I’m down to 2 boonie pepper plants as the others managed to die. I suspect, after some consideration, that surrounding peat pellets with fertilized potting soil just isn’t enough, and that you need to fertilize the plants in the pellets. I’ve been doing that (using Miracle Gro at indoor strength) and the size increase in my remaining two plants is substantial. They are in pop bottle greenhouses for now, which does wonders for their humidity:

Boonie pepper in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouse.

Boonie pepper in 2 liter soda bottle greenhouse.

And in the meantime, 12 seeds from floralys are in a Jiffy ‘box’ for now:

floralys boonie seeds in jiffy peat pellets

floralys boonie seeds in jiffy peat pellets

I’ve been collecting links about banh mi, reading them when I can.  Articles in the New York Times and in the Village Voice reference a food writer named Andrea Nguyen in part of their stories. Andrea’s blog, Viet World Kitchen, is certainly a worthwhile read. Andrea’s claim is that banh mi is not a Vietnamese-French hybrid, but rather distinctly Vietnamese. What interests me in this trio of stories is the evolution of the sandwich and the care necessary to make it. For example, in the Times article, they note that to be really good banh mi, the bread can be no more than three hours old.

But to run a banh mi shop is to race against death.

“Bread dies after three hours,” said Michael Huynh, a Vietnamese-American chef who has recently opened two new-style banh mi shops, both called Baoguette, in Manhattan.

The Vietnamese dedication to excellent, fresh baguettes is total. Using stale bread is the gravest offense a maker of banh mi can commit. In Vietnam, and in high-tech local bakeries (like Paris Bakery, in Manhattan’s Chinatown), baguettes for banh mi are baked all day long; one chain in California claims fresh baguettes every 20 minutes.

For those who might be interested in making banh mi, there is this intriguing post by the blogging couple A Good Appetite, who riffs off an Emeril recipe to make their own banh mi.

In Lilburn, a block east of the turnoff to Ronald Reagan on Pleasant Hill, there are a pair of Dominican stores, one of which calls itself a Dominican restaurant and bakery. I’m hoping to find time to visit there in the near future.

Back in the day when the word ‘pho’ elicited the response ‘huh?’, the best pho in Atlanta was found in Pho Hoa. The restaurant is in Asian Square along Buford Highway, just a little ways south of the bridal boutique. The square itself is dominated by 99 Ranch Market, which was an important place back in the day before the International Markets and Super H began to own the ethnic food scene.

I came here more to see if the old restaurant had changed, perhaps had learned some new tricks. And no, it doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. The seating inside are long rows of tables. Every table has a selection of spicy sauces, chopsticks, and spoons within reach. The clientele is largely Asian. Walls are mirrored, and there was one loud TV playing behind me. There was one person waiting tables, a nice older lady.

Although I was seated quickly, it took a while before I was asked what I wanted. This is a restaurant whose service has never been snappy. If you want attentive service, What the Pho? is a better choice. I ended up ordering a summer roll, their #5 pho, and a soursop smoothie.

Pho, in this restaurant, are organized in terms of how ‘adventurous’ they are. In more explicit terms, fattier meats, cuts with more cartilage, things like tripe appear in the dish as you proceed from simple phos to adventuresome products. In this respect it’s no different from the sushi restaurants who label flying fish roe sushis and eel sushis as ‘challenging’. The pho can be purchased in small, medium and large bowls. Medium bowls are about $5.95 and large bowls are $6.50 or so.

The summer rolls weren’t bad, shrimp and vegetables visible inside a translucent wrapper. The pho was actually quite good. The broth was dark, and the meat was tender, falling apart tender, which I didn’t expect. The collection of mints, sprouts, and slices of pepper was a little smaller than I’m used to, but to be fair, I’m used to eating pho with a party, not alone. The soursop smoothie was really good, hints of the fruit’s flavor shining through.

Verdict:  Recommended. Good inexpensive food. Service is a bit slow. Pho Hoa is perhaps still the best place in town for a pho beginner.

Pho Hoa
5150 Buford Highway,
Doraville GA, 30340-1153
(770) 455-8729

Pho Hoa on Urbanspoon

Notes: The New York Times has been following pho for ages, from this article (seen in abstract) about the migration of pho from North to South, to this article, an eater’s guide to the phos of North and South Vietnam. The latter is my favorite pho article of all time. One thing that did surprise me while researching this article is that Pho Hoa is a chain. There are locations of this chain on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and others in six other countries.

