Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dec. 18, 2010 - Peter Chang's

Dec. 18, 2010
Peter Chang's
6450 Powers Ferry Rd.
Sandy Springs, GA 30339
770-419-9849

Finally! Tasty China's itinerant chef has opened his long-awaited restaurant. We were lucky enough to get tickets to the Grand Opening this past Saturday. Dishes were served family-style at a table set for 10 (luckily only eight of us showed). Thankfully, no one at Table 5 was shy about trying everything laid out before us. And special thanks to our server who snuck me a copy of the menu.



Among the cold appetizers (in place on the table before we even arrived), the black ear fungus was my favorite. It had that "cartilage" crunch from the mushrooms and was refreshing, not overly sauced. The Shanghai smoked duck was also wonderfully cooked, although I probably would have preferred if it had been served hot instead of cold. Also served but not listed on the menu, the cilantro beef was a solid dish. The shredded tofu skin reminded us of noodles and the chili oil was not too spicy. The sesame tofu was another table favorite.

Next up, the two hot appetizers. The seafood with dough ball soup was very delicate. The dough balls (which were more like tiny dumplings) were chewy and tasty. The soup did not have a fishy aftertaste at all. I was disappointed in the steamed dumplings that were rather pedestrian.

Nine courses of entrees tested our stamina. The dry-fried small fish (smelt) and dry-fried mushrooms were table favorites. Wonderful finger food and palate cleansers. The beef with snow bean was nothing special. The Peter rolls were not popular. Any subtle flavor was overpowered by ginger. The texture of the minced chicken in the stuffing seemed to confuse diners.


I have no recollection of the lamb which probably means that it wasn't spectacular, but wasn't bad either. In the shrimp dish, the asparagus was very well cooked and perfectly sized. The spicy fragrant duck seemed to be missing the "funyuns" that made the dish so successful at Tasty China. The dish lacked the extra crunch they provided to offset the fatty duck.

The Yangzhou fish was the consensus loser of the night. While beautiful to look at, it was far too sweet and drenched in sauce. To me, it felt like eating fried dough soaked in sweet and sour sauce. The crab meat with bean seedling was strange. Even though we could see crab in the dish, we smelled more than actually tasted it. The bean seedling had an asparagus aftertaste to it.

Dessert was served scorching hot. The red bean paste center was only slightly sweet, but after all the strong flavors, we probably could have used something to cut the savory overload.

In general, the dishes were less spicy than we have come to expect from Tasty China. Not sure if this was an intentional choice to the wider base of people who would be attending or just a function of this batch peppers not having much kick. The meal started out strong with the appetizers but did not finish well. Although it's possible this could be because were were all very full by the end.

Having read reviews from other people attending pre-Grand Opening events, I was sorely disappointed that pork belly did not make it onto our tasting menu. But at $35 for two people (not including beer or tip), I still received tremendous value. I'll be sure to order some when we come back to try again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Aug. 21, 2010 - Tasty China

Tasty China
585 Franklin Rd. SE (S. Marietta Pkwy. SE)
Marietta, GA 30067
770-419-9849

Tucked away in a strip mall, Tasty China has long been an in-the-know foodie destination. Far from your typical Chinese restaurant fare, the menu features clever and original items I haven't seen anywhere else. Variety and quality of the food suffered when head chef Peter Chang left, but now he's back in the kitchen until his new restaurant opens (rumored to be somewhere in Marietta). So we'll enjoy the return to the glory days of Tasty China's menu while we can.

In order of appearance:
Pork belly in spicy garlic sauce
Hot and numbing dried beef with sesame oil
Braised fish with needle mushroom in iron pot
Smoked duck (special)
Shanghai bean curd rolls (special)
Pan-fried sesame cake bread

Pork belly is my current obsession food. It's bacon but better. Pairing pork belly with garlic? Sign me up. It was not what I expected. I was used to large pieces of stewed, buttery pork belly, while here we had thin slices resting in a hot oil based sauce. But from the texture of the many layers of pork to the flavor of the sauce and garnish (even the cilantro was fresh and crispy), I could eat a plate of this for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack in between.

I really wanted to like the hot and numbing beef. It came on the recommendation of our dinner mates, plus we had read that all the dry-fried dishes were extraordinary. But really, I ended up being rather disappointed. I liked the tingling around the corners of my mouth as I ate and the dish was not so hot that I was reaching for the water (despite chomping on several peppercorns). But I had a hard time dealing with the extremely dry beef. Yes I know it was "dry-fried" but unfortunately it was like eating beef jerky with sauce. Maybe the hot and numbing sauce with another meat (one not dry-fried) would have been better.

