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My most excellent adventure in Atlanta-Asian, Salvadoran, general, and reminiscences

Phaedrus | Jul 5, 200311:46 PM

Well, I am back from my first extensive visit to Atlanta after a 10 year absence. This is after a 10 year presence in gradual school at Georgia Tech. First, I would like to thank Cliff Bostock of the Creative Loafing and the folks at for recommending their favorite restaurants.

I skipped around a little and went to some pretty different places. Early on in the week that I was there I was dining with my volleyball friends, they are not gourmets or foodies, some can be classified as chowhounds, most just like to eat.

The first night out we went to Moe’s and Joes at Virginia Highlands. Hey, I had to revisit some old haunts. The PBR was still cold, the wings were superb and the environs same as I remembered it, cheap and loud. Gotta love it.

We then moved our feast over to Taco Mac. The food has improved a lot from what I remembered. Although the number of shots we imbibed probably had a lot more to do with the quality that I perceived. We were happy.

Next I had lunch at the downtown Mick’s with my old volleyball buddies from Tech. The menu looked the same. They still had Oreo cheesecake, although I didn’t give in to the temptation. I had a burger. It was a very good burger, but not a great burger, not what I remembered. This pretty much goes with what others had told me about the peasant chain. Of course, this isn’t why I went to Mick’s, I went to see my old buddies.

I ate at the Georgia World Congress Center during the day while the tournament was going on. Not much to write home about. The Dove bars were great, the popcorn was OK, the prices were outrageous, and the ladies who were serving the Starbucks coffee needed to wear some more clothes, but hey, I’m not complaining.

The second night we went looking for Colombian food. But our two leads evaporated with the disconnected phone message at the other end of the phone. Improvising, we went to Tierra ( the place that Cliff had recommended, good thing I knew exactly where it was, just past the Botanical Gardens. The place used to house a custom bike shop way back when. I gotta hand it to him, Cliff is still on his game. This place was awesome, although I have had much better pupusas. They had just introduced their summer menu and only the cheese pupusas were available. I was not impressed. The curtido was way too vinegary too. I was disappointed. BUT, the Mussels in pasilla pepper broth with corn, jicama and cilantro were incredible. The broth was great, the mussels were fat and juicy. The jicama and corn added a contrasting texture and taste to the old standard. We fought over the remaining broth with bits of our hearth baked bread. The other appetizer was also a winner: Piononos. They are plantains with beef picadillo. So good, makes me want to slap my mama, of course being Chinese, she won’t know anything about Piononos. Again, we fought over the bits.

There were seven of us, three ordered the beef tenderloin with the Chimichurri sauce. Three ordered the grilled pork medallion with the tropical fruit relish. The last person ordered the home made ravioli filled with pino. We all loved what we had. The three guys who had the pork swore that was the best pork they had ever had. I am a chimichurri fanatic so I, of course, enjoyed the beef. The only let down was that two of us ordered the tenderloin medium rare. One was medium rare and the other was rare. I ended up eating the rare one with great gusto. For dessert, we had flan de coco and tres leches, and a couple of others that I don’t remember. Regardless, we all had one of the best meals we had ever had and some volleyball coaches got educated on chowhoundhood.

We next visited the Pacific Rim Bistro. It is one of those tourist trap places that proliferate in downtown areas. You look but don’t touch, this one is of the asian fusion persuation. But we were hungry so we went for it. As it turns out, this place had quite the pedigree. The Hsu’s own the place, I remember them from the Empress of China III and Hsu’s Gourmet in Buckhead. So we really lucked out. We got the Malaysian curry chicken, the pad thai, Wanchee shrimp, and the spicy vegetables with tofu. OK, not the everyday Chinese food I am used to but the Wanchee shrimp was exquisite, with the slight sweet sauce enveloping the crunchy shrimp and the walnuts complementing the shrimp. The Malaysian curry chicken was perfect, just the right sauce consistency and tender chicken. We fought over the sauce. The anglos couldn’t deal with the tofu, but they did say that it tasted pretty good. The pad thai was pretty good, I thought; but my large Colombian friend thought that he had had better elsewhere. A major win regardless of the price.

Next evening, I went out with my old volleyball mentor, Jenn, the woman who taught me the game way back when and her fiancé Andrew. They took me to a place called Harry & Sons. You don’t often find sushi places named Harry and Sons. It sits on Highland Avenue, just next to Limerick Junction. Excellent sashimi. We went hog wild on the raw fish even though they look like they do a mean Thai menu too. I had the sashimi plate and spicy tuna roll. Jenn and Andrew had assorted rolls. The fish was fresh and the rolls well made. I was in my fat and happy mode. They had a Crunchee roll that made my mouth water, so I made it a point to try it. Most excellent. It is a fried tempura shrimp rolled up in rice and topped with cucumbers and more tempura shrimps.

