Thursday, March 16, 2017

Zafron Restaurant - Sandy Springs Georgia

You can find the Zafron Restaurant at 236 Johnson Ferry Rd NE, Sandy Springs, GA 30328 on the corner of Johnson Ferry Rd and Roswell Rd a bit over a mile north of the Perimeter. The standalone building I think used to be a jewelry story? not sure but it looks more like a location of Jarrod's than a restaurant. Parking is out front and to the sides. 

I'm not Persian but I do love the food from that region - think of this as Mediterranean with an emphasis on kabobs. I was super excited to stumble on this place but haven't tried it due to my favorite, Rumi's being down the street (there's also Persepolis and others not too far if you just continue north) so competition is tough. When you enter the restaurant is a bit on the dark side but rather elegantly designed with rich colors and expensive fixtures. I was by myself and decided to try a couple of things.

The menu is broken up into Flavors (snacks and appetizers), Salads (greens and veggies) and Entrees - I'm guessing the menu was a lunch menu so expect to pay more than what is hows on the photo posted. As usual I was brought a wooden plate with fresh herbs, cucumber, olives, radish, walnuts, goat cheese and some tomato slices - this is something unique to Persian restaurants where you get to snack on a few things with the wonderful fresh flat bread - something between a pita and a naan.

For an app I ordered the Kashik Bademjoon - oven-roasted eggplant topped with crispy mint, fried onion and cream of whey. This is one of my favorite spreads as it has a hint of smokiness and really starts things off with a blast. I thought the version here quite good.

Next I went with the Chilean Seabass - fire roasted Chilean seabass, served on a bed of zafron, fava beans & dill rice. I was hoping for something like Rumi's but didn't care much for the style offered here - marinated/skewered with a side of rice. I also didn't care too much for the rice - it had a bit of a bitter edge. Next time I'll order one of the fruitier others.

In all the service was good, or at least it became good once the server got over me being by myself and it was apparent that I was order about enough for two. I didn't bother taking home the leftover rice - that's a first to me. I think this place is good but not quite what you find at Rumi's - I think Rumi's has an approach that is much more friendly to the American palate. 

-- John

(Also posted by Yelp)
Zafron Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thumbs Up Diner - Decatur Georgia

You can find this location of Thumbs Up Diner at 174 W Ponce De Leon Ave, Decatur, GA 30030 - this is on the down-hill side of the Decatur Square to the west on Ponce. Parking is fairly limited nearby but thank fully Decatur has a fairly fantastic pay-to-park setup with their meters (they'll text you when they're close to running out of time and you can add via your smartphone).

I've eaten at this location of Thumbs Up many times over the years and decided it was time to review - if I'm not mistaken, this is the first Thumbs Up Diner or at any rate, the first I was aware of. It's a bit quirky, from the Googiesque, kitschy interior (which is awesome, by the way - love the slanted ceiling, ball-lights and boomerang formica) to the wait staff, to the we-only-accept-cash policy, there's plenty here to invoke nostalgia. 

Over time you'll see many regulars at this location, however it does become uncomfortably busy on the weekends and especially when the weather is nice. Be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait some more. It's best to hit this place during off-hours so you can be seated immediately. Note that while the Diner opens at 7:00 AM during the week it opens slightly later at 8:00 AM during the weekend. Also, it closes at 3:00 PM everyday.

The menu here is your basic Diner style of presentation and food selection - just about anything you would like under the breakfast heading plus sandwiches and salads. My favorites are the French Toast (made with an eggy Challah bread so you get that custardy inside), the buckwheat pancakes and the grits - in fact this is only of only a couple of places in Atlanta where I feel the grits are exceptional. 

I'm also a fan of both the coffee (robust, slightly lighter than a dark roast but still full of flavor) and the bacon (tastes like apple-wood smoke to me and sliced on the thicker side). The biscuits here are also very good if you like something made with other than white flower - there seems to be a bit of whole grain in there - actually most of the menu items tend to be on the healthier, better quality side and will cost slightly more. There's also some type of fruit compote or marmalade that appears homemade that you can spread on your biscuit - that's fine, southern eating right there. I think I've tried about a dozen items on the menu and I've always gotten great food and good service.

