Pan Asian cuisine means that the menu takes a road trip through Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia and China and asks us to join in. If only there were eight of us dining, we'd have a real culinary adventure: a fling with Korean kimchee fried rice, Holy basil beef, Malaysian noodles, Vietnamese Pho; a pit stop into a Zen platter and every one of the seven or eight cuisines touched on. Two people however, need to choose carefully.
I'm helped in my choices by some first-hand knowledge. At the coo
king school I attended in Bangkok, we learned to make Shrimp and Lemongrass soup. Sounds exotic and difficult, but all we did was wash and trim the ingredients and unceremoniously drop them into a pot of water. The flavours were sensational. I always try to recapture that specific taste thrill, and it's the first thing I look for on a Thai menu.
I've come to the conclusion that my search is futile, and it's the skimpy ingredients that are at fault. Here, a bowl of lemon shrimp soup is a bright lemongrass, coriander broth with sparks of chili and nubbins of pineapple, mushrooms, celery and tomato. But what plunges this sweet/hot soup into second- rate are a few rather smallish, rubbery shrimp with tails on. One giant shrimp would certainly make a bigger impact on the eye and the taste buds. The Vietnamese chicken wonton soup, however, is nothing to complain about. Clean chicken broth is afloat with juicy wontons and wears a frilly cap of chopped green onion.
As servers fly from kitchen to table or to the outside patio, it's hard to see what others have ordered. But we certainly have the impression of attractive and aromatic dishes. The room itself speaks of purity. Walls appear to have floating white panels backlit with aquamarine light, the floor is pale, polished wood, and chairs are a bright French blue which makes the room look squeaky clean. A service bar in the rear sparkles with bottles and mirror and it all adds up to a sophisticated cut above the usual knick-knack filled ethnic eateries.
We ask a few questions, and are drawn back to the Thai emerald curry lobster. Today, there is a special promotion, beams our server: order one lobster for two, ($38.00) and have a complimentary accompanying dish. A quick financial calculation tells us that this is one the best meal-deals we've heard in a long time.
The whole, medium sized lobster has been cut into large chunks and wok-fried with luscious green curry, coconut milk, Thai basil and lime leaves. The lobster is perfectly cooked, sweet and tender with an abundance of meat. This extravagant sauce is not as spicy as it's two chili pepper marking suggests. It imparts a lovely complex heat that tingles, but if you prefer dishes hot enough to bring a tear to the eye, ask for it. Our server's recommendation for a free second dish was spot on, and the cashew studded "fried riz" with it's bits of vegetables is the perfect foil for the tasty emerald curry sauce.
It is the mango season, and this bright golden fruit is a wonderful partner for chicken ($11.50). They wok fry the two in ginger, soy, roasted garlic and peanut for a fragrant, truly tasty dish.
Somewhere along the traditional pan-Asian route, this kitchen has adopted much of the best of the cuisines and dropped the ones we like least. This cooking is totally ungreasy, and there are many more dishes to try: spicy peppercorn crab for instance and crispy tamarind chicken.
Now, if I can only find eight friends, we can really make an extravagant pan-Asian culinary excursion.