Bland on Bland
Parking in front of Naan Korean Grill & Sushi Bar isn't free unless you drive a hybrid. They actually have meters in front of every primo spot in front of the restaurant (just like all the other establishments that are a part of the newish Watters Creek outdoor mall in Allen) that say "free parking for hybrids" and require that all other vehicles pay by the hour. Three cheers for instantly sending all Hummer drivers in Allen through their shiny new sunroofs, Watters Creek Mall. You get all kinds of points for out-uppity-ing the uppity.
We arrived around 7 p.m. for dinner, and inside you could feel that it was that strange quiet time of evening that happens at all restaurants when the dinner rush hasn't quite started yet. The waiters who worked the lunch shift are punching out, and the dinner shifters are punching in. For those two chicks at the bar who've been flirting with the bartender for the last two hours, happy hour is beginning to turn into sad hour.
We were seated in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by several empty tables in a space whose openness gave off a distinct mall vibe. For a place that offers $19 sushi rolls, the layout wasn't elegant.
To start our meal, we had the calamari and the short ribs. I think we got the calamari because wasabi cocktail sauce sounded more exciting than it actually ended up being. Turns out, when it's hidden in a cocktail sauce, wasabi, unsurprisingly, tastes just like regular horseradish. This wasn't bad; we just felt dumb for ordering it—like we should have asked for breadsticks and bottomless salad too. The pork ribs were big, marinated in a sort of Thai peanut sauce and swimming in a shallow pond of sweet chili sauce. They were tasty with a nice amount of heat, but I couldn't help feeling that this was something that would be right at home on the Cheesecake Factory menu. And that's pretty much the feeling you get from the entire place, which might be exactly what you should expect from a restaurant that's housed across from the Victoria's Secret at an outdoor mall.
For our main course, this night we went with sushi. If you're really into rolls, this place has plenty of options for you. I just hope you're also really into cream cheese since a lot of their rolls include it. (It's not that I don't like cream cheese in the occasional roll, but I always try to limit it to a reasonable percentage of the rolls to avoid that post-roll cheese bloat.) Jalapeño is also prevalent, and the jalapeño roll was one of the better offerings, with a sliced jalapeño, avocado, tuna, spicy sauce and roughly chopped octopus. Chopping the octopus into smaller pieces eliminated the usual toughness problem you get with octopus sashimi, and the roll was overall a nice surprise. And we also enjoyed the Texas Tornado, with its yellowtail, cream cheese, jalapeño and scallions deep-fried in a tempura batter, but it was more of that Texas State Fair sort of enjoyment than anything else. The Naan special is an insult to everyone. It's basically a sliced Vietnamese spring roll (stuffed with crab, tuna, salmon, asparagus and mango), only somehow it's the blandest spring roll on the planet and doesn't hold together well when sliced. Probably should have tried the Korean Kowboy (which involved short ribs and blue cheese), but we'd already done the pork short rib appetizer and chickened out.
As for the sashimi, these are thick, thick slices, like they brought us mini tuna and salmon steaks. The tuna was not nearly as good as what you might be able to get in a pre-packaged sushi lunch from Central Market—the best adjective to describe it would be "grainy." The salmon was fresh-tasting and buttery, but each of the five pieces had a little corner of what seemed to be connective tissue, which threw off the experience and suggested that it was training night at the sushi bar.
The next night we went, we started our meal off with the veggie and shrimp tempura. It couldn't have been more boring. Now, I know that ordering something like veggie and shrimp tempura isn't exactly a walk on the wild side, but just because a dish is simple doesn't mean it has to be tasteless. And from asparagus to fried onion rings, this dish was just completely uninteresting. It made me long for an Awesome Blossom.
For entrees, the only two options that were offered for tableside grilling were the bul go gi and the kal bi with assorted vegetables. Since you're not trusted to tend to your own food on your built-into-the-table hibachi grill, reason No. 52 not to take a date to this establishment would be the totally awkward moment that happens while your server grills your dinner in front of you. He's not talking. You're not talking because you don't want him to eavesdrop on your conversation about what a tool your boss is, and in the meantime you're watching him and thinking, "Shouldn't he be turning that meat? I'd totally be turning that meat at this point if I were him. Why isn't he turning the meat?" It just doesn't make for a comfy series of moments.
The bul go gi (shredded rib eye) was nicely marinated if not just a little over soy-sauced. If you're a first-timer to the Korean food thing, this is a good place to start. The kal bi (prime short ribs), on the other hand, was completely bland and tough. The other veggies that were grilled on our grill tasted like, ya know, veggies. There were mushrooms of the king oyster and shiitake varieties, onions, green peppers and red peppers, none of which seemed to have any additional spices added to them.
Now, if the meats had been spectacular, the blandness of the veggies probably wouldn't have bothered me. But following bland with blander wasn't doing it for me. In an effort to save the meal, we made heavy use of our side dish of kimchi. This at least lent some spicy flavor to the experience, but it wasn't enough to really make up for the snoozefest that was the rest of the meal.
For dessert, we tried the tempura-fried vanilla ice cream which came out under-fried, so the batter wasn't very crispy. This upset me. Luckily, we also had a mango sorbet, which was the only item from the entire meal that actually woke up my taste buds. It was sweet and very light. If there wasn't a Paciugo literally around the corner, I'd recommend the sorbet. But I think your best dessert option here is to get the check and head to every yuppie's fave gelato stand.
No matter how much Naan Allen might want to be a hip nightspot like the kind you might find in Uptown amongst independent movie theaters and Vespa stores, it's definitely not the place to take your foodie friends or a hot date. Pei Wei would be money better spent.
940 Garden Park Drive, Allen, 214-383-7522. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; for dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$
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