Monday, September 13, 2010

Cafe 101 - Atlanta

Going for lunch at Café 101, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At the time I had no idea what sort of Chinese food they served or whether this once revered restaurant had indeed suffered a downfall. I simply walked in with a clean slate and an open mind.

Ignoring the odd architecture and the terrible tint on the windows, Jennifer and I started to flip through the menu. As always I looked for anything marked highlighted in red, marked with a chili, or labeled as spicy. Conveniently one page was almost entirely marked with chilies. Containing the seafood section and the aptly named “Spicy Boiled Dish” section, I took a closer look only to notice there were a lot of familiar Sichuan names on the menu.

Before we had a chance to order some complimentary dishes were brought to the table.

A bowl of pickled sweet cabbage that was quite spicy and had a delightful crunch.

In addition to the cabbage, we each received a bowl of hot and sour soup.

There wasn’t much to this soup, more like egg drop soup with chianking vinegar and tofu, but it was still quite pleasant.

The first dish to the table was a bowl of Spicy Boiled Sliced Beef.

I first came to know this dish as Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce or Shuizhu niurou from Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Land of Plenty”.

With this example of the dish, there are plenty large slices of very tender beef, but not much of the “ma la” or numbing that I’ve come to expect with Sichuan cuisine. However, there was a fair amount of heat to make up for the lack of numbing. Accompanying the beef was big chunks of garlic and a fair amount of cabbage making for a pretty solid dish.

Next on the list of Sichuan favorites was a brilliantly red bowl of Mapo Tofu & Ground Pork.

Once again the effects of the Sichuan peppercorns were minimal.

Even without the prickly ash, I still thoroughly enjoyed the large silky blocks of tofu and the oddly subtle spiciness of the sauce.

One thing my sister and I have in common is our love of dumplings, so it’s natural that we agreed to try an order of the Pan Fried Pot Stickers.

With a doughy wrapper and a simple ground pork and green onion filling, there wasn’t anything special about these pot stickers.

Looking to round out our trio of Sichuan dishes, the Szechuan Dan-Dan Noodles were the last to arrive.

Much like the pot stickers, this bowl of Dan-Dan Noodles was completely forgettable.

Consisting of little more than a sesame sauce, some greens, and noodles, I was disappointed in this lackluster bowl.

Perhaps focusing on the Sichuan aspects of the menu at Café 101 wasn’t a prudent decision, but I was exceedingly disappointed in what we did receive. While the service was excellent, the dishes prompt to arrive, and some of the food was relatively enjoyable, overall the food and it’s missing “ma la” was simply a letdown. I’ve read that Café 101 is supposed to be a more Taiwanese oriented restaurant, but if they can’t pull off some of my Sichuan favorites, I don’t have much hope for their takes on Taiwanese cuisine.

Café 101 on Urbanspoon

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