Saturday, August 27, 2016

Zyka - The Taste - Decatur on Scott Blvd

You can find Zyka at 1677 Scott Blvd, Decatur, GA 30033 right at the corner of Scott Blvd and Church St. Look for the modernist church and you'll see once side - parking is either on Scot Blvd or off of Church with more available spaces in the Church St lot.

Zyka has been recommended to me by many Indian and Pakistani friends - I've driven by this place many times and while I've noticed the sign, this is my first visit. I was a bit confused by this place as it looks like a church - turns out the restaurant is in the converted cafeteria for a Montessori school which I believe is still in business? In any case the building is a wonderful brick modernist with an interesting brick textured wall - if you ever get a chance to attend an event in the banquet hall it's inside the main church building and features a wooden  tongue-and-groove ceiling and beautiful curved exposed beams - it's stunning.

Once you enter the building you'll find something a bit food-court-ish or cafeteria-like with simple chairs and tables like you would find in any school. You order at the counter, grab your drink and wait for your name to be called. The smells are wonderful - full of spice and promise, which Zyka delivers in spades. My only objection is the extensive use of styrofoam - wish they would get reusable plates but perhaps the use of disposables are due to some constraints in the kitchen? In any case be careful in your ordering as while the portions look small, the food is very rich and filling.

From a cuisine standpoint the food here taste more Indian and less Pakistani - perhaps more Nepalese, with strong, distinctive flavors and less of the oiliness you find in straight up Pakistani - if you like any of these you'll love the food here. My favorite hands-down is the tandoori chicken - think BBQ with an Indian twist - this is some of the best I've had in Atlanta.

Tandoori Chicken Appetizer - Skinless chicken leg quarter marinated in spicy homemade yogurt and freshly ground spices, skewered then roasted on a chargrill - while not the classic baked in the super-hot tandoori oven, this rendition gains from the grill - nice caramelization on the exterior with a bit of char.

Chicken 65 - this is a great rendition of this classic dish - here it has a bit of a saucy exterior, while deep-fried it's a bit wetter and not as crisp, sort of like a boneless chicken wing but without the wing sauce. Served with fresh sliced jalapeno (yeah I know this latter is a bit weird but seems to be the going thing for this dish in the southeast).

Chicken Biryani - Aged basmati rice cooked over chicken meat marinated in yogurt and spices then flavored with Spanish Saffron - as usual this could use a few more pieces of chicken.

Chicken Tikka Masala - Chicken breast nuggets roasted in a tandoori oven and served in a roasted cashew nut, almond, onion gravy. Very rich and delicious.

Aloo Gobi - Cauliflower florets and cubed potatoes infused with fresh tomatoes, garlic, fresh mint, cilantro and cumin seeds - this is a bit different from what I'm used to  - more wet rather than dry.

Naan - the breads here are just a bit more bread-y along the outside edges - More Nepalese or Bangladeshi - very fresh and property cooked in a tandoori oven.

In all I liked the food here quite a bit - all the flavors were very distinct and authentic to my palate. The service here is also very good considering the cafeteria-like setting. Whether you're new to Indian or Pakistani food or a veteran, I think you'll enjoy Zyka and by the crowds, it has quite a few fans - about time for you to become one too!

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Zyka-The Taste Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Mi Taco - Pleasantdale Rd - Atlanta Georgia

You can find this location of Mi Taco at 3201 Tucker Norcross Rd, GA 30084 right where Pleasantdale Rd turns into Tucker Norcross Rd, and just before it in turn changes into Chamblee-Tucker Rd (confusing, right?). It's near the eastern end of a shopping center anchored by a Walmart Marketplace (sort of the standalone grocery part of a Super Walmart). Parking is in the fairly large lot out front behind a freestanding Bojangles near the corner of Tucker Norcross and Britt Roads.

I've eaten at Mi Taco a few times due to the proximity to my neighborhood (Northcrest occupies the area across the street and just south and west of the restaurant's location). Mi Taco pretty much exemplifies the idea of hole-in-the-wall, perhaps not literally but figuratively. This is a small traditional Mexican restaurant that provides excellent corn-tortilla tacos and dishes you may not be familiar with if you've only been exposed to Tex-Mex. This is the real-deal as evinced by all the Latino families you'll see upon entering. Lucky for us the menu is in English and there are photos for reference - also the staff seems to be fairly tolerant of us gringos and helpful in directing us to good meal choices.

When you enter you'll want to walk back to the counter to view the menu, make your selections and pay. From what I recall, at one time you could sit and someone would wait on your table but now they've gone to more of a fast-casual approach. When your items are ready they will be delivered to the table. The menu is fairly large with your typical: Appetizers, Tortas (sandwiches), Fajita Nachos, Fajitas, Huaraches (a bit like an oblong tostada), Quesadillas, Burritos, Mariscos (seafood), Especialidades (special plates), Tacos/Gorditas/Sopes, Postres (desserts), Bebidas and Cerveza (both Mexicana and Americana). There's also a kid's menu.

