Atlanta, Marietta, Tasty China. Full Report
After ten visits in ten weeks, I can no longer keep my lip zipped: The best Chinese food I have ever eaten is not at Frank Ma's on its best night ever. Nor at our pre-wedding banquet for thirty out of town guests at Honto back in the day. Nor the dim sum at Seafood Harbor in Millbrae near San Francisco Airport. Nor any of dozens of places in NYC.
Its at Tasty China here in Marietta, hidden in an innocuous Lower
Loop 120 and Franklin Road strip center far from Buford Highway,
cater-corner from Haveli socked in between a Mexican dance club and the International Deli.
Tasty China's Sichuan food focuses on the cuisine of southwestern
Sichuan. Sichuan food like I have never eaten, seen or heard tell of anywhere. Flavor and technique explosive food prepared by a chef who set Washington DC afire then vanished silently last winter to the dismay of local hounds, and whose picture with the President of China adorns the wall behind the cash register.
Since mid-August we have been to Tasty China weekly, sometimes more. We, who bought our house premised on the geographic imperative that it be no more than twelve minutes from Buford Hwy, Chamblee and Chinatown Square now slavishly schlep to Lower Loop 120 and Franklin road, and do so with relish. This past Friday evening, we drove for over an hour to get there--for what on the return trip took a scant twenty-two minutes. So what moves me suddenly at a certain age to pine to sleep within hailing distance of the Big Chicken?
What may be the best northern Chinese food not only in Atlanta, but in NYC, San Francisco and Vancouver. Dishes and flavor profiles that astound me.
A very large menu, and although there is no 'secret menu' hidden from non-Chinese language speakers, the English language menu listings translate dish names, more metaphorical in their original than descriptive. So ordering is generally a crapshoot, albeit one that yields routinely extraordinary results.
The menu begins with two pages of Hot and Cold Appetizers. These are almost all so good, that its challenging to get beyond them. Their average price is $5 and the portions huge, so we tend to order as many as possible with no intent of eating them all that night. Next comes two pages of Chinese American stalwarts such as chow fun, salt and pepper squid, moo goo gai whatever-- which can and should be skipped in favor of the three pages of Sichuan and Chef specialties and Vegetables that follow.
Some Tasty China caveats:
--Service is good natured, but the wait staff is new and still learning. Dishes get forgotten. I often have to ask for chopsticks and rice bowls and water.
--The owner/maitre 'd is very conservative in his recommendations, concerned to please you and somewhat ESL handicapped. The manager is a short woman with very good English who talks a mile a minute and aims to please. With either, insist that you like it full flavored, and spicy, have round eyes but a Chinese stomach, and refuse to take no for an answer.
--Trust the Appetizer/Sichuan Sections of the menu, and if you see something that looks good on another table, ask.
--The place is small, around 75 seats, and is already pretty busy on Fridays and packed on Saturdays. The word is getting out in the Asian community.
--There is a weekday lunch buffet of which you should steer clear. Chef Co-Proprietor Peter Chang cooks the menu, not the buffet.
--No license, but you are welcome to BYOB.
The menu is big, big, big. I'll try to describe from memory some of the dishes just to provide a jumping off point. Forgive me if I can't remember every name and or menu number!
Soups. The soup section is short. We have tried only one:
--Ground Fish and Parsley Soup. Clear broth very slightly touched with cornstarch, soft tofu and tilapia crumbled and abundant fresh cilantro. Very bland, yet very comforting. (Maitre 'd tried to push the Crab and Asparagus soup. Real crab, he said. Seeking a simple clear soup for the cold evening, we demurred.) Debie wanted hot oil to add to it. I pointed out that with all the flavors coming next, this was a good balance and a good jumping off point. Sat lunch on the reheat, she agreed. Note: soups do not seem to be a strongpoint on this menu.
Hot and Cold Appetizers. Almost two pages, maybe 90 items. Here are some of the few that I can remember:
--#11 The big round Sesame Scallion bread, what I can't help but think of as Chinese Jewish rye bread. Don't miss, feeds four to eight. Great the next day, and with ALL and any of the appetizers/entrees.
-- The 'Puffy Bread'. These are like wheat based puri's not cooked in ghee, dusted with cumin and perhaps crushed sichuan peppers. Exc.
--Three Flavor Bean Curd. DO NOT MISS. Crisped sheet of dried tofu, atop layer of sticky rice atop layer of shitake mushrooms. Comfort food of the highest order.
--Fish and Cilantro Fingers/Rolls. Cigar shaped tubes filled with
cilantro and fish. Exc. Must have, every time.
--Won Tons in Sichuan Spicy Oil. Factory wrappers are ok, Sichuan Spicy Oil is more akin to a broth. Very bracing. Very good.
--Spicy Beef Roll. This is fast becoming one of my favorites. I dream of it all alone as lunch. Inside are precisely sized slivers of the similarly dressed beef substance as the 'Husband and Wife' Beef and Lung app, some cabbage and some chiles. No hoisin as in Shanghai versions of this dish--thank goodness.
--Sichuan Noodles. Always good. Noodles not hand made.
--Dan Dan Noodles. Tried once, it had a gloppy sesame/peanut sauce. Probably need to retry.
--Sesame Smoked Chicken. Tried once, it didn't grab me. The second time it was like the best tea-smoked duck ever, and would gladly reorder.
---Husband And Wife. Slices of Beef and Lung, dressed with cilantro, chiles, garlic. Exc.
--Pork in Garlic Mud. Slices of pork belly, dressed in what else, garlic. Absolutely must not miss.
