ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the frantic tumble of Asian restaurants in town, newcomer Asian Grill is fighting for a share of the market with well more than 100 other contenders.
The owner likes to go by his surname, Thai, and Asian Grill is his culmination of many years cooking, dining and traveling to Southeast Asia to experience the cuisine at its source. Thai will often pop in on a table to see if everything is meeting expectations, a huge smile on his face showing his genuine interest in whether you enjoy his food. The cleanly appointed space can seem sparsely attended, more from ambitious square footage than lack of diners.
Travelers know that much of Asia’s street food is anything-on-a-stick, from meat to grilled fruits – just purchase and eat while walking. Satay, a name associated with grilled skewered chicken and peanut sauce, is just the beginning at Asian Grill; chicken is an option, but the beef ($3.95) is worth a detour for its crispy edges and tart-sweet dipping sauce. Also shoring up the appetizers are twin Summer Rolls ($3.25), rolled bundles of rice noodles, cilantro, pork or shrimp with their own well-matched sauce.
LOCATION: 5303 Gibson SE, east of San Mateo, 265-4702
HOURS: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, closed Sundays
Fusion as a guiding principle in a restaurant kitchen can be dangerous since the results may not go over with many patrons. Thai’s vision is to feature combinations with familiar ingredients but a gentle enough twist to not raise eyebrows in most folks. He begins with the Phuket Chowfun ($8.50), a version of a beloved Chinese noodle dish, starting with wide pasta and scallions stir-fried with pork and adorned with ground peanuts. Lemon wedges supplied an additional bite.
I had to try the Ahi Tuna ($9.95), kept simple with a rare pan sear and served with a potent ginger sauce – no Japanese-leaning wasabi or soy sauce to be found. A generous pile of fried rice served to counterbalance the inherently lean fish and its piquant dressing.
Asian Grill’s Sesame Chicken ($8.50) is unlike most I’ve had. Each piece is breaded and fried in the style of sweet-and-sour pork, and its citrusy sauce is a bit sweet for my taste. I prefer the Pineapple Beef ($7.50 as a lunch special), a tangle of thin meat tossed with pineapple and veggies in dark savory sauce. It’s delicious if you overlook the long-grain rice undercooked by mere moments. Pho, the Vietnamese breakfast of champions, takes up a whole section in the menu, serving as a warm yet lean counterpoint to the heavy noodles and fried-rice sections.
Where does that leave the menu at Asian Grill? Lots of Vietnamese, with dashes of Thai, Chinese and hints of other southeast Asian nations like Malaysia and Singapore form what I’d call mellow Asian fusion. Nothing truly unusual will appear, such as the vinegary meats of the Philippines or the pungent Korean condiments.
Photo Credit – pat vasquez-cunningham/journal
Cutline – Malay Street Grilled Beef is on the menu at Asian Grill on Gibson SE.