Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Real Chow Baby

1016 Howell Mill Rd. Ste. A, Atlanta, GA www.therealchowbaby.com

On Friday night Heidi and I had dinner at The Real Chow Baby. I have been to this restaurant about a dozen times, but this was my first dinner within the past year.

If you haven't been to a build your own stir-fry restaurant (and there are several in Atlanta), you really need to get out there and try it. When you're seated, your server will give you a little wooden stick with a place for you to write your name on the end. You'll stand in a line (hopefully short), take a black bowl, and fill it first with your choice of rice and/or noodles, then add whatever vegetables you like from the buffet, then choose any combination of their great sauces. Finally, you'll take a small red bowl and fill it with your choice of meat. You slide your bowls to the end, insert your name stick, and leave it for the cooks to stir fry. Usually you'll wait no longer than 10 minutes for the finished meal to arrive at your table.

There are several good things about this: # 1 - You can control exactly what you get. Your meal won't include any ingredients you don't like, and if you're on a diet you can skip the rice/noodles altogether and go for straight veggies and a low-calorie sauce. Vegetarians can forgo the meat, etc.

# 2 - The sauces are great. The plum sauce is nice, as well as the coconut curry. The Asian peanut pesto is delicious, but has too much garlic for my taste. My favorite is the Thai Cilantro, but I also like the ginger lime basil, red Thai curry and light soy sauce. Chow Baby recommends 2-3 ladles of sauce per order. You can mix and match. Fun!

# 3 - Lots of veggies and meat choices. For the veggies, you'll find everything from cauliflower to snow peas to leeks, with fresh cilantro, basil and mint, and spices like Chinese Five-Spice powder or rosemary. For the meat, you can choose beef, chicken, at least 2 types of fish, and shrimp for an additional charge.

# 4 - Feeling a little overwhelmed by all the possible choices? Chow Baby has some ideas for you, printed on handy little cards at the beginning of the line, and posted above the veggie buffet. You can play it safe with one of their proven combos if you so desire.

# 5 - Not in the mood for stir-fry? You can make your meal a soup, a wrap, or a salad. Each has it's own special colored stick for you to insert in your bowls, so the cooks know what you want.

Oh, and possibly the best thing - you pay one flat price of $7.99 for lunch or $11.99 for dinner, and you can take as many trips to the stir fry bar as you can handle. This is great, because not only will you definitely get enough food, you'll also be more willing to try various combinations of veggies, sauces, etc. If you really screw up the first time around, you can always go back for round two.

Service is consistently good, as are the specialty drinks from the bar. The melon mojito (affordably priced at $6.99) is tops with me. You can get beer, wine, sake (cold or hot) as well.

Chow Baby has also opened up a new location on Ponce de Leon. Hopefully this will be more successful than their last branch, located in the Galleria shopping center in Smyrna. Kyle and I went there once and that was enough for us - it was too big, with super high, warehouse-like ceilings that amplified noise. Not a good combination with the thousand kids suburban parents brought to the restaurant.

Verdict: It may be gimmicky, but I really enjoy this place. Fresh, good food.

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