Sunday, August 26, 2018

Maji Tea Bar - Johns Creek - Atlanta Georgia

You can find Maji Tea Bar at 5725 State Bridge Rd Ste 110, Johns Creek, GA 30022 between the Pike Nursery and John's Creek High School. The entry is a bit weird - you sort of pull into Pike and swing left into the shopping center (it's almost hidden and the street sign is short and difficult to see - Google Maps shows "Upscale Resale" as the top sign in street view so I'm not sure of the shopping center's name) which hosts a number of businesses. Maji is on the corner and there's plenty of parking.

I was invited with a small group of people to sample what the recently opened Maji Tea Bar has to offer and listen to the owners talk about their products and business. The interior is spacious with your usual small tables and chairs and a counter towards the back-left. There's a counter extending to the right against the wall for singles or quick-snackers and the WIFI was exceptionally fast. I found the sound level to be pleasing with only some noise reflection as the place opened and regulars started to pour in - fortunately we were allowed entry prior to the opening time (12:00 noon) which provided us room to focus on what was being said and presented to sample. Frankly the space could hold many more people than there are tables to support them so it's very open. The place is immaculate, even the restrooms.

Maji has a trio of friend-partners with an idea of bringing Taiwanese products into the US, providing subtleties in teas not typically found through normal restaurant suppliers. First let me say that I found the base teas used at Maji to be exceptional - if you like unadulterated teas, you'll find these traditional Taiwanese-sourced teas to be amazing and flavorful. This is great quality tea and not the bitter-crap typically used to fill tea-bags. It's very aromatic and really deserves to be sampled prior to any flavorings added - it just doesn't need to be adulterated. Their base-teas (served iced) include the following:

* Jasmine Tea - green tea flavored with jasmine - highly fragrant
* Taiwanese Tea - oolong tea varietal, very floral and delicous
* Oolong Tea - another semi-fermented teal with strong fruity accents
* Breakfast Tea - the traditional black-tea familiar with most Americans - bold with hints of citrus

After tasting the base-teas we were shown the various flavorings available for the team - fruit, gels and boba - and given two flavored teas and two fruit teas to taste:

* Lychee Oolong Tea - I love this sweet and citrusy tea
* Peach Jasmine Tea - I can see a lot of people liking this one
* Passion Fruit Taiwanese Tea - This was delicious and probably my favorite
* Mango Fruit Jasmine Tea - real fruit in this teal, also delicious

We were then presented with three Milk Teas - I honestly liked all of these for slightly different reasons, but would have been happy with any of them (they can also do these using non-dairy milk). These were all sweetened but not so sweet that they seemed like desserts:

* Maji Brown Sugar Latte
* Honey Oolong Milk Tea
* Rooibos Milk Tea

At the end we were given a Waffle Ice Cream and some of the hot snacks they're recently begun to offer:

* Maji Waffle Ice Cream - Instead of a waffle cone, this dessert is presented inside an actual waffle - awesome idea and delicious.
* Maji Snacks - Popcorn Chicken - I thought these really good, really more of a chicken finger except made with real chicken. The crust is light with a hint of spice and salt/pepper.
* Maji Noodles - these are simple noodle bowls - the one I tried had a bit of sambal chili paste and steamed broccoli - something to break the food craving without getting you too full.

The owner who spoke to us indicated that he and his family lives in John's Creek and that his children attend the local schools. Along with the proximity to John's Creek High School, many students visit in the afternoons after classes. Maji also supports local athletic teams so they appear to be heavily invested in the local community - kudos to them for this and also providing a safe kid-friendly space. I liked Maji quite a bit, the concept, the products, the owners and their desire to make a go with this business all speak to me. I think you'd like it too!

(Also posted to Yelp)
Maji Tea Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, August 13, 2018

Northern China Eatery - Doraville - Atlanta Georgia

You can find Northern China Eatery at 5141 Buford Hwy, Ste C, Doraville, GA 30340 - this is in the basement of Italy Optical and almost directly across from the Asian Supermarket shopping center (where you'll find several great restaurants including the popular Doraville location of Sweet Hut). There's some parking in the alley between Italy Optical and I Luv Pho or if it's in the evening I believe you can park at Italy Optical.

This is one of those classic Buford Highway hidden gems that's known for it's Sichuan cuisine and dumplings - when I first became aware of it my favorite local Little Szechuan was still open and down the street so I continued to go there instead of trying Northern China Eatery. I've since been a couple of times and the food here is quite good - most of what I've eaten has a lot of authenticity in the flavors, with perhaps just a nudge toward being milder on the heat side, to conform to most American tastes. Do yourself a favor and explore the menu with an eye towards the unusual - you'll be glad you did.