In all I think you'll like this place - actually I've eaten at three locations and have no complaints other than they get really, really busy.

-- John

(Also posted to Yelp)
Thumbs Up Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hungry Ghost - Edgewood in Sweet Auburn - Atlanta Georgia

You can find Hungry Ghost at 345 Edgewood Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30312 in Sweet Auburn - the restaurant isn't marked very well from the exterior. Parking here basically sucks so you might just want to park somewhere along the Trolley line to the King Memorial and stop here for a bite. You also have Harold's next door and Noni's in the next building east so you can definitely get your snack on.

I came here with Michelle T and Arvin R after a CMYE at Eventide Brewery - this was a mid-week event and we wanted to basically fill our bellies with some dinner before heading home. The beauty of Yelp is that you can do a local search and see what comes up - Hungry Ghost looked interesting and there were some good reviews - it was listed as "Hot New Business" in the app. When you walk into Hungry Ghost you'll see a couple of picnic style tables, a counter where you can sit and a counter on the end where you can order. Behind you can see the kitchen and a couple of drink dispensers. 

The menu is broken down into Snacks, Ramen Bowl, Burrito or Bibimbap, Banh Mi, Dessert and Drinks. In general there's a fusion mix of Asian including Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese plus Greek with a Lamb Gyro and a few other items thrown in for good measure. This seems to be a mix of Takorea and Ba Bellies with some smoked meats thrown in (found that out with the dishes themselves).

I usually try to get both an entree and app, but we had some bites as the CMYE so I ordered the Ramen Bowl meat combo for $11. This was an interesting ramen that overall had some good flavors, however I think Michelle put it best "It's good for what it is, but not for what it's supposed to be."). The good, is that it came with a lot of different ingredients and flavors including some smoked meats and cracklin. The problem with this bowl is that it's nowhere near as good as the ramen you get at Jinya or at other restaurants that are trying to be true to the traditional Japanese dish. The rather murky broth has some odd flavors going on and the noodles look like they came straight from an 18 cent ramen pack (the kind we all lived on while going to school). Real ramen fans know that it's more about the broth than anything else and this one, especially with the smoked meats, threw me off. Odd thing is that the smoked bits of meat I found in the bowl were very tasty but the flavor sullied the stock to me.

Michelle went with the Bibimbap bowl at $9 - epazote rice, corn, kimchi, cucumber, jalapeno, kale, gouchuchange, pimento - pick your meat. This looked really interesting and I tried a bit - tasty but as a Korean it too was a bit weird. I would have been fine with it but I think Michelle was thrown off a bit by it.

Arvin ordered a Ghost Pepper Fried Chicken burrito also at $9 (same ingredients as the Bibimbap bowl only in a wrap). This came in a long paper sleeve with a few chips on the end. This too was tasty and I could certainly see myself ordering one. I actually liked this dish the best of those that we tried.

I also ordered a Thai Tea which I should have forwent, knowing not to trust it when it comes from a dispenser. I found it had a fake sweetness to it that you don't have when it's made with strong tea and condensed milk, poured over ice. 

When we walked in I asked for some recommendations and the guy behind the counter asked if we were real hungry or looking to snack - he recommended the bowls if we were hungry and the portions were indeed quite large and filling. Oh and as already mentioned, no bathrooms unless they allow you to walk through the kitchen?

In all I think the restaurant is feeling its way through some new flavor combinations as it strives to find a unique identity - I do love the name and the sentiment on the sign above the counter. As for the food, I think that it might be trying a little too hard. I'd rather see more basic dishes with an assortment of oshinko and panchan style pickles served with the smokier dishes (the acid would cut the fat and smokiness a bit and provide some balance). I'd also like to see some stewed veggies like some peppery greens as options as everything seemed very fried, but that's just me. Overall not bad but not quite there yet - I'll be interesting to see how this restaurant evolves.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Hungry Ghost Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato