Thursday, November 10, 2011

Urban PL8

1082 Huff Rd., Atlanta, GA

Tonight I had dinner with my friends Paul and Erin at Urban Pl8. It's on Huff Rd., a street otherwise known for it's bevy of interior design warehouses and it's intersection with Howell Mill Rd. where Figo, Bacchanalia, JCT Kitchen, etc. reside. If you turn there, you'll need to drive a little over a mile before you'll see the sign on the left. Be on the lookout, or you'll be like me and Paul and miss it the first time (maybe even the second). The restaurant itself is back off the road.

Urban Pl8 has a strange vibe going on, specifically a "paleo" vibe. If you're unfamiliar with that term, it's a type of diet that focuses on getting as close to the diet of ancient humans as possible. You know, no processed foods, no grains or beans, no food that can't enter our bodies in "its natural state."

Personally, I have no idea why anyone would want to bother with all that, but that didn't make me unwilling to try or prejudiced against the restaurant, especially since most of the menu's items are fairly healthy and reasonably affordable. Most entrees were about $15, and there's a bar for those who are so inclined. Oh yeah, and plenty of vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free options if you're on those diets.

I had the Indian shrimp with coconut and vegetables ($16). This came with brown rice, kale, sauteed tomatoes, onions, and more garlic than any dish should ever contain. I'll be tasting garlic tomorrow morning at breakfast at this rate. Otherwise, I liked the kale, enjoyed the fat shrimp and bright red tomatoes. It all came in a round, deep white bowl, Asian style.

Paul ordered the red curry tofu ($12), which is pan seared. He liked it, but didn't really expound upon it the way he does when he truly loves a dish. It comes with sweet potatoes, broccoli, basil and coconut milk. One thing you should know is there's lots of coconut on the menu at this restaurant. If you're into tropical or Asian flavors, you'll be happy. If not, you'll probably be disappointed.

But this will be far from your biggest disappointment. That will definitely be the service.

It didn't start out badly. We were seated and given menus, and quickly received our drinks from a bright, smiling female server. She did her best to explain the paleo concept to us, then she left and didn't return to take our orders for a while (probably about 10 minutes). Next it took half an hour to receive our food, and the place wasn't crazy crowded. A member of the kitchen staff brought our entrees, and then we never saw anyone again. I kept turning around in my seat, blatantly looking for someone, anyone, to inquire about our satisfaction with the meals, refill our empty water glasses, offer us the check, anything, whatever. No dice. Finally I went to the bar and mentioned our waitress had been M.I.A. for quite a while.

"What does she look like?" the pretty bartender asked. I dutifully described the long absent woman. "Oh, she went home," she said, looking vaguely disturbed.

Well, that explains it, I guess.

Another server came to our table, apologized, and took our dessert order. This was a truly intriguing dish - chocolate pudding, but not really pudding. Not pudding at all, actually. Avocado, cocoa, agave for sweetness, coconut milk (see what I mean?), and banana. No dairy, no processed sugar. It had a vaguely mousse-like consistency, and smelled like jarred baby food. Must have been the mashed 'nana. The cocoa tasted much more like carob powder to me, a substance I ignorantly purchased back in college when I was going through an unfortunate healthy smoothie phase. I'm not saying the "pudding" was the worst thing I've ever had, but it wasn't the thick, milky texture or sweet chocolate flavor I'd anticipated.

After eating the pudding, I asked for the check from the new server and presented my Scoutmob coupon, which promises 50% off up to $20.

"Oh, I see you have a Scoutmob," she says, her brow darkening. "There's a mistake on that and we've reissued it. We only give up to $15 off. It was Scoutmob's mistake, not ours."

Are you kidding me? First we wait forever to get our dinners, then our waitress flat out leaves and no one takes her place finishing up our table. Though the new girl was apologetic, and gave us the "pudding" on the house, I don't think that makes up for severely neglectful service AND failure to honor a clearly stated, well circulated coupon. I mean, it's $5 - do you want us to come back for another meal, or don't you?

Guess you don't, and I have no problem moving on to greener pastures.

Verdict: Poor service, ho-hum food, and a coupon mishap that rubbed salt in the wound. Don't bother.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Broadway Cafe

2157 Briarcliff Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 404/239-0888

Last night my grandmother, mom and I had dinner at Broadway Cafe at the intersection of Briarcliff and Lavista roads. This is a vegetarian restaurant that includes dishes with egg substitute, fish and soy "chicken" or "sausage". The menu is all over the place - Italian pasta, pizza, Indian vegetable dishes, blintz souffles, Mediterranean fare, Southern cole slaw, "grown up mac n' cheese", Thai stir fry and English style fish and chips. While I'm generally disapproving of crazy mixed menus, I'm willing to overlook it in Broadway Cafe's case and consider it a place where anyone can find something he or she likes.

The reason I'm adopting a lenient attitude about the menu is because I had a great experience here. I chose the Mumbai vegetables ($12.95), the "chef's specialty", a blend of herbs, spices and lots of healthy stuff - green beans, red bell peppers, onions, cauliflower, tomato, red potatoes, etc. I don't know why the menu doesn't just label this as curry. It's definitely curry, and it's definitely delicious. Just the right amount of hot spicy, perfectly cooked vegetables, a smattering of fresh chopped cilantro on top. The sauce was on the thick side (a good quality), and was as good as you'd get in an actual Indian restaurant.

