The finer points are what set West East Bistro apart from the swelling crowd of modern Asian Fusion contenders.
First-time restaurateur Danny Wu enters the dining arena with a surprising sense of what's right, from his restaurant's serene decor, soft lighting and classic jazz background music to its solicitous but never overbearing service. If there's a problem, it's with the restaurant's location, an almost-empty shopping center in a quasi-industrial area. Because the indoor lighting is muted, the place can also give the illusion of being closed.
Persevere and you will find yourself rewarded. One dinner began with Chef Andy Chu's ravioli-style dumplings filled with watercress and wild shrimp in a fragrant dashi broth, a spicy vinegar sauce on the side. Vibrant Vietnamese-inspired summer rolls featured rice paper wrapped around bright, crisp julienne vegetables and lots of fresh basil and mint, a sweet chile sauce for dipping. A lettuce wrap of diced chicken, smoked tofu, vegetables and crisp rice vermicelli was a savory treat, as were the aptly described "slowly roasted fork tender" barbecue-style spare ribs. While the restaurant doesn't have a sushi bar (how novel is that?) Chu does put out a few maki rolls. I tried the spicy salmon. It was fiery and sweet, crowned with a dollop of chile mayo.
I must object, though, to marshmallow-topped mashed yams anywhere but on a Thanksgiving dinner table. Here, the yams shared a plate with lovely baby bok choy and a winning main course of pan-seared Long Island duck breast. The fanned-out duck slices were precisely medium rare as ordered, drizzled with a not-too-sweet red wine raspberry sauce. Similarly, a five-spice dusted rib eye was grilled to specifications, rare and rosy. Slow-braised short ribs were fork-tender and flavorful, but the Cheddar topping on the accompanying mashed potatoes was again one more step too far to the West.
Much more Asian was a slow-simmered Thai red curry with chicken, a dish with deep nuances of flavor. A surprise hit was the dull-sounding stir-fry of chicken and vegetables, imbued with a compelling smokiness. I was initially skeptical about the curry seafood bouillabaisse, since too often, mixed seafood dishes are overcooked. Not this one, exhibiting Malaysian accents of lemongrass and coconut. Every element -- plump wild shrimp, diver scallops, Prince Edward Island mussels, calamari -- was done to glistening succulence.
While the place serves a respectable tiramisu, I was more partial to the creamy, light house-made mango pudding. Neither wholly Eastern nor Western, it honors both worlds.
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 10/31/07