I have a coworker whose wife is Vietnamese, and on his recommendation we went to “What the Pho?”, which has, in his estimation, the best crispy noodles in town. He later mentioned that his wife likes Pho Mimi. I asked him what she saw in Pho Mimi.

He replied,  “Because she can get what she likes there.”

Pho Mimi has been reviewed by Chow Down Atlanta, who distinctly preferred What the Pho?. In the discussions I’ve read however, some of the people arguing for Pho Mimi mentioned that it was more than just a pho restaurant, that it served other dishes too and it served them well. And as my wife was very interested in having me take a peek at Super H Mart, we decided to make a run down Pleasant Hill to Pho Mimi and Super H Mart.

Pho Mimi is in the Park Village complex on Pleasant Hill Road, a two story C shaped collection of stores and offices in which Super H Mart is also found. It’s on the right hand side as you enter the complex from Pleasant Hill, almost at the right corner of the C. And of course the day I went with my family it was packed. The one bit of seating we had was in the corner, next to a chair containing a jacket and shoes.

It was quite opposite the experience at other pho places, which by comparison had a comfortably large collection of waiters. You could tell in the eyes of the waiter that seated us that they had all they could handle that day and more. There were perhaps two or three waiters for the whole restaurant, and they had one table with close to 20 people, and multiple tables seating more than 4. Other than myself, there was one other person in the restaurant that didn’t appear to be partly Asian.

Pho Mimi, it has to be said, is open and roomy. You don’t feel as if you’re sharing your table with your neighbor. The menu is extensive and they have pictures of the food choices, which helps. They had some egg noodle dishes and some rice noodle dishes I hadn’t seen in a while, since the pho place just to the east of I-85 and Indian Trail closed. Certainly that made me happy. My wife tried the pho with chicken and my daughter found a pho with some seafood, I think. We ordered spring rolls as well, ones with tofu and veggies. Our waiter was young, sharp, and offered good advice as we sort of rummaged around the menu.

It took a while to get our food and it came out in a funny order, probably as a result of feeding the crowd they had. The rolls were good. They had mint, which my wife doesn’t like, but my wife ate them anyway. I liked my dish, a rice noodle dish with seafood and quail eggs and what looked like most of an ox tail in the bowl. My wife wasn’t too fond of the chicken pho, because the flavor of the chicken was not what she expected. When my daughter and I tried it, it had a dark meat flavor to it, almost like duck. That’s not a taste my wife enjoys. She’s more of a white meat person.

My daughter emptied her bowl.

We asked the waiter if my wife could have been served duck and he just laughed and said, “We don’t have duck here.”

In general I thought the service was very good, considering the issues they had.

In conclusion? I wouldn’t recommend Pho Mimi as a beginner’s first pho restaurant. It is, however, a great place to explore food. For that reason I do recommend this place, for those with a willingness to try and experience something a bit different.

Pho Mimi on Urbanspoon

Don’t let the outside of Buford Highway Farmer’s Market fool you. I have avoided this place for the longest time because it’s a little tricky to get into and the parking lot, on weekends, always looks like a crazy mess. The building is older and I was just shy of the place. But a coworker of mine, Veronica, told me she does all her meat shopping there, and that it was inexpensive. I had nothing to lose, so I stopped by there today.

It was surprisingly neat and clean. The classic farmer’s market in town is a little cramped, with produce fighting for space with other produce, with boxes stacked here and there. Not here. Except for the older floors, the cleanliness approached a suburban supermarket. Produce was cheap and cleanly labeled. Aisles were not cramped, they were spacious and wide.

In the produce section, I bought some garlic, some beautiful red cherry peppers (triangular shaped though), a couple peppers called a long hot pepper, some green onions, and some tomatillos, so perhaps we can try Innocent Primate’s salsa verde sometime.

Tomatillos, cheery peppers, long hot peppers and other produce from Buford Highway.

Tomatillos, cherry peppers, long hot peppers and other produce from Buford Highway.

