

Service was good throughout. We were tag teamed all the time, two waitstaff watching the table generally. Our main waitress was just excellent. We really liked her. We ordered drinks, and very soon bread came to the table. Along with the bread was a bit of light pink cream cheese. The bread was excellent.

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The bread was soon followed by the two appetizers we ordered, ceviche and calamari.

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Ceviche on the left, calamari on the right.

I had a particular interest in the ceviche because in my wife’s culture, they have the very closely related dish named kelaguen. And it was a confusing dish at first, because we kept wondering where it was. It turns out they want you to use the banana chips as a kind of ad hoc spoon.

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The ceviche was good. The calamari was good as well, thin rings and crispy. The sauce was kind of lost to us; we would have preferred the calamari plain.

In terms of entrees, we ended up ordering Mitra’s paella, their grilled salmon, and their jalapeno lime sea scallops. The paella and the grilled salmon arrived first.

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The paella was the favorite dish of the meal. The yellow rice especially was pleasing, as it acquired a roasted flavor from being cooked with all the other ingredients. It was bold, it was rich, it was delicious. The salmon, though a perfectly fine dish, wasn’t successful for a couple reasons. The first is my wife is a well done eater and this salmon was undercooked for her. The second was that she was expecting the plain quinoa to have the same taste as Holy Taco’s quinoa salad. It didn’t. It was perfectly fine quinoa too. My wife told me that if we come back, she’s getting the paella next time. And I ended up eating what was left of her dish.

The scallops came out a little later, and I had ordered this dish not because of the entree, but because the sides looked fantastic.

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And that’s pretty much how this dish was for me. This is not to say the scallops weren’t good. They were very nicely done, and prepared it seemed with a lot of verve and skill. But to be honest, if Mitra had a “sides” plate, akin to Watershed‘s vegetable plate, I probably would have ordered that, hoped for some chips, and been one happy camper. The salsa was excellent. The green tomatillo sauce had only one flaw:  there wasn’t enough of it. The yellow rice was good, but since the yellow rice in the paella was superb, it was getting short shrift by the table.

Verdict: Good entrees, great appetizers and sides. Highly recommended in general, exceptional if you’re on a date.

Mitra
818 Juniper Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 875-5515

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Because of construction, Mitra is tricky to get to these days. It might be best to call ahead for instructions on how to get there. Valet parking is nearby, cheap ($3.00), and recommended.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar is just off I-985 and exit 4, to the west maybe one block, just south of Buford Drive. I’d call it a little place but it isn’t small, really. My recollection is a bar, and maybe 10-15 tables and booths. However, this not-so-large restaurant does a lot of things right, including its outsized effect on your taste buds.

Entrance to Havana South.

Entrance to Havana South.

We dropped by for lunch. After a few minutes with the menu, I chose the black bean soup and a Cuban sandwich, and my daughter chose their masitas puerco. Maduros (sweet plantains, fried) came with the Cuban.

I have to say, the more I have black beans, the more I like them. They are earthier in flavor than kidney beans or pinto beans, and Havana South’s bean soup did not disappoint:

Black bean soup.

Black bean soup.

My daughter’s dish contained large chunks of marinated pork, a side of black beans, and yellow rice.

Masitas Puerco

Masitas Puerco

The serving size I’d judge as large. The pork was really good, crispy and chewy on the outside, soft, hinting of the marinade inside. Everything on her plate was the opposite of plain. The beans had flavors that just baking won’t give, hints of onions and other influences I couldn’t entirely tease out, but mixing well with the dark flesh of the beans. I thought her beans were even better than my bean soup. The yellow rice came across the same way, a full body of flavors, more than just something simmered in a pot.

The Cuban I liked as well.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

The sandwich was made with good quality bread, and had a nice balance between the pork and ham. The pickles and cheese only added to the flavor mix and the serving size was large. The maduros were good and sweet, though I know my wife, who likes most things well done, would prefer her maduros a little crunchier.  That said, I’m pretty sure I could take her here.

In short, the meal was great. The only thing I’d do differently if I came back again is get the side of black beans. In my opinion, they’re better than the soup.

