Saturday, August 29, 2015

Madras Chettinaad - Alpharetta

You can find Madras Chettinaad at 4305 State Bridge Rd #108, Alpharetta, GA 30022 in the Alpharetta Common Shopping Center anchored by Publix. Traveling East from 400 on Old Milton Pkwy, you'll find this shopping center right at the State Bridge split, where Kimble Bridge, State Bridge and Old Milton come together. This is an expansive space with tons of seating and a very large buffet - perhaps the largest Indian buffet in Atlanta.

I've eaten at Madras for many years - this is a favorite among the Indian staffers I've worked with and a worthy replacement of my previous favorite for this area, Minerva (which was nearby and now closed). Chettinaad has two very long tables of food and features a spice-level you'll more commonly find near the Patel Brothers in Decatur. I've had many good meals here and there's so much variety that you can certainly mix things up so you get a different combination of foods each time.

Most recently I met a group for a weekend lunch - the place was hopping with all tables filled - fortunately we called ahead and only waited a few minutes. The buffet was packed with many items to try. Some a bit more unusual than others - make sure you get a Dosa!

I focused on the Masala Dosa (curried potato stuffed crepe) with Sambar and chutneys, plus a few fried items which are very popular. I particularly like the coconut chutney here.

I next hit the hot items and chickens in various curries. Typically I'd go for the veggies dishes then transition to the meats - Chettinaad separates the veg from non-veg which seems to be common practice and really makes sense if you think about who is eating. I went a bit lighter on this day as I'm trying to cut down a bit on the calorie count (difficult to do at a buffet!) The biriyani was particularly delicious on this visit.

Service can be a bit spotty but in general the staff kept our water glasses full. There's plentiful parking in the lot with overflow towards the Publix side.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Chocolatte Coffee - Chamblee Georgia off Shallowford Rd

You can find Chocolatte at 2558 Shallowford Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30345 in the Shallowford Exchange shopping center anchored by Publix, right off I85 North before hitting Spaghetti Junction. There aren't a lot of food options in the immediate vicinity (Publix Deli, Marco Pizza and similar).

This is a cute, independent coffee shop that is frequented by locals. I believe it's the closest coffee shop to my home in Northcrest (there used to be one in Embry Village outside the Perimeter on Chamblee-Tucker, however it's now been gone for some time). Whenever I can, I like to visit and support local independent businesses, especially if they offer good products. The coffee at Chocolatte Coffee is quite good. Note that "vente" doesn't make much sense here - ask for an XL.

The interior offers limited seating and menus written in chalk above a short counter. You can get all your specialty coffee drinks here and a limited assortment of baked goods and bagels. This is a small shop with a very friendly and efficient staff - I've occasionally visited and have seen customers lounging with a cup reading SciFi so this is definitely a well-geeked abode for those of us who love coffee and tech.

Parking can be a bit weird - it's easier to bypass the main entry (at the light) and continue to the next while traveling South-East from I85 - the second entry allows you to access the parking along the side of the business. Entering from the main entry forces you to continue around the parking lot and can be somewhat difficult to exit when it's time to depart.

My favorite drink, a large iced Americano.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Tandoor Restaurant - Marietta Georgia

You can find Tandoor Restaurant at 279 Powers Ferry Road, Marietta, GA 30067 in a small shopping center near the intersection of Powers Ferry and Harris Dr. The exterior of the business is fairly non-descript and you might have better luck finding the yellow "Lunch Buffet" in the window instead of the small yellow marquee sign.

The interior of the restaurant is a bit rough and very plain, looking more like the interior of an office than a restaurant - we ordered from a short paper menu from the man at the counter who seemed busy on the phone - I think he was on the phone pretty much the entire time we were there. There was one table seated an a group of about 6 joined in later - this was during lunch time so not very busy at all. I arrived at the restaurant with a handful of friends upon the recommendation of Zehra, hoping to try the buffet - unfortunately no buffet, although we were told if we had called ahead one would have been provided - seemed a bit strange but we just went with it and since we were there ordered from the menu.

Tandoor is more of a Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurant featuring flavors and seasonings that are very Indian-like but they do have been items on the menu. We ordered several and they were all very inexpensive:

Thums Up! - First time I've seen this in the US - it's very common in the parts of India I visited (though I always found it in a bottle there) - this is the little 120 ML can, about these of a 12 oz Coke can but smaller in diameter (which is also how Coke products in India are found when canned). This is an old Indian brand now produced by Coca-Cola with stronger cola flavors and a bit more carbonation and sugar. I hit the spot and reminded me of India quite a bit.

Naan - the naans here are very good but I do wonder how they get them so round?

Tandoor Chicken Bhouti - the chicken was very flavorful but I wish the chicken portion was a bit larger

Chicken Nihari - this is a chicken stew you find more often in Pakistani restaurants. The flavors were good but I thought the chicken a bit fatty and the stew runny.

Beef Nihari - like the Chicken Nihari above only with beef. The stew had a strong beefy flavor but I thought it a bit fatty and runny.

Chicken Biriyani - I found very little chicken flavor in the biriyani, surprisingly as it looks like it would have a bit. Also the spice flavors were a bit flat.

Butter Chicken - this dish is found in so many different incarnations depending on region that it's difficult to define - here I thought the dish needed more chicken or less gravy. This is a very greasy dish, but perhaps that's the point?

