Thursday, December 1, 2016

Chong Qing Hot Pot - Chamblee Georgia

You can find Chong Qing Hot Pot in the China Town Mall at 5385 New Peachtree Rd, Atlanta, GA 30341. China Town Mall is tucked away off of New Peachtree Rd - I've generally heard the area referred to as Chinatown but that may be due to the mall's location - there are other Chinese businesses in about a one mile radius, but I don't know if the local population warrants the name - I think it's more about the businesses. 

China Town Mall is one of Atlanta's best kept secrets - featuring a good ethnic food court that's heavily visited during lunch. On this weekday early evening we were in the area and decided to hit the Chong Qing Hot Pot. The food to my tastes is more towards the traditional Chinese as opposed to the swag Americanized Chinese you get a places like Panda Express.

This is a food court so the dining hall is shared - what you'll find at Chong Qing are hot pots and good inexpensive Chinese dishes. The menu for the most part is handwritten on whiteboards behind the counter - there's also a takeout menu so you can order ahead and pick up or pick up and eat in the mall - you can't get much simpler. The board features vegetables, Fried Rice/Lo Mein, Hot Pots and Noodle Soups. You'll find the prices super cheap but don't let that fool you - the food here is way above average, especially for food court food.

Once you order they call out when it's ready - there's a kettle of tea, sweet-and-sour soup and steamed rice on the counter where you can help yourself. Make sure you get chopsticks and anything else you need while you're up there (don't worry I always forget to grab something).

On this night we went with the string beans and a Szechuan style Chong Qing Spicy Chicken. While some of the ingredients in the beans were a bit light the flavors still pulled through in this classic dish - the portion is very large and good for sharing - as I recall all the veggie portions are generous. 

The Chicken, frankly wasn't on par with Gu's or Peter Chang's Tasty China, but was still very good and filling. I think it's the type of dried peppers used or perhaps it's the whole pepper as presented instead of cut pieces - these don't have the level of intensity or spiciness. For $7.95 I don't have anything to complain about. In fact our entire meal for two people was about $15.

Speaking of costs - make sure you bring cash.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Chong Qing Hot Pot Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Union Hill Kitchen - Chamblee Georgia

You can find Union Hill Kitchen at 5336 Peachtree Rd, Chamblee, GA 30341 just south of Chamblee City Hall. There's limited parking out front and to one side but I think you're better off parking in one of the many spaces that front the rows of shops along this corridor, known more for antique shops and unusual bits-and-bobs.

I was on my own one weekday and in the area and wanted to sample a restaurant that I hadn't yet tried - on my bucket list was a long-running comparison of burgers and where Union Hill Kitchen was listed as one worth trying. It was a beautiful day in March and seemed to be the perfect occasion, so I mosied on over - it was post-lunch so no crowd (there may have been one table in the back) on a Tuesday afternoon about 1:30. This restaurant has a small footprint with a few tables out front - if you're thinking about an evening visit you may want to call ahead - I can see Union Hill being quite busy, especially on the weekends.

The interior is done a bit upscale with a few industrial touches. The lunch menu contained more than I expected for the size of the restaurant and corresponding kitchen including Favorites, Salads, Lunch Burgers & Sandwiches, Chef's BIG plates for lunch and Sides. The obverse featured Champagne & Sparkling, White  Wines, Red Wines and a small section of Whisky & Spirits. I came here specifically for the burger so I stayed focused, but there were a few things that looked interesting including the Crab bites and Gunpowder Potatoes on the Favorites menu and the Maryland Crab Cakes and Portabella Ravioli on the BIG plates menu.

Once seated it took a while for someone to come by and take my order - it was just prior to the restaurant closing for lunch service at 2:30 so I'm guessing everyone was finishing up side-work. I ordered the Smokehouse Burger - crispy onion, smoked bacon, house BBQ sauce with a side of Handcut Fries.

The food took about 15 minutes or so so which I didn't expect - actually after it taking so long to get someone to take my order I expected it to take much longer so I was happy. The burger is a thick-cut burger instead of those twin patties popularized by Holeman-and-Finch - I do love that burger but it's rare than anyone can do those right (Grindhouse is the  best in my opinion after H&F but I digress). Point is, I think the single think patty is much better than the dual-singles (the dualies is more about thee melted cheese while the single think provides more of the taste of the meat itself and for me, it's the meat that's most important). This burger, in a word, is about perfect cooked a true medium-to-medium rare. The bacon super crisp and very smokey and the BBQ sauce obviously house made with plenty of smoke and bacon-flavor. The handcut fires were also perfectly crisp and delicious - I cleaned my plate!

In all I think the meal setting very nice and the burger exceptional. The service was good once I got someone to the table - luckily I wasn't in a hurry.

-- John

(Also posted to Yelp)
Union Hill Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Curries Indian Bistro - Sandy Springs on Peachtree Dunwoody Rd

You can find Curries Indian Bistro at 6115 Peachtree Dunwoody Rd, Sandy Springs, GA 30328 - this is the shopping center across from the Publix that also has Uncle Julio's with lots of construction going on (corner of Peachtree Dunwoody and Hammond). Parking is out front and there's plenty, but the lot does get busy so you may have to walk a bit. There are also many reserved spaces so be aware of where you park as the tow trucks can be rather aggressive in this area.

