Restaurant Reviews

How Now Is Chow?

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Although he was friendly, our waiter was neither proficient nor observant. We ordered a glass of wine and some sodas but ended up with only the sodas. After I reminded him to bring my glass of chardonnay, he disappeared again with apologies but without refilling our water glasses. After one sip of the sharp and oaky wine I tried to get his attention to exchange it for a bottle of Singha beer. By the time he returned he was so intent on telling us about the day's specials that he neglected to take away my wine when he left with our orders. We didn't see him again until about ten minutes later, when he brought our first few dishes and, finally, my beer.

A special appetizer, tiny seafood dumplings stuffed with a mellow mixture of shrimp and fish and served over an array of shredded Chinese cabbage and carrots, was a perfect teaser. The calamari ringlets that made up a second starter were fried to a golden hue and served with a cool, clear citrusy dipping sauce. Each piece of the fresh and tender squid was cut to about the size of a pecan and sprinkled with an aromatic seasoning reminiscent of Chinese five-spice powder: usually some combination of anise, licorice, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg. Also superb was the Szechuan tuna tartare starter, which had a perceptible tinge of heat but no burn. Diced blood-red sashimi and same-sized cubes of cucumber were formed into a tidy disc the diameter of an Oreo cookie and garnished with stalks of peppery watercress.

By the time we were ready for our main courses we were almost full. We were also thirsty. Our water glasses remained empty for much of the night, and until the owner came over to check on us, so did my beer glass. Considering how few people were in the restaurant, our waiter might have been more attentive.

When my "Thai'd Chicken Pizza" arrived I thought there had been a mistake. Had I read the menu more carefully (it described the pizza as "sliced and wrapped") I wouldn't have ordered the dish. As it was I'm glad that I did. Sitting upright on the plate were three wide cylinders of pita-looking crust that had been gently charred and then stuffed with tender chunks of roasted white-meat chicken, scallions, and chilies melded with a mild peanut sauce and mozzarella cheese. It satisfied my craving for a gooey indulgence, but was neither greasy nor heavy.

I'd praise the wok paella, too, if not for one serious flaw. Like most of the dishes at Chow, the large portion was stunningly composed; however, nearly every bite contained bits of broken mussel shell. Spread in a voluptuous mound on a shiny black platter was a mosaic of seafood and vegetables with ruddy grains of rice. Baby shrimps, iridescent purple-black mussels, chunks of white-flesh fish, shreds of bright-green spinach, slivers of carrot, scallions, Chinese broccoli, niblets of corn, pinkish sausage rounds, earthy slices of shiitake mushrooms, and the rice were seasoned with a restrained dose of curry and hints of cilantro. The quality and variety of the ingredients combined for an explosion of flavors in each mouthful. A more vigilant sous chef might have saved us from the sharp and dangerous objects we also found there.

Any reasonable person would assume that the fish of the day is always the freshest, and at most places it is. But on this night the grouper special had a rubbery consistency, suggesting that it had been frozen or salvaged from an earlier catch. Large chunks of the flavorless fillet were assembled atop a bowl of curried vermicelli noodles. If not for these delicate threads studded with snow peas, slender ribbons of carrot, toasted sesame, broccoli, ginger, and curry, we would have returned the dish. Instead we pushed the fish aside and enjoyed the noodles.

Desserts sounded so good we had to try them. Stuffed bananas, recommended by our waiter and served in a towering martini glass, were not stuffed but rather surrounded with bittersweet chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream. The Grand Marnier-dosed bananas were a bit too soggy: tasty, but hardly worth the calories. Asian plum phyllo rolls are served with the same delicious ice cream (supplied by local purveyor the Frieze), but the baklavalike triangles of pastry simply didn't make the grade. The moist and floury dough tasted as if it hadn't been baked long enough, and inside, instead of plums, we found cubes of fresh papaya.

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Victoria Pesce Elliott

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