By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
At first glance, Chow Thai Pacific Rim is far too exotic for the flat, concrete Plano landscape. But there it is, parked in a strip mall off the Tollway with a Signature Kroger (I think this means they sell caviar in a full range of Day-Glo colors) and a McDonald's across from a stretch of land destined to become an industrial park or a development for Plano tract mansions. It's chic and spacious, well arranged and varied. It's even a little edgy, a little tongue-in-cheek, though I'm still trying to figure out how specifically. The curvaceous bar area with a bar top made of stained concrete (which matches the floor) looks like a colorful topographic map. It's separated from the dining area with a screen made of chain mail. How many Plano mansions use chain mail as a decorative element? (Maybe we don't want to know.)
Chow Thai Pacific Rim has a natty little entrance chamber, a kind of acclimation zone to help your body make the transition from the strip-mall wasteland that Planoans have turned into high culture and enter this Pacific edge. A host stand covered in finely dimpled metal is perched in front of a shelf, a little sanctuary with an incense burner, Asian statues, and dishes with oranges resting in them. Above is a huge etched glass porthole that looks out over the dim-sum bar--kind of a runt sushi bar--with more stained concrete surface and tall rattan barstools. Each place setting is a brightly colored triangular plate with a tightly rolled napkin perched vertically in the plate and a pair of brightly colored chopsticks poking out of the napkin folds.
Chow Thai Pacific Rim doesn't serve sushi yet; it doesn't have the requisite permits. But it does have two or three rolls, sans raw fish. Pacific Rim rolls ($5)--with a core of fresh mango, basil, and asparagus in a rice sheath speckled with sesame seeds--were delicious, mingling the assertive pungency of the basil with the gentle exotic zest of mango. The only drawback to these tight little roll sections was that they were served warm.
3309 Dallas Parkway
Plano, TX 75093
Yet Pacific Rim does serve raw fish. Ahi tartare ($12) with lemongrass-infused tuna dotted with bright green wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe) arrived as three small silos of ground flesh, rising maybe an inch and a half from the plate's surface. These nubs were arranged around a pair of sesame crackers roosting on their edges and pushed together in the shape of a T. Red ribbons of pepper sauce wormed near the edges of the triangular plate. At the points, leaves of endive, some with curled, browning edges, were placed with strips of red pepper in the leaf cup. It was a thing of beauty, the kind of beauty a Signature Kroger must represent to someone who has taken leave of a Plano mansion to go forage. But the tuna was a little stringy and not robustly fresh.
Miso soup ($4) was phenomenal, and nowhere near the minimalist creation found in other Japanese restaurants. Packed with shards of shiitake, bok choy, noodles, tofu, and carrots, the soup is hearty, a sort of Japanese minestrone. Yet it merged seamlessly, with light, sweet undertones from the broth. This soup is generous yet deft--among the best ways to spend four dollars in Plano, or anywhere else for that matter.
Chow Thai Pacific Rim is a mishmash of Asian influences cajoled with...God knows what. There are things on the menu that are downright American--even Southern, if you squint. This isn't surprising given that the manpower in the kitchen includes Executive Chef Kenny Mills (Ellington's Southern Chop House in Fort Worth) and Eric Wallace (Il Solé). What is surprising is the number of thrilling risks they're willing to take, making this menu a good match for the decor, though not everything on the menu works as exquisitely as the ambience. Smoked pork chops with purple Peruvian mashed potatoes and char tomato sauce ($18) could have been swiped from Star Canyon, at least in theory. The flesh was tasty and achieved a perfect doneness--that is, the core was allowed to blush. But that char tomato sauce, though zesty with a husky flavor, was a bit too runny and soaked the mashed potatoes mercilessly, kind of turning them into a new species of instant breakfast (Wallace says the dish was dropped).
Hoisin-marinated chicken ($16) was a near miss, a seeming stab at blending Chinese with American Southern that was more a messy collision. Two pieces of chicken breast were stacked atop a little stepping-stone-like platform of yam slices and bok choy swimming in a puddle of ginger-corn sauce that had the color and consistency of something the Gerber company might have strained and put in little jars. The yams were billed as sweet and spicy, but someone skipped the spicy part. The chicken was served pink, the kind of pink that used to frighten people into cooking pork chops until they were usable only as orthopedic shoes, but now scare them into cooking chicken breasts until they're fit to use as patches for chaps. That's what Pacific Rim's kitchen did after we sent them back. They returned parched and hard to chew, yet affluent in flavor. Still, the lower portion of the dish--the bok choy, the spice-less yams, the listless corn sauce--needed something to nudge it out of its drowsiness.