Style, no matter how high you pile it, isn't adequate to disguise culinary failures. Of course, this is a subjective judgment and the truth is that this newcomer to Midtown is the clone of a successful Decatur operation. Noodle, like Doc Chey's, puts a bland spin on Asian noodle dishes and if you want to feel exotic without the hassle of also feeling a bit out of place by traveling to Buford Highway, you're going to be as happy as a clam in a mess of chop suey here.
"Honestly," I raged at Wayne, "this is a prime example of the consequences of our own local version of colonialism. We have a community of Asian cooks and restaurant owners ghettoized on Buford Highway. Those restaurant owners can't afford pricey real estate like this, so we end up with this assimilated cuisine that's neither authentic fusion nor authentically ethnic. Chef- Boy-Ar-Chino."
"Yeah," Wayne agreed, "you'd think they could at least do what capitalists have always done and exploit the chefs by hiring a good one away from the ghetto."
So, what do you get?
Style, as I said. Noodle really does look great. Its muralized red walls are lit with snaky-necked spotlights and lined with black booths. The center of the restaurant is a row of high tables under a hedge of bristling fiber-optic lamps. There are small windows that give a glimpse of the kitchen, a cozy bar and some outdoor seating.
But the food doesn't cut it. It's relatively inexpensive -- but more expensive than Doc Chey's, though, granted, the menu is more ambitious. In our sample of two entrees and appetizers, we had one dish we liked, a starter of spicy braised tofu ($5). Big cubes of chewy tofu are served over wilted spinach under a garnish of carrots, daikon and crunchy shallots. A nicely piquant bean sauce flavors the tofu. It's a huge serving, a wonderful array of textures and flavors. If the rest of our meal had gone as well, we'd have been happy.
Our other starter, "crazy lamb mu-shu wraps," started the downhill slide ($7). It's also a huge serving, but you'll need a finer instrument than chopsticks to pick out the tiny pieces of tasteless lamb. It's mainly bean sprouts, wood-ear mushrooms, scallions, red cabbage and noodles, all sauced to taste the same. It's not bad. You can spread the usual sweet sauce on pancakes and be happy enough.
Entrees are mainly a variety of meats or vegetables served over noodles or rice. There's also some broths, ranging from Vietnamese pho to Japanese udon and a Thai-inspired curry soup. I decided to try the "Vietnamese shrimp and tomato with tofu" over rice ($9). I feel sorry for anyone who orders this and thinks he's getting a genuine taste of Vietnamese cuisine. My bowl held a big scoop of the mushiest white rice I've ever tasted. Around it were five shrimp, some mealy tomato slices, a lot of tofu and one of the most repulsive sauces I've ever encountered. Imagine traditional fish sauce turned into a sugary syrup with a bit of lime. I ate the shrimp and shoved the bowl aside.
Wayne ordered "Lenny's noodles." The $7.50 price was initially agreeable. But how much of a bargain is any dish that costs money but can't be eaten? An obnoxious, vaguely sweet, explicitly oily "brown sauce" was poured over tough noodles with veggies and some tofu. We couldn't eat it, either.
I wonder how many people try to like this food and conclude their palates aren't adventurous enough for Asian cuisines. Don't be fooled! And don't think, either, that it's not possible to offer interpretive dishes that retain integrity.
Here and there
I hadn't eaten at Roxx on Cheshire Bridge in a year or so when I stopped by for lunch recently (1824 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-892-4541). The patio is a great spot for a springtime lunch and the menu -- though best known for its burgers -- is comprehensive, ranging from steaks to salads. A meatloaf sub ($6.95), with melted provolone and marinara, was good, though I like the burgers better.
The Sweet Auburn Curb Market (209 Edgewood Ave.) has made quite a comeback in recent months. My favorite vendor here remains Salumeria Taggiasca (404-524-0006), our city's most authentic Italian market, operated by Franco Boeri, who supplies the city's best Italian restaurants.
Franco expanded his operation into a much larger space some months back. You can buy from a large selection of cheeses, cured meats, olives, homemade pestos and other sauces, along with pastas, olive oils, vintage balsamic vinegars, marinated roasted peppers and seafood salads.
There is also an extensive menu of panini and they are among the best sandwiches in the city these days, most of them costing under $6. The place has become an obvious favorite with staff from nearby Grady Memorial Hospital.
You'll also find a new deli, an extensive Asian buffet, even a Pizza Hut at the market these days. But my favorite for hot dining is Red's Tasty Express, delicious soul food, ranging from fried chicken to meatloaf and flawless greens. At the door to the market there's a booth that sells amazing soaps made by Cynthia Hizer, operator of Hazelbrand Organic Farm and "In Season" columnist for the AJC.
Speaking of soul food, I lunched at South Fork in the old Krystal location on Ponce de Leon recently and found it much improved from an earlier visit. The restaurant, whose original location was around the corner from CL's offices and put 10 extra pounds on me in the 1980s, makes some of the city's best fried chicken.
Tim Cornell of Columbia wrote to ask for the best Korean barbecue in town. It's at Hae Woon Dae (5805 Buford Highway). Tim, who lived in Japan eight years, is also looking for a yakiniku-style restaurant. This tableside method of cooking used to be pretty common in Japanese restaurants in town, but nothing comes to mind these days. ...
I continue to get feedback about my pan of the Majestic. This is from Penn Collins:
"I completely agreed with your review. I have wonderful memories of this place. ... When we were remodeling our home we would race to get there before 8 p.m. (sometimes with paint all over us, or sheetrock mud) so we could 'get vegetables' as my mom said. Inez was always there, Atlanta's answer to 'Flo.' I remember when they expanded (the 'Majestic annex,' they called it). Dumpy, funky, fun. If there was anything Greek on the menu, you ordered it, wonderful lamb and moussaka. At 3 a.m. the place could be a scream -- street folks, Emory/Tech brats grabbing something to soak up the booze. The TV on top of the cigarette machine -- always blaring a Braves game.
"What the hell happened to the place? I too made the horrifying mistake of the 'fried' chicken recently. It tasted like it had been refried a second time, but using wallpaper paste for the batter. ... How can you serve a salad and not notice the brownish chunky leaves? The service (always 'odd') was pathetic (he was too busy smoking a cigarette at a table with his buddies). Even the 'sounds' were wrong. The cooks used to shout and talk. Now: nothing."
Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1504 or e-mail him at email@example.com.