I've had several of the items and there are some real gems here for value, quantity and flavor.The Nachos here are particularly good, plentiful and super cheap during lunch.

Chips and Salsa - these are very authentic fried corn chips and a salsa that is a bit more Latino than what you'll find in a Tex-Mex restaurant. I spice it up a bit with some Chile Habanero El Yucateco which you'll find on the table. I also like the Cholula Chipotle hot sauce.

Queso Fundido con Chorizo - melted Chihuahua cheese with chorizo on top with corn or flour tortillas - this cheese dip with sausage is pretty awesome

Huevos Rancheros -  Your basic eggs served with beans and rice. You cannot go wrong with this dish, especially at $6.99.

Carne Asada Quesadilla - your basic steak quesadilla served with rice and beans - excellent.

The seafood here is surprisingly good - especially the soups like the Caldo de Mariscos or Caldo de Camarones. I also like the Coctel de Camaron and just the plain fish tacos.

Camarones Chipotle - 18 shrimp slathered in a homemade chipotle sauce with grilled onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. Served with rice and beans. This wasn't quite what I was expecting as the sauce was a bit ketchupy. Interesting to throw into the mix for a change and super affordable at $11.50

El Molcajete - combo of chicken breast, arrachera steak, sausage, shrimp, cactus and queso chargrilled together. This comes on a fajita plate instead of the traditional pot but is still delicious. Comes with rice, beans and tortillas and can feed two - probably the most expensive thing on the menu at $13.99 but super cheap if split between two people.

The service here is always very good though you may need to flag someone down for a water refill. Love this place.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Mi Tacos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Fox Bros Bar-B-Q

You can find Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q at 1238 Dekalb Ave NE Atlanta, GA 30307, right on the border of Little Five Points and Candler Park, at the Dekalb Ave overpass across Moreland. This is a stand-alone business with limited parking, fortunately there's a side-street where you can park as long as you're not blocking one of the resident's driveways - you'll see some cones where residents would prefer that you not park so please respect those and you'll be fine (also beware the couple of blank spots near fire hydrants - you have been warned).

Fox Bros as a company has become an Atlanta institution serving ups some fantastic BBQ, originally at Smith's Olde Bar before coming to the current location. I don't recall what was here before - seems like it wasn't a restaurant when I lived in L5P but at some point I recall eating some vegetarian food at the previous joint (Fried Green Tomatoes comes to mind?). I always thought it a bit ironic that it became the home of smoked meats.

This was my first time at Fox Bros actually sitting down and eating as every previous time the wait has been an hour so my party has always gone elsewhere. I have ordered from the counter in the past and my company used to frequently cater from these guys but less so now (most recently a couple of Fridays ago) so I'm very familiar with the food - the quality of the rub and rind here indeed supports the multiple rewards they're received - they usually find themselves in the Top 10 lists of BBQ places in Atlanta and sometimes Georgia. Thinking about the food makes my mouth water, even as I'm writing this.

Yesterday started as a regular get-together as I was with a friend and suggested that we have a late lunch here before hitting Arches Brewing for a talk on local beer history (awesome new brewery in Hapeville, by the way, that you need to try). We came by around 1:30 PM and were told there was an hour wait - as neither of us had breakfasted, we decided to make our way to Krog Street Market then head to the brewery when they opened at 4:30. We were joined by one other and around 6:00 thought we would try Fox Bros again. I guess I had so oversold Fox Bros that they really, really wanted to experience it, even after I suggested we go to the exceptional Pit Boss (also close by the brewery) - I think we got to Fox about 6:30 and figured that we could wait out the 1.5 hour wait-time for a table (and believe me, I never wait more than 30 minutes but my friends really wanted this Q, especially after standing in the smoke-filled air). We ordered a round of beers and waited outside.

When we came earlier in the day it was raining and so crowded that the hostess suggested we could wait on the patio under the umbrellas - since there was a small table unoccupied we set up our wait there and had a beer. By then the buzz from the brewery was pretty much gone - we were just conversing - I asked the server if we could order and were told very politely that no, we had to wait to be seated. No big deal but I had to try, right? After about an hour we were asked to vacate the table - a bit weird as we could have eaten and been gone as we were waiting to be seated but no sweat. We got a second beer and stood near the railing. We were half-way though the second beer when we got the very efficient text notifying us that the table was ready. We walked to the corner and had just been seated when things get interesting.

The manager? came by to let us know that we were cut-off from any more alcohol - that there was some report of an incident and that it was OK for us to eat but no more beer. We looked at each other bewildered and starting asking about what we did? She left for a bit then returned to say that my friend Arvin had threatened one of the servers with his beer glass - what? We told her that there must be some mistake - we were all there and it just didn't happen, but she didn't back down. It was a bit of a "eat and GTFO" moment. So we ordered the bone-on beef rib, the pulled pork, a rack of pork ribs with a side of slaw and Texas toast. Food was awesome as usual but as I sat there I started getting a stomach ache - not because of the food but because I couldn't reconcile the attitude we were receiving from this place of business.

