I’ve become, in very short order, a big fan of Robb Walsh, because of the depth of research this writer uses to develop his stories. In the comments to my Fire of Brazil review, I gave two “must read” Robb Walsh links, and also about that time, ordered three books of his.

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The first is The Tex Mex Cookbook. As Robb Walsh points out, nobody knew the difference between Tejano food and Mexican food until the publication of the landmark The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. Diana did something worthwhile, which is to treat the food of the poor in Mexico with the same respect as the food of the rich.  She did, however, reflect the dislike Mexicans felt towards border food in her writing. As a consequence, she created a huge critical distaste for Tex-Mex (or New Mexican border cuisine or Mexicali) in places like New York.

Red headed step child or no, Tex-Mex is popular in Paris, France, where a number of Tex-Mex restaurants can be found. As Robb Walsh details, the movie Betty Blue is in part responsible for this, with its tequila and chili scenes. It created a demand for Tex-Mex that could not be met by traditional Mexican foods, which Parisians regarded as old fashioned. The last chapter of this cookbook is full of the Tex-Mex recipes of Paris.

The second cookbook by Robb Walsh is The Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook. This was interesting to glance at, because I’ve heard the refrain, “Texas is about barbecuing beef over mesquite” for at least a decade now.  As Robb Walsh points out, it isn’t anywhere near that simple. Mr. Walsh identifies, by my count, at least 6 different styles of barbecue in Texas, from techniques dating to prehistory and the Caddo Indians to the pork barbecue, sans sauce, that evolved in northeast Texas after the Civil War. In between he talks about the barbecue of Texas’s German and Czech immigrants, the barbacoa of the Tejano, the evolution of the open pit barbecues that became national spectacle in the presidency of LBJ. In between he talks etymology of the word barbecue (in side panels), and throws out dozens of interesting recipes for meats and sauces. He showed me some terms I’d never seen before. Though my father’s first grill was a 55 gallon drum cut open and set up by his own father, I had never heard one of these grills referred to as a “Texas hibachi” until now.

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The third book, “Are You Really Going To Eat That?“, seems a kind of Travel Channel-esque tour through the food world. I’ve looked at it the least and have the least to say about. It reminds me a little of Eat Buford Highway’s subtitle, and I wonder if this book and his subtitle are somehow related.

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The final book to mention is “Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook“. I have spoken about this cookbook before. I could review it, but Zack Davisson’s review is excellent, a must read if you’re interested in this kind of cookbook. I will say it has a nice history of the izakaya, which rather than being a single kind or model of restaurant, is something of a chameleon.

My wife has taken a fancy to Fini’s Sicilian style pizzas and we’ve been there twice in recent days.This preference, of course, is expressing itself right in the height of the Antico pizza craze. Fini’s is just world’s closer, and it’s a place the family knows.  Drive to Highway 29, head up Lawrenceville Highway to Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, turn left and eventually, Fini’s is on your right. Couldn’t be simpler.

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Fini's Sicilian slice. Crisp bottom, chewy crust, and delicious.

On one Sunday we tried to go to Fini’s and it was closed, so turning around the choices in the car were Umaido or Haru Ichiban. Haru ended up winning, and we went there. The menu at Haru Ichiban has changed since my last review. Robata grill items have been added, the special tuna combination is gone. It was a quiet Sunday and we were the last serious table to arrive. My daughter and my wife ordered udon. I ordered miso cod and grilled pike mackerel and my mother-in-law ordered salmon of some kind. We had chirashi sushi as a side. My mother-in-law’s chopsticks (back sides of them, as in FB’s cartoon) were in the chirashi routinely. Her comment, over and over again, was “oishii.”

chiraishi sushi from Haru Ichiban.

chirashi sushi from Haru Ichiban.

By the time our fish dishes were on the table, the salmon was gone, to be replaced with pike mackerel and my dish was given to my mother-in-law. We were half way through the fish before either of us noticed. We must have been hungry. I got a piece of the miso cod before it completely went away and it was the best thing I had that day, melt in your mouth tender, miso flavor permeating the fish. The pike was good, though the white flesh along the back and sides was the best part of the animal.

