And before you ask, yes, there is a method to this madness. You see, I’ve heard good things about Indian food but living, as I do, in the American South haven’t yet experienced it in a restaurant.
So being jet-lagged, wet, and cold from my day’s travels, when my host gave me a list of nearby places including the Mint Leaf, I jumped on it! My convoluted reasoning went something like this: Ireland close to England; England former occupier of India and popularizer of all things Indian; therefore, Indian in Ireland would be better than Indian I normally ate. Turns out, I wasn’t far off–whatever the cause.
I dined from the early bird menu and as it was lunch time back home, dinner at five o’clock seemed like a great idea. For €16.95, there were a choice of appetizers and entrees plus a beer or wine of your choice. I went with the samosas and chicken bhuna (I think) and house red wine. I have no way of knowing whether these were good examples of either dish as I’ve never eaten either before. All I can say is everything was delicious.
The wine was every bit as good or maybe a little better than a $20 bottle in the States. The meat samosas (they also come in veggie) reminded me of really good, Indian-spiced taco meat in the best kind of eggroll wrap, fried in triangle-shapes like spanakopita. There wasn’t a trace of oiliness, the spices gave the lamb stuffing a warmth without overpowering, and the chili sauce was fabulous.
The chicken entree was served in a red curry slash brown onion reduction, medium-hot. Definitely a touch of turmeric was present, as it was in the basmati rice side, but other than that, my untrained palate was unable to discern.
Beautiful dishes, well-prepared, good service, and decent-sized portions. I was not disappointed (which, sadly, cannot be said for my past encounters with this cuisine). My newly-informed opinion is we Americans in the South should demand more of our Indian restaurants. This is really great stuff it turns out!
(I’ll insert little bone graphics when I get back home. Dammit.)
Along with pork, another favorite of mine is Thai food—especially if there’s pork in there. Before now, Thai in Atlanta meant just one thing to me: Nan in Midtown. But now I not so sure. You see, there’s another Thai in town. A small chain of just two restaurants called, Top Spice. And you know what? They’ve won all those great reviews fair and square.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Nan rocks! First of all, it’s one of the prettiest restaurants around. But the décor isn’t the only thing working for Nan. The kitchen cooks as good as it looks, featuring text book examples of coconut soup and various curries and top shelf, prime ingredients in their translations of traditional dishes.
All of their dishes are incredibly fresh and the elegant portions, while not overlarge, are satisfying. To finish, just about any of the desserts are to die for—but be sure to try the Three Flavors Homemade Ice Creams.
And for the PGA fan, there is a photo gallery of pro golfers near the entrance that are a who’s who of rich and famous diners. Apparently, the owners have some kind of Vijay Sing connection. So if you want to eat where some of the top PGA players hang out when they are passing through Atlanta, be sure to try Nan.
If there is any issue with Nan, it is the fine dining ding to your wallet prior to departure. And that valet parking is really the only way to enter. So what’s the budget-minded or the self-park-er to do for good Thai? The answer clearly is Top Spice.
Located in the renovated Toco Hills strip shopping center and with a second location at Akers Mill, Top Spice is a legitimate alternative to Nan for most occasions. I visited the Toco Hills location for lunch and dinner.
At Top Spice, even the top shelf drinks are reasonably priced. I enjoyed a generous Grey Goose vodka at my evening meal for around $8.
I started with Fresh Basil Rolls on each occasion and found them very fresh and containing a reasonable balance of protein to rice noodles. And the accompanying plum sauce with chopped peanuts is excellent as a dip or a between course snack—Kidding! (Not really).
My first entrée was from the Thai menu. I ordered the Soft Shell Crab dish at the recommendation of my waiter, and it was awesome! The crabs were (again) very fresh medium-sized blue points and you get two of them. The crabs were properly cleaned of fat and gills, lightly-crusted, deep-fried, and served in green curry with small but juicy shrimp and tender-crisp asparagus.
Although the crabs were quite filling, I took a bullet for the team and ordered dessert. The very helpful waiter explained that two of the desserts were made in-house—the Kaya Pencake and the Sticky Rice with Mango and both were especially good. I went Sticky Rice and was not disappointed.
On the plate was a beautiful presentation of a molded warm rice cake topped with a smattering of toasted blond sesame seeds, a fan of expertly sliced mango, and a small ramekin of warm “coconut syrup” that tasted like my idea of sweetened condensed milk if it were made with coconut cream instead of dairy.
The combination was intoxicating. Each bite of rice dipped in sauce was heaven. And amazingly, the rice and syrup stayed warm until the end. Oh, yes, I did finish it! And I took my time savoring each lovely grain.
For lunch, the budget-minded need fear not at Top Spice, for there are lunch specials which are all of the quality of the dinner menu but at a fraction of the price. This menu includes such dishes as Pad Thai. I enjoyed the Nam Sod from the regular salad menu, however.
The only complaint I have about Top Spice’s interpretation of this classic dish is their handling of the raw cabbage side which they serve quartered and almost unimpenetrably solid, like a cabbage brick. I have enjoyed cabbage served as more of a cup containing the minced pork mixture in the past, which I eat like a salad.
Otherwise, this is probably the best Nam Sod I have ever had. Very balanced and not overly sweet, it is spicy without blowing your head off with chili. If you are into this dish, you definitely should give it a try here.
Oh, and despite its location, Top Spice is beautiful too. Dress is casual to business casual, and the atmosphere is elegantly relaxed. In 2007, Top Spice apparently got a lot great press and was awarded Best of City search and rated by Zagat.
In the final analysis, whether you want high-end or really high-quality but not so fussy, Atlanta has Thai covered. For the big spending golf/Thai fan, there’s beautiful Nan. But if you want great Thai without the sticker shock or if you just enjoy Malaysian, Top Spice is the clear winner.