In general the food was good but not great, I thought. For many Americans the overall greasiness will probably be a turn-off. The spicing was pushed downward a bit I thought but that's typical of ethnic restaurants in the US. The cheap Styrofoam plates made me feel like I was at a mall food court - I'd recommend to the owner to invest in better presentation.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Manuel's Tavern - Poncey Highlands - Atlanta Georgia

You can find Manuel's Tavern at 602 N Highland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307 at the corner of North Ave and N Highland Ave NE. This is a largish building with large ad murals of Manuel's and Coca-Cola painted on the side (recreations of original murals). Parking can be found behind the building or in the lot across North Ave.

I had a chance to visit Manuel's Tavern several nights ago - first time in a few years. A bit auspicious as I've heard the building is being remodeled to make adjustments to conform to the new housing development soon to occupy the adjacent parking lots. I tend to forget my old stomping grounds and take them for granted. I used to live a bit further South on N Highland Ave near Elisabeth St, so Manuel's was an old favorite and regular hangout for me. It's also the place I took she who became my wife on our first "date" after work from Indigo Coastal Grill (the last restaurant where I worked and where I decided to hang up my chef's hat). So this place is a bit special to me and it's with heartfelt gratitude that I was able to attend a meeting of my ProductCamp Atlanta group, for perhaps the final exposure to the original space.

Manuel's was opened in 1956 by Manuel Maloof transforming the previous Harry's Delicatessen into an Atlanta institution. Manuel's had more of the charm and character exemplified in the old sitcom "Cheers" than any any bar I've ever visited,with regulars that appear as if by magic once the sun went down to sit at the bar or attend one of the many meetings that Manuel's fully supported. You'll find the likes of Atlanta Science Tavern and various political organizations calling Manuel's home over the years. I've seen many arguments start, continue or finish there while watchers-on enjoy a pint of bitters and the abundant bar fare.

The inside of the building is deceptively large, with a large meeting area served by a back-bar and an additional meeting area behind that! This has always been a great centralized location to meet, especially for those of us who worked (or used to work) in town. It saddens me to no end that all that will soon be no more (not that Manuel's is going away for good, but what will remain of all the character that has built up over the last half century?).

Besides the rambling interior spaces, the menu is fairly straightforward (although there are two different versions that I've seen and photographed for your enjoyment below). Manuel's is first and foremost a bar so the food fulfills the promise of your best of bars - burgers, sandwiches, and a great hot dog which all can come accompanied by fries or other fried sundries. This isn't your basic weight-watcher food so don't come here expecting to eat a salad (well, you might intend to eat a salad, but once you smell and see this stuff you'll probably loose your resolve and succumb to the inevitable).

This most recent night I forewent my usual hot dog or wings and went for the J.J.'s Special. This is a1/2 lb Angus burger on grilled wheat toasted bread with sauteed onions. It also comes with both Swiss and American cheese and of course both fries and onion rings (I sometimes call it the heart-attack special). It's delicious and not your typical burger.

I also enjoyed a nice pint of Bell's Two Hearted IPA which Manuel's fortunately provides on tap. This is a delicious IPA and one of my favorite to find "loose" and not restrained by the confines of a bottle.

Other items I recommend: the chile cheese fries, the nachos, the wings, any of burgers, the chicken sandwich, the club, the house pork chops, and the hot dogs if you're a fan (I am!). 

The service was fantastic - our party had about 20 people and we were all served quietly (there was a meeting going of after all) and efficiently - it's always top notch here whether you're seated at the bar (my favorite) or at a table or booth. I spent slightly less than $20 with the tip.

-- John

(shorter version of this review also posted to Yelp)
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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chinese Dhaba - Global Mall Food Court on Jimmy Carter

You can find Chinese Dhaba at 5675 Jimmy Carter Blvd, Norcross, GA 30071 in the food court at Global Mall on the West side of Jimmy Carter from I85. This spot has several interesting Indian restaurants including the much visited Ashiana on the ground floor. Chinese Dhaba shares the food court with several other restaurants like Sri Krishna Vilas.

I've you've never had Indian style Chinese food you're in for a treat. The food in general is very spicy with quite a bit of heat - I used to visit Hot Wok on Tilly Mill back in the day and the food here is similar, only you order at a window instead of from a menu seated. Indian Chinese food tends to be served two different ways, with or without gravy. I prefer the "dry" or no gravy style as I think the flavors are better but the choice is yours - note that the "wet" style tends to be runnier than you would typically find in Chinese restaurants that aren't Indian style.

Chinese Dhaba is a no frills operation with a limited menu including some of my favorites. There are also photos conveniently arranged on the wall so you can get an idea of what you're buying. This was my first time trying the food so I went with something spicy - the Chicken Chili (dry). It came with a plate of white rice and a pile of wok-fried, lightly breaded chicken covered on peppers and green onions. They'll also provide a side of chili-sauce that's quite good - I piled it all on and was finished in less than 10 minutes. The flavors were spot-on and delicious - also the spice level here is a bit higher than your typical American palate. At $7.50 the Chicken Chili (dry) is delicious and a spicy bargain - if you're a fan of spicy food I think you'll love this dish.

I don't normally recommend food-court restaurants but both Chinese Dhaba and Sri Krishna Vilas are worth trying.  Ashiana downstairs is also OK for a quick bite - the buffet is rather limited but you can get in-and-out very quickly, plus the people running it are very kind. The service at Chinese Dhaba seemed a bit lackadaisical to me but I can see how working in a mall would do that to you, especially when dealing with dumb Americans who aren't familiar with the menu.

Next time I visit I'm going for the Chicken 65 and perhaps another round of the Chicken Chili.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
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