Quick Bite: Bento Cafe’s Taiwanese Offerings Near Atlanta
June 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd # A4 Norcross, GA 30093
Since I happened to be nearby one day, I grabbed a quick lunch at one of the few places near Atlanta that serves up some Taiwanese fare. I had actually been to Bento Cafe for a bubble tea a while back and at the time, I didn’t even realize that they had a fairly large menu outside of their extensive drink and boba menu. Since I’ve experienced some of the food in Taiwan, I’ve been hoping to re-experience some of the same flavors closer to home and this was one of the few places that seemed worth checking out.
Sadly, service was a little awkward and I was mostly ignored by the scattered server after I was seated. I knew I wanted to try either lu rou fan (rice and gravy) or niu rou mian (beef noodle soup) or at least something like it. I tried asking my server about the dishes, but there was a communication barrier and I ended up keeping it simple by ordering a lunch plate that resembled lu rou fan in nature and hoping for the best.
Braised Pork & White Rice with Cabbage and Corn
I was expecting this to be more of a thicker pork and gravy served over rice, so I was a little bit confused by the presentation of a thin liquid served in a separate bowl making it difficult to eat. I dumped most of the rice in the bowl and made a bit of a mess as it sloshed around. There were the beginnings of a nice flavor forming in the “gravy”, but it wasn’t a gravy so much as a broth and not a broth so much as a water. In other words, it was quite diluted in flavor and consistency. In all fairness, it was still in keeping with the sense of comfort food that I was expecting. The Egg was a standard marinated soy egg, and I was happy to see that.
The pickles on the side tucked behind the bowl were my favorite part. They were slightly spicy, bright, and not ridiculously salty. They picked up the flavor of the brothy gravy quite a bit.
The lunch plate came with two veggies. I picked cabbage which was more blanched in texture with a tiny almost ginger moment happening on occasion. The corn on the other hand was quite awful. It was likely frozen corn due to the lack of texture or crunch. Additionally, the side of corn had no flavor and was submerged in a starchy, gluey mess.
Pan Seared Radish Cake (萝卜糕) luobo gao
I ordered the pan fried radish cakes since I was still a little hungry after abandoning the corn. I saw these several times while traveling, but never tried them so I didn’t have a means of comparison which might have worked in this snack’s favor. It’s difficult to say what this should be like, but it was about how I expected it to be. The texture was soft to the point of almost gummy, but the sear was great and added that variance in texture that I enjoy. The flavor was mild, but that was expected. After a few bites, I ended up slathering some in hot chili oil which I enjoyed quite a bit more than the thick, sweet sauce. I appreciate that radish is nowhere near as heavy and starchy as potato, but you can get some similar textures and sears on it just like this.
Final Verdict: I’ve got mixed feelings from my first impression here. The braised pork was a shadow of what I experienced in Taiwan, but at least it channeled some of the flavors and was somewhat decent although it was way too watered down in flavor and texture. The vegetable sides were a bit of a mess, but the radish cake made up for it. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the menu, but considering it’s one of the very few places around here that offer Taiwanese style dishes, I’ll likely give them another shot. In the meantime, I’d suggest popping in for some bubble tea instead and sampling a snack or two.