Totori Fresh Grill and Sushi is a restaurant that lives near the corner of Five Forks Trickum Road and Sugarloaf Parkway, a bit more on the Five Forks side of the intersection. It’s in a tiny strip mall, the last restaurant in the mall, and as you head from Sugarloaf Parkway down Five Forks, the restaurant would be on your left.

img_0538

img_0543

My wife, half Japanese, was very interested as they were setting this up. She has little interest in paying for the show of a hibachi restaurant, and thinks the food selection in the typical hibachi is severely limited. I, for one, have openly stated on this blog that Asian foods are often too expensive, unlike the Japanese restaurants I encountered on Guam. There, young Japanese newlyweds were the target audience,  and there were plenty of inexpensive restaurants to feed them.

Totori is a concept restaurant, done professionally enough that my first reaction was, “This has to be a chain.” After reading John Kim’s post on Yelp and the review of the restaurant (posted on the wall) done by the Gwinnett Daily Post, this appears instead to be a well crafted “one of” for now. They are indeed aiming at the classic hibachi audience for Asian food, but they intend to cut it off at the feet by offering their food with no frills and at competitive prices.

img_0542

I think making too extreme a comparison, though, is doing this restaurant a dissservice. Totori serves rice bowls, for example, and udon. They serve tonkatsu and chicken katsu. They serve bulgogi, half a dozen appetizers and close to a dozen different sushi rolls. This isn’t fast food, it’s convenience food.

When you enter, you walk up to the storefront and order. The grill is open to view, the rice cooker is in plain sight. If you want to stand and watch them cook, you can. They bring out your food, and after you finish, you bus your own tables. If you want silverware, you walk to a table and get it. They offer chopsticks, and a variety of forks and spoons, both metal and plastic.

Menus I found to be a little messy. Things on menus outside were not on the menus inside, nor were they on the takeout menu. As professionally done and well written as the posters on the wall are, the takeout menu is shot through with typographical errors. One my daughter caught is “Frech fried”.

Staff here were either born overseas, or retain the courtesies of their ancestors. When I paid for my meal, my card and the ticket were handed back to me in concert and the staffer bowed. I like that.

The food? Mostly good, though some dishes were just okay, and others were quite tasty. For me at least, the veggie and shrimp tempura was just ordinary. My wife liked their tempura a lot more than I did. The best dishes in our hands were the rice bowls. We tried a bulgogi rice bowl, and a steak rice bowl with their spicy sauce (meats can come with one of five sauces). Both were quite good.

img_0539

img_0540

img_0547

We also had their California roll, one of their hibachi combos, and a bowl of nabeyaki udon. The udon took a while for them to cook, and the tempura was delivered separately. My picture of the udon is pre-tempura.  The California roll wasn’t bad. The hibachi combo was really the same food as the rice bowls, but presented differently, and generally is a larger serving of food. I got the hibachi sauce and after trying my daughter’s steak bowl, knew I had gotten the wrong sauce for my taste buds. I would have preferred the spicy sauce. The udon was decent.

img_0545

img_0548

img_0549

Almost all the dishes in this eatery are under 10 dollars. You really have to buy a lot of food to get a 12 dollar dish. And that’s a nice feeling if you’re wanting to save a few dollars here and there.

In conclusion? This eatery is roughly comparable to places like “Tin Drum”, which try to give access to Asian foods to a broader audience than before. I really wish this one was close to work,  because I suspect I’d be having lunch here quite a bit. But for now, it’s in Lawrenceville and my fingers are crossed that they’re making money and will expand. I think a few of these would be good for the metro area.

Verdict:  Hibachi style food without the show and the cost. Rice bowls and hibachi style food are the stars here. For those on a budget, highly recommended.

Totori Fresh Grill and Sushi
1430 Five Forks Trickum Road
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(678) 985-2203

Totori Fresh Grill and Sushi on Urbanspoon

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.

img_0292

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.

img_0294

img_0296

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:

img_0297

img_0295

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.

img_0301

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

Umaido on Urbanspoon

Figo Pasta is one of three restaurants in a medical facility on the corner of Hammond and Peachtree Dunwoody. As it was off in a distance, all I could see was “Fig”, so I was determined to find out what that “Fig” restaurant was all about. It was only as I drove closer that I could make out the ‘o’ and then the word ‘Pasta’.

Piedmont Heart Institute

Piedmont Heart Institute

Front of Figo

Front of Figo

Walking up to  the blackboard showed a list of specials, one of which was duck ravioli. I’ve been really partial to duck as the old Mandarin Gardens (now Manchuria Gardens) used to do a mean duck. So I figured I’d have a try at that.

Inside, what you do is decide what you want to eat, pay for it, and then they hand you a pepper grinder. You take the pepper grinder to the table of your choice. At that point people descend on you from all directions, and you suddenly have a table with plates, cutlery, water, salt, olive oil, bread, and very soon after, your drink.

Bread!

Bread!

