You may find this hard to believe, but before last week I had never heard of you. I had no idea you were one of the pioneers of the transumbilical procedure, which sounds suspiciously like a financial instrument designed to skirt Securities and Exchange Commission regulations. I didn't know you specialize in "through-the-navel" breast enhancement, consider yourself a "psychiatrist with a knife" and are an Eagle Scout to boot. So, obviously, I had no idea you were the star of Dr. 90210, the television phenomenon on E! that puts "a real spin on the world of face-lifts, tummy tucks and breast boosts."
Even more startling than my ignorance, Robert (may I call you Robert?), is the manner in which I was introduced to your craft, honed at Harvard Medical School and displayed in Hollywood. It happened one Thursday evening at East and West Gourmet, a loose coalition of Vietnamese, Chinese and American cuisines. It is also, according to signage, a "Cocktail and Lounge," though it has yet to acquire a liquor license. This was a distressing detail in my East and West experience, as a stiff cocktail would have eased the shock of your TV show as well as the East and West menu.
East and West has two huge rear-projection televisions flanking the serpentine bar seemingly composed of a composite material in black marble emulation mode. Each television is tuned to a different station; this despite the fact that East and West is not a large restaurant, nor does it seem gripped by sports-bar aspirations, as the clusters of chatty middle-aged women filling the tables seem to bear out.
Still, one of the televisions is tuned to ESPN, where a basketball duel involving Cleveland plays out. East and West "fresh squeezed" lemonade, pebbled with maraschino cherries and sweetened to levels that would seize the average pancreas in seconds, does not work well with basketball. Rattled by this incongruity, I looked up from my "Nam spring rolls," a pair of competent lettuce, noodle and shrimp logs swaddled in slightly tacky rice paper, just as Dr. 90210 had come to life on the other big screen. I didn't give the show much thought as I slogged through the hot sour soup, thinking you were most likely a common Ph.D. cashing in on the "Dr." designation. In Dallas, we have a soda that does this. This hot sour soup is peculiar stuff, not because it is unduly thick, but because there is no "sour" to speak of. Another thing: On one visit the soup was pale yellow; on a follow-up visit it had turned green. As a cosmetic surgeon, I'm sure you would agree this is not a color change that inspires confidence.
Egg drop soup was an even brighter, deeper shade of green. Plus it had the consistency of jelly. It was while watching a great jiggling section of egg drop soup tumble off my spoon that the pith of your reality show gripped me. There on the screen was a bare-bottomed woman, bent over a piece of medical furniture as if she were posing for a birthday flogging. One of your co-stars lifted a sponge from a pan and began swabbing the woman's bare bottom with yellow and red dye. Though the image was blurred (you slyly let a little cheek cleavage peek through), I'm sure you would agree that it is distressing to watch butt surgery over a platter of crispy duck.
The duck breast looks like a pastry loaf, sliced. Stalks of celery (some brown), scallion, cucumber and carrot frame the duck meat. The skin is brittle, some of it burnt. The meat is dry, cool and greasy. Flour tortillas (Peking doilies) are folded into triangles and ring a ramekin of hoisin sauce. The doilies are hard and cold.
It's true that after scanning the East and West dining room, Robert, you may find it difficult to see how your services could possibly be of benefit here. The look is pleasing. Arranged in a quasi oval with a suspended egg-shaped ceiling and curved walls mimicking the contours, the restaurant is sculpted with clean slopes and lines in pale yellow, red and blue. Wainscoting and ceiling sections are composed of bamboo stalks.
Yet what East and West Gourmet lacks is scalpel competency and imagination in the kitchen, and this is where you come in. The American menu wing is peppered with potato skins, Cobb salads, cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. Shrimp cocktail is respectable: eight firm shrimp, curled bodies hooked on the edge of a sundae glass. Deep in the bowl is a shallow plume of cocktail sauce over a heap of shredded lettuce.
But other elements come off with far less verve. Texas T-bone steak is a thick sprawl of beef riddled with fat and gristle. It's dry, and ripe livery flavors frame an off-putting layer of sweetness. This could be the result of some type of teriyaki treatment, but thoughts that this flavor is caused by the onset of aging intrude. Worse, the baked potato is devoid of cosmetic appeal. Rather than cut, scooped and pinched, or cleaved and crowned, it is simply halved, saturated in butter and topped with bacon bits and chives (we omitted cheese and sour cream), giving it a pale yellow translucence in bulk. Worse, the butter had distinct off flavors, as if it were nervously treading the line between health and rancidity.
Off flavors in the fried catfish were even more pronounced, shamelessly sweating those swamp scum layers we thought went out with tall food and plates buttoned with kiwi. The fish is bland, spongy and despondent. I'm convinced, Robert, that you have an imagination of sufficient fertility to save this kitchen. On the Dr. 90210 Web site are posted two works of genius. One is Ka-Boob!, a role-playing game where players imagine themselves rising starlets catching falling breast implants in a quest for a larger, more fame-friendly bosom. What sensible man--forget women for a moment--would deny himself such vicarious pleasure? Then there is the Celebrity Quiz, where players attempt to guess which Hollywood stars can "bounce a quarter off that tightly stretched cheek flesh." Genius. Am I overusing the word Robert?
This level of genius could save at least one piece of East and West artistry, dubbed simply "four assorted foods." The assortment rests on a canopy of crisp vegetables including broccoli, bok choy, baby corn and carrot, plus mushroom slices thrown in for contrast. Four foods include pork (firm, though a little dry), shrimp (soggy) and scallops (firm, if lacking inspiring flavors) in an oyster sauce far too tepid to inspire celebrity quizzes. The fourth member of the assortment is the lobster tail resting at the end of the plate, tightly curled out of the strip of shell, pale save for a stripe of milky bronze. The meat is stringy, tough and chewy, behaving in the mouth not unlike a knob of silicone. Ripeness framed the flavor profile, as if the tail had been swabbed with oyster sauce and left to fester under a sun lamp--not quite to the acrid tang of rot, but to the nutty sweetness of aging.
Perhaps it's no surprise, Robert, that the Vietnamese soup pho was the best item on the menu. The beef rendition, with a clean aromatic broth and the usual cast including eye of round steak, well-done flank, soft tendon, meatball and brisket, was satisfying and chewy. The side of toss-on flora--basil, bean sprouts, lime and slices of jalapeno--is crisp and void of blemishes. Noodle strands are firm and separate, neither tangled nor knotted but slipping easily over one another, splashing a bit of the broth and agitating the aromas as they slide from the spoon.
I concede this is out of your professional orbit. In the inaugural episode of Dr. 90210 you lament how you had to repair the breasts of a woman who had her implants installed by a dentist, but that finished butt was most impressive. How does "psychiatrist with a cleaver and a spice rack" sound? I'm sure there's a Plano ZIP code that would welcome the Eagle Scout part of your résumé. Work with me on this. 208 Coit Road, No. 700 (next to Central Market), Plano. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday;
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday;
noon-8 p.m. Sunday. $$