The braised fish was outstanding. The fish retained its shape and texture without disintegrating or flaking into the soup (a common problem with fish). The fish alone was good, but add the needle mushrooms (think of them like alfalfa sprouts in mushroom form) elevated the dish. The very spicy (an angry orange-red color) soup was so good I had several spoonfuls on its own.

The smoked duck (served with what we nicknamed "funyuns") was a nice dish. Duck tends to be fattier than chicken, but this was not too oily. The fried onions and peppers the duck was served with provided a crunchy texture to contrast the soft, fatty flavor of the duck. One of our dinner mates was still gnawing on pieces as the staff was collecting our plates.

For some reason, the appetizers we ordered came out last. The sesame cake bread was OK, but seemed to me a bit like breadsticks on the table at the beginning of the meal - simply filler. They had a very subtle flavor that wasn't savory, wasn't sweet. I ended up dipping the bread into the soup from the braised fish. That was a better combination.

If you asked me to describe what "bean curd rolls" would look like, I would not have been close. Picture sheets of yuba bean curd skin, rolled back upon itself until it looks like the cross-section of a very old tree. It was garnished with a little scallion and soy and oil sauce, served cold. Mostly you are getting the crunchy texture of the bean curd and the beauty of the dish. Perhaps as an appetizer I would have liked it more, or maybe leftover as a breakfast item.

A great meal with friends, sadly without the abusive wait staff we had come to expect. Even without the 10 percent discount for paying cash, we got incredible value for our money (less than $60 for four people). Enjoy the true Tasty China while you still can.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 24, 2010 - Shoya Japanese Restaurant

Shoya Japanese Restaurant
6035 Peachtree Road, Suite A-101
Doraville, Georgia 30360
770-457-5555
www.shoyaatlanta.com

Seven Supper Club members. Japanese izakaya (tapas), Sapporo beer and Otokoyama sake. Thanks to the Ninja for ordering up a terrific menu!

1st Period (Appetizers... ish)

Edamame - Lightly boiled young soy beans with sea salt
Beef Ponzu Salad - shredded rare grilled beef rib eye on baby greens
Sliced Pork Salad
Gyoza - Original pan fried pork & vegetable dumplings

As usual, the Gyoza did not dissapoint. The dumplings had that slight crunch and burned flavor from the pan fry. The ponzu dipping sauce added a nice citrus bite.

How can you go wrong with grilled beef rib eye? The pieces were sliced thick enough to give the texture of the meat, but thin enough so you weren't chewing for 20 minutes. Rare-to-Medium Rare perfection.

The Sliced Pork Salad (off the "special menu") was the star of this round. Thinly sliced pork, but the peanut-based sauce brought out the flavor of the vegetables (again, baby greens). This dish didn't last very long at the table.


2nd Period (Filling up)

Okonomi Yaki - Japanese pancake with pork, eggs and vegetables
Pork Yakisoba - pan-fried egg noodles with pork & vegetables on hot plate
Asari Butter Yaki - Sauteed manila clams with soy butter sauce
Salmon Carpaccio - Rolled fresh Scottie salmon & cucumber with soy olive vinaigrette

The Okonomi Yaki (complete with dancing fish flakes on the top) is not a typical IHOP pancake. With a thick, sweet sauce on top, it also had the savory pork to even it out. The alternating soft (pancake) and crunchy (vegetable) textures make for a wonderfully filling dish. I could eat this every day.

Pork Yakisoba - typical noodle dish. Ok as a filler dish (or for those less adverturous), but with so many other great choices, I didn't have much of this one.

The Asari Butter Yaki was probably my least favorite dish of the night. The clams were tender but didn't seem to have much flavor. The butter sauce was a bit muddy/gritty.

I did not have the Salmon Carpaccio.


3rd Period (Winding down)

Assorted Sausage - Grilled Assorted Japanese Sausage
Chicken Ball Kushiyaki with cheese
Asparagus & Bacon Kushiyaki
Pork Belly Kushiyaki
Crunchy Skin Kushiyaki

I did not have any of the Assorted Sausage or Chicken Ball Kushiyaki.

The Asparagus & Bacon Kushiyaki (skewer) was ok. The bacon was "medium rare" (perfect, for this type of dish), although with so many asparagus sticks, it was difficult to chew at times. Perhaps fewer pieces of asparagus per skewer would have been better.