It’s a decent bread. Even if it is not the kind of wild whole grain goodness you might get at a fancier place, it’s still bread nonetheless. A little bread and olive oil and some cracked pepper can go a long way as you wait for your entree.

At this point I had a chance to take a break and look the restaurant over. It’s very open. Tables are both inside and outside, the walls are largely glass, the space is airy, and the customers are dressed informally. You can watch the food being cooked. The preparation area is open, the staff is young and friendly and the service is good and attentive. Pretty soon after the entree arrived:

Duck ravioli

Duck ravioli

The pasta was decent, but not spectacular. I was expecting maybe some chunks of meat, some resistance, but the filling of the pasta was smooth and homogenous and really had no flavor that reflected “duck”. Or maybe it did, but I wasn’t tuned to it.

I spent a little time talking to my waitress, and was happy to have the time to do so. She told me that the pastas were all made at a main location and shipped to this one. A little web browsing shows that Figo Pasta is a chain of 8 restaurants in the Atlanta area. Making the pasta in a central location makes for a lot of efficiency in production. It also means that Figo, nice as it is, is really a kind of fast food restaurant. It’s just the fast food might be a little more wholesome at Figo than the 1000 calorie triple burger down the street.

Verdict: Nicely done fast food in a very pleasant setting. Good service. Recommended.

Figo Pasta
1140 Hammond Road
Atlanta, GA 30328
(770) 698-0505

Figo Pasta on Urbanspoon

This first is a dinner deal at Rice Sushi Bar and Chinese Cuisine, in the Publix mall near Five Forks and Killian Hills Road:

dd_rice_1

dd_rice_2

Next, the Cici Pizza near the Wall Mart in Stone Mountain has a 3.99 lunch special, that should be going on at least until school starts:

dd_cicis

Finally, Bonefish Grill has a dinner for 2 for 18 dollars a person (1 shared appetizer + a salad per person and an entree per person). Though that’s $36.00 for two people, considering that the entrees alone average $15.90 by themselves, there is some money to be saved with this deal.

Six Feet Under is really well located, about four to five blocks from the Atlanta Zoo and right across the street from the Oakland Cemetery. It’s close enough to the zoo that it lends itself to the idea of taking families to the zoo and eating at Six Feet Under afterwards. They have an appealing online menu, the prices are right, and the combination of seafood with a Southern flair should be pretty much irresistible.

I had been planning to go for some time, but with a wife that was ill, I went with my daughter. We arrived in the evening, sun bright but low on the horizon. It’s an easy drive. The driving instructions on the web site are excellent. It was a little tricky to park, however, as it wasn’t obvious where we could park. It took a few minutes, but we found a place. We were then told the wait was 45 minutes for downstairs, an hour or more for topside. They asked for our cellphone number, told us to relax and wait and they would call us when a table was ready.

We spent a great time looking around in Oakland Cemetery. I didn’t know about this bit of Atlanta history, and we were able to see the Confederate graves, the Jewish burials, mayors and other dignitaries of the times (largely, burials from 1867, when land was first allocated, to the early 20th century).  The golfing legend Bobby Jones is buried there. And as we were walking back the restaurant called. They had us seated in less than 30 minutes.

It was topside seating, out of doors and along the rail, with the view of the cemetery and the Atlanta skyline. The cemetery is shot through with large trees and the view is really nice, in a spooky sort of way.  There are also tables topside, under large umbrellas, and there is a shack, kiosk, etc, in which there are taps with an excellent selection of draft beers ( I counted 24 brews on tap). And if I hadn’t been driving, I’d surely have been drinking.

Service this day was either “on” or “off”. It took several minutes and the manager busing the chairs next to us to realize no one had asked us for drinks or anything. That was soon corrected and for a good while after, service was good to excellent. We ordered a cup of gumbo, a half dozen oysters, fish stew for my daughter and I had the combo tacos (a calamari taco, catfish taco, and a shrimp taco). The upstairs bartender who served us after was awesome. If this had been a pub with a bar top and stools, I would have had us reseated in front of her and never moved.

That wasn’t possible of course, and with the heavy volume of the day (We asked a busboy about it. His comment was, “This crowd is crazy”), and the multiple large parties they had to serve, we just had to wait at times until they would notice us. And the manager was aware, as he would come over and ask us, “Are you ok?”

To the food: The gumbo looked more like a brown gravy than any gumbo I had ever seen, but it had good taste, had nice spicing and flavor that grew richer and deeper on the tongue the more you ate it. The oysters were excellent, even though they forgot to deliver them as appetizers. The star of the evening was the fish stew. It had an array of seafood (shrimp, cod, huge scallops and mussels) and a spicy tomato base, red liquid and chunks of tomato scattered throughout. My daughter’s comment was, “I usually don’t like tomatoes but I really like this.”

The combo tacos came with a huge side of potato chips and also a spicy green sauce on the side. I liked my tacos, and they were good, but they were better with the spicy sauce on them and not as terrific as the fish stew.  As sides we had hush puppies (really good) and onion rings (mostly untouched).

