The Christiane Chronicles: Atlanta’s dining scene has Korean soul, but authentic Thai is hard to find

Raves and rants from veteran dining authority Christiane Lauterbach
Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Rave: Soul to Seoul
When I meet people who say they dislike Korean food, I want to grab them by the ear and drag them to a table full of dishes that defy all of their preconceived notions. Not everything is about kimchi, raw garlic, and weird fermented sauces. You’d know this if you ate anywhere on and off Pleasant Hill Road in Gwinnett County, which feels like a suburb of Seoul thanks to countless Korean supermarkets, spas, herbalists, karaoke dens, and bakeries. In recent years, hipsters have started pushing kimchi, Korean-style pork belly, and the occasional burning-hot tofu soup known as soondubu jjigae. That’s progress. It’s about time we realize that Korean food isn’t as unusual as we might think.

If you like grits, try the rice porridge with black sesame seeds at Bonjuk. If sushi rolls are your thing, switch to the inexpensive kimbaps filled with marinated beef and other proteins at the cute Dan Moo Ji. Barbecue fanatics should worship places like Honey Pig, Iron Age, and 678 Korean BBQ, where customers grill their own meats in the middle of the table. Korea’s most famous dish, bibimbap—pronounced “b-bim-bap”—is basically rice casserole with a runny egg on top. Crispy fried chicken, cheese-crust pizza, large dumplings, chicken noodle soup—I can keep going. And if you still don’t know where to eat and what to order, the 12-course tasting menu at Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House—$90 for two, a bargain—is just the right gateway.

Courtesy of istockphoto.com
Courtesy of istockphoto.com

Rant: Bad Thai
I’ve been everywhere in this city, and I’m certain that out of all of the Asian cuisines, our Thai restaurants are the least authentic. Don’t bother debating me on the merits of Nan Thai Fine Dining versus Thai Chili or the incredibly weird Panita Thai Kitchen in Virginia-Highland. And yes, I’ve been to the funky Little Bangkok on Cheshire Bridge. All of them are uniformly uninteresting, relying too much on palm sugar and curry pastes. They’re also unjustly expensive. Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft has a hip setting with a good bar scene, but too often the kitchen clashes sweet, salty, and burnt on the same plate. The best Thai experience used to be Sunday brunch at Thaicoon & Sushi Bar on Briarcliff Road. They underwent a redesign, and some of the dumplings and pork dishes now feel heavier than in the past. Still, it’s my favorite place to interact with the Thai community and dive into a bowl of rice noodle soup or a plate of rice with crispy pork and spinach.

Field notes:

  • If I can’t pronounce kouign-amann, nobody can, but we should all make a beeline for these puffy pastries from Brittany, whose buttery goodness is fully understood by Sarah O’Brien of the Little Tart Bakeshop.
  • I don’t care how many ramen pop-ups come and go in Atlanta. I have the right to eat ramen—good ramen—without having to put it on my calendar.
  • Why does every restaurant insist on using thick, wooden boards the size of the table to serve their charcuterie, cheese, and whole carved chickens? They look unhygienic and remind me of deforestation.
This article originally appeared in our January 2015 issue. 

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