The Pork Belly Kushiyaki. So simple, yet so good. A slice of pork belly, skewered, lightly salted and grilled. You can really taste the flavor and appreciated the textures of the different layers of the pork belly. My go-to dish whenever we come here.

The Crunchy Skin Kushiyaki was particularly good tonight. Crispy and brown, but not burned. Flavorful, yet light. As one of our table commented, this was the best chicken skin she had ever had in her life. I agree.

Considering how much food we ordered, I'm surprised we only had 4 skewers of food left. Two days later and I'm still overly full, but it was worth it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 12, 2010 - Aja Restaurant and Bar

Aja Restaurant and Bar
One Alliance Center
3500 Lenox Rd, Suite 100
Atlanta, GA 30326
404-231-0001
www.h2sr.com/aja

As part of Buckhead Restaurant Week, we sampled the $25 prix fixe menu at Aja (inexplicably pronounced "Asia"), part of the Here to Serve family of restaurants.

The Good:
o The open kitchen, possibly a holdover from when this space was an Emeril's.
o The four-course tasting menu was well executed and definitely worth the prix fixe.

The Bad:
o The decor. We were seated directly below a giant Buddha. It was strange to be eating dinner and staring up at the statue's lap.
o The lighting. My current pet peeve is restaurants that have dim lighting provided by candles, making it difficult to see your food. I got up to go to the restroom at one point and almost had to feel my way around the tables.
o The loud music. Maybe it's a Friday night thing, but there was a DJ playing loud music. It was focused towards the bar area, but the sound reflected back and was still too loud for the dining area. I cannot imagine bringing a business client to the restaurant or having any sort of meaningful conversation over the din.

First course
o Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and yuzu soy sauce
The fish was extremely fresh, although the sashimi pieces were a little thick for my taste. I could not really enjoy the piece without chewing heavily. However, the flavor of the dish was nice, with the yuzu soy sauce providing tartness.
o Wagyu beef tartare with Indonesian sweet soy and spicy mustard
The beef was wonderfully prepared, but I have to admit, I'm not sure I could tell if this was wagyu or traditional beef. Perhaps that's the danger of preparing the dish tartare. The spicy mustard reminded me of wasabi (more sharpness than heat) and the soy cut the spicy heat of the beef.

Second course
o Spicy Thai green papaya salad with toasted peanuts and mint
Refreshing and quite sour. A hint of mint and peanuts were not overused. A good palate-cleansing second course.
o Chilled shellfish salad with ponzu dressing and shiso leaf
An average dish. The seaweed salad did not seem special and the pieces of shellfish were ok. This really could have used more flavor all around.

Third course
o Beef short rib with chow fun noodles and shaved green apple
The short rib was cooked well without being overly braised. It still had enough firmness to it without requiring a steak knife. The chow fun noodles were well cooked (not sticky) and the green apple added a nice sour note to the dish.
o King crab hot pot with kaffir lime, bok choy and jasmine rice
Well-cooked crab with a wonderful red curry soup. It reminded me a bit of porridge. The kaffir lime and curry balanced well, with the bok choy and straw mushroom adding some texture. The spicy heat created a base for the dish rather than hitting you at forefront. (I felt my body heating up, not my mouth burning). Great flavor despite the heat. However, neither the waiter nor the menu mentioned that this was EXTREMELY spicy, forcing my dinner companion and I to trade dishes.

Dessert
o Japanese doughnuts with passion fruit glaze and bittersweet chocolate
Light, not overly sweet. The bittersweet chocolate sauce was a little too thick so that it did not coat the doughnuts very well. However the passion fruit glaze was a great sauce for the doughnut.
o Coconut rice pudding with mango sorbet and exotic fruit
There was still some bite to the rice cooked with the gentle, sweet flavor of the coconut. The mango sorbet was very tart and the exotic fruit (kiwi, mango, strawberry) gave a nice texture when you could find pieces of fruit (I wish there had been more). A lovely finish to the meal.

In trying to cater to the business-chic crowd, they took away from my enjoyment of a good meal. It was difficult to look beyond the fusion Asian d├ęcor, mood lighting and dance club sound. The prix fixe menu was a good deal, but everyday prices seem a bit high. So despite enjoying the food, I'm not sure I feel the need to visit this restaurant again.

Friday, March 12, 2010

March 11, 2010 - Rathbun's

Rathbun's
112 Krog St NE
Atlanta, GA 30307-5519
404-524-8280
www.rathbunsrestaurant.com

As part of Inman Park Restaurant Week, three Club members went to Rathbun's for the $25 prix fixe menu.

