Rather tasty pan-asian fusion (definitely not traditional Chinese or any other particular cuisine) small plates, nice decor, and great service marked our one visit to this chichi joint in the Marina. Located on the trendy Union St. shopping district, Betelnut is something of a product of its location - whereas they were pretty empty when we arrived shortly after 6pm on a Wednesday, they soon filled up with the see-and-be-seen crowd.
We were seated wayyy in the back of the capacious restaurant; this was a good thing, as the front seats by the bar were quite noisy and would have made conversation difficult if not impossible. Our waiter was a very friendly fellow and was helpful throughout our meal.
Betelnut has a good menu of fancy cocktails, and Sarah settled for a Singapore Sling ($7.50) and me a Burma Sour (also $7.50). Our waiter asked what types of alcohol we liked and suggested drinks accordingly. Sarah's 'sling was tasty, and mine, despite the weird combo of bourbon and fruit juice (which I'm never quite sure is a good idea), was good as well.
They have mostly small plates, with a few (fairly expensive) large plates. We decided to concentrate on the small plate fare, as it would let us try more flavors. We wound up ordering: seared scallops with XO sauce and coconut rice cakes ($10.50 + $3.50 for one extra to make an even four - we were grateful that the waiter asked if we wanted this, as we both love scallops), shui jiao ($8.75, dumplings with pork in a sichuan/pepper sauce), Cecilia's minced chicken and lup cheong with with lettuce cups ($9.98), and firecracker shrimp ($9.99, breaded shrimp with aromatics and sambal sauce).
The shrimp were excellent - crispy breading on the outside and tender juicy shrimp within. Their plate-mates of basil, scallions, and serrano chili elevated the dish with their distinct flavors. The scallops were good too, but had too much ginger sauce on them, masking the subtle flavor of the tender shellfish and the coconut rice cake they lay upon. The chopped chicken DIY wraps were very nicely done and more lettuce was immediately brought out when we ran out, a nice touch. The dumplings were good and in a spicy sauce, but lacked the complexity of our other dishes.
With our food, Sarah had a Sake'rita ($7.50) and our waiter suggested an Alsacian white ($8/glass) when I asked for a recommendation of something white and not Chardonnay - it was lovely and went very well with the food. We overheard him suggesting pairings of food and wine, as well as helping other diners order harmonious combinations of plates, something all too often lacking in many places. I can't count the times we've ordered what sounded like dissimilar dishes, only to receive several that are very similar or share a sauce, so kudos to our waiter for knowing the menu well enough to recommend good combinations!
The table seated next to us consisted of obvious upper-management pink-faced men who talked constantly of how their kitchen was remodelled for only $70,000, and how their ranch house in Napa is coming along - a not-so-lovely aspect of dining in the Marina. The hostess did, however, assure us that nobody would be seated at the table behind us - a good thing, as it would have been very cramped!
For dessert I had a changmai coffee parfait ($6.88) and Sarah ordered fried bananas ($6.88 (all desserts are $6.88)). My parfait was lovely ice cream served atop a fluffy coffee granita. Tasted great, but I got a feezy headache within minutes! I really dislike bananas, so I didn't try Sarah's dish, but she said it was good. The final damage was $94 - a little high, but then again we did have 4 drinks, 4 small plates and 2 desserts.
All told, it was an enjoyable meal with excellent service. The Marina "scene" really isn't my bag at all, but so it goes. Parking was a bit of a bummer - $10.50 for 90 minutes in the nearest garage and hopeless street parking unless you enjoy circling around forever.