--Small Fried Fish, the very last app on the bottom on the right hand page. Small head on smelts, halved, light coating fried once, then sauteed a second time with chiles, garlic, salt, cilantro, scallions maybe the very slightest hint of cumin. Highly addictive.
--Eggplant with sesame. just ok. Too many other wonderful things to reorder.
So that's a capsule of about maybe fifteen per cent of the appetizer section. Hell, at $4 to $6 a pop, I try to order two per person just to get through the whole section. With 80% of the items we've tried qualifying as must haves/greatest hits, we are not doing too well in that respect.
--Dry Fried Eggplant (off menu--just ask the Maitre d' for it). Logs of Japanese Eggplant fried once, then a second time with a dusting of crushed Sichuan red peppercorns, chiles, scallions and garlic. Debie won't leave without it. tongue in cheek, I think of these as the 'best french fries in the world'.
--Golden Ribs. Sections of full sized spare rib, under a mountain of crumbly fried light as air nubbins of mysterious deliciousness and origins. Can't quite figure what the fried nubbins are, but they are delicious.
--A whole duck dish, under a mountain of the same delicious fried
nubbins. There are only two or three duck dishes, you'll have to figure it out.
--#98 Fish. You have the menu number, sorry, can't remember the
name. Fish filets layered with soft tofu in a clear-ish broth in a flat glass bowl and on top a layer of the most incendiary minced (habanero?)fresh peppers. The hottest dish I have ever eaten. Cannot get enough of this.
--Roasted Fish with Green Onion. Must try on first visit, as this dish typifies Chef Chang's style. Two inch fish fillet sections, fried in a light coating, then tossed with his signature infusion of cumin and aromatics, ground sichuan peppercorns, garlic, cilantro, scallion all served under a woven cane lean-to like canopy.
--Chen Cang Beef. Another must try. Finely minced beef, coated, fried, tossed with flavorings, served with fresh buns. Save your #11 Scallion bread and eat with this.
--Hot Braised Beef. A thick clay pot of pounded pieces of beef (round, I think) atop thinly sliced cabbage in a slightly thick brick red sauce redolent of Sichuan peppercorns. This is a 'hot' dish, but nothing compared to #98. Excellent.
--Roasted Fish. Two whole fish, the flat out boniest ugliest scrawniest fish I've ever seen. Fried crisp, sauced brown with major chiles, garlic cumin, sichuan peppercorns...the usual suspects. Sucking the bones is mandatory. Would reorder again and again.
--Hot Braised Fish. Fish filets and soft tofu in clay pot, sauce same as 'Hot Braised Beef'. Excellent.
--Beef and Chile Hot Pot (don't remember the number, its top of the page right). Pounded round steak sauteed with chiles, garlic,
scallions,cilantro, cumin served on a platter over sterno. Exc.
--Sichuan Beef. Listed under 'Beef and Chile Hot Pot' right side top section, but the english translation is crossed out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Beef, coated, fried and yet again tossed with another blend of Sichuan flavorings.
--Shredded Pork with Young Bamboo Shoots (off menu, depends on market availability). Try it if they have it. I love the baby bamboo shoots.
--Home Style Tofu. Soft tofu, jalapenos and a lot of other ingredients make this a star, whereas most other versions seem mundanely poured from a bottle.
--String Beans with Ground Olives. Intense and Amazing. A friend said her Taiwan born mom makes a similar dish, but this is much better.
Understand, the above reflects only about ten of maybe a hundred entree and vegetable dishes. Getting all the way through this menu is impossible, as every return visit I want to order the greatest hits from previous visits as well as one or two new things. On nearby tables I see that the Lionshead meatballs are enormous--the size of a softball--but for the same reason, have not yet tried.
And to further complicate matters, on weekdays when its not so busy, Chef Chang suggests special stuff on an ad-hoc basis.
Nevertheless and notwithstanding the foregoing, I hereby vow a relentless effort to taste the entire menu, for so long as my wife will put up with traffic.
585 Franklin Road SE, Marietta, GA 30067
Tel: (770) 419-9849
Wow. Thanks Steve. Finally a Chinese place to recommend in the ATL. This is quite a statement and I guess must not be missed. Will have to check it out soon, at a non trafficy hour of course.
Allow me to add a bit of backstory to your most comprehensive post.
I am a former DC area 'hound now living about 2 hours from Atlanta. I was among those who appreciated Chang's skills; he made quite an impression among DC Chinese food lovers, and is certainly missed up there.
Briefly, as I understand it, Chang won a couple of very prestigious awards in China (the certificates are on the wall of the restaurant) and wound up as the personal chef of the country's president for a while. He then came to the Chinese embassy in Washington. He left there and went to a place called China Star where his cooking started to get noticed among chowhounds, as a quick search of the DC board will show. Then he left CS and went to a place called TemptAsian. He was there for several months, and became really popular and well-known. I myself hosted a series of lunches there last Summer, with the purpose of doing the same thing you are trying to do, i.e. work through the menu. We had the same problem--too many of us wanted to repeat the great things we'd had previously.
Then he suddenly disappeared from TemptAsian. Later we found that he was quite unhappy there, having been worked "like a slave." After keeping our ears to the ground, we finally found him at a place called China Gourmet (old name) which was going to have a name change to Sichuan Boy (lots of strange names I know). Anyway, his new digs info hit the boards and the press, and the place was soon mobbed. Then after a few months something must have gone wrong, because he disappeared again, and was said to have left town and gone to various places, Ohio being the most frequently mentioned, but at least one mention was made about Atlanta, which of course interested me since I knew I'd soon be near there.
