Grub Notes

Doubling Back for Updates on Mochinut and Five and Ten

Smoked duck breast with apple and onion soubise, blueberry gastrique and turnips from Five and Ten.

MOCHINUT (1860 Barnett Shoals Rd., 706-850-6554): Probably nine out of 10 restaurants I write about, I think, “I’ll never go there again.” It’s not necessarily that they’re not good, although bell curves mean that most places are mediocre and only a few rise above that. It’s that I spend most of my time eating out with my reviewer’s hat on, and there’s only so much time. Repeat visits past the initial two don’t add much to the picture, and y’all crave novelty. 

But when a friend told me that Mochinut, the franchise selling Korean corn dogs and rice-flour donuts, was now putting out Indonesian food, it went back on my list immediately. After all, even Atlanta doesn’t have more than a handful of Indonesian restaurants. Chef V (Viana Lie) is enthusiastic about sharing her own culture’s food, and the Eastside continues to become a hub for restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines: Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Thai, legit Szechuan and more. If we nurture that tendency, it could very well snowball. You can’t find the menu on the parent corporation’s website, and neither Bulldawg Food nor Cosmic Delivery will bring you food from there, so you’ll have to go to the restaurant. You could use one of the national services like GrubHub or DoorDash, but even they don’t have everything Chef V offers. If you go in person, she can also point you in the right direction, and you’re sure to have a lovely conversation. 

The Indonesian dishes mostly break down as rice (nasi uduk, I think, cooked with coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and bay leaves, topped with chicken or tofu and served with your choice of sauce on the side: soy ginger, chili garlic lime, peanut or the house curry) and noodles (mie ayam jamur, or chicken and mushrooms with wheat noodles and greens; wheat noodles with chicken and peanut sauce; chicken soup with noodles, curry and housemade XO sauce). So far, I think the noodles have the edge because the rice could use more aromatics, but both are tasty, especially the curry sauce, which is complex and fragrant. Some versions of both come with sweet-ish pickled cucumbers in a little dish on the side, meaning you can cycle rapidly through sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory in a couple of mouthfuls. The “small bites” section at the top of the menu includes some Chinese dumplings, wonton soup and spring rolls as well as a scallion pancake waffle served with a side of curry sauce, but is mostly unremarkable. The restaurant also just added breakfast, with a housemade pandan simple syrup to sweeten its strong coffee, croissants stuffed with egg, cheese and bacon or sausage (not available yet when I went) and two kinds of bao (chicken and Spam) customizable with sweet soy, spicy mango, barbecue ranch, curry mayo, yum yum or Korean ketchup for a sauce. Bao (steamed buns split open and stuffed like a taco) aren’t widely available in Athens either, and a savory Asian breakfast is a real treat. A quick examination of other Mochinut franchises shows a little customization from location to location, but nothing like this. Go! Support it! I can’t promise that the menu won’t change, but trust Chef V. 

Mochinut is now open 7 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, with breakfast from 7–11 a.m. 

FIVE AND TEN (1073 S Milledge Ave., 706-546-7300): I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard that Five and Ten is no longer the best restaurant in town. “It’s lost a step.” “It’s not worth the money.” I hadn’t been in years, too busy with going to other places, but a recent visit, preceded with serious skepticism, found that it remains the absolute gold standard in Athens, working on a level that very few other places can sniff. 

The menu changes weekly, and chef de cuisine Fausto Zamorano is putting a new spin on things. A dish in the small plates section of shredded duck over gnocchi in broth with mushrooms, tomatoes, blueberries and habanadas (non-spicy habanero peppers) was as good as anything I’ve ever had at the restaurant, working against but not tempering the richness of the duck with bright notes that served as a singing counterpoint rather than neutralizing the umami base. A pan-seared halibut sat in a pool of miso beurre blanc, with stellar bok choy on the side and fish skin chicharrones and chili crisp on top. Again: an appreciation of the value of butteriness and the feeling of early fall, but also a dish that played with texture and different kinds of flavors. The pork schnitzel might wear the teensiest bit thin by the time you finish the large plate, but the idea of topping it with perfect cubes of pear and turnip is more fun and innovative than the traditional apple. Order things that seem new or odd, and you will let the kitchen perform to the best of its ability. Go at happy hour (5–7 p.m.) and you can snag some deals on lovely cocktails, as carefully prepared as everything else.