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TOPICS: Web pages and restaurant selection; Beard House chef from Louisville KY

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Newman's News and Notes

Spring Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(1) page(s): 35


WEB SOURCES and RESTAURANTS: Should one look for restaurants on the web? We vote no when you need more than name, address, and telephone number. Why? When we tried at: www.citisearch.com it came up short many times; our experience in Austin, Texas was problematic in this home of barbecue. The website reported that the home of P.F. Chang in that city rated a 7.2 out of 10. That is a solid grade of ‘C’ in any prof’s book; and though very popular, it was on target for Chinese food. That same day, another Chinese restaurant garnered ten out of ten. This 'A ' review said: “Wow Great Food!” “I love this restaurant” and “Inexpensive, quiet, hospitable staff.”

We checked with some locals and two restaurant reviewers who thought us idiotic to expect good Chinese food in Texas. "Go eat barbecue," they advised. One said of the place highly rated, "My husband loves it." Another said, "Too far to drive for mediocre Chinese food." As a New Yorker, we are often amazed at the good Chinese food in far flung places. And their Austin P.F. Chang's was better than the one in New York, so we were game; and ready for a top notch Chinese place.

In the last five years, Flavor and Fortune has discussed more than a hundred eateries in many countries. Many were outstanding, why not in Texas? We know that real good Chinese food can be had anywhere. That said, we drove to the highly rated CHINA SEA RESTAURANT; 3742 Far West Boulevard in Austin TX; phone: (512) 338-6003.

Owned by Lau Yat, a chef from the Guangdong Province and his lovely Korean wife, we were ready to be delighted. They purchased this place in 2000 after selling a popular Chinese restaurant in San Antonio. We were ready, and they probably were ready for us. So what did we learn?

Chef Lau's wife is a fanatic about cleanliness. She deserves ten out of ten on that score. The ambiance of the entry rates ten, too. It has gorgeous furniture and lovely Asian dolls crammed into a small area. That alone was worth the trip; she has good taste with her high quality furniture, dolls, and other delights.

From the website, it is clear that Chef Lau has a loyal following. No doubt they wrote those delightful remarks. We asked and were told that one comment was by a guy who always orders the very same noodle dish every visit he makes to their place. We were also told that he comes from the city once a week to enjoy that very dish. From perusing the menu and dioscussing things with the chef and his wife, we learned that customers here love fried food and adore spicy foods. We also learned that they love local foods.

So we began with an unusual but local item, Fried Biscuits. They were exactly that, southern biscuits with a soupy Chinese-tasting brown sauce atop. Chinese, they were not. We rated the biscuits only half of ten. We gave the other half to Justin's Mongolian Beef, so named for that very patron who enjoys it weekly. We found it weak on flavor, strong on oiliness, and swimming in gravy.

A textile expert in our hungry group professed knowing nothing about Chinese food. After eating Justin's dish and lots of others, she commented that, "The food has one color and one texture." Clearly, she has a good eye and knows more about food than she gives herself credit for.

The food, not a single dish, deserves a ten. However, the hostess/wife of the chef charmed us ten times ten. We now know, more than ever, that restaurant reviews on the web, more than in local papers, need taking with a grain of salt. And that is something this place could use more of, other seasonings, too. Always a critical question when dining out is, would we return to ths very restaurant? You bet, because we fell in love with the chef’s wife. She is why they deserve that ten. We recommend you go and be seduced, too.

BEARD HOUSE and Chef PENG S. LOOI of Louisville KY share this award-winning chef last September 29th. Many who could not get a reservation and a spot at a table there, including his own wife, surely missed a great event. Just in case you are wondering what a wife does in that circumstance, we were told that she not only gave up her seat to a delighted guest, but that she meandered city streets.

Chef Peng Looi owns two eateries in Louisville. The newest, ASIATIQUE EAST-WEST CUISINE; 106 Sears Avenue; phone: (502) 899-3578 opened in 1994. His older Chinese restaurant, in business since 1987, is AUGUST MOON CHINESE BISTRO; 2269 Lexington Road; phone: (502) 456-6569.

We are delighted that this graduate with an engineering degree changed careers and donned a toque. He is one of the south's most innovative Chinese chefs. Malaysian by birth, Chinese in heart and heritage, he cooks up an Asian storm. If his Beard House selections are representative, his strength lies in new and creative Chinese combinations. As to the dishes presented at the Beard House, except for the lamb dish which was tough, all the Chinese foods were worth a chopstick try.

Four of his customers came to the Beard House from Louisville to support his endeavors. They told us they eat at one of his places each and every week. We sat at their table and learned they are in the food biz. They and Louisville are proud of this culinary adoptee who has won many southern hearts. He won ours with some fine Chinese food. He has also won many southern awards, including one for "Outstanding Chinese restaurant." On our next visit to Louisville, we plan to stop in. The duck breast marinated with Chinese flavorings is a reason to do so.

Some weeks after this enjoyable Beard event, his publicist sent us a sample of new creative sauces he is now manufacturing. When not doing things like that, tending wok, or donating time to charitable causes, Chef Looi loves to create delights such as these. The newest is a line of Asiatique sauces made with nary a preservative added. They just came to market the first of January.

One called Stir Fry is all-purpose. As many things intended to do too much, it loses something in stir-fried Chinese dishes but is a super dip. It also makes a lovely component in many a salad dressing. The Lemongrass Hoisin Sauce is all-around excellent. We liked it as a marinade and found it great when cooked with any vegetable. The Sweet Chili Basil Sauce is fine for dipping, but a weak link in this otherwise well-thought out line. If you can not get to Louisville to try them, put the web to good use and order some on www.asiatique.bigstep.com

                                                                                                                                                       
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