Here are two links: the first is to a thread I started on a local DC food board, about TemptAsian; it includes a discussion of the series of lunches I mentioned above. The second is a review of China Gourmet/Sichuan Boy which appeared in Washingtonian magazine, written by Todd Kliman, their James Beard Award-winning dining editor; it has a lot of information about Chang.
Briefly, Atlanta is very lucky to have a Chinese chef with his talent. However, a couple of things need to be kept in mind: For one, his cuisine is not like anything you've ever had before (at least I'd ever had before) and it probably isn't for everyone. This is serious stuff and may take a bit of taste bud recalibration. Also he is a master of cumin and of Sichuan peppercorns, and you need to be a little careful in ordering to insure you don't overdo those flavors, since many of his best dishes incorporate them in various ways.
Let's hope he stays put for a while.
Here's a link to another post I put up on the DC board after we found him in Atlanta.
Very interesting quote from the Washingtonian review of Chef Chang at TemptAsian:
"Every chef, every restaurant, has its time, that moment when every force aligns, when every aim and purpose locks in place. Not forever, and not for long. This is Chang’s time. Savor it while you can." From the May 2006 Washingtonian.
Seems Chef Chang was gone completely from DC and already decamped to Atlanta before that recent review even appeared.
Thanks for the back story. We here are lucky in the extreme. Now it all begins to make sense.
Steve, I don't think you gave us enough suggestions of what to order (just kidding!). Thanks for the great post-- my in-laws live in Marietta, but I have yet to explore the culinary offerings of the area beyond Mellow Mushroom, Johnny Rockets and J. Christopher's. Glad to know there's great chinese... because in the 3 months I've lived here, I have yet to find a good place within take-out distance of my home in Grant Park.
JessicaSophia wrote "Steve, I don't think you gave us enough suggestions of what to order (just kidding!)."
I tried to describe everything I've ordered there. The good (almost all) and the bad (almost nothing). The thing is, that's only about 15% of the menu! (I do remember now that the Eggplant with Garlic Sauce from the Sichuan Vegetable section was also excellent.)
So pls report back so we can broaden our menu knowledge base.
i expected more excitement about this place from ATLs chowhounds
the place is amazing
druckar nailed it per usuel.
My boyfriend and I ate at Tasty China last night and it was a revelation. Kudos to Steve for such an excellent recommendation! Roasted fish with green onion and the Green beans with ground olives and pork were insanely good!!!
We ate at Tasty China Sunday with the family. Having wearied of the weary Little Sichaun (sic) it was wonderful to have great Sichuan cooking.
I would add one recomndation to Steve's list. The first item on the Chinese language card on the table is an appetizer of three griddle fried meat filled buns. They are savory, not intensely spicy (my 7 year old made a meal of them) and a nice winter dish.
I understand they do serve the menu at lunch so you are not a slave to the buffet.
Extraordinary lunch for ten a few days ago. Pictures at this link:
Also, an interesting phenomena: many of us (not only me, thank god, so I can tell my wife I'm not nuts) are drawn back again and again. Follow us at this link
I tried your recommendation and ate at Tasty China yesterday and it was terrific!! It was every bit as good as you said it would be. I'm sure it'll be no surprise to you, but I'll be having a late lunch there today! Thanks for your review. A
Tasty China is great.
Also excellent (if a little greasy) authentic Sichuan food can be found at Red Chili in Tucker on Lawrenceville Highway. They have an American style menu (skip it) and an authentic Chinese menu (with English translations). The "wild spicy chicken", green beans, "husband and wife" (cold beef + tripe appetizer), hot boiled fish or hot boiled beef are all fantastic. Everything packs serious heat. Good whole fish (tilapia) with a variety of sauce options too. Ask for the specials too - ask if they have the beef tendon special if you are feeling adventurous. It is delicious - a bit chewy, of course, but softer than you'd expect, and really tasty. I hate to let this secret out, but they deserve more business than they get. (I think there may be a new branch out by Pleasant Hil Road too.)
I live fairly near Canton Cooks and China Cooks, both of which are pretty good. Looks like we'll have to be driving out to Marietta, unless there IS a Pleasant Hill Rd branch.
Very disappointed, certainly not worth the drive. We were surprised to find Chinese food average at best. The "roast fish" from the Sichuan chef's specials menu turned out to be limp fish fingers that were mostly batter with a strage curry-esque after-taste. When we pointed out to the hostess that we had thought we would be getting a whole fish, she said, no, too bad. The touted won-ton in chili oil was warmed over wonton soup in a very spicy broth and the chef's special crystal shrimp with vegetables was a dish of slimy somethings with some pedestrian broccoli scattered around the dish. The tea was not drinkable and the fried rice totally pedestrian. The dried fried eggplant was OK I guess but hardly memorable and there was too much if it for such a spicy dish. That this place would get such raves is testament to the dearth of good Chinese restaurants in Atlanta. We will not return and save our Chinese hankerings for New York.
A group of us in Marietta go to this place for lunch at least once a week. There are a couple in our group that usually go at least twice a week. We've all been going since late summer/early fall of last year.
In the past few weeks, we have noticed the food changing. One of us suspects Chef Chang has left the restaurant. We even noticed that his picture, which used to be on the wall behind the checkout counter, is now gone. It has been replaced by a laminated AJC review.
Any regulars tried this place recently and notice a difference too?
