Just got back from Frank Ma's little joint in Chamblee, just off Buford Hwy.
First off, whatever flows thorugh Frank Ma's veins should be synthesized, bottled, and sold as the cure for all that ails our tormented human souls. He's one of the most delightful people I ever met, so full of love for life, and for his fellow bipeds. Lovely man. I feel ashamed when I'm around such upbeat, joyful people, ashamed that I am so often melancholy and moody.
There was some sort of visiting dignitary at the community center around the corner, so the parking lot was completely full, and I assume that a lot of his usual customers were at the event, so the place was sorta empty. Funny enough, It looked and sounded as if he tended to recommend the same few dishes to everybody.
The pickled radish slices with Szechaun peppercorns, and the Chinese boiled peanuts, served gratis. I love this sort of grace-note. Kong does something similar at Little Szechaun with his hot oil bean sprouts and sweet-vinegary daikon/carrot starters, which, frankly, are better. So are his potstickers, but that's anther thread.
Shanghai Juicy Steamed Pork Bun (Soup Dumplings) - very nice, my first time trying them, lovely little surprise when the soup explodes into your mouth. Will order again.
Snow Pea Tips w/Garlic - best we've ever had, cooked perfectly. Frank Ma calls this dish "the best vegetable", and we heartily agree. We love, love, love snow pea tips.
Sliced Fish and Hot Oil - frankly, this really grew on me. First bite was a surprise, as the dish has absolutely no sweetness of any sort. And it's hot, spicy hot, as hot as anything at Tasty China. But I couldn't stop eating. It was absolutely addictive. Great dish. This is the sort of thing that seperates the adults from the children in this part of the world; it's just such an alien thing for Southern folk, this bowl of incredibly spicy oil coddling Chinese celery, bok choy, some sort of fish (cod? catfish?) and some weird blonde skinny peppers I've never seen before. Amazing. Don't eat too much of the oil, and use the little bowls, not the plates, as bringing the food to your mouth is part of the plan. Yes, I mean literally bring the bowl to your mouth and scoop rice into it, that's how these folks do it, just relax and enjoy.
Pork Pan Fried Dumpling - these are slightly eccentric potstickers, and we've had better. They were good, but not great.
A few points:
1. Frank Ma just did not seem to understand that we live in Athens, and that therefore we desperately wanted lots of different dishes, both to give us lots of flavors at the table, and to provide us with ample leftovers. Athens is mostly a culinary wasteland, and we crave food as good as Frank Ma offers, so we tried to order several more dishes than we were served, but he was sorta stubborn about it in his sweet-natured way. He actually scratched one of the dishes we ordered off our ticket after he took the order, and then explained towards the end of the meal that he thought we had ordered too much. That's how we ended up eating potstickers at the end of the meal. Next time, I will insist upon getting what we want, which is at least twice as many dishes as we were served.
2. There are numerous items on the menu that have no English translation. Since kidney, liver, pork belly, sea cucumber, intestine and tripe are translated dishes, I imagine that the untranslated dishes must be really weird stuff, and so I'm very excited to try them. Bring on the nasty bits.
3. If anybody has any other dishes they highly recommend, let me know. We'll be back.
4. Frank Ma is retiring in "2 years". Asked why, he pounded his chest and shouted: "Old man!"
5. Frank Ma says Tasty China has "been sold again". I am not up on the various ownership/chef changes at Tasty China, but we've had 2 amazing meals there. Frank Ma says he has personally recommended the place to many people, including one Atlanta food reviewer, but now he has no idea what's going on there now. He intimated that there was some sort of squabble between the principle players. Dear lord, don't take Tasty China from me.
Finally, let me say that we thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Frank Ma's Dinho, in spite of the ordering difficulties, and in spite of the "Chinese Disco" atmosphere. The first 30 minutes of our meal were serenaded by the same cheesy Chinese song playing over and over and over again. The power actually went off in the dining room while we ate, perhaps the result of the circuit breakers being overloaded by the flashing disco floor. And was that condensation on the inderside of those see-through floor panels? That might trip a switch. But Frank Ma was so relaxed and reassuring, so unflappable, we just didn't care.
Frank Ma told us to come back with a bunch of friends so that we could enjoy a wide variety of flavors. Next time we'll insist upon being served a multitude of dishes, no matter our number. And if any of you Atlantans want to set up another "mass dining experience", we are so there.
But I will say this, and I include the impolrtant caveat that Tasty China might be a different place from what I know and love: we preferred Tasty China, and by a pretty wide margin. Frank Ma's is sooooo good, but tasty China was absolutely freaking amazing, one of the supreme dining experiences of our lives. I hope to god it's not going downhill.