Great Asian Food In Atlanta

If you find Asheville’s Asian dining scene lacking, I can’t recommend a trek to Atlanta highly enough.  Just outside of downtown Atlanta lies Buford Highway, a stretch of road populated by a number of Asian eateries where the food is about as authentic as you can find in the southeastern United States.  One major complaint I have about Asian eateries throughout the country is their lack of appropriate wines to accompany their foods, but so be it.  Beer tends to suffice, but if you own an Asian restaurant and read this, please consider some of these wine suggestions.

Penang Lobak

We always start our dining tour at a great Malaysian restaurant called Penang, and we are always happy.  We started with the Penang Lobak  appetizer, which is a plate including deep fried minced pork wrapped in bean curd, a shrimp pancake and fried tofu with a sweet and savory dipping sauce.  It got our juices flowing with a combination of sweet, salty and bitter flavors and was a great lead-in to our main courses.

Char Kuey Teow
Curry Mee

I chose the Curry Mee, a soupy concoction of fresh noodles served in a curry/coconut milk/lemongrass broth with chicken, shrimp and tofu.  This dish reminds me ever so slightly of one of my favorite Singaporean dishes, Laksa.  It’s slightly spicy, but sweet with a limey/sour component to it.  A dry German or Alsatian Riesling would have really livened this dish up, but the Tiger beer I had with it was good enough.  My dining partner chose the Char Kuey Teow, a traditional Malaysian dish of stir fried flat rice noodles with fresh shrimp, squid, bean sprout, eggs, soy sauce and chili paste.  This really reminded us of our dining experiences in southeast Asia and for around $7, we were deeply satisfied.  The flavors were complex and fresh, with a variety of complimentary flavors going on that all worked nicely together.  A dry or semi-sweet Loire Valley Chenin Blanc would have really made this dish pop, with it’s subtle, but present heat, smokiness and sour flavors.  I was tempted to lick the bowl when all of the food had been consumed, but I held back.

Though this food is pretty clean and dominated by simple ingredients, we were stuffed, so we headed back to the hotel for a long nap.  We decided to skip dinner this night and instead consumed one of the best bottles of Champagne I’ve had in a long time.  From the Jenny and Francois portfolio, one of the hottest importers of naturally made, authentic wines from small French estates, we deeply enjoyed a bottle of Jacques Lassaigne’s “Le Cotet” , an organic Chardonnay based wine from old vines in Montgueux.  The terroir here is very similar to that of the vineyards further south in le Mesnil, as both regions share the same limestone-rich soils. This mineral-driven, rich Champagne made me think of oysters, but it also made me wonder why so many spend $100+ on that “special” bottle of bubbly, when they could spend a fraction of the price on this bottle and get equal or better quality. 
Jacques Lassaigne “Le Cotet”

We slept in the next morning, just long enough to get our appetites back, and we needed them as we were headed to Canton House , our favorite spot in the southeast for Dim Sum.  Dim Sum is the Asian equivalent to tapas, but it is typically consumed for breakfast and lunch.  I got hooked on this type of cuisine when I lived in Northern Virginia, and the wife and I would fast for a day before heading to one of the many terrific Dim Sum restaurants on Leesburg Pike.  Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to get this type of food in Asheville or Western North Carolina, so when we head to Atlanta, this is always something we look forward to.

BBQ Pork Bun
Shrimp and Chive Dumplings

As we approached the restaurant, there was a bit of a wait, and the place was packed with Asian diners which is always a good sign that the food is authentic.  Servers push around food carts loaded with all sorts of tasty small plates.  There are dumplings, barbecued pork buns, sugarcane shrimp skewers, chicken feet, tripe, vegetables, sweets and too many other things to name.  We started with a couple plates of pork and shrimp dumplings, and the rest is a bit foggy, as I was absolutely intoxicated in culinary bliss.  We ate, we took pictures, and we just soaked it all in, enjoying every last bite of food that was brought to us.  Take a look at these pictures, and make sure to make this a stop the next time you’re in Atlanta.  You will thank me.

Happy Dude!
Real Shumai…..aka Pork Dumplings

For the next couple of days, we did some sight-seeing, ate some decent Thai food as well as some good old American food, but nothing too special.  We did, however, enjoy another super bottle of bubbly, but this time it wasn’t Champagne.  It was sparkling Vouvray, but from Chenin Blanc master Francois Pinon.  Francois is considered one of the top producers of Vouvray, and his vineyards are situated about 5 miles northeast of the town of Vouvray.  His soil is varied, some clay and silica on a base of limestone and flint, and the area is rated among the top sites in the appellation. I was deeply impressed by this wine’s texture, intensity and mineral concentration.  We enjoyed the wine with some tasty take out sushi……..I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was fine……..the wine was the real superstar.

Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut
We woke up the next morning feeling fresh and ready for our last meal in Atlanta before we headed back to Asheville.  After much thought and consideration, we decided on steamed fish back at our favorite restaurant Penang.  The meal that we had on this day is one that will not soon be forgotten, and I rate it as one of my Top 5 of the year.  What do you get when you take a whole red snapper and steam it and serve with a lemongrass/ginger broth?  Food bliss is the result, and that is exactly what we experienced.  I was so wanting a chilled glass of Gruner Veltliner or Sancerre or Albarino or anything white and wet, but no dice and we had to drive home afterwards anyway.  This was a dish of subtle, but pronounced flavors with the natural flavor of the fish unobstructed by any sort of heavy sauce or batter.  We enjoyed it with a side dish of stir fried watercress in some sort of fish sauce-based deliciousness.
Steamed Red Snapper
Steamed Red Snapper Destroyed!
All in all, this was a great trip full of great food that the wife and I had been yearning for.  We left Atlanta refreshed, renewed and revamped.  As I write about these experiences some two weeks later, I am comforted by the fact that we stocked up on supplies at the Asian market right next to Penang, and that the best Asian food in Asheville comes out of the Spurling kitchen when Mrs. Spurling decides to cook!  Cheers and happy eating to you all.

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