I went a while ago during february and saw a "under new management" sign. I went there anyway, because it was my first time and heard good reviews about it on here. I tried some fish, I can't remember the name but it was spicy. It was good overall. When I tried to ask the lady if Jeff Chang is still the head chef, she seemed really suspect and dodged the question and went on about how he has students learning under his supervision bla bla bla. I don' think my food was prepared by him, but who knows.
I am the fellow from Washington where Chef Chang previously was, and who reported on his movements there and how good his food was. I ate most recently at TC several weeks ago (I believe March 3), and also noticed the food seemed to have changed, and not for the better. I also got the runaround about whether he was in the kitchen, and was told he was but had suspicions because previously he has always come out to say hello to me, but on this occasion didn't. So I wondered, but for that very reason I did check whether the photos were there and at that time they were. If in fact the photos are now gone as reported above, I would say that it's pretty certain he is gone too. But I'm surprised, because I thought this time he was a part owner and would stay put, unlike his previous pattern.
I would be very interested if anyone has more reliable information.
re: bananna slug
At Chef Chang's going away party at TC several weeks ago late on a Sunday night, between umpteen ceremonial shooters of 105 proof Soju type Chinese moonshine, he indicated he was moving to another, unnamed restaurant way outside the Perimeter. Just recently it was learned that he and his wife had instead moved back to the VA suburbs of DC to partner in a restaurant there.
We can be thankful for the legacy that he has left us at Tasty China, and that the TC kitchen remains vibrant with Chef Liu, and the food very good.
re: Steve Drucker
Steve: Thanks for this information. Sounds like you had a great time at the going away party. I am sure it was an honor to have been there.
Have you enough experience eating at Tasty China with Chef Liu in charge to still consider it the best Chinese (or Sichuan) in greater Atlanta? If not, or if it is a close call, where else do you recommend?
re: bananna slug
As a long time regular, we can walk to TC from our office, I am happy to report that TC is back! There were some problems, but now many are fixed and we love it. The bonus to all of this are new dishes to try.
Just remember to always state you want it Ma La, or in our case extra Ma La!
We returned there last week and I think the food under new Chef Liu is improved. We ordered the dried fried eggplant, spicy cumin beef, fish in hot pot, stir fried chicken with chilis, and hot and numbing beef rolls. They were all good except for the hot and numbing beef rolls. Those just haven't been the same since Chef Chang left. They seem larger, not as tasty or juicy, and the hot and numbingness is not there like it used to. Also, overall, the numbing effect seems to have died down (there aren't as many szchechuan peppercorn seeds/husks as there used to be). We'll ask them to increase it next time.
re: Steve Drucker
Okay, kids. My wife's family lives in Marietta, and we've been following this thread hungrily, waiting for the opportunity to try Tasty China. Today, the day after Christmas 2007, we finally made it happen.
Caveat: we are not apprentice foodies, but our only experience with Szechaun food thus far has been at Little Szechuan on Buford Hwy. And if you ever go there, try the Shrimp Egg Foo Young and the House Special Tofu with Black Bean Sauce (NOT the Ma Po): both are excellent, though the rest of the menu is less than remarkable. And now, alas, we will probably never go there again, because (drum roll):
Tasty China is astoundingly good. Like I said, we don't know Szechaun, but Damn! that was a good meal.
We got there around 1:30. The staff was pleased to find us stumbling towards the right questions and the right menu items, which, of course, were suggested by Steve Drucker's original post. Our hostess quickly steered towards the "good stuff", most of it not on the menu, simultaneously asking and pushing and suggesting and making sure we wouldn't get hurt. Awesome. It was everything I ever wanted from a Chinese restaurant: they gave us the good stuff, and they were really, really nice about it, in a brusque but friendly Chinese kind of way.
Wow. That explosion of flavor and fire and complexity and subtlety and numbness, and that weird little high you get from this food? So good. We were told by two different servers that "this one will make you sweat". And it did, but it was never unpleasant, or even mildly too much. Just totally invigorating. It was such an interactive experience, and the main players kept an eye on us all the way through to see how we would react. The chef seemed very pleased. We certainly moaned enough...
Spicy Szechuan Peppercorn Beef with Cilantro - this had to have been the famous beef tendon. One nice fellow showed us where on the human arm this stuff would be located, and it has to be tendon. Oh my god, this was amazing. Just eat it and shut up. The nasty bits are always the best bits.
Fish Coriander Rolls: No sauce for dipping, just little fried finger-size rolls of fish and cilantro. I will never eat here without ordering these. Simple, elegant, and delicious.
Dan Dan Noodles: where have these been all my life? It's the ultimate comfort food for those of us Americans raised on well-cooked spaghetti, only with Dan Dan Noodles, you have to suffer a little bit as you earn your comfort. And still you want to thank someone, anyone, for your little bit of comfort, and beg for more. Oh sweet, sweet suffering...
Cumin Beef - just order it, and be done with it. Powerfully good stuff, one of the "dry" preperations, but don't let that keep you from the rice accompaniment.
Ma Po Tofu - so good. The wife got a little crazy with this one. One of the great, complex dishes, and a Szechaun classic, of course. Fiery goodness, and great with rice.
Snow Pea Shoots - one of our favorite vegetables, and done to perfection. Just the right bit of crunchy left in the stalks, with that soft greenness cooked into the leaves, with plenty of garlic and ginger.
Szechuan Duck - We prefer Peking Duck, ultimately, and we probably allowed ourselves to be steered too far into Szechuan territory with this one. All of our entrees (and two of our apps) were powerfully Szechaun, and we could have used something a little less on this one, something to contrast all the craziness. She gave us the option for another version of duck, but we just kept pushing towards the fiery and the spicy. Oh well.
