Village Spot Drumming Along In Need of a Beat

I think there are students who will say they know Tin Drum Asia Café before stepping inside of it. They know there are nine other locations in existence. They’ve read the menu online, and they think the dishes span the cultures of Asia but show no apparent expertise in any region. They think Tin Drum is another Americanized Asian restaurant that relies heavily on vague brown sauces handled by a staff that may or may not have ever used a wok before. They think all these things.

And they would be right.

But to classify Tin Drum as such is not to say that it is any less of a restaurant than some place on Buford where the servers don’t speak English and you can’t read the menu. Tin Drum has a place in the restaurant world. I’m just not sure I want that place to be next door to Emory.

Tin Drum’s pan-Asian aspirations are a far cry from what previously occupied the south-end space of the Emory Village. Wonderful World was a personal love of mine, and maybe its menu was narrow, but I’ll take a veggie burger, teri-mayo hotdog and a tray of tempura-battered onion rings for $9 any day.

Tim Drum is the brainchild of Steven Chan, who also developed Wonderful World. Word on the street is that Wonderful World’s small plates and limited menu didn’t drum up enough attention, and so now the interior has been transformed: The slick wood paneling and long, communal tables have been ripped out, replaced by vapid white walls and metallic tables with harsh glares. Mustard-yellow and ketchup-red hues fill the room. The set design runs awfully close to a plastic show on Nickelodeon.

The menu is extensive, and from what I’ve tasted, that isn’t exactly a good thing. The Pad Woon Sen is a hearty, but heartless, bowl of vermicelli noodles tossed with near-boiled chicken in a bland brown sauce. There’s also basil-fried rice that needs the searing love of a 400-degree wok. Both, at least, are filling. Both are also instant bores.

Their Vietnamese pho isn’t any better, made out of vegetable broth and pho powder. The result is hilariously shallow. Then again, expecting Tin Drum to excel at Vietnamese pho is like hoping that a first grader aces an exam on logarithmic differentiation. And that Cantonese noodle bowl? The brown sauce is best imagined as the Hiroshima of salt bombs.

I suggest sticking to the rice bowls. The Tim Drum Curry is a big bowl of rice topped with creamy, coconut glory and comically large chunks of breaded chicken. The crispy chicken potstickers, masaman curry and red curry also make for fine pickings. For a quick snack (or two for a meal), take down a thai chicken taco “drumroll style” served in griddled bread.

Given Tin Drum’s proximity to Doc Chey’s, and how similar the concepts are, you might wonder which is better. Better is a relative term, and comparing two specific restaurants can be sticky in a review. But the answer, I’m afraid, is that Tin Drum currently falls short. It aspires to be pan-Asian American, but within that genre its menu has too many pitfalls that are bound to alienate customers instantly.

Since Tin Drum is a franchise, its menu most likely must stay in toe with other setups across the city and state. That very word — franchise — implies a corporate blandness to its culinary efforts, but the Emory Village needs places to eat, good places to eat. Tin Drum may turn out to be one of those places, but its delivery must first find a smoother rhythm.

— By Evan Mah