There is a certain dance that occurs every few months in Atlanta’s Chinese restaurant community. The formula is simple: Well regarded chef shows up; foodies flock to said location; chef up and leaves soon thereafter; foodies follow. Rinse and repeat. It’s happened with Frank Ma, it’s happened with Chef Chang (of Tasty China), and it’s happened with countless others. The latest rendition finds us at Bo Bo Garden up in the Doraville/Chamblee area.
The chef, whose name is still a mystery to me, showed up a few months ago at Wan Lai, a Cantonese job up BuHi. Word spread like hot sauce at a cook out and foodies flocked (myself included). Most loved it, some enjoyed it (that’s me), and a only a few turned their nose up. Then, like a fart in the wind, the head chef, his wife, and a handful of others vanished. Turns out, that group shot up the street and settled in Pinetree Plaza.
Taking over a corner spot formerly occupied by a Korean restaurant, Bo Bo Garden has a distinctly upscale feel (relative to some of those in the surrounding area). Meanwhile, the servers and the atmosphere are conducive to an enjoyable experience. Speaking of which, we found the service during my one meal to date to be solid with nothing to complain about.
My dining buddy for this lunch rendezvous was the same person who accompanied me on my first trip to Wan Lai. For her sake, we ordered a number of items previously sampled (let me loose and I’ll have all sorts of weird animal parts on our table). Because of the similarities in the two orders, both in taste and in material make up, I’m not going to repeat a lot of what I said about Wan Lai (linked above – myself included).
With that in mind, here’s a little snap of the several orders we had:
- Three Dumpling Soup: A Wan Lai repeat. Tasted just about the same as it did the two times I had it at Wan Lai. The broth was bright and the dumplings were spot on in texture and temperature.
- Pork Leg: A dish I was left to my own devices on. This was actually a jellied pigs foot in a sticky and mildly sweet sauce. The upper foot areas were reminiscent of the flavor one gets from the area of the pig that most of us are used to trying. However, by the time you work your way down to the actual foot – you’re in a whole different ballpark. The foot itself is soft and spongy and might make you think that this is what a Jell-O mold made from pork would taste like. If you like different, it’s worth a shot. Again, nothing about it made me hit the floor in joy.
- Crispy Garlic Chicken: A Wan Lai repeat. The chicken was moist and well fried. The jalapeño, fried garlic, and scallions that were served on top help round out the flavor. I think it’s a solid dish – but nothing about it screams “amazing.” However, it is a dish that Christine Lauderbach has called “exquisite.” If you’re in tune with her – then that’s a good cue to take.
- Spicy Pork Spare Rib: This was a carbon copy of the garlic chicken, except for the protein. Ultimately, I was lukewarm to the dish. The pork was cooked properly, however, it lacked any distinct flavor beyond that of the batter and the toppings. To put it another way, it reminded me of fried chicken without the chicken.
- Beef Chow Fun: Again, a Wan Lai repeat. The sesame oil was in full effect here. The resulting flavors were an oily beef against the crunch of the sprouts and the tear of the noodles. A sweet dish, it wasn’t quite as good as my sample at Wan Lai, but close enough that you probably wouldn’t notice the difference unless you really focused. It doesn’t take a lot of sesame oil for you to notice, but regardless of how much they used, this came across like it should have: a better than average dish at a better than average restaurant.
- Sea Clam with Leeks: For me, this was the most impressive dish of our meal. For those of you fond of the flavors found in a number of “American-Chinese” dishes, this one might be the most comforting. The most prominent flavor was that of ginger. Thin, but prominent, slices of ginger peppered the dish. In addition, the leeks and garlic gave this a pronounced “don’t kiss anyone after eating this dish” kind of flavor. The base of the dish was a fish broth which really helped carry the saltiness of the clams. Slivers of carrots, mushrooms, and leeks provided a nice crunch against the “spongy” texture of the super fresh clam. In fact, the enormous shell was removed from the onsite fish tank shortly after our order.
The menu here is a stripped down version of what was/is available at Wan Lai. Still, there are enough selections that it seems almost required that you over order so as to experience different flavors.
So there you have it. Like Wan Lai before it – this is a place that has the potential to satisfy a lot of people. It’s not amazing and I think Wan Lai is still a little better. Having returned to Wan Lai since the chef departed, and having an experience nearly identical to my first impression, I would say that Wan Lai wins out by the thinnest of margins. However, more samplings at both locations are necessary before we get too far ahead of ourselves.
If you’re looking for solid Cantonese food, Bo Bo Garden will take care of you. Still, I scour the city for that transcendental experience.
Atlanta Foodies On Bo Bo Garden
- The Blissful Glutton On Bo Bo Garden (06.14.09)