David Lum explains that the concept of the restaurant is reflected in the black-and-white photographs of his nieces and nephews that line the walls. "They're all Eurasian kids," he said. "That's how I got the name of the restaurant. I told them, 'I'm going to name it after you.'"
Michael says he grew up at the Rickshaw, where he worked first as a busboy, then as a waiter, a bartender and finally a chef. "That's where I learned to cook," he recalls. He was recently promoted to head chef and kitchen manager. He has updated the menu, eliminating the old separations between Asian and fusion cuisine. Now all the entrées are listed under "Enticements."
"The idea is Asian-based, new-American cooking. It's traditional American cooking with Asian spices to give it a new flavor, to get the most flavor to come out of the dish," Michael comments.
He described duck Macao ($14.50) as a case in point. The duck is marinated in Asian spices, deep-fried, then coated with a spicy Asian sauce. It is served with braised baby bok choy and decorated with a frizzy topping of fried taro root. My co-diner enjoyed it immensely.
I loved the tomato soup, another example of fusion cuisine. A thick tomato broth, just what we're used to in America, is reinvented with blocks of crispy sizzling rice, Chinese vegetables and big chunks of chicken and shrimp. I found myself wanting to order it again on my second visit, but in service to you, dear reader, I had the seaweed wonton (it was fine), while my companion chose hot and sour soup, which was quite overseasoned with vinegar.
For appetizers we ordered shaomai, a traditional Chinese dumpling of minced chicken, shrimp and vegetables gathered into a kind of tiny cupcake, with a thin noodle serving as the cupcake paper, then steamed. Other choices include mussels in a garlic sauce, Italian-style calamari and California rolls (an already Americanized version of sushi).
Buddhist Island ($11) is a melange of stir-fried Oriental vegetables with bean-thread noodles. We requested the addition of tofu ($1.50), which enhanced the dish.
I was less pleased with Shangai pasta ($14.50), which featured thick noodles stir-fried with chicken and shrimp in a spiced sauce. More attention to the veggies would have made this a better dish.
Desserts are heavy and very sweet and very American — grasshopper pie, brownie à la mode, or cheesecake. Here's where the lighter Asian cuisine — litchi nuts or Japanese ice cream — would be welcome.
Michael Lum enjoys his job. "I just love to cook," he laughs. "Sometimes when I finish cooking I go out in the dining room and I see happy faces. Someone waves me over and they're having a great meal — I love the feeling of it."
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.