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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chow Bing: Bubble tea and burritos

The newest restaurant in the Grant Park area is Chow Bing, in the Pencil Factory Lofts on Decatur Street. It replaces the Beignet Connection, a Cajun/Creole cafe that started out great but quickly bombed when its opening chef departed.

Chow Bing's owner is Gary Lin, who also operates R Rice and Papa Chow respectively in the Sandy Springs and airport areas. An employee told me Sunday night that Lin is looking for another location for Chow Bing in the Buckhead area. It's a great concept: Everything on the menu is sourced. The menu has this statement about ethics at work here:

Premium quality, first choice and superior price values are the foundation of our business. By using all natural meats that are humanely raised with NO antibiotics or growth hormones. Sustainable seafood and vegetables that are locally sourced, as practically as possible prepared daily with only fresh ingredients, all prepared in eco-friendly packaging.

So, what's the menu like? Kinda strange.

The main attraction is burritos (also available bowl-style without the tortilla). You have the option of choosing from a list of already concocted rolls to which you can add extras. Or you can build one all by yourself from a fairly extensive list of of ingredients.

Wayne and I each tried a burrito. I got the grilled shrimp with brown rice, purple slaw, and a spicy cilantro-lime sauce. I subtracted the usual scallions and added pickled carrots and chopped peanuts. There were problems. While the shrimp's taste was above-average in our town, the burrito was major-bland. The cilantro-lime sauce was so light I couldn't taste it. So, I loaded it up with Sriracha sauce.

Wayne ordered the "roasted 5 spice beef" with rice, shredded cheese, and grilled mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers. It also contained some super-fiery jalapenos. I truly disliked this burrito. As Wayne noted, the beef was of the same type you encounter in pho, but it had a strong gamey taste to me. Wayne loaded it down with the restaurant's soy-garlic sauce which I found so strong that it overwhelmed all other tastes.

I also ordered a "little Bing," a taco with panko-fried tofu (right photo). It looked like a fish stick and had utterly no flavor. Tofu usually amounts to texture that absorbs other flavors. (I like to cook it with kimchi.) But there was nothing - just a few spots of sauce, making it extremely dry unless I dipped it in the ubiquitous soy-garlic sauce.

The highlight of the meal was probably the taro bubble tea mixed with coconut rum and topped with whipped cream tinged with vodka (left photo). Not drinking alcohol, I took only one small sip and found it way sweet, but Wayne liked it.

To their credit, very cordial staff members asked for criticism of the food. I said it was too bland for my taste. That's an entirely subjective opinion, of course. Knowing the paranoid palates of Atlanta, I figured the kitchen keeps things bland on purpose. I would like to see the Chow Bing's sauces, like the cilantro-lime and a hoisin one, available in squeeze bottles.

I also complained that my extra ingredients of pickled carrots and peanuts were all compressed at the end of my burrito.

The restaurant has been open less than two weeks and, hopefully, it will get better with time. Even with the glitches, it's cool to have a restaurant featuring sustainable ingredients in the hood.

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