The final issue:  the topside of Six Feet Under becomes more and more pub-like, more adult in character as the night gets older.  And while during daylight I had no qualms being there with my daughter, it left me a little uncomfortable at night. In short, if you have family and your children are not fully grown, and you expect to be there after dark, insist on downstairs seating.

Verdict: Good, inexpensive seafood in a great location. Highly recommended for adults. Should be fine for families, if seated appropriately.

Six Feet Under
437 Memorial Dr SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
(404) 523-6664

Six Feet Under on Urbanspoon

It’s official: I envy everyone working just off Oakbrook Parkway. I used to work there, but my job moved before this restaurant joined us. Kokai Thai Bistro is in the strip mall on the corner of Live Oak Parkway and Jimmy Carter, just east of I-85 and in the same spot that used to house Einstein Bagels and then later, Gaucho’s Grill. It’s cute outside, playing on the chick theme they use as their trademark, and more functional inside.

I’ve been looking for a Thai place to buy food on the way home, and this location is pretty accessible given my commute. This spot, new as it is, has had good reviews both from the AJC and Blissful Glutton. They emphasized a dish I hadn’t seen before, Thai boat noodles, and I found the descriptions intriguing. I found  some spare time, and went to check it out.

Inside, Kokai Thai seemed very amiable, very much a family affair, with aunts, uncles, small children all gathered around a table, chatting. I was quickly seated and given a menu. It’s a pretty menu, but it looks as if it was printed it with an inkjet, as some of the black ink was smudging inside the plastic page protectors.  But hey, it still worked, and I ordered chicken satay, beef boat noodles, and then later, a red chicken curry.

I liked it all. The chicken satay was good, with a lot of flavor, but a little oily. Far better was the red curry. Again, it had a lot of flavor, a decent amount of spice. The serving size was smaller, but it wasn’t expensive either. Almost everything on this menu, barring some hot pot dishes, is less than 7 dollars.

The star of the meal was the beef boat noodle dish. Again, it’s a smaller bowl of food, full of broth, noodles, meat, and a few curls of pork rinds. The broth is dark in color, opaque, rich in flavor. It has decent spicing, enough to let you know it’s there, not enough to overwhelm. The dish is served with a rack of things to add to the meal: salt, ground red pepper, red pepper sauce, and thin sliced green peppers. In all honesty, it didn’t need any of them.

I talked with an older man after the meal, presumably the owner, and he recommended another of his soups and proudly showed me his AJC review.  It’s just an affable place. When people entered, there were polite bows, lots of smiles, lots of conversation, lots of visits from table to table. If the point of it all is to make everyone not just full of good food, but to feel at home, I think Kokai Thai is succeeding.

Veridict: Friendly, family atmosphere with very good, nicely spiced food. The Thai boat noodles are excellent, as good as their reputation. Recommended, especially for the adventurous.

Kokai Thai Bistro
5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd
Norcross, GA 30093
(770) 409-9219

Kokai Thai Bistro on Urbanspoon

It’s on the right on highway 78 as you are heading from Atlanta to Athens, just before the Famous Dave’s (now closed). It’s a low lying building, large but unpretentious. It’s the last surviving chain version of a once popular formula for a dinner buffet (the Ryan’s in town having closed now). And if you want to eat there you need to realize how popular it is. Whole churches seem to descend on this place on Sundays.

My first exposure to Golden Corral came when my wife was pregnant and we were living in North Carolina. In those days, the bakery was semi-separate from the eatery and you could buy fresh baked goods there.  Their rolls were one of the few things she could eat late in her pregnancy that wouldn’t make her sick. So while coming home, I would stop off, buy a baker’s dozen of Golden Corral rolls, and take them home to my wife.

These days the bakery is internal, as opposed to external, and there are a few other changes. There are more meats on the menu, which makes it relatively more expensive. There are more items on the menu, and they try to rotate the dinner items so that they’re not all the same. You need to check in advance to see what entrees are featured. But I suspect it continues to florish because it serves a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, breads, soups and other basic fare. On days when every parent in a family is exhausted and everyone wants just corn, black eyed peas and a heaping plate of collard greens, this restaurant delivers.

Complaints? Yes, a few. The restaurant doesn’t have enough seating for the people that want to eat there. Hence, it it always cramped. You are elbow to elbow with other customers, and sometimes without the room to scoot out your chair without bumping into your neighbor. Service, which can be good, is only as good as the server of the moment.  Meats, which ideally would be cooked to order, get cooked haphazardly. If the chef needs a break and walks off, then all the steaks turn well done. Prices just seem to creep up and the incremental improvements seem marginal at best. The steaks are okay, but if they dropped all meats but ham, fried chicken, and their good fried catfish, I don’t know if they would see any drop off in attendance.

And personally I’d love it if you could shop the bakery again without having to buy a whole meal.

Golden Corral Buffet & Grill on Urbanspoon