In the back there was a bakery (with freshly wrapped stacks of tortillas) and a butcher shop. Prices were lower than the equivalent supermarket items. There were a lot more organ meats than you would find in a typical store – beef hearts and pork hearts, pigs feet and other organ meats. There were fish swimming in tanks, ready to be sold (or filleted). Fish already packaged was clearly labeled with the place it came from. But I wasn’t here for fish, for the most part. I was looking at legumes and grains.

This is an international market, and in this instance, the origin of the groceries was divided on an aisle by aisle basis and clearly labeled. I’ll note that you can get red lentils in the Hispanic aisle, along with various sizes of green lentils. In the American aisle, there were at least four different brands of beans. And unlike Publix, the N. K. Hurst products here (we have spoken of N. K. Hurst before) are competitively priced with all the other vendors.

Most interesting to me was the Indian foods aisle. This is the closest place I’ve found for bulk Indian dals and bulk Indian spices (most supplied by a Houston company, Spicy World of USA, Inc). In this section they have standard green lentils, brown lentils (masoor dal whole), and black lentils (urad or urid dals). Others dals include moong dals (mung bean based), chana dals (chick peas), kala chana (black chickpeas), and mahdi toor dals. They have garam masala in bulk, along with a variety of other spices. They have a version of sambar powder, which if I recall correctly was prized back in my school days for cooking vegetables.

Buford Highway Farmer's Market on Urbanspoon

After shopping here, I headed north up the street to a placed called the White Windmill Bakery and Cafe. I had been wanting to stop there because the place just looks fantastic from the outside. So I managed to pull over this time and took a peek inside. It’s a Korean bakery, by Koreans and largely for Koreans.  The store has a counter with sweets, rows of breads, and several tables to sit. In terms of foods, I saw fancy coffee and tea,  quality chocolates, exquisite tarts (but around $5.00 each), beautiful small cakes. My wife likes bean curd sweets, so I found a red bean curd bun for my wife and then got a cream bun for my daughter. I’ll have to tell you later what they thought of them.

White Windmill Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

I have a coworker with a Vietnamese wife, and one day I asked him where he went to eat Vietnamese food. And his reply was he ate at “What the Pho?“, because they had the best crispy noodle dish in town. I had seen “What the Pho?” while driving up and down Pleasant Hill, thought the name was funny, but there are a flood of pho places in town. Further, there is a man who works in Saigon Cafe (Duluth) who knows my wife on sight (from many visits to Manchuria Gardens, when he worked there); consequently, we tend to get nice treatment in Saigon Cafe. There wasn’t much reason to go to a new pho place, but to check out this crispy noodle dish and find out what it was all about.

The restaurant is on Pleasant Hill Road, in a strip mall on the north side of the street (to your right while driving west from the I-85 intersection). It’s easy to decide that you’ve driven too far and turn around too early. The only way I’ve found to prevent this is to continue to remind myself it’s a block before the Super H-Mart complex in the area. So it’s simple: drive till you find it. If you pass the Super H-Mart, turn around.

The place itself is smallish and neat. The waiters are young, dressed well, in trendy haircuts, polite and mannered. The menu is extensive, more so than I can adequately describe here. When my wife asked a lot of questions of the food, they answered her patiently. The pho is served fast and the pho is good. Serving size is more than adequate, even in the “medium” bowl.

But when the crispy noodles came out — It’s a heap of meat, seafood, vegetables, and a dark broth poured over a cylindrical stack of noodles 2.5 to 3 inches tall, and almost as round as the plate. Visually it’s quite an experience. And for the first time in my life, people in the tables adjacent to me were openly talking about the dish I was eating. Yes, I found that a little disconcerting, but not so disconcerting that I was going to stop eating.

The dish was quite good. I would let the noodles soak up some liquid, so they would be easier to manage, and then eat. It was a slower meal to eat than pho. My family was watching after a bit. I shared some with my daughter and wife; they liked what they tried as well.

Summary? The dish is good enough that after the first time, I came back to have it again. Is it good enough to drive across town to eat? I can’t answer that for anyone else. For me, the only thing I drive long distances for are really good barbecue, or a really good Japanese restaurant. But yes, if you’re in the region and have an urge to try their crispy noodles, I’d recommend you do.

Some more general “What the Pho?” reviews: Access Atlanta here and Creative Loafing here. Chow Down Atlanta has a review of What the Pho? that has a nice picture of the crispy noodle dish.

What the Pho on Urbanspoon