I've been proven wrong again. And I'm eating better!
About a year ago, I wrote a "first look" at Miso Izakaya (619 Edgewood Ave., 678-701-0128, www.tapanese.com) in Inman Park. Although I found the space charming, the food seemed to me to be a litany of clichés that could be found in just about any mainstream Japanese restaurant. That changed somewhat by the time Food Editor Besha Rodell reviewed the restaurant a few months later.
Now there's been a big change. I don't know what motivated chef/owner Guy Wong to move toward some very creative dishes, but the new menu is delightful. He has, for example, produced what amount to four Japanese sliders. He doesn't call them that, but that's what they are: sliders made with the delicate, melt-in-you-mouth buns popular throughout Asia. They are flat and Wong folds them over, pinning the bun and its contents together.
The best thing about these buns is their garnish. For example, the hamburg bun, probably my favorite, is made with a patty of freshly ground pork belly and beef, topped with a fried quail egg and some grilled onions. Then there's another of duck confit with star anise jus, scallions and hoisin sauce. I also loved the pork belly with daikon, red pepper and cilantro. The most conventional is the katsu – a panko-crusted fried pork cutlet with sake mustard cabbage, Each of these is only $4 and, believe me, three will make a full meal.
Wong has also added a japadog, very similar to a dish at Wonderful World Burgers in Emory Village. It's an all-beef weenie submerged in a bun with teriyaki-Japanese mayo, seaweed and onions. It's a great excuse to pig out on the world's best mayo.
Other dishes we sampled, at a second dinner, included the hamachi kama, basically the deep-fried cheeks of hamachi. This is not a new dish but is one of the don't-misses here. Pick the sweet, fatty meat from the crunchy bones and dunk it in the ponzu sauce. A newbie we did try was chunks of lobster tail sautéed with ginger, garlic and scallions. A carrot puree was also part of the mix. In our view, this was the least successful dish of the evening (and the most expensive at $15). We just couldn't detect the taste of the lobster behind the spices.
On the other hand, salt-and-pepper fried quail – two of them – were flush with flavor, served over grated cabbage with bits of some serious hot red peppers. A bowl of homemade udon-like pasta tossed with kim chee and pieces of pork belly was an interesting blend of comfort food made just short of fiery.
I was in a serious food coma when we finished but our server announced that the restaurant was serving two ice creams it commissioned Morelli's to make. Morelli's? I'll take it. Lots of it. One of these was a black sesame seed concoction and the other was made with roasted bananas. Both provoked Morelli's usual shiver of pleasure.
The staff here is young, energetic and upbeat. They are also quite familiar with the menu and will make interesting suggestions instead of the usual safe ones. This is doubly important because much of the menu type is unreadably small! Carry your monocle.
Miso Izakaya is a pub, of course, and there's a lengthy drink menu. I don't drink, so I can't say much about that. There's also a sushi bar and I haven't sampled that, either. I think the real attraction here is Wong's increasingly creative work, including the considerable wit that came up with slider buns. I probably should warn you that much of the menu seems to be evolving, so you might want to ask for details before you order something. I had a few dishes arrive a bit different from their description. I'm not complaining. I'm just sayin'.
In Ansley Park
The two brothers who own Gilbert's have opened Hobnob (1551 Piedmont Ave., 404-968-2288, www.hobnobatlanta.com) in the former Caribou Coffee building across from Ansley Mall. They have split up the space into cozy nooks inside. There's also a heated porch and a patio that's bound to be a major hangout space come spring.
The problem with this location has always been the lack of parking. There are maybe eight spaces on the premises and they're hard to get in and out of. One of the owners – I was recognized – told me that they've solved the problem by hiring a valet and securing private and street parking in the area. So don't let the parking problem keep you away.
I've lunched twice at the restaurant – including its first day serving lunch – but I haven't tried dinner yet. I'll follow up on that soon. I was, however, very satisfied with the quality of both lunches. There's a substantial menu of burgers and my eye, as usual, went straight to the lamb burger. Although a bit more heavily seasoned than I like, it was delicious, huge and served with a mound of super-crispy fries (there are more healthful alternatives).
I was even more impressed the next day with a couple of small plates. I ordered fried green tomatoes, crispy with a chipotle-cornmeal coating and served with tomato-horseradish relish and crumbled goat cheese. A bit of balsamic reduction moistened things. I also ordered four huge shrimp – they actually tasted like shrimp – over a "Havarti cheese grit cake" with a cajun andouille butter. Also just about perfect.
The staff of the restaurant is terrific. Standouts during my visits were my server Matty, and Vanessa, who was behind the bar. They are Servers of the Week and you may want to ask for them when you visit.
By the way, apparently there was quite a bidding war for this location. Owner Sean Yeremyan told me more than a dozen people made proposals for the location. It's a great addition to an area of town that has been in need of another mid-priced restaurant.
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