Appetizer

We all had the Slow Roasted Kuraboto Pork Belly with Coca-Cola Jus. When there's pork belly on the menu, how can you turn it down? The fatty pieces were melt-on-your-tongue good, although the non-fatty parts of my piece of pork were a little hard to cut/chew. The collards added a nice hint of bitterness and texture. The Coca-Cola Jus was the best part of the dish. You know it's good when you are sopping up the leftover jus with bread.

Entrees

Crisp Fried Lamb Shank, Coarse Ground Grits, Worcestershire-Leek Soubise
The pieces of lamb that didn't have any fat on them were dry and difficult to chew, but fatty pieces were ok. Overall, a bit bland for my taste. Reminded me too much of the Osso Bucco I get at pub-type restaurant.

Wild-caught Steelhead Trout, Broccoli, Preserved Tomato
From the online menu, this was supposed to be Arctic Char, but I appreciate that it's best to go with the freshest ingredients you can find. Perhaps the Arctic Char that day did not look good. In any case, the Trout was nicely cooked, skin on for texture and flavor. The preserved tomato sauce had a very sour taste to it which worked to flavor the fish. The broccoli provided some crunch.

Painted Hills Hanger Steak, Fingerlings, Brussels Sprouts and Chimmichurri
The best entree of the night and not just because I ordered it. Perfectly cooked at rare-to-medium rare. The chimmichurri was amazing! Sour, mellowed out by a hint of oil. Even the tiny brussel sprouts were wonderful.

Dessert

Warm Lemon Buttermilk Bread Pudding, Lemon Zest Curd - nice flavor, not too lemony, not too sweet.

Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake, Vanilla Marchmellow - too rich for my taste, but what do you expect from fudge cake. I'm glad it was not my primary dessert.

Florida Strawberries, Whipped Cream Biscuit, Basil Ice Cream
Surprisingly refreshing. The biscuit was somehow dense and flavorful, while not seeming heavy when i ate it. Strawberries were a nice "healthy" ending to the meal.

March 7, 2010 - Tuk Tuk Restaurant

Tuk Tuk Restaurant
1745 Peachtree Rd
Atlanta, GA 30309
678-539-6181
tuktukatl.com

Sunday brunch at Tuk Tuk. The menu is only slightly different than dinner (prices are mostly the same, one or two dishes swapped out).

This restaurant serves Thai street food, but the portions and prices are definitely fine dining. It was still worth it to have dishes I haven't eaten since I was last in Thailand (back in 2001).

Sai Krog Isan
- Northeastern pork sausage with jasmine rice and red curry kaffir lime sausage

This came with two types of sausage, spicy beef and pork. The spicy beef sausage (Sai Krog Bua) was not too spicy, definitely a gamier taste than the other, but the pork sausage is what we really came here for. Sai Krog Isan is unlike any sausage you've had. Typically, you get sweet or spicy sausage, very meaty flavor. Sai Krog Isan is a subtler flavor and the sour taste is wonderful. Maybe I'm projecting that it was so good because it reminds me of childhood. But I will say it did not dissapoint my memories.

Hoy Tod - Crispy mussel Omelette with scallions, bean sprouts topped with three flavor chili sauce

Another good memory of meals in Thailand. The trick to this one is using small, fresh mussels. I think mussels tend to be too chewy when they are large. These were small so that when you bit into one, it was just a nice little extra flavor, not the whole dish. The bed of bean sprouts (not a garnish, you must eat them!) really helped with the texture and soaked up the flavor from the omelette as it dripped down. We ordered a side of jasmine rice to go with this one.

Kao Moo Dang
- Three style pork, BBQ, Crispy pork belly, thai sausage, boiled egg topped with gravy over jasmine rice and black soy sauce

This ended up being two style pork as the Crispy pork belly was removed from the dish. Our waitress seemed surprised by this and asked the chef. Apparently, too many diners ended up throwing the pork belly out (sacrilege!) so they stopped serving it. They should really change the menu.

The dish was good, not great. BBQ pork and sausage were ok, the boiled egg a little rubbery. The black soy sauce was nice, but I had expected more sour flavor (maybe vinegar) in it to cut through the pervading sweetness of the pork. Again, the garnish (this time cucumbers chunks) was essential. It provided a cleansing bite to the dish. I liked the dish much less once the cucumbers were gone. We'll probably will try one of the other dishes (Joke or Kiew Thiew Neua) next time.

Overall, a very good meal. I will definitely be going back when I have a craving for Sai Krog Isan and Hoy Tod again.