Service was very good throughout the meal.

Verdict: Quality food with flavors that surprise on almost every bite. Staples done exceptionally well. Very highly recommended.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar
4060 Buford Drive
Buford GA, 30518
(678) 546-2252

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Chow Down Atlanta has an excellent review of Havana South. You might think she’s praising Havana South too much, but in my judgment, she’s actually on the mark.

Indigo is a small, pretty restaurant on Canton Road in the old Roswell district, carved out of a brick duplex. The restaurant has perhaps a dozen tables on the outside and a couple dozen inside, and also manages to have a small bar as well, with a few seats. It’s on the left side as you head north on Canton, covered partly with trees, and was quite inviting the first time I drove by. With couples and the small dinner parties outside, Indigo looks a bit like a garden party on first glance, and the mood is not lost when you go inside.

It was a busy day when I arrived, as the restaurant was hosting a party, and music could be heard from the party’s location. It made for a couple apologies and some slowness of service that day. Not that it mattered much to me. I wasn’t in a hurry. It was a little tricky navigating the restaurant’s menu, since I have to avoid red meats and cheeses when possible, so I settled on a strawberry and romaine salad, the stuffed baby potato appetizer, and their caper and lemon grilled chicken.

Waitstaff, if I haven’t mentioned, are dressed in light blue Indigo t-shirts and jeans. They wear aprons if appropriate. They team well, and work with one another.  I enjoyed the service I had, I thought it was very good. Management was also attentive, and asked about my meal and chatted.

The salads and appetizer took a while to arrive, I suspect because of the party. I was glad when they arrived, as the salad wasn’t small. It was a healthy bowl of greens. Some places seem to think if you put a couple nuts in a salad, they can give you two bites of the greens and go on, but not Indigo. The strawberries were sliced, and the salad also had blue cheese and crunchy bits of pecans. They may have been roasted. I wasn’t 100 percent sure.

The baby potatoes were awesome but as they had a creamy filling, I could only have a couple bites of those. The chicken was .. as my waiter said it would be ..  incredibly juicy, perfectly cooked. Half a lemon was in the bowl, if you wanted more citrus flavor, and green capers danced in the bed of wide flat pasta. Again, it’s a large good looking dish.

Live music set up as I ate, and more couples came. Most were sitting outside, sipping wine, under the evening skies and green foliage. Indigo manages to pull a trick that seems easy but really is not, managing to be both graceful and informal at the same time. That the food is top notch doesn’t hurt either.

Verdict: Informal, graceful, very good service and great food.  Very highly recommended.

Indigo
1170 Canton Street
Roswell, GA 30075
(678) 277-9551

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Uncle Betty’s BBQ is a new restaurant born on the ashes of an old one, Whitt’s. It has a cute sign and a smoker noticeable in the back. It was the smoker that attracted my attention. Could this be a hole in the wall with real smoked flavor? I wasn’t able to tell that day, because it was a Sunday and they close early on Sundays.

Recently however, we picked up food from Uncle Betty’s, two pulled pork sandwiches and a half rib plate, to see what we thought of it. The plates came with some sides, baked beans, Brunswick stew and collard greens. They had a tomato based sauce in cute little plastic containers. The sandwiches could come with and without slaw on them.

The short and sweet of it is while the sandwiches were good and tasty, and the beans were good, there was no way to tell if there was any smoke in the ribs. My wife is a rib eater only for the most part, and the original owners of Spiced Right in Lilburn made very good ribs and spoiled her. While Uncle Betty’s ribs are tender and have flavor, they have no detectable smoke.

As a consequence, I’ll call my mark an incomplete for now. This is an eatery that is raising the expectation level with a pretty smoker out back. And unfortunately with barbecue this means they compete over a large radius, bumping up against places like Mad Dog’s or Fox’s. I like a lot of what I ate; this is a great little place to get an inexpensive sandwich. But they’ll never be taken seriously in the ribs sweepstakes until smoke comes off on people’s  fingers, until they can taste it in the meat.

Uncle Betty’s Barbecue
1795 Presidential Circle
Snellville, GA 30078
(678) 344-6095

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