Look, these guys are for real, and yet they embrace the adventurous Americans who venture in. I always though it was really hard to get authentic Chinese food around here, but Tasty China makes it feel like home. They genuinely wanted us to enjoy there fiery hellacious goodness, but they took care to keep us aware of how far we were venturing at every step. Not for the culinarily meek, for sure, but if your palate has any balls whatsoever, you should find yourself amazed at what Chinese food can be. Can it get any better? I would start ranting and raving and running around the room like a lunatic if I had Chinese food much better than this.
And yes, we ordered far too much food, on purpose. We wanted leftovers. We live in the Athens area, and we CRAVE food this good, which we previously only had a few times a year when visiting San Francisco or Charleston. I'm surprised food this good can be found in Atlanta. Seek it out, people! Feel the burn!
Honestly, I'm not trying to put anybody off. This food is not hot like hot wings or Mexican food with the Habeneros in. It's different: more subtle, more elusive, more complex, and much, much more interesting. Beautiful stuff, and HIGHLY recommended.
re: uptown jimmy
Since late summer--the word is out. The latest kitchen crew has the local Chinese community flocking in.
IMHO, TC is better than ever. Caution--TC can come to be addictive. I took a business associate there for lunch about a month ago, and since then he's averaging three times a week--once for lunch, once for office takeout, and once a week with his SO on the weekend.
You could make the drive from Athens in a little more than an hour on the weekends...
re: Steve Drucker
Yeah, the place is the real deal. Not to brag, but we've eaten very well over the years in a few of the country's major culinary hotspots, and TC is right up there. Just an amazing experience.
And yes, we've got the trip down to about 1.25 hours. We live just south of Athens, right around Madison, on 441, so hopping down to I-20 and then onto 285 is just a really quick jog, all things considered. Beats the nightmare of 316 to I-85 hands down.
Anyway, the only thing further I would say is that the various menus are pretty confusing. The lunch menu, dinner menu, and to-go menus don't really line up precisely, and it's probably your best bet to put yourself in the hands of the people in charge if you want the real stuff: you know, have the dinner menu open and use it as a guide, but let the server push you around a little bit, help you get the right things. And the dinner menu has some weird little details, places where certain dishes have had the English text whited-out, but there's some handwritten dish in Chinese, sort of the "secret menu" on the regular menu. But they really seem to want to please, no matter one's ethnicity, and as anybody who has tried in futility to get "the real deal" in so many Chinese restaurants knows, it's just so cool to have it heaped upon you with gusto. It was my intent to write down everything we ate, and our server even offered a piece of paper and pen and made sure I had all the names and menu #s of the dishes. Even then, some of her menu #s weren't anywhere on any menu. But we didn't care! It was just too much fun, and I think we walked away with something of a handle on what we ate.
One other thing: are the non-Szechaun dishes much better than their usual versions in other restaurants? In other words, if one ordered Egg Foo Young or Lo Mein or fried rice would the dishes be similarly amazing? Is there anything on the menu that isn't excellent, or at least better than most?
re: uptown jimmy
Uptown Jimmy wrote:
"it's probably your best bet to put yourself in the hands of the people in charge if you want the real stuff: you know, have the dinner menu open and use it as a guide, but let the server push you around a little bit, help you get the right things."
Additional proven methods:
--insist that you get a translation of what's on the specials board in Chinese
--look around, point and ask "what's that?"
Erstwhile Marietta CH 'Milt' -- neither of whose wife nor daughter craves Sichuan hot and numbing ma la-- reports that both have very much enjoyed the American Chinese menu offerings.
re: Steve Drucker
One more good method. I've been there twice in the last month or so--admittedly they know me, but I think it will work for anyone. Don't even look at the menu, or the Chinese board on the wall. Just sit down and tell them that you really want the good, authentic, Sichuan stuff, and you are prepared for ma-la and know what that means, and maybe you might like (insert beef, chicken, shrimp, vegetables, whatever main ingredient moves you) Then just let them tell you what they recommend. If you don't want all hot things, tell them you want a nice balance of hotness in the dishes. They are very good at giving you the best they have. You might wave your finger over the chef's specials part of the menu as an additional cue. Also, I've noticed they seem to frequently price the good stuff (entrees) at $12.95 a pop. I don't know if that's a secret code or what, but at least it may be a hint.
re: uptown jimmy
Follow-up regarding our second visit:
This time our experience was seriously marred by the presence of a HUGE crowd, the employees of some restaurant, I think, celebrating something or another at Tasty China. They were loud as heck, and the owner of the restaurant spent the better part of an hour yelling and shouting and handing out awards and prizes.
People, this is low-class behavior. If you're gonna throw a party at a restaurant, have the good grace to rent the place and close it to other customers for a few hours.
Our food tasted much better to us the next day when we had leftovers at home. This was a textbook example of how ambience and atmosphere can profoundly impact the enjoyment of a meal.
On another note, as they left, they were replaced by an almost entirely Chinese crowd, none of them speaking English as they chatted to each other, so I guess Tasty China is popular amongst Chinese folks, almost always a good sign for Chinese restaurants. It certainly bodes well for the place staying open.
re: uptown jimmy
Uptown Jimmy, my better half and I were there at the same time Sunday.
Yes, it was a holiday party for a well-reputed local restaurant. As I understand it, it was their second consecutive year of holding their holiday party at TC. And I agree--it made for a less than stellar dining room ambiance. That's Tasty China, always another surprise.