On this evening I met John F and Michelle T as part of our regular Buford Highway Clawr group. The place is fairly small with maybe a half-dozen tables. While we sat (this was around 8:00 PM mid-week so late for this restaurant and area) it never got more than half-full, but we witnessed quite a few take-out orders being processed - seems the locals have figured out that eating remotely will prevent disappointment at arriving and not being able to sit. Honestly I loved this place - it's pretty divey and you can tell it's been in business a long time. The menu has both Chinese and English and the prices are very reasonable with a red pepper to the side to indicate that the dish is spicy. As with most authentic Chinese food, don't expect much on the menu that is strictly vegan.

We started with hot black tea and a soup - as I recalled it was Hot-and-Sour - there was a fair amount of ingredients (dropped egg, shrooms and firm tofu) but it wasn't very "hot" as in spicy. It did have a fair amount of vinegar that helped.

We ordered the Xiao Long Bao - classic soup dumplings - these were some of the best I've had in Atlanta - most in this town are made using a very thick dumpling skin - these were thin and very delicate - make sure you slide then onto a spoon to keep them from breaking. I like to add a bit of chili oil to sauce (if provided or you can use soy), scoop some up in the spoon then slide the dumpling onto the spoon - as you pop them into your mouth take up the sauce too - lovely.

We ordered two entrees - the Chef Special Spicy Pork and the Chong Ching Spicy Chicken.

The Chef Special Spicy Pork is a very wet dish - more like a soup (but the thin gravy is a bit too much for drinking like a soup) - this is spicy but not so hot that people that can't handle heat couldn't enjoy it - just keep away from the dried red chilies. The pork is very delicate and it's this texture that I think the chef is trying to achieve - I enjoyed it but really like the chicken much better. I usually like to pour a bit of the sauce on the rice and eat it like that but this was a bit much and didn't seem to add any value.

The Chong Ching Spicy Chicken - I believe this is the same as chongqing la zi ji –重庆辣子鸡 on other menus - it's a dry woked chicken with fresh whole garlic, ginger, dried red chilis and Sichuan peppercorns - the best has a bit of flower pepper so you get the numbing, metallic effect that's quite engaging. This is an elusive dish for me (not that you can't find it, but I haven't found it anywhere done as well as Gu's and since they moved from BufHi to Krog St it's not very convenient for me to acquire it when I'm in the mood). This is a fairly competent rendition - very solid if not quite to the same level as Gu's - I do like that they provide more chicken than peppers - that's one of those complaints I have when ordering this dish as it tends to have more dried pepper than chicken - they're modest in their use at Northern China Eatery.

Service here is very competent - you can tell the owners have been in business a while and they are good with recommendations. We had a good time eating all the food and will be returning for sure. The food is very reasonably priced and you get huge portions. As such I'm elevating my review to 4/5 stars.

(also posted to Yelp)
Northern China Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Tap One Beer Festival - 2016.05.21 - Dunwoody Atlanta Georgia

You can find the Tap One Beer Festival at the Brookrun Park located at 4770 N Peachtree Rd, Dunwoody, Georgia 30338. This park is known for their dog-runs and pet friendly acceptance to locals in Dunwoody. There's some limited parking for the festival but you'll more than likely need to park along side streets. This review is for the event from 2016 (yeah it's older but I didn't want it to get lost). I've heard that the event in 2017 was a bit weaker than my own experience in 2016.

This is a smaller beer festival that's just outside the northern arc of the I285 perimeter. I met a couple of friends here and it was the amount of fun that I encountered attending that convinced me to start volunteering at festivals - that way that works is that you work a shift and then you're allowed to sample the second shift. You also get an event shirt (usually) and the mug or cup for sampling.

But I digress, as with most festivals the theme here is to try the various breweries that attends current beer or spirit offerings. On this day there were quite a few breweries and frankly I got pretty hammered. I learned from this to sample everything that I found interesting first, then go back for any exceptional brews so you can actually remember them. Also, if you're using the Untapped App, you should rate what you try as you go along - it will provide you notes of what you liked and why, plus give you a break from getting so sloppy drunk.

This festival was in a half-shady area of the park with a grandstand sort of in the middle - there's live music plus a few food vendors. I eventually had a burger from one of them and it was decent for park food. Many of the vendors also hand out stickers and other swag if you're inclined.

In all, this festival was lightly attended compared to others I've experienced - this is actually a good thing from the perspective of the attendee, if not for the vendors. Everything is really awesome in the vendor tents - these are mostly volunteers pouring and there's usually people from the various breweries on hand to answer questions. I rate this festival 4/5 stars for 2016 (but as I indicated earlier I've heard it the 2017 event wasn't as good).