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nabekayi udon, in an iron pot.

grilled pike mackerel, or pacific saury. sanma in Japanese, kongchi in Korean.

grilled pike mackerel, or pacific saury; sanma in Japanese, kongchi in Korean.

Grilled foods. Miso cod and pike mackerel

Grilled foods. Miso cod and pike mackerel

I dropped by Buford Highway Farmer’s Market recently to look for Sichuan peppercorns and found, to my surprise, green mangos. I tried to call my wife but that didn’t work. I went ahead and bought a few. I knew she’d find a use for them. As for the Sichuan peppercorns, it looks as if they call them “red pepper corn” in BHFM, and they are currently on the lowest shelf in the Chinese section of the market, reasonably near the black and white peppers. So a question: I bought a pepper mill, to grind the Sichuan peppercorns. Is that how this spice is used?

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Green mangos and Sichuan peppercorns.

My copy of “Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook” has arrived. I’ve only had a chance to glance at it, not really read it thoroughly. The izakaya scene in Japan, and for that matter, in Los Angeles (also here) and New York, is remarkably diverse and trying to categorise the izakaya as a single thing or a single model, as some people have done, is a bit like saying there can only be one kind of pub. When the izakaya can go from vast commercial chains to three story Western influenced institutions to settings hardly more robust than a roadside stand, hardly anything epitomizes the izakaya “model”. I think the spirit of an izakaya can be captured, though, and thinking about it, I’m guessing that’s what Bill Addison meant in his recent Atlanta magazine review of Shoya. The spirit of the izakaya is what Mark Robinson is trying to illuminate in his tour guide of saki house foods.

I found this blog in a round about way. I was doing some historical research on the izakaya (Google, if you enter “izakaya history”, will return a time line, among other things) and in the process, saw Zack Davisson’s  review on Amazon of Mark Robinson’s cookbook. I found the review to be well written and impressive (I’ve ordered the book as well). Zack’s coverage of Japanese topics was too extensive for him not to have another outlet for his skills. With a little digging, I found the author’s blog and a blog based review of “Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook”.

This is the kind of article I hope for in a blog, something heart felt and based on personal experience. Looking at the rest of the blog betrays interests from high culture to low, from novels and literature to the simplest pop phenomena.

The author of the blog lived in Japan and claims a master’s in Japanese studies. As such, this kind of eclectic resource isn’t to be missed, for those of us curious about the history of food. Right now, Zack’s experience is totally on point as the “izakaya craze” expands to Atlanta and beyond.

FnS.

Bill Addison has a nice piece in Atlanta magazine on 14 new restaurants that he thinks are good, with Abbatoir leading the pack. It’s a good article and I recommend it. I had a somewhat different reaction to his claim that Shoya Izakaya was the first restaurant in Atlanta to “truly epitomize the Japanese izakaya model.” I say this because I recall a restaurant which I believed to be an izakaya in the strip mall behind Lenox Square, in roughly the same area where Hashiguchi Jr now lives. And at the time (late 1990s? early 2000s?), there were two Japanese restaurants in the strip mall, one serving sushi and udon (this one was either on the spot of Hashiguchi or was Hashiguchi), and the other seeming to be almost an annex of a larger Chinese restaurant, and so was easy to miss.

This  second Japanese restaurant had no sushi, but did serve sashimi. Its entire menu was in Japanese, in strips on the wall. If you walked in, the two waitresses would greet you in falsetto and almost the whole of the clientele were hard drinking Japanese businessmen. There was one English menu, hand written, which English speaking patrons had to share. It was passed on as new English speaking groups would enter and be served. I recall having donburi there twice.

I don’t recall the name of this place. People with more disposable income than me say this restaurant moved, but I can’t prove that either. I’d love to know more about the place. It’s gone from the Lenox area for sure, and the Chinese restaurant beside it has disappeared as well. I suspect this restaurant has a more reliable claim to being the first izakaya in Atlanta.

If someone can remember the name of this place, help me track it down, I’d be delighted.