The next evening, I found myself alone because most of the volleyball folks have left. So I went to Pung Mie, my old hang out during my gradual school days. I was pretty shocked when I pulled up because the restaurant is in a brand new building and it looked great compared to the hut that I used to frequent, but then again, I probably spent enough money there to build the damn building for them. It is on Buford Highway, just a little less than a mile south of the perimeter, across from Asian Square Mall. The pot stickers were as I remembered them, exploding with juices and flavor as you bit into them. The preserved radishes and kimchee were as I remembered them, they opened up your appetite. And the seafood noodle soup was delightful. The color of the soup looked red enough to kill an elephant but the peppers really do add a depth of flavor to the soup base and the noodles. Even though I barely finished the bowl, I still craved more. Good to see that some things won’t ever change.

Next day, I went on my quest for the Holy Grail, since Tierra did not sate my appetite for pupusas, I went a looking in the only place I knew: Buford Highway. I thought I would have a hard time, I did. There were too many pupuserias, I couldn’t decide. So I went to El Salvador. It sits hidden in a cluster of shops facing away from the Buford Highway in the Northeast Plaza. I sat down, I ordered one of each: cheese, beans and revuelta (pork filled). The lady nonchalantly slaps down a jar of curtido and left me on my own. Ah, perfect curtido with just the right amount of sourness to bringout the taste of the cabbage, coupled with teh pupusas, it was heaven.

The cheese pupusa was never my favorite but this one was excellent. The bean pupusa was OK, but the revuelta, ah heaven! The pork fat just oozes lightly over the corn meal and the taste, that sublime and yet simple taste. I recommend this place unquestioningly, just the pupusas mind you. They may do other things well too, but the pupusas were heavenly. I wanted to order a couple of dozen more, but I had to move on to…

…Perimeter Land. We went to Goldfish, it sits between Maggianos and the Cheese Cake Factory at Perimeter Mall. Another great surprise. This time I was with my mom and some family friends. The restaurant is owned by the Here to Serve Restaurant Group ( They also own Prime, Noche, and Twist, all local trendy restaurants. Goldfish was very good. The ambience was way too busy and loud. I couldn’t hear myself think, but the food was great, that was all that matters. We had mussels again, most excellent traditional treatment. The mussels were much fatter than those that we had at Tierra, so they were humongous. We had their Crunchee roll too, I couldn't get enough. The conclusion, very very fresh, excellent raw materials allows a lot of wiggle room on the preparation, even though the kitchen didn’t need the wiggle room. One thing I did notice on this trip is that everyone is doing sushi. I hope they know what they are doing. I don’t need some amateur sushi chef trying out his skills on me.

I had a rare tuna prepared in the Mediterranean style, i.e. with feta cheese, olives, egg plants and tomatos. Not bad, great tuna but the dish was not much to write home about,I liked it, a lot, but it didn't blow my socks off with originality. My mom had the poached Chilean sea bass. She loved it. It was prepared Hong Kong style with ginger, and garlic on a bed of spinach. Again, great fish can cover up a lot of cooking flaws. Others ordered the stuffed shrimp and the crab stuffed lobster, which was outrageously priced. They all seemed to like it though. They had better at those prices. Mostly a thumbs up, although I really get pissed at those prices.

The following morning found me working as chauffer for my mom and her best friend. We went to the China town mall at Chamblee Dunwoody and New Peachtree road. Another one of my old haunts. They went and got Chinese groceries at Din Ho, I got Chinese books and CDs at the book store and we had Dim Sum at the Oriental Pearl, another holdover from my days in Atlanta. The dim sum were of excellent quality, the selection has been narrowed to fit the palate of the average Anglo, so you won’t find stewed pig’s heart and lungs there any more. Too bad, I didn’t care for the stuff, but I enjoy seeing Anglos snarfing it down for the first time and then realizing what they just ate. My comeuppance came when my French friend Didier asked for more when he found out what it was. It was my turn to be sick.

Another revelation came when we went to 99 Ranch Asian Grocery at the aforementioned Asian Square Mall. Holy Smokes. It pretty much had everything. My mom went nuts when she found big, plump, juicy and sweet lychees. Needless to say we brought a bunch back to the Midwest with us.

Some surprises:

The Dessert Place is no more: I mourn its passing.
J.R. Crickets is still across Spring from the Varsity. Why? Are they laundering money?
Toyotaya All You can eat Sushi buffet is still there. How do they survive?
El Taco Veloz is till there, incredible.
Bobby and Junes and the Silver Skillet are both still where I left them.
Gorins is still hanging tough, as is Mellow Mushrooms and Cha Gio.
Dailey’s is still going. Doesn’t look as appetizing as it once did.
The Majestic is still there, as is Manuel’s Tavern. I am proud to say that I once got kicked out of there. Is Manuel still presiding? Is that painting still up over the bar?
Babette’s Feast is also still kicking, great to see.

Sniff, I need to get back to Atlanta more often. 

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