On your trek back and forth to Athens, you might want to stop in at Frank Ma's Dinho Restaurant in Chinatown Square in Chamblee (see thread with extensive recent pix at atlantacuisine.com) to score chive dumplings and onion cake to go. The main menu is pretty darn good too.
Sorry we were ships in the night at TC. Perhaps on another Sunday...?
anyone inquired them on the use of MSG? I recall last time there, the mouth just feels dry (sign of MSG in food) eventhough we're constantly drinking tea and water. Food was great though!
re: Liana Krissoff
What fun! We were three adults plus an almost-two-year-old, and I can't really tell you exactly what we ordered, as most of our choices were guided by our server's recommendations, but here's my best guess:
Hot and numbing dried beef: We were warned by our kind server that this dish was "hot and very dried," and we of course said, "Good! So much the better!" Slices of dried beef—sort of like jerky—coated in Sichuan peppercorn–infused marinade (or a rub or whatever it was), on top of shredded . . . some kind of cabbage maybe? . . . and hot chile oil, sprinkled with sesame seeds. I liked the chewiness and the peppercorn flavor of the beef, and the crispness of the bed of . . . cabbage? Not too hot. It was a bit one-note, but in a fine way.
Dry-fried green beans with garlic and ground pork: Simple and delicious. Absolutely packed with salty-good flavor, and the beans were cooked perfectly.
Sesame bubble bread: I've never had this before, and had wanted the scallion bread (told it was no longer available). Kind of bland and doughy, but I'm eating a wedge of it now so it can't be too bad.
Dan dan noodles: Again, not too hot (my daughter liked the noodles). Had it with pork.
Special of softball-sized pork meatball in broth with cabbage and glass noodles: Very flavorful, despite the beige-ness of it, and not hot. Ordered this for the daughter, and she liked it but was more interested in . . .
. . . Fish with green onion: Holy cow. I've really never had anything like this before. Bright yellow chunks of flaky fish, fried with cumin, Sichuan peppercorns (not too intense), etc. (described better above), with crisp lengths of scallion and some kind of green herby vegetable (anyone know what this was?). Intensely spicy. Probably the favorite dish of the table.
Shredded pork of some sort: I'm not sure what I ordered here, but it was kind of average, more like standard U.S. Chinese than the rest of the dishes.
Spicy beef with jalapeños, scallions, cumin: Dry fried, served sizzling on a platter. This was really great. Again the cumin made me very happy. I hadn't known it was used in Sichuan cooking until I started reading about Tasty China, and I was curious about how it would work, but it makes total sense—kind of adds an earthiness to the heat.
Ma po tofu: It looks spicier than it is. The bean curd was nice and delicate, the sauce subtle.
I may be forgetting a dish or two. Obviously we ordered enough for eight or ten people, but did so intending to bring a lot home, since we probably won't be able to make the six-hour round-trip drive again for a little while.
EDIT: I forgot to mention one of our favorite dishes, the fish and coriander rolls. Not *lightly* fried, by any means, but pleasantly crisp outside and juicy inside. Simple, mild, and easy. The little one ate the filling right out of the wrapper.
All these posts make me want to eat here so badly. It's so rare to find fantastic Asian food, well anywhere around the south. I feel like such an idiot for moving out of state before eating here. I am incredibly jealous of you all. One day soon a pilgrimage will be made to Tasty China. Please keep up all these great dish descriptions!
My brother and I made a trip there yesterday for lunch. We were craving dim sum and I wanted to try someplace new besides China Delight and some of the other so-so places. I know Tasty China doesn't do dim sum but thought we could do a variety of appetizers. It was by far one of the best meals I've had so far this year and I've been to some great places in both Birmingham (where I live) and Chapel Hill/Durham (where I work).
We got there at 11:35 b/c zagat.com said they opened at 11:30 on Sundays. The open sign was lit up and the door open. A woman greeted us after a while and said we were early but she was really nice. Come to find out they don't open until noon. Oops. We explained to her that we had never been and so she was happy to recommend several dishes. She also steered us to some dishes that koreans typically like (my brother and I are obviously korean). We ordered the dan-dan noodles, pork belly in garlic mud, the deep fried dried eggplant, soup dumplings, and the beef roll. The noodles came first. They had a beautiful aroma and were quite delicious. The pork belly came next. My brother took one bite and started moaning. He said it was the single best dish he's had so far this year. My take? I really liked the flavor profile but I would have preferred to have had it crisped up so the fat had a little more texture to it. The flavor was there though. My complete favorite were the fried eggplant. They look like thick cut seasoned french fries w/sauteed peppers and scallions on top. It was beyond divine. I highly recommend that when you go to Tasty China to definitely order this. It was a truly magnificent dish. The soup dumplings were so so--I was expecting the softball size ones I saw on No Reservations episode. They were decidedly smaller and the filling was just ok. The beef rolls were good but were more like a tortilla wrap w/lettuce and the seasoned meat in the middle. I found the wrapper and the lettuce to detract from the dish. The nice woman suggested that we get the beef w/cilantro instead of the wrap since it didn't have the wrapper but a similar flavor. I will get that next time. The meat had a wonderful flavor.
My brother and I noticed that our tongues were tingling throughout the meal. We were also sweating but it wasn't an uncomfortable burn at all. He said the tingling was probably from the sichuan peppers/peppercorns.
Thanks to Steve Drucker for letting us chowhounds know about it! The next time I"m back in Atlanta, this is a definite go to for a great meal.
