Saturday, December 31, 2005

Fusion Combinations: What Works and What Doesn't

This holiday season has been wonderful to me so far--I was recently treated to a generous meal at Tangerine: Pacific Rim Restaurant.

Tangerine is a moderately-priced Asian-fusion restaurant (meaning "$$$$" not "$$$$$"), with an ambient, glowing, amber décor. It's welcoming and best of all, has a special on Tuesdays where the entire tab is 20% off! Furthermore, unlike another popular Asian-fusion restaurant (that shall "remain unnamed" like the Evil Dark Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels) the servers weren't "geisha-wannabes," but instead, we had a talkative, flamboyant, and stylish waiter.

We originally had trouble deciding on what to order (much to the distressed chagrin of our waiter) but we eventually started with two appetizers: 1) seafood-stuffed portobello mushroom skewers and 2) roasted duck spring rolls with a green mango dipping sauce.

The spring rolls were presented in a fancy nouveau-Asian-fusion manner: the spring rolls were sliced on a bias and alternated next to one another like opposing chess pieces, delicate tendrils of shaved carrots adorned the long serving plate, and sitting next to the spring rolls was a small tea cup filled with dipping sauce.

The taste of the spring rolls was similarly innovative. However, I thought that the characteristic sweet-salty-tangy flavor of the Peking duck sometimes overpowered other subtle "spring roll" flavors that were vying for my attention. I think there were some vegetables inside the crispy-skinned rolls, but I didn't even know they were there when next to the duck.

The dipping sauce was stellar. It tasted almost like it was made from pureéd banana, but our waiter informed us it was made from a complex combination of green mangos, wasabi, and mayonnaise. The spring roll dipping sauce was intended for a supporting role, but the striking green hue and intense flavor brought it to the center stage. Small touches really make a difference at Tangerine. Even the water they serve at Tangerine is flavored with peach syrup.

(Unfortunately, I was unable to successfully capture a clear image of the portobello skewers, so I won't go into a detailed description.)

My companion ordered the grilled salmon, which was served with a sweet mango salad and paired with a simple sushi roll. The salmon was a steak-cut (not a filet-cut) and was pleasantly grilled to medium-rare. The sushi rolls were stuffed with arugula, and other fresh vegetables, and showered with a light sprinkling of black sesame seeds.

Zileel (the great friend who recommended and spearheaded our visit to Tangerine) ordered the sea bass with edamame beans in a black bean sauce, which was served on a wilted bed of spinach and a delicate mound of jasmine rice. Although I didn't sample any of the sea bass, Zileel only had the highest praise for her entrée. She lauded the fish for being both tender and crispy at the same time--this was similar to the acclaim being doled out by "my" companion, the one who had ordered the salmon.

Zileel's companion ordered the herb and pistachio-encrusted New Zealand lamb chops baked in a honey sauce. The lamb chops were served with "spicy" rice and roasted bell peppers. I sampled a bite of the lamb chops, and they packed a tight, gamey punch.

Unfortunately, I was cursed with the "dud" of the evening, and those who tasted my dish sorrowfully agreed. I ordered the pork back ribs cooked in a saffron-tomato sauce and served with assorted vegetables. The ribs were served with jasmine rice, which was deceptively hidden under leaves of Swiss chard. It almost made me think I had a jungzi (Chinese tamale), but when I opened the bland leaves, all it revealed was a tasteless pile o' rice. Yippee.

The ribs were unenjoyable because they were made with too much pepper. How can you use pepper when you're using saffron? That's like buying a 1-oz truffle for $250, chopping it up very finely, and stir-frying it with bittermelon and ten pounds of regular button mushrooms. Why would you spend that much money on one really expensive ingredient, and then drown out that ingredient with really cheap ingredients? It just ain't right man. It just ain't right.

Plus, the "assortment" of vegetables that my dish was served with, were a motley combination of vegetable rejects: okra, and some weird chile peppers. The slimy, mucilaginous texture of the okra, the itchy okra hair, and crunchy pepper seeds kept squirming around on my tongue like a a pile of living insects. Simply put, my order didn't turn out to be my "cup of tea."

Ultimately, I had a great time that evening, and would definitely return to Tangerine, but just realized that I am generally very unlucky when it comes to ordering Asian-fusion dishes. My friends had a great time, and loved their entrées--and I did too---but, I gotta take some cues from them next time, on how to order Asian-fusion the right way.


  1. Loved this line "How can you use pepper when you're using saffron? That's like buying a 1-oz truffle for $250, chopping it up very finely, and stir-frying it with bittermelon and ten pounds of regular button mushrooms."

    Such a lovely post, too bad you didn't enjoy your main course as much as I enjoyed reading your article.

  2. PE, your dish actually sounded the best with the addition of 'saffron'. The food does look good, but presentation-wise, i think the food looks somewhat 'busy', 'noisy' and 'overdone'. Great review! Wait, is this place in LA or SF?

  3. Thank you Elmo Monster! I have been eagerly visiting the delicious Monster Munching site, because I've been keeping an eye out for the newest post on Cafe Hiro. I just read through your other Cafe Hiro posts today, and I'm very excited! It seems like you hold them in the highest esteem. I hope that your "most recent visit" met your expectations!

    Hello there Eat, Drink, & Be Merry! I agree with you about the deceptiveness of the "saffron" dish, I thought it would be the best too. And dang! Sounds like you're fluent in "restaurant-lingo" already! I really wish that you were working up here in the Bay Area--I would love to eat at your restaurant. It's clear that you have already learned many of the "tricks of the trade" to being a fantastic chef.

  4. Oops, I forgot to say that Tangerine is in San Francisco, and not Los Angeles! As for the other restaurants I have talked about, generally I list the cities of where they are located on the archive section of Passionate Eater.

  5. Go to "The House" in SF. Not a spectacular mind-blowing restaurant, but it has very solid fusion fare at fairly decent prices. =) The niman ranch pork chop with sweet sauce (made of currants and some other good stuff) is addictive...

  6. Hi Jeff L! Thank you for the restaurant recommendation of The House. Actually, Stan brought me there on one of our first dates, and he claims that it is his "favorite" restaurant in San Francisco! The Niman Ranch Pork Chops sound like they are worth the money! I can't remember what I ordered there, the last (and only) time I went there was over 2+ years ago. I'll have to go again though, based on your recommendation!

  7. Oh, the challenges of taking good photos of food!!! In my own quest to take crisp photos in dim restaurant lighting, I've discovered a couple of things that may help you out.
    1. Sometimes putting a candle close to your plate helps (if there is a candle on the table, of course) (looks like you might have figured this out)
    2. If you take multiple pictures, you'll usually end up with some that are clearer than others
    3. Hold your breath at mid-exhale while you take the photo
    4. Some tables are usually better lit than others
    5. If you want to get really hard core, get a mini tripod--they're amazing.

    By the way, are you serious about the peach-flavored water???

  8. Hey there Foodie Universe! Thank you, thank you, thank you, for those excellent photographing tips! When I need to take pictures, my hands are always trembling profusely, and I am always scared to use flash in a restaurant. Plus, a friend of mine helped me to change the shutter speed (although now, I have no idea how she did it), and the pictures came out "way" blurry because I coudn't hold the camera steady. Your "Tip #3" was great! (I had never heard that before.) I'll try that next time Foodie Universe, thanks!

    Also, I am totally serious about the peach-flavored water! My friend kept telling me it was flavored with "peach syrup" or "serum" before we ate there, and when I tasted the water, I confirmed it! It didn't taste like bad juice that was over-diluted, it actually had a nice, peachy aftertaste. Pretty good actually.


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