Saturday, May 31, 2014

Himalayas Indian Cuisine in Chamblee

(also posted as a shorter review on Yelp)
As you guys may have figured out, I have a new-found penchant for Indian cuisine - not that I didn't like it previously (I tended to always eat the same things - mostly the "butter chicken" with rice, a piece or two of tandoori and maybe a little of the vegetarian chic pea dish, etc.), but after experiencing many varieties in India for several weeks earlier this year, the bug has certainly hit me again.

It's been nearly 20 years since I've eaten at this venerable institution - as I recall from long ago, I thought the food was "OK" and have since dismissed it from my mind - funny, as I'm frequently in the area and it's not a bad drive from my office near Perimeter Mall. From the parking lot, Himalayas doesn't look like much - there's also a sister store "Himalayas Grocery" to the left. The restaurant was once in a bustling shopping center that has since seen a decline - I've heard that it's due for a sprucing up and will be the location of a new anchor store. Right now, besides Himalayas there's a Chik-fil-a, an IHOP and a Duncan Donuts/Baskin-Robbins facing Peachtree Industrial, so it's a bit of a fast-food alley. We were enticed to once again visit due to a Groupon - two buffets including a samosa and mango lassi, for the price of one. It seemed like a good deal and I'm glad it once again brought us to this good Indian restaurant.

The interior of the restaurant is more high-end than you would expect from such an innocuous storefront - tables line the walls and middle, covered with real cloth table covers and cloth napkins. The service here is quite good, although at first brush you may be taken aback by the droll attitude of the servers - they're actually quite funny in a cynical way and know they're way around food. Himalayas focuses more on the cuisine of Northern India (some call it Delhi style) featuring many tandoori-cooked items and kabobs. We arrived around 11:30 and were seated immediately, heading for the buffet.

The buffet is towards the back of the restaurant and consists of two lines - a non-veg line on the left and a vegetarian line on the right. I liked that they kept these distinctly separate as some of my vegan friends get pretty weird about the food "accidentally touching" when it's all in the same place. Towards the back is a cold line with many chutney and pickle options - also some great looking fresh fruit, salad and desserts.

The first two hotel-pans you see on the meat-line were of a nice long-grain basmati rice and something you rarely see - dosas! The dosa is a thin crepe (traditionally they're bigger than these and in India served on a banana leaf but I think this is a much more manageable style for individual servings on a buffet) - these are time consuming to make and I was surprised to see them on a buffet. These are Madras style served with a delicious mint chutney.

Next were two chicken dishes, first something called "Chicken 65" which appeared to be white meat chicken marinated in tandoori marinade (spiced curd) heated and tossed with jalepeno peppers - loved this stuff. Next door were traditional tandoori chicken wings that were very good - first time I've seen a whole pan of chicken wings done this way and I must say it's a winner.

Next we get into the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala - most of my friends call this "butter chicken" and after eating three different variations of "butter chicken" while in India, I guess that's as good as any other name. This is a rich, tomato-y curry dish that even people that don't like Indian usually enjoy. This version was a bit milder than I like but still delicious and creamy. Next to it was something I haven't had before, sag chicken - pieces of chicken cooked with spinach, very tasty. The final pan held the goat curry which was appropriately spicy and tender.

Across the aisle, the vegetarian options started with curried vegetables that had a nice combination of green beans, peas, potato, carrot, zucchini squash and eggplant. It had much more variety than what you usually see at your typical buffet and a decent amount of spice. To the right a very nice sag paneer with fresh sliced tomatoes - this was one of my favorites on the line - being saucy enough that it didn't get that "hammered" over-cooked flavor.

There was then a tofu masala that was also very tasty next to curried eggplant that was delicious and finally a very nice pan of spiced broccoli and very fresh pakora (this latter also had eggplant in it - something I don't usually see).

I filled up a plate and headed back to the table - all was delicious and I especially liked the dosa. In the meanwhile our server showed up with a piping-hot samosa that was delicious - the shell was more like a filo pastry shell than what you normally find. We were also given mango lassis which really hit the spot. I went back for about half a second plate, picking up some items I hadn't on the first pass, then hit the cold line for some dessert.

I especially liked the kheer - at first I was a bit suspicious as it had more of a yellowish tint than I've seen and this usually means it's had some spice like cinnamon added to it (hate that), but this kheer was right on. I asked one of the servers and he indicated that the color was from the slow cooking of the milk and the almonds/pistachios added - the kheer was awesome!

In all I left extremely full and very happy. I'll definitely be returning to this great buffet!

-- John

Himalayas Indian on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 30, 2014

Georgia Renaissance Festival 2014

(review in a much shorter form also posted on Yelp)
It's been over 20 years since I've visited the Georgia Renaissance Festival - I had actually forgotten how much fun this long-lasting venue is to visit. For those of you who don't know, the Renaissance Festival (also Renaissance Faire and collectively called "RenFest" or "RenFaire") is typically a temporary or in this case permanent exhibit of Renaissance period life, with participants in costume and the accompanying food, drink and good times. Some of these festivals are rather restrictive prohibiting the use of any modern convenience (I think that all of those are gone now) - this one in Fairburn Georgia is a bit looser on the letter-of-the-law, so to speak, allowing even fantasy themes (I saw some fairies prancing around) along with those post-Medieval period examples of armored lords and dowdy peasants. Here's you'll meet the likes of those Game of Thrones characters you've learned to love and despise, along with some historic figures, like Leonardo Di Vinci discussing Vitruvian Man. I love the feeling of permanence that the Georgia faire has - the buildings have been here long enough to feel like they've been there for hundreds of years instead of decades. Also, the staff in general are very good - the venue has had time to work out many of the kinks you typically see in temporary setups.