This was the former location of Figo Pasta which I've tried on several occasions - honestly, I'm not very surprised that Figo is gone - I always thought the food and service a bit lacking. Fortunately Curries Indian Bistro back-filled the space with new things to try - Curries at this point has been opened about a week and was suggested by my friend Sid S (who is featured in many of my reviews and has been a constant lunch and traveling companion as we work in the same group). Also included were Arvin R and Greg P who are also in my office and good dining companions.We arrived at lunch to a mostly empty dining room which still have the interior features of the old Figo - a bit industrial but very clean lines, with a touch of Mediterranean that still works with an Indian concept. The restaurant is so new that the door still has a paper sign (however the main overhead has been installed).

At this point the menu is a quad-folded legal-sized color copy and well laid-out with Veg and Non-Veg Appetizers, Sea Food Appetizers (something you don't often see in Indian concepts), Tandoori/Sizzlers, Vegetarian Entrees, Egg Entrees, Non-Vegetarian Entrees, Non-Veg Sea-Food Entrees, Bistro Bread (and yes they have bullet-naan!), Bistro Indo Chinese, Desserts, Beverages, Bistro Biryani Specials and Bistro Lunch Specials (which currently amount to a Veg and Non-Veg South Indian Thali with the rest crossed-out). They also market catering, take-out and indicate that they serve (Zabihah) Halal meat.

We started with a Cut Mirchi (6 pieces) appetizer - Green pepper dipped in chickpea batter and deep-fried served then cut into small pieces. This amounted to two plump green peppers (tasted like jalapeno but may have been something milder as it wasn't very hot) cut into three pieces each. I liked this quite a bit and have enjoyed it as a chat at other restaurants. I thought this good and blazing hot (temperature) and just enough to get things going.

Sid went with the lunch special South Indian Veg Thali which included Veg Appetizer, Veg Curry, Veg Fry, Sambar, Rasam, White rice, Plain Yogurn, Pickle, Salad, Dessert, Pappadum and Naan. One veg selection used tindoora - this is only the second time I've seen this in Atlanta. It also had drumstick - not my favorite as I think it's too much effort to eat but still interesting to see it used outside of the sambar.

Greg ordered the Kadhai Chicken - North western chicken delicacy cooked with onions, peppers and northern spices. He liked this quite a bit - for me it had a bit of oiliness that you often see with North-Western Indian and Pakistani cuisine - also I tend to stick with the spicier (hotter) dishes and I think I would have gone with the Vindaloo as I like to use it as a measuring stick to compare how the flavors and heat are applied.

Arvin ordered the Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani -  which we both thought very good - the flavors were very distinct and the chicken perfectly melded into the rice - this version was bone-in - they also offer a boneless version.

Since everyone seemed to order something that I would probably have ordered, I went with the Tandoori Mix Grill Platter (10 pieces) - combination of tandoori in a combo served with rice/naan.  This was just downright delicious with perfectly cooked skewered meat slathered with various curds and spices. Of particular delight were the lamb chops - everyone who tried these agreed that they were something special and it didn't take me long the finish off the whole pile.

The only negative to the whole experience was the delay in receiving the food - two dishes arrived and it was about five minutes before the next dish, then another few minutes for the final dish - the food was worth it but you might want to distribute the food and expect this to happen. Also, the raita didn't appear until about have the biryani was eaten and the naan that was supposed to come with the Tandoori platter - I had to ask for it a few times. Once it arrived it was piping hot and quite delicious. I chalk up this last to the restaurant being so new and not quite together as far as service. The people here are quite kind and interested in making your meal a success - I think they need a little time to get the formula right but for only being opened a week I think they are doing well.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Wild Heaven Craft Beers

You can find Wild Heaven Craft Beers at 135b Maple St Decatur, GA 30030 - while this is a Decatur address the location is on the back-side on the border of Avondale Estates and I would consider it more of an Avondale business. Parking is within a small lot next to the brewery or along several streets - there seems to be enough at any time except during festivals.

I've now visited Wild Heaven on several occasions and it's become one of my favorite local brands. Wild Heaven is one of the better reasons to visit Decatur, in my opinion, offering up a really fantastic and friendly brewery experience along with some of the best in craft beer that Atlanta, Decatur and Avondale Estates has to offer. I include all three as I'm sure, with the quality of their product, each will claim ownership - they're just that good.

 On this day I met with friends who share a common UYE managed by Michelle T and Kwame O that focuses on beer and settings for enjoying beer: UYE: Atlanta Breweries #6 And there were about 8 people attending. It also happened to be the day of a local Decatur festival so the place was quite hopping (see what I did there?) with tons of visitors - there was even a shuttle from nearby locations to the brewery as well as some food providers set up in the yard. I managed so run into some other friends at the venue as well.

  The interior of Wild Heaven occupies an old warehouse with plenty of local history and ambience to match. Counters on a long wall allow you to sample using tokens - I'd recommend that you stick with some of the seasonals or rarities as those kegs empty the fastest. As usual my favorites were the high-grav beers and in particular theEschaton, an amazing Belgian Quad and the Civilization, an English Barleywine but even the old standbyes Invocation, a Belgian Strong Golden and Ode to Mercy, an Imperial Coffee Brown Ale are way above average (I've had both of those before so I only sipped from some other glasses). 

Once we got going with a brew or two we sat outside and enjoyed the great weather. We all eventually ordered some food from the outside vendors - the BBQ I tried was OK but nothing special. In all we all had a great time and I'm looking forward to another excuse to visit this great brewery!

(also posted to Yelp)

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