"Can I tell you something weird?" said Nora, my wife.
"Sure, what's up?" I said, wondering if this would be something really good.
"My rice tasted like feet.", she said.
That's how our meal ended, but you'll have to stick with me for a few to figure out how we got there.
Today was a cold, damp and blustery day and you could even see snow on the McDowell Mountains near our house. By the time I got home from work I didn't feel like eating at home, and thought it would be fun to try someplace new. I saw a few mentions of "Ling & Louie's", a new Asian place not far from our house and in the same center as South Beach, my least favorite new restaurant and one on which I wrote a very negative review back in December. So, off to Ling & Louie's with our 2 year old son.
For starters, the place exhudes "mass proliferation." It is very "concept driven" and has lots of thems, slogans, etc. Their tagline is "Not for boring people." I don't think anything is wrong with chains - some of them are quite good - and despite the fact that chains often get panned by other Hounds I see nothing wrong with expansion if quality can be maintained. The owner of this place also opened Thaifoon, which recently closed, and the only other Ling & Louie's is in Denver. Give it two years and there will be 20 of them. This place was built from the ground up to be transported and replicated elsewhere and I think that's just fine. I wasn't aiming for fine dining.
Keep in mind that we were dining with our two year old son who is very much starting to act his age and despite the fact that he is very well behaved, we can only expect so much. We ordered the following: Orange Peel Chicken for my wife, Sizzling Salmon for me, Coconut Shrimp for a starter, and some buttered noodles for my son. Both my wife and I opted for the $0.99 soup addition to our entrees - - miso for her, "Long Life Chicken and Rice" for me.
Our starter came out quickly, and I mean lighting fast. Eight coconut shrimp drizzled with a light sweet sauce. I am not a fan of sweet food, so I wasn't expecting to like them, but they were quite delicious. Butterflied shrimp, very lightly battered, and they were full of flavor. Not to mention the fact that I thought the order size was quite generous for the $7.95 price. They actually tasted like shrimp, somewhat remarkable these days.
Before we could even eat two shrimp, our soups arrived. Mine was DELICIOUS and served VERY hot. Clear chicken broth with litle bits of chicken and rice, a little bit of cilantro and a very nice spicy bite to it. I could have been happy with a huge bowl of this and nothing else. Speaking of which, for the $0.99 upgrade I expected a small cup but this was a full sized bowl of soup. My wife's miso soup was "a little better than good" and loaded with chunks of tofu, which our son devoured. Off to a pretty strong start except...
Before we could even finish half our soup the entrees arrived at our already-cluttered table. My salmon was a very generously portioned filet served over asparagus on a sizzling hot cast-iron skillet. The salmon was very moist and full of flavor. Clearly they undercooked it a bit so that it would finish cooking as it came out to the table on the cast-iron. I don't think it was wild salmon, but it wasn't dry and flavorless like most farm raised salmon that I've had. In fact, I don't often order fish out but it sounded good tonight and it exceeded my expectation. For $14.99 I thought my entree was pretty tasty and a very good value. My wife's orange peel chicken was just fair...a bit bland, actually. No better than anyone else's, for sure. It didn't leave much of an impression except that it's wasn't overly sweet. Other than that, it doesn't deserve too many words in this already verobose posting of mine.
We skipped dessert and had yogurt next door and, fortunately, stayed far away from South Beach. The mere thought of that place sends me into a seizure.
A few random remarks:
1. It feels like a "theme" restaurant, so if that's not your thing then stay way. It feels that way because it IS a theme restaurant......sort of a Tiki theme that I'm sure JK would really get a laugh out of. Lots of tropical drinks, sake bombers, etc. Let's use this analogy: Tokyo Express is to Sea Saw what Ling & Louie's is to Trader Vic's.
2. The service still needs a lot of work. Our meal was very, very rushed. As in, our food arrived in rapid-fire succession with no spacing whatsoever. Our server just needed to space things out a bit. She asked us about dessert before we were halfway done with our entrees and she asked us three separate times if we were done...despite the fact that we were clearly still eating. She just needed some practice; the place has only been open for a week and I didn't let this get to me.
3. The staff tries too hard. I'm sure they're under directives to be very friendly and funny, but it comes out forced. Most of them are relatively young kids - and very nice ones at that - but I've been around long enough to realize that they don't really want to be my buddy. I noticed another waiter sit down at someone's table to take their order, but he may have just been surrendering since his customer had never heard of "miso soup" before.
All in all, I'd give it a 7 out of 10. The food was good, if not great, provided that you accept this place for what it is. It's dumbed-down asian food with little culinary focus, but with better-than-average ingredients and a wholesome atmosphere. Being that we are a family with a young child and have another one on the way, I can understand the appeal of places like this and think they deserve a place on the culinary landscape. But, trust me, when we're sans-children we make a beeline for Binkley's!
Back to the rice. You have a choice of jasmine rice or brown rice with your entrees. I've been on an all-things-jasmine kick lately and can't get enough of it...so I got the jasmine rice. My wife loves brown rice. As we wrapped up our meal and I asked her what she thought of our meal. And that's how the conversation that started this post ensued.
So, if you don't mind a little theme with your food, some service that needs work, and aren't aiming for fine dining, then give Ling & Louie's a try. It's really pretty good. But if you don't like the flavor of feet with your rice, be sure to get the jasmine rice.
I'm just wondering why my wife knows the taste of feet.....