A word of advice - try to arrive at RenFest an hour or so before it opens. The line of cars of parking becomes extensive. The faire does a great job in coordinating what would otherwise be chaos, filling out long lines in an open field. There's plenty of parking and the rows are well-marked so you can find where you've lost your car. Arriving earlier will prevent you from making the "long walk" - after trampling about the faire all day you will be less inclined to carry all your stuff that extra distance. Plan accordingly.


So what to do - well, in my opinion the faire is all about kids. The venue is extremely safe and the issue of child safety is obviously on everyone's mind. The idea here is the experience - I'd recommend leaving all electronic devices at home (or locked in the car), with the exception of cameras. This isn't the place to be texting or playing the DS. Rather this is an interactive experience that allows you to spend quality time with your kids. I arrived as the only childless stand-out with two couples and three kids. I had the best time just watching the reactions on the children's faces as they experience all the weirdness. The venue ranges from mild-and-safe (the petting zoo) to thrilling (the joust and tourney). You basically lead the kids around and let them explore - there are many distractions to keep them busy while you drink your ale and maintain a slight buzz.


The food options are plentiful, especially in snacks and sweets. There are many "meat-on-a-stick" options but my favorite, hand's down is the smoked turkey leg. These are, in a word, awesome.

You will want to pick up a map at the entrance and see if there are some things that you'll want to catch. Try to view one of the jousts, those are a hoot and something your kids will enjoy - the drama is part Pro-Wrestling and part "Knights Tale" - very well done.

This fishing game was very popular with the kids (even the big kids)...


Before the Joust....

You'll also want to try-out some of the primitive rides - my favorite was the swinging barrel (that I affectionately dubbed the "vomit comet") - as the kids are howling, you will be too.

The day ended (actually it was mid-afternoon) with a lament played by Scottish bagpipers. Actually there was a whole platoon of them marching through the park earlier - quite a site to see (seems the group had a special meet at the park that day).

Good times people - try it!

-- John

Monday, May 26, 2014

Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24 on the I85 Access Road

Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24 on the I85 Access Road

It's been a while and I thought I would fill-in-some-blanks regarding some of my favorite destination spots - today it's about the Regal Hollywood 24 on the I85 access road between North Shallowford Rd and Chamblee-Tucker Rd. This massive mega-plex still has a few screens that are large enough to use for your favorite screenings. Most of my comments from way back in 2010 still apply (actually they all do I think, except maybe the comment about digital screens - I think they're all digital now) - see below for those.
I love this location with all the neon - it's a genuine throwback to the "days of yesteryear" - bright lights, big expanses, big screens. What's not to like? I also like that the employees take the time to create mini-vignettes of upcoming movies - Spider Man in this case, and that there's enough room to put out the big signs - those 3-sheets are becoming fewer-and-far between - not at the Hollywood 24!

The latest film I've seen at the Hollywood is Godzilla, and I must say that size does indeed matter. I saw it first on a smaller screen at a Perimeter Regal location and it just didn't do it for me - the screen was so small that the 3D was rather annoying. On this night I saw the film in 2D and the bigger screen made it much more engaging. Simply fantastic - if you haven't seen it yet you definitely should!

A couple of things to keep in mind - go early enough that you can beat the crowds both for the parking and to get through concessions - at minimum, have a "wing-man" save some seats while you gets the treats. Second, make sure you sign up for the Regal Rewards card - I get free popcorn, drinks ant tickets at fairly regular intervals so it's worth using the card - also use them at the concessions - the points add up. Third, if you are military or a senior bring out the ID or AARP cards - it's worth it on the price of concessions.
For the food, they serve Nathan's hot dogs - non better in my opinion. They've also started selling Freschetta Pizzas - they aren't big but they are better than the normal movie fare. The rest of the offerings are the usual - eat before you go so you aren't spending a fortune on snacks.
Finally, the best times to go are during the week - especially when it gets hot. I'm not sure if those couples with babies are there for the movies or to get out of an un-air-conditioned apartment, but the crying can be annoying.
(Originally posted on Yelp in a much shorter version, 2010.07.16)
This is an awesome theater and at one point was the best in Atlanta (since it's been built there are several others at least as good - some may be better - I've been to many in and around Atlanta but not all). I previously visited the same location when it was a drive-in (used to be their Hollywood 24 credit card receipts still had the old I85 Drive In name on them). I still hate the thought of the loss of that drive in (mostly due to memories of the weekend early-morning flea market - used to find great vintage stuff there), but in any case the replacement definitely hit the bill when it comes to movies.

The trick on the Hollywood 24 is to go see the film while the release is digital - (not sure if that's still true), then the screens get progressively smaller as the crowds thin and the movie is shown (the longer the movie is shown, the smaller the crowds - makes sense and allows the theater to show a movie longer without sacrificing the ticket sales for new films). The long-running films (or movies with poor attendance) end up on the itty-bitty screens which are at the extreme ends of the building.  The 3D screens here are also very good (most recently went to view Toy Story 3).

Other things to like about this theater: the management in general is exceptional - they do a great job troubleshooting problems and seem to always be very nice to customers. The theaters and seating are well maintained and relatively clean (another reason to go during the week) - the staff seems to have a bit more pride than your usual summer-job lackadaisical newly-graduated punk - that's a boon in itself. Don't get sticker shock - this is one of the more expensive theaters in town. However I don' t mind spending a bit more for cleanliness and service. Try to get your seat in theaters 12 or 13 as they are the largest.

-- John