As many of you know, I worked in the industry as a chef for 10 years, retiring after a stint at Indigo Coastal Grill near this very restaurant - I used to bike to work from my house on North Highland and know this neighborhood. Having worked both front and back of the house, I have a keen understanding of the restaurant business and the need for restaurants to protect their staff - I totally get that. But this was just weird. The three of us weren't being obnoxious, weren't loaded or exhibiting anything that would make the business perceive us as being threatening, just a bald Asian, an Indian guy and a Russian who all worked together in the past, having some light conversation and waiting/starving for food. It's my opinion that whoever pointed us out was just mistaken - either something we did was misconstrued (and I was there so I'm not sure what that was) or, more likely someone just mistook our table for another group. The fact that we were so bewildered should have provided some clue to the "manager" that we weren't the right group. We basically ate our food and left.

I can understand if something happened - heck if we were drunk and belligerent I would expect to be thrown out as the actions of one can upset the whole restaurant dynamic. If something had indeed happened, why wasn't the cop stationed in the parking lot leading us off premises? Instead we get an "eat and GTFO"? And herein lies the rub. This whole incident has my gut twisted up as I do love the food here, but the night just rings with a level of arrogance that I don't find very palatable. In fact I don't think I can every come back as the events have ruined Fox Bros for me. To think that my friends were so enthralled by my description that we waited for 1.5 hours to sit when we could have gone to innumerable restaurants elsewhere in Atlanta, only to be treated with suspicion and disdain, speaks of a restaurant where good service has been replaced by ego and contempt for those customers who buy their wares. Perhaps I'm being sensitive? I don't know but right now I'm done with Fox Bros.

-- John

(also posted in a shorter form to Yelp)
Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, July 4, 2016

Kani House - Buford Atlanta Georgia

You can find Kani House at 3208 Buford Drive, GA 30519 right across from one of the main Mall of Georgia entrances. It's fairly easy to find with the front facing Buford Drive. Parking is all around the building and there's usually plenty - you can overflow to either side in adjoining lots. The exterior of the building has a terracotta-looking roof and exposted rafters to give it the appearance of a traditional Japanese building - a bit pagoda style but without the upward-turned corners.

I've eaten a Kani a few times over the years but it's been a while Kani is a Japanese steakhouse style restaurant that serves Hibachi (technically teppanyaki) style food cooked on a flat griddle (teppan) by flamboyant chefs, after the venerable Benihana. In reality Hibachi-style cooking is usually done over a small charcoal fire (like those little cast-iron grills that used to be available everywhere). I'm not sure who popularized the term "Hibachi" to mean this type of cooking but it's been a pet peeve of mine - they even call it a grill instead of a griddle - grrr. Kani also serves sushi with several specialty rolls and nigiri.

Unlike many other teppanyaki restaurants, the tables are exposed to one another so you can see what's happening across the room (most of these style restaurants tend to divide up rooms to two sets of tables, where the chefs are back-to-back). here each table can hold about 10 people - I've been in other restaurants where the cooking surface is larger and 14-16 can be comfortably seated - I actually like the setup at Kani better as it doesn't feel as cramped.

You order your drinks and meal from a short menu from the kimono-ed waitresses, who then serve you soup and a salad while you wait for your chef. You can also fill-out a sushi menu and enjoy an assortment of nigiri, rolls or sashimi. The soup is your basic chicken broth with some sliced button mush rooms and green onion. The salad is a typical iceberg lettuce chopped up and served with carrot slivers, purple cabbage and a very good ginger dressing. I also ordered some hot sake to shoot back as things got rolling.

From the menu I would recommend anything listed under "Hibachi Grill" but especially the Kani House Specials. You receive a ton of food and it will be tasty - most of the specials are combinations and due to the way things are cooked it will keep food on your plate during the entire process, especially if you get shrimp, steak and chicken (or any combination of a seafood, beef and chicken). Tonight I ordered the Chef's Special withFilet Mignon, Shrimp and Scallops.

This particular chef started things out with the fried rice - I typically don't do fried rice unless I cook it myself but the guy did give me a little taste - not bad here at all. As is typical, he "lit stuff up" with a bit of alcohol as is expected. The shrimp and scallops were delicious as expected - this is really one of the best ways to prepare seafood. The veggies came next - a mix of zuchinni, carrot, broccoli, onion and cabbage tossed with sesame seed, oil and soy sauce - a very basic saute but oh-so-satisfying.

My rare filet was also cooked perfectly. I also got to taste a spicy tuna roll that one of my dining companions ordered. Good but nothing special - I've had the sushi here on previous occasions and it's fair but not fantastic. The special meals all come with a choice of sorbet or ice cream - just enough to feel like you got your money's worth.

Service is always excellent at these places and the servers here were very attentive. All around an awesome experience.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Kani House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato