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Omnivore - Surreal meal, bologna flashback, wet underwear

Visits to Saigon Cafe, The Shed and Starbucks

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This week's "Grazing" took me on a tour of some inexpensive intown alternatives. As usual, I reached my word limit before I could include everything. I intended to visit the new Decatur Diner but on my way there, I spied Saigon Cafe (2092 North Decatur Road, Decatur, 404-728-8882) and decided to stop.

This group of restaurants — one of which opened not too long ago on Peachtree — is operated by the same people who own Saigon Basil (1870 Piedmont Ave., 404-892-8688). I frequently pick up a noodle bowl there for lunch, as I've reported many times. Saigon Basil serves Thai dishes, which I've never sampled, as well as Vietnamese.

Saigon Cafe is the same and the manager told me the Thai menu is in fact being expanded in the next few weeks. We chatted a bit about the way Thai food is still more popular than Vietnamese.

The Vietnamese menu at Saigon Cafe is somewhat more complex than Saigon Basil's. I ate a rice dish topped with baked egg, shredded tofu and roasted chicken over rice. It was actually quite good, as were a pair of spring rolls and my drink of black tea and milk with tapioca.

However, ambiance and service at the restaurant were almost comically strange. Start with the fact that my dinner wasn't actually what I ordered. I told the server, he apologized, but I decided to keep it.

I dined alone about 9 p.m., an hour before closing, so the restaurant wasn't crowded. But the staff was basically having a party while they cleaned up, yelling at one another in the dining room, laughing hysterically and tossing a rag now and then.

At one point, a server came to my table, asked if my food was okay and burst into laughter before I could answer. She covered her mouth and hurried away. I wasn't offended but I couldn't help feeling a bit paranoid. Were they laughing at me? I'd already told them they'd sent the wrong food out. Maybe I just looked funny. Maybe there was rice stuck to my nose. I wiped my face. The laughter continued.

I looked around the dining room. Nobody else seemed distracted by the noise. I was eating in a Vietnamese "Twilight Zone." I couldn't wait to leave.....

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It was bound to happen. As I reported earlier, the Ansley Starbucks, has remodeled and installed ridiculously small tables. The base of the tables is actually larger than the top. I foolishly tried to put my cup of coffee on the table with my laptop and, within a few minutes, spilled the entire cup on myself, soaking my pants right through to my underwear. I'm grateful I didn't spill the stuff on my laptop, but I didn't enjoy causing people to wriggle their noses and complain that they smelled coffee everywhere I went the rest of the day. Larger tabletops are on the way, the manager promises....

It's time for my weekly Slider Report. Lance Gummere, chef at The Shed, produced quite a few new $3 sliders last night, Wednesday, including fried trout with housemade tartar sauce, pork belly with sauerkraut, fried mushrooms with provolone, turkey and — surely not — bologna with American cheese.

But my favorite of all was back, chicharrones stewed in green sauce, and I was tempted to order two. But I wanted to try the pork belly with kraut — a terrific contrast with the sour flavor cutting right through the fatty meat. Morbid curiosity required that I also try the fried bologna. I handed it to Wayne after one bite. We all have nostalgic recollections of fried bologna but the adult experience does not live up to the memory, at least not for me.