What a wonderful errand I had this afternoon. I drove to an endodontist near the intersection of Powers Ferry and Windy Hill roads in East Cobb County to get a root canal.
I arrived at 1:30 but was informed my torture would not begin until 3 p.m., after all. Disinclined to spend 90 minutes in the waiting room, listening to the shrill whine of drills, I took the advice of the dental assistants and went looking for a "gentle lunch."
"You better fill up your belly now," one of the girls shouted as I left, "because you sure aren't going to feel like eating when this is over."
I had not been out this way in a few years. Not long after I left home for college, my parents moved not far from this area to be among the original settlers of Atlanta Country Club. It seemed like the middle of nowhere to me then. Now, of course, East Cobb, which was once the fasting growing area in America, is like a gigantic traffic exchange that makes driving in Los Angeles idyllic.
Driving around, with my tooth throbbing only mildly, I came across Vatica (1475 Terrell Mill Rd., 770-955-3740), an Indian vegetarian restaurant whose window included a sign that offered all-you-can-eat thali for $8.99.
The last lunch table was leaving when I entered. I asked the man whom I assumed was the owner if he was still serving. "Perhaps," he said. "Yes, sure....I will find you something."
He showed me to a booth overseen, as is every booth, by a picture of a beautiful Indian woman. Under the glass atop the table was a rather depressing rant about the good old days when you could tell the sexes apart and Coke was a drink and grass was something you mowed and so forth. Who expects 1970s Borscht Belt comedy in an Indian restaurant?
My host returned to the table with a glass of water. "May I see a menu?" I asked.
"No," he said, laughing. "There is no menu. You must settle for what I choose to give you."
In short, whether you eat here at dinner or lunch, you will be served the day's thali (above, left), a platter of bread and rice with small containers of stews and soups. Vatica's website explains that its cooking style is from the state of Gujarati in northwest India, but the thali style is popular throughout the country.
In all honesty, when my thali arrived, my first thought was, "This is no bargain at $8.99," but I felt better when an employee wheeled out a cart to refill my tiny bowls. Everything was familiar — lentil soup, spicy potatoes, a stew of cauliflower and broccoli, a dal of yellow lentils, raita. The only really disappointing thing on the plate was the puri — chewy and cold. But that may be the result of my late arrival for lunch.
I asked the owner what "Vatica" means and he said it means "hot."
"But this food is very mild," I said.
"Yes it is," he said. "Would you like me to bring you some chilies?"
On the way out of the restaurant, I noticed a review that said "Vatica" refers to a peaceful garden. So, I have no idea. But the food, while not as exotic as you'll find at southern Indian restaurants like Udipi, is quite satisfying.
A few doors down from Vatica, I found myself at a grocery named Goianao (770-618-2710). A beautiful young woman was sitting at the lone cash register eating some kind of frozen confection.
"Is this a Brazilian grocery?" I asked.
"Yes it is," she said.
"Why are there so many Brazilian businesses around here?" I asked, having seen several nearby. I knew, too, that Sal Grosso, a Brazilian steak house, or churrascaria, was also nearby on Powers Ferry.
"I have no idea," she said, "but it's really weird, isn't it?"
The main point of interest here is the butcher shop in the back (above, right). If you've visited any of the city's churrascarias, you'll recognize some of the cuts and sausages. Perhaps you could prepare your own 10-course, all-meat meal at home.
I returned to the dentist's office for my session of torture, but, for various reasons, it was not to happen today. Oh well, I enjoyed lunch and sightseeing.
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