Kan Pai Cafe calls itself a Taiwanese grill, and it’s a place I drive by on a semi-regular basis. The building Kan Pai Cafe is in was formerly a Black Eyed Pea I would frequent. That Black Eyed Pea had some of the most indifferent staff I’ve ever suffered from. Not so with Kan Pai. I was generally impressed with my service here.

I wasn’t sure when it would open, but I was coming back from a visit to my doctor when the flashing OPEN sign caught my eye. I’ve been largely out of touch for a couple weeks with foot issues, but curiosity got the better of me. I stepped inside and stared at their menu for a couple minutes before an attractive staffer asked me to come inside.

The inside is nice. The tables are a dark red, the seating is black and there is a lot of good dark wood in the eatery. In the middle is a bar with plenty of wine glasses hanging upside down and the rest of the seating is arranged around the bar. There is a serious attempt to be graceful here and I think they’ve succeeded for the most part.

The menu has a wide variety of items under $7.00. It’s a “small plate” (similar to tapas style) menu, at least the parts I looked at. I ordered edamame and I ordered a steamed seasonal vegetable. Along with that I ordered some rice (no brown rice, but the serving size was about right for me) and salmon with miso. Before the entrées came pickles arrived at the plate, a daikon pickle and a cabbage pickle.

bok choy

Both of the pickles were good. If I weren’t being cautious I’d  have ordered more of the daikon pickle. Of the two, the cabbage was a little sweeter, though really, both had the tart of a vinegar based pickling juice.

The bok choy was really good. I can’t get enough vegetables these days. The salmon (less the sauce they usually pour over the fish) was beautifully plated and was tasty. You could taste the miso marinade. I ate half the fish, and doggie bagged the rest of it (my diet is strict on meats).  I finished with edamame and a lot of water, taking my time, savoring the beans.

There were large swaths of the menu I couldn’t explore in a first visit. Kan Pai has more classically Taiwanese dishes. I was sticking to things that had Japanese analogs. They have good looking fruit juices and fruit slushes, a lot of noodle dishes, a set of fried dishes I didn’t try. There is a lot to explore here, and it would take more than one visit to figure out what this place can offer in toto.

Verdict: Affordable Taiwanese eatery with good looking dishes and responsive staff. Highly Recommended.

Kan Pai Cafe
3466 Holcombe Bridge Road
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 840-8999

Kan Pai Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Bento Cafe has a look that’s a bit of a time warp to 1930s modernism. The most dominant colors in the eatery are black, white, the grey of concrete, the silver sheen of steel, and the tan color of lightly stained wood. It’s almost the essence of an industrial look, and you sort of expect the plates to be carved out of granite or something. And then there is the cute Bento motif, found on the sign outside, the front door, the online menu and most of the posters inside.

The next gotcha is that this restaurant has nothing to do with the Japanese but is actually a Taiwanese eatery. It has a huge, almost laser focus on young Taiwanese, and that means that the entrees have names like “DRUM” or “CHOP”, totally unappealing to anyone but their target audience. Then there is the near total inability of staff to describe their own food, though massive steps forward have been taken by actually putting pictures of food on their menu.

And it’s a shame, because this place has offal the likes of which you never see in a quick-to-table restaurant, and it had these kinds of dishes before Abattoir was even a gleam in a butcher’s eye. But because this restaurant really can’t explain or sell itself, it has missed out on being any kind of hip or trendy. And that’s where it stays. A crowd of in-the-know Taiwanese go there, and not much of anyone else. Oh yes, to get off track briefly, this restaurant is looking to hire people to work there. Wifi, oh yes, they have that too.

The tables here are steel and immaculately clean. You order up front, and sit in one of the concrete sided booths if you’re sticking around. Service is good until they deliver food, and then they tend to forget you’re around. That’s not uncommon in Chinese eateries, and it’s true here too.

To food: thanks to the pictures on the menu, I found out about gua bao, a kind of pork sandwich wrapped with bread the color and texture of a fluffy white dumpling. It was good and a lot of fun to eat.

Otherwise, I was warned away from trying the rice (dry) noodles and ended up getting Taiwanese stir fried noodles. It surprised me a little, a bit of cilantro in the spices adding a bite. I was hoping for more mushrooms than I got, but maybe I can slowly find a dish with a few more bits of black fungus, a dish that’s more mushroomlicious.

Someday I’m going to get up the nerve to try the pig ear and pork feet appetizers. The gua bao is proof positive I need to jump on the snack foods hard sometime.

This is a place with substantial foodie potential, but it needs a guide for those of us not willing to spend weeks and hundreds of dollars exploring the menu. More pictures would help. A bit more English text would help.  BuHi parsing this place for the rest of Atlanta would help a lot as well.

Verdict: This restaurant seriously needs to learn how to explain itself. Recommended anyway, on the food and sheer potential.

Bento Cafe
5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd
Norcross, GA 30093
(770) 300-9868

Bento Cafe on Urbanspoon

Seen on Holcombe Bridge near the merge with Jimmy Carter, in the same spot where a Black Eyed Pea stood some 15 years ago, is a new Taiwanese eatery. It’s not quite open yet, but the bright yellow color scheme makes it stand out.

I know of one other Taiwanese eatery, and that’s the Bento Cafe, in the same strip mall as Kokai Thai, just east of Jimmy Carter and I-85 in Norcross. It will be interesting to compare the two when this thing opens. Bento was a place I’d eat at regularly three-four years ago, when I was working in Norcross. I now have a review of Bento Cafe.

I’ve also wanted for many days to capture the look of the Bakery Cafe Maum “Castle” on Buford Highway. Here are some photos of that eatery.