Driven into a near frenzy of excitement by the 2006 report by Steve Drucker, but also realizing that the report was nearly 2 years old, my wife and I decided to go and see for ourselves whether Tasty China was still the real deal.
Upon arriving shortly after noon on a Sunday, what I saw was not the crowd often described in postings, but a fairly empty restaurant. Not be deterred, and encouraged by what appeared to be a group of Chinese grad students heading for the restaurant, we soldiered on. The chef came out to talk to this group about some of the specials they had, etc, and we overhead the conversation (with my wife interpreting the Chinese) and got even more excited.
We were brought the menus, and saw many of the dishes described in the 2006 Drucker report and in some of the subsequent posts. However, about 50% of this extensive list of dishes had a line drawn through the number in pencil, which we later found out means that they no longer make that particular dish. The person who waited on us seemed to be the owner, and was clearly not Chinese. She also seemed to be quite pushy, and perhaps a bit more comfortable with the customers who wanted more “American-Style” Chinese food. Luckily, another waitress came to our rescue and we eventually settled on 4 dishes: the fish/cilantro spring rolls, pork belly in garlic mud, dry fried eggplant (not on the menu but still offered), and a special consisting of beef tendons, clear noodles, and the red spicy Sichuan peppercorn sauce.
For authentic Sichuan flavor, these dishes were dead-on. The pork belly in garlic mud was a standard Sichuan dish that I have had in many restaurants, and this was a very nicely spiced dish (but because of the fat content, a little bit goes a long way). The dry fried eggplant was a surprise dish that had very crispy and expertly prepared eggplant with fried green onions and Sichuan peppercorns. This dish, however, was very salty, which ruined some of the subtleties of the flavor and attenuated our enthusiasm. The beef tendon dish was a clay pot full of clear noodles, and a very spicy, broth-like Sichuan peppercorn sauce. The tendons were very soft and chewy, and were very flavorful. The flavoring of this dish was also dead-on, tasting exactly like dishes I’ve had in China. Finally, the fish/cilantro spring rolls were a very nice complement to the other spicy dishes, with very fresh tasting fish combined with the lightness of the cilantro in a spring roll wrapper, and delicately fried, resulting in a thin, cigar-sized roll. They were very light for fried dish, and a perfect match for the meal.
Overall, the seasoning and spices were very authentic, and the dishes were very good. However, the dishes were way too salty, which really made it difficult to enjoy all of the subtleties of the other spices, and the pushiness of the owner was a big negative.
I posted about our visit to Frank Ma's yesterday, but the thread seems to be a non-starter, so I'll repeat the scuttlebut here.
First off, Frank Ma claims to have turned Atlanta on to Tasty China. Is that true? He also says the place has been sold again. He said there was some internal tension amongst the major players and that he has no idea if the food is still good.
This is major news for us. We loved our meal at Frank Ma's, and will gladly fall back on it, but Tasty China was eaily one of the best meals I've had in my 38 years, just mind-blowingly good. Why the heck is the place always in such flux? And does anybody have any further news? Is the chef still there, and if not, where is he? That guy needs a stable gig in a restaurant run by level-headed folk. He's a freaking artist.
re: uptown jimmy
1. Glad you enjoyed Frank Ma's. look over on atlantacuisineDOTcom for the Frank Ma's thread for recommendations & pix--also look on the AC Gatherings thread for a ton of pix.. Quick takes: Husband and Wife, spicy, Onion Cake, Chive Dumpling, Soup dumplings, Home Style Tofu spicy, 3 cup chicken, Fish in Hot Oil, Snow Pea Leaves, Hot boiled lamb, Sherlihon, Smoked Pork Belly with Leeks and Jalapenos, Taiwan Chicken Roll, Shredded Pork and Mustard Green Soup. There are a lot more, its a big menu...
2. To my knowledge as of five days ago, Tasty China has not been sold. Quite the contrary, biz is very very good.
3. Frank Ma did, in fact, alert me to Tasty China. It happened the summer after Frank closed his last incarnation. I called him up looking for a lead, bemoaning the fact that I no longer had any go-to Chinese restaurant. He said neither did he, but that he had heard that there was 'an award winning chef' at some place up in Marietta. Armed with that info, and some really sketchy directions, the rest is documented up thread.
4. Frank has been in the restaurant biz since the early 70's. He's really attuned to customers. If your requirements are unusual (as in ordering for 12 when 3 are at the table), yes, you had better explain yourself. Else Frank will do if for you. :-)
re: Steve Drucker
My wife and I drove over from Birmingham to Atlanta to attend a concert last night. The location of the concert was only about two miles from Tasty China in Marietta, so we decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
We arrived about 5:30, just as the only other couple in the place was finishing their meal. I am sorry to say that, when we left about an hour later, no one else had sat down. I hope it was just a slow evening, because this is a place that MUST survive.
We were immediately greeted by a woman who must have been the owner. As described in the post above, she is a bit pushy, but she also made two great suggestions for our entrees, and she also volunteered information about the food when it was served and talked to us later about how to tell authentic Szechuan cooking (see below).
We began our meal with an order of the cilantro and fish spring rolls, since they had been mentioned favorably several times in earlier posts. They were unlike anything we had ever had before. The consistency of the cilantro was almost like spinach, and the cilantro taste was not all that strong. Definitely a winner.
For one of our entrees, the owner suggested pork with bamboo shoots. This was definitely on the spicy side. The flavor was excellent and the portion size was enormous. I forget the exact cost but it was somewhere between $8 and $9. We both ate a lot and still brought home about 1/3 of it.
