Diner: Far East Fusion

Pacific Moon offers Asian cuisine in clubby atmosphere

Oct 18, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Pacific Moon
Go: Newport on the Levee, Newport

Call: 859-261-MOON

Hours: 11-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, noon-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Many seafood recipes and an extensive vegetarian menu

Accessibility: Fully accessible

Grade: B-

The first thing I noticed when my girlfriend and I walked into Pacific Moon was the size of the dining space. The second thing I noticed was how closely it resembled a nightclub, with its turquoise decor and its framed Asian prints, its pots of bamboo and its bubbling water features, which release faux mist.

Co-owners Alex and Barbara Chine recently relocated their restaurant to Newport on the Levee from its home of more than 16 years in Montgomery. Pacific Moon's new location offers an extensive menu of Asian fusion cuisine from countries located around the Pacific Rim.

When we arrived my companion and I were seated immediately, and we selected a few dishes from the extensive appetizer, or Little Pleasures, section of the menu which includes Crab Rangoon ($6), Steamed Shark Fin Dumplings ($5), Honey BBQ Pork ($6) and Crispy Tofu served with sake soy ($5).

Our helpful waiter brought our appetizer choices to the table quickly, and each dish was well presented and flavorful. Served with a hot Chinese mustard and a sweet and sour sauce, the Crab Rangoon was delicious — its herbed cream cheese filling providing an innovative take on an Asian classic. The shark fin dumplings were simple treats, tasty and cooked to perfection.

The Honey BBQ pork, slowly barbequed with a honey glaze and then hung in a Chinese oven, was worth the entire trip, but the crispy tofu was a little neutral after such a procession of flavors.

We didn't fare as well for the next course. I mounted an unsuccessful search for the smallest fleck of green in a cup of chicken coconut basil soup ($3 per cup). Without the boldness of basil, the watery soup was bland and instantly forgettable.

Eager to sample from the sushi menu, we selected a Spider Roll ($9). Our waiter informed us that both Head Chef Alex Chin and his sushi chef recently returned from yearlong sabbaticals in Hong Kong, where they each spent time refining their dishes. If the spider roll was anything to go by, the sushi chef should have gone somewhere else. Japan, maybe.

A brief note about the bathrooms at Pacific Moon: Walking into the restroom is a disorienting experience that feels like plunging into the deepest end of a swimming pool from the highest diving board. The room is lit with blue neon spotlights; the walls are painted with palm trees over a murky blue-green background, which combine to resemble banks of swaying kelp. The shower-like cubicles are made of opaque plastic, which glows in the neon lighting. The white porcelain fixtures gleam almost luminescently and everything else disappears into the penumbral gloom. Opening the door to the dining room felt like resurfacing from a lung-bursting dive underwater.

Back at the table, a Sweet and Spicy Crackling Calamari Salad ($9) was waiting for me. Generous rings of battered calamari lay on a thick bed of greens, bean sprouts and chopped red peppers. The combination made for a wonderfully fresh dish with a pleasant heat level to it. I would gladly return to eat it again.

Next, we ordered our entrées: Spicy East Indian Chicken ($14) and Plum Crazy Mu Shu Pork ($12). Each of our selections tasted OK, but neither dish was warm enough when it arrived at the table and we had to request a side of plum sauce to go with our mu shu pork, which seemed the plum craziest part of the dish to me. (For the record, I ate them both for leftovers and they both tasted better after they were microwaved.)

As the dinner wound down, we shared a relaxing pot of oolong tea and watched a storm form across the river as an unseen DJ manned his decks and began mixing "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley so loudly that the bamboo plants quivered with each percussive shock wave. One moment I'm trying to enjoy a quiet dinner on a rainy Wednesday evening; the next moment I'm drinking a pot of oolong tea in an Asian-themed nightclub as the bass lines rattle the cutlery on the table. Does that make me crazy?

For a moment, I consider returning to the aquatic calm of the bathroom, but instead we finish our teas and escape into the rain. ©