Mail call

Eclectic suggestions are in the bag

Your mail, by voice or Internet, is always welcome. This week, I'm responding to some of it.

Bibi of AOL writes: "I'm feeling the economic crunch like everyone else. Where can I go for comfort food that's not going to cost me a high percentage of my shrinking paycheck?"

Look to neighborhood restaurants, Bibi. One that I like is Carroll Street Cafe in Cabbagetown. Besides serving a killer breakfast and lunch, the restaurant is open for dinner, with specials, after 6 p.m.

Last week, I had a huge filet wrapped in apple-smoked bacon and served in one of the best pepper sauces I've encountered in a long time. It was served with scalloped potatoes and (rather overcooked) green beans. The price, with a salad, was $16.95. Other specials included grilled chicken with raspberry sauce and pepper-crusted mahi mahi.

You also can order from the menu of sandwiches and pastas, almost all of which are under $8.

The best inexpensive choices remain Asian restaurants on Buford Highway (see the list below), but other intown choices include Apres Diem (French, Midtown), Eats (American noodle shop, with jerk chicken, Midtown), The King and I (Thai, Midtown), Las Palmeras (Cuban, Midtown), Udipi (Indian, Decatur), Olive Bistro (Middle Eastern, Little Five Points), teaspace (Japanese, Little Five Points), The Colonnade (Southern, Cheshire Bridge) and Bagel Palace (deli, Toco Hills).

Rico called to insist he had a good meal at Gilbert's, despite my panning the place. ... Someone had the nerve to e-mail that he thought he saw me eating sushi from Publix at the Ansley Starbucks. Yep. It's not very good, but imitation crab is rich in protein and it's convenient when I'm writing there. The grocery store has the nerve to make nigiri with salmon, tuna or smoked eel and then inevitably package it with rolls of imitation crab. But it charges about $1 per piece, anyway.

Despite my reviewing them both, I continue to get lots of inquiries about Wisteria and Babette's. Wisteria serves new Southern cooking in Babette's former location, and it's mainly good. Babette's, where I dined again not long ago, is better than ever, although prices seem to have increased to the point where you can easily spend $40 on dinner with wine.

Terrible news about Panda Inn from a reader:

"I went to the Panda Inn anticipating another great meal. The sign read Din Ho Chinese Restaurant. My friend and I went in anyway. His order of twice-cooked pork was a large portion of limp greasy bacon under a 40-weight brown sauce and three scallion shreds. My dish was mall-food-court bad.

Worse yet, there were none of the wonderful pickles or preserved chili, ginger and garlic sauce. An order for spring rolls was a strange bean-paste-stuffed greasy mess. Yuck!"

Well, I have tried to get the scoop but haven't learned anything yet. Panda Inn was, by almost universal agreement among the city's dining critics, our area's best Chinese restaurant.

A chatty e-mail from John Schag:

"I went with some friends for dim sum for the first time, to Canton House. It was excellent. My friends eat there often and cut their dim sum in half with their chopsticks. This looks odd to me, and I'm wondering if the Chinese do that or just pop the whole dumpling in their mouth."

I just lift the entire dumpling to my mouth, take a bite and then return the remainder to my plate if I'm not going to eat it immediately. Canton House, on Buford Highway, has been one of my own favorites for dim sum, but lately it's declined in quality and I've returned to Oriental Pearl.

John goes on: "I ran into the cheese guy from Star Provisions (can't remember his name) at Five Seasons Brewing. He always gave great advice on cheese, and I find that I know more than the people working there now. I asked him when he was opening his new place. I assumed from your article that it would be a cheese shop. He said you may have jumped the gun on that statement and he didn't know when or if he would be doing it."

That would be Raymond Hook and I don't believe I ever wrote that he was opening his own cheese shop. Last I heard, Raymond is working private parties. His showing up at Five Seasons, Dennis Lange's wonderful place in Sandy Springs at the Prado, is yet another endorsement of one of the best restaurants to open here in the last year.

Finally, John writes: "I haven't gone anywhere on Buford Highway except for Taco Veloz and Canton House. Can you recommend an Asian restaurant on Buford that serves interesting food?"

Taco Veloz should have been included in my recent brief roundup of burritos. The chile relleno burrito or taco from this drive-thru is one of the city's treasures. I received several other recommendations for burritos, including Willy's Mexican Grill in Marietta and at Peachtree Center downtown, Taqueria del Sol, Sundown Cafe and Great Western Burrito Co. I can think of many more.

As for Asian food on Buford Highway, the choices are limitless. My don't-miss for Vietnamese food is Bien Thuy. For haute Korean, try the royal menu at the new Yong Su San. For Korean barbecue, go to Hae Woon Dae. For Korean soup, go to 88 Tofu House or Chosun Ok.

For fiery Chinese, try Little Szechwan (and don't miss the fried anchovies with peanuts). For homestyle Chinese cooked Korean-style, try Pung Mie and don't fail to order the hot braised chicken. For Malaysian, try Penang, one of the most interesting menus in the city and one that will convert your most finicky friends into lovers of the exotic.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voice mail at

404-688-5623, ext. 1504.??

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