For out other entrée, we requested something a bit less spicy, with shrimp. She suggested salted pepper shrimp. This dish was priced at $11.95, and must have had a dozen very nice-sized shrimp in it. Remembering the immediately preceding post, we indicated that we hoped the shrimp would not be too salty. She said that she would tell the chef to go light on the salt, and we, in fact, heard her give that instruction to him when she went back to the kitchen with our order. This dish turned out to be similar to one we have had at other Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, where it was called salt-baked shrimp. There were several differences in the preparation at Tasty China, however, that made their version stand out. First, the shrimp had been peeled; previously, we had always been served this dish with the shells still on the shrimp. Deep-frying the shrimp with the shells on makes eating them that way perfectly acceptable, but we did enjoy them more without the shells. Second, the shrimp were served on a bed of dry-fried cilantro topped with lightly sautéed diced onion and thin slices of jalapeno. Because this was to be our mild dish, we immediately set the jalapeno slices off to the side, and what remained was superb. This time, the cilantro taste came through more, and it (along with the onion) was a very tasty accompaniment to the perfectly fried very fresh shrimp.
The owner explained that the look of this second entrée was designed to remind one of a shrimp net as it was lifted out of the sea, with not only shrimp, but seaweed and bits of oyster or clam shell in the mix as well. We agreed that it did indeed have that look.
As we were finishing up, the owner told us that there were three characteristics of true Szechuan style cooking that we should always look for: oil, spiciness and salt. However, she was also quick to add that any of these elements could be adjusted to suit a diner’s preference. Certainly, in our case, we found none of the dishes over-salted at all. As far as the oil component is concerned, they note on their take-out menu that, for a slight extra charge, they will use olive oil to prepare a dish (I don’t remember if that was also indicated on the dine-in menu).
My only regret about last night’s dinner is that it’s now going to be difficult to do without Tasty China’s food on a regular basis; while there are a couple of decent Chinese restaurants in Birmingham, we have nothing that can compare with Tasty China. We’re going to have to figure out a way to get to Atlanta more often, and we need to bring others with us as well, so we can try more dishes. We’d really like to have a go at the hot and numbing beef rolls and the dry-fried green beans with ground pork and garlic mentioned in an earlier post, as well as to see what other dishes the owner suggests.
re: Steve Drucker
Looked on the atlantacuisine.com site - Frank Ma's post - I can't get on the site and don't know anyone personally, so I hope this post finds you and you can relay to the crew that, yes, I do plan to attend the Frank Ma's dinner and am looking forward to meeting all of you - the menu looks terrific! Worst case scenario, I'll sit close by and order off the menu!
I ate there about a month ago and the exact same thing happened to me. It was kind of a bummer, as I was very excited to eat there and wanted to order some items that you nice folks had recommended. I was overruled two out of four and told to order 2 others. Why bother having a menu? She was, very, very inhospitable. She acted like she didn't even want us to be in there and refused to let us order appetizers before entrees. I believe her exact words were "you don't know...."
ps. her recommendations were fine, but after reading that blog I wonder about her intentions
I have to admit that this one was new to me. I keep an office in Chamblee and eat asian 2-4 times a week and didnt think anything off Buford Hwy would come close, but this place is great. I had a similar chinese restaurant past greens liquor store on the right in a new two story center that has since changed owners that I thought was the best.They had and still do the same dry eggplant dish that rocks. It is a shame that most things that pass for chinese are so greasy and slimy...... Tasty China does not leave you with that sick feeling - dont mistake the chili oil for regular greasy chinese.
I had the dan dan noodles that were in the chili oil with minced beef and scallions - excellent
fish and cilantro rolls - are you kidding I'll take 9 please
shan city twice cooked pork - wafer thin slices of pork cooked with leaks, almost a dry style, not woodear mushrooms cloaked in that cloying sauce you get elsewhere
And I love the ambience!
Recently I have been to a new chinese restaurant off shallowford rd in Doraville called Delicious Kabob, the lamb kabob is always very good, it was grilled just right with heavy cumin flavors, and they serve northern chinese cuisine, very tasty and unique. Heard Chef Liu who used to be the Tasty China's chef is the master chef over there. They serve Szechuan cuisine as well.
This is the very first time that I heard about a sichuan restaurant in Atlanta out of China Town! (which is a plaza). I normally go to China Kitchen in ChinaTown in Chamblee. There is anothe restaurant in Peachtree Industrial called China Inn, very good but more pricy. China Kitchen is in the food court. They have the best sichuan that I have had so far in here. I can compared it with the ones I had in China and I am not disappointed at all. The only thing of China Town is that for to get the real thing you must read or speak Chinese or know what you want.
I am totally looking to drive to this place!
I have been to Tasty China several times, and it is amazing. You have to force them to let you order the good stuff, but amazing when you do. Peter Chang is no longer there that is well known but some of you may not know he is now in Knoxville at a place called Hong Kong house, there are some that refute him being there but i asked my server and then he came out. There was the legend from the picture wearing a floppy chefs hat and in a "Batali" esque move a pair of shorts. If you want truly amazing Chinese in Atlanta drive to Knoxville. The food at Tasty China is good but not like the real thing from the man himself. So if you have some free time on maybe a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, make the three hour trip and have your friends label you "food wierdo" when you tell them about your journey for a hot pot and some pig tongue. Oh by the way cilantro beef roll at Hong Kong house, is as good as anything i have ever eaten.