My mom ordered the Mediterranean platter ($9.95). This is supposed to be an appetizer, but is large enough to make an ample meal for one. Dark fried falafel, hummus, roasted eggplant and peppers, with a Turkish style chopped salad. Lots of good stuff here, and plenty of pita to pair with all of it. Everything was fresh.

We ended with another odd addition to the menu - beignets. Broadway Cafe's beignets are small, about the size of a silver dollar. When you order the dessert ($3.95), you get a whole plate full, maybe a dozen total. They are still doughy in the inside, coated with powdered sugar. They taste like they're really bad for you (read: they are heavy and sugary and addictive). Twelve sounds like a lot, but I'm telling you, you'll finish them off.

Our female server was cute and enthusiastic, but she forgot about us for a while after she delivered our entrees. Mumbai vegetables made me suck down the water, and my glass was empty for quite a while before our waitress resurfaced. There was also a young male host, who ran to the door and held it open for us when we entered and exited. Very pleasant, I'll say that much.

The decor is fairly simple - wooden booth and tables, cartoonish paintings of the New York theater district and well-known Broadway shows. Nothing fancy, just casual and unprepossessing.

Verdict: A nice neighborhood find.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft

1745 Peachtree Rd. Atlanta, GA

Last night my friend Valerie and I had dinner at Tuk Tuk, located in Brookwood Place on Peachtree in Buckhead. The restaurant occupies the space previously taken by Taurus, above the Viking store. (There's elevator access to the upper level.) I'd never been there before, but I knew Tuk Tuk was owned and operated by Dee Dee Niyomkul, daughter of the creators of the delicious, nearby swanky Thai restaurant Nana. With that legacy, I figured there must be some great food in store for me at Tuk Tuk.

So is Tuk Tuk on par with the grand Nan? Hmmm. No. But I want to immediately qualify that negative with a few notes:

Tuk Tuk is about half the price of Nan. Whereas I spent $26 on my entree last time I dined at Nan, I only spent $13 at Tuk Tuk, and $13 is on the high range of their menu. Tuk Tuk is doable on a regular basis/budget, while Nan is more of a special occasion or first date place.

Most of the dishes at Tuk Tuk seem simpler than the ones served at Nan. Take for example my dinner entree, Kow Mun Kai. This is steamed chicken with ginger, galanga and garlic rice topped with black bean chili sauce served with chicken consomme'.
Tuk Tuk's dishes aren't like those served at typical Atlanta Thai restaurants - they are about half that size. I got about 6 thin slices of chicken, very simply steamed, with a little ginger, about a cup of rice (noticeably garlic), a small condiment bowl of the black soy bean chili sauce, with another slightly larger bowl of the consomme. Our server encouraged me to try some of the soup by itself first, then pour a little onto the chicken. What excellent advice - the consomme' alone was top notch, and definitely added another layer of flavor to the chicken and rice. While I thought the chicken itself was too bland, I was happy with the sauces and sticky rice.

Other simple but pleasing dishes are the Pad Mee (sauteed vermicelli rice noodles with mushrooms, sprouts, scallions and egg), curries with your choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp, and Tom Yum Koong (traditional lemongrass soup with shrimp). These are dishes you will see at every Thai restaurant, in any city. Tuk Tuk also has some interesting, different items though, including lots of the small plates, which range from $7 - $9. The next time I eat at Tuk Tuk I'm planning to order the Kao Pad Goong Chiang, which is fried rice with diced Thai sausage, eggs, onions and Chinese broccoli ($13). We've all had fried rice umpteen times in our lives by adulthood, but not with Thai sausage. Sounds yummy.

Valerie ordered the Kanom jeen khew whan, which is basically green curry chicken with steamed rice noodles instead of just rice ($14). I tasted it and liked it, although I didn't find it as spicy as I might expect. I like my green curry with a distinct kick, and I didn't find it here. Still, the eggplant and bamboo shoots were tender, and the green curry sauce was good. Not as good as at Chaba Thai, but those of us ITP also don't have to go all the way out to Duluth for it, either.

Tuk Tuk has a very nice interior, with lots of black and white decor, boxes of Thai crackers and cookies adorning one wall, a spacious dining room, little lights that dangle from the ceiling and give the place a nice ambiance as the evening progresses. Our server, Gus, was great. He made good suggestions from the menu, smiled continuously and saw to our needs.

He did something else really cool - made me a Bangkok snow cone ($6). You read that right - Tuk Tuk has a cute, old fashioned snow cone stand where your server will create a huge snow cone (actually, it's in a bowl) just for you. The ice is topped with sweetened condensed milk and colorful rosewater, while a bevy of Thai dessert staples awaits you at the bottom: red beans, lychees, lotus and palm seeds. It may sound strange, but it was quite pleasant. Big enough for a small family to share, and not insanely sweet.

So, it's not as romantic or suave as Nan, and the menu isn't as complex or well cultivated. However, it's about half the price and you'll leave satisfied, especially if you're looking for a more fun, casual atmosphere.

Verdict: It's got that something special . . .