First Taste: Yebo.
October 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
3500 Peachtree Rd
Atlanta, GA 30342
Yebo (yeah-bō), a “South African informal expression of affirmation: Zulu for yes, I agree, hello,” sets the tone for a casual introduction to South African food a new tapas-style South African restaurant. This restaurant and lounge recently popped up in Phipps Plaza taking over a location on the edge of a mall with a nice patio area that’s seen a few other restaurants come and go. It’s the tapas-style sister of 10 Degrees South featuring “South African fare with a bit of a twist.” A glance at the menu reveals this twist to be partially southern American cuisine by way of shrimp & grits, chicken livers, bread pudding, and fried chicken (although arguably some of these things are African in nature to begin with). I was intrigued by Yebo.’s promise of melding these cuisines and was looking forward to their flavor combinations as I think of South African food as having dynamic spices incorporated from parts of Africa as well as Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, French, German cuisine among many others. I warmed to the idea of this place immediately and was anxious to try it out for myself when I was offered the option of dining there.
Outside of the bunny chow and the mentions of peri peri or chutney, the menu doesn’t particularly read much more differently than southern or simply standard American restaurant fare, so I was a little disappointed in that but was still anticipating big flavors. I also wasn’t sure how panko, truffle, or tzatziki fit into the equation, but I decided to go along with the concept long enough to sample a few different dishes.
mixed greens, fruit, papaya vinaigrette
A simple start proved pleasant in this mix of fruit and greens. The salad arrived at our table layered nicely in a canister like a parfait with the creamy papaya dressing on the bottom. Our server shook the canister of salad a few times before awkwardly dumping the contents in an empty bowl in front of us. While the tableside element of service was interesting, this ultimately led to the contents of the salad being poorly distributed and generally looking a silly, haphazard mess in the bowl. Fortunately despite the appearance, this simple fare turned out to be plentiful and enjoyable. Greens salted lightly with toasted seeds were mixed with lovely fresh melons and peaches in a creamy vinaigrette that was surprisingly not very sweet at all. The safari salad was a light, refreshing dish that I enjoyed even if it weren’t particularly inspired.
spicy pork pastry with sweet mustard sauce
Tender pork was tucked away behind a soft, midly flaky pastry and served with a side of straightforward honey mustard sauce. The sauce was overly sweet and reminded me of a honey mustard that you could probably find bottled and processed at the grocery store. At least they were upfront about that in the description. It certainly didn’t add any value or element of spice at all and is probably best avoided. The pork itself was tender and fairly abundant although it was almost entirely lacking of any flavor elements other than salt (which there was a little bit too much of). There were flecks of some green herb inside, but their flavor was not discernible. I wonder why these were labeled as spicy. There was a great opportunity to get really creative with the flavors here, but they opted for something bland instead. At $8 for two, I was certainly unimpressed.
bunny chow bobotie
fried egg, sweet ground beef curry
This was the dish that I was the most curious about as I presumed the more rustic nature and curry would inspire bold flavors. Ground beef in a mild yellow curry sauce studded with plumped dried fruit was nestled in a hollowed out sourdough roll and topped with a fried egg. The ground beef certainly packed the most flavor out of everything I tried, but it was only mildly seasoned with yellow curry and certainly not spicy in the way of heat. A sweetness permeated the mixture and very little soaked into the bread for a few bites, but the sweetness was welcome in context and not particularly overbearing. I couldn’t help but think I’ve had something like this beef curry mixture before many times, and the bread lacked the traditional softness that would have happily sponged up the curry–not that the curry sauce was present enough for this to have happened anyway. It was enjoyable, but it was not anything that I felt as if I hadn’t had before or better, and it was awkward to share. This was another example of a dish that was playing it too safe.
apple-mustard chutney, mint
Slightly overcooked (medium well) lamb lollipops perched on top of an uninspired chutney that resembled a very faintly spiced applesauce with mustard seeds dispersed throughout. Once again, the sauce was too sweet with very little in the way of spices or heat to balance itself, and as a result, the dish was pretty boring and uninspired. The lamb was not dry despite being cooked more than I would have liked (they never asked), so I guess that was a good thing.
Final Verdict: If putting a sauce or a few spices from one culture onto food from another culture is enough to constitute fusion, then so be it, but I have a hard time buying into the concept or being able to appreciate what I considered to be short-sided creativity. I would much rather see something humble and true to its roots done well on Buford Highway than something average dressed up and poorly “fused”. While the food wasn’t particularly bad, little about the food ended up intriguing me and far too often the flavor profile dallied in the sweet side instead of taking advantage of the variety of spices from the mix of cultures that make up South African cuisine. I should have asked for some peri peri on the side to boost the spice content, but I was hoping the dishes would be able to stand by themselves as intended. They didn’t. If they stuck to their roots and offered more traditional flavors that are unique to South African food without worrying about appeasing the masses with widely available items such as truffled french fries or mac n cheese, I believe that they might find more success, but perhaps this sort of menu is what they thought they needed to cater to their clientele.
If you are curious about this place, feel free to check it out as it is an approachable option in that particular area, but don’t expect much in the way of spice or creativity on the average dish. I do have some curiosity about their peri peri sauce and their fried chicken might be good, but I might save those curiosities for 10 Degrees South. I would steer you in the direction of the bunny chow as it was the most flavorful although I don’t know that it’s a dish that would be easily shared with a group. If you’ve been to Yebo. or end up going, please report back and let me know what you thought. I’m curious as to your impressions of this place.