Mein attraction

Owner Ken Vong with salt and pepper chicken at Crawfish Asian Cuisine.

Owner Ken Vong with salt and pepper chicken at Crawfish Asian Cuisine.

Photo/Allison Young

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My wife and I visited Crawfish Asian Cuisine during their soft opening, meaning all hands on deck and anxious to please, but I could have done with a little less service. After our water glasses had been topped off a fourth time—along with inquiry on additional beverages—one server admonished, “No beer? But you’re eating wings! You must have beer.” I finally gave in, accepted his wisdom, and ordered a Tsing Tao ($5).

The decor is tasteful, with none of the kitschy appointments often found in American Asian restaurants. The leather seats match the leather-bound menus, lending a faint “new car smell” to the experience (likely to fade soon enough). The marble floor accents the marble-topped tables. Heavy-gauge, contemporary-styled flatware is presented in a cloth napkin, with white porcelain plates, salt and pepper shakers, and elegant little porcelain pitchers for the soy sauce. Even the lighting fixtures are pleasing to the eye, leading me to wonder at the flatscreen TVs tuned to sports—completely out of place in a small restaurant otherwise exuding charm and style.

The kitchen was out of the curried clam appetizer, so we settled on pot stickers ($7). Bigger than most, the classic dumplings were lightly fried and stuffed full of pork and vegetables. The soy-based dipping sauce was tasty without being too sweet or salty. A very satisfying hot and sour soup ($2.50) followed—a well-balanced blend of pork, tofu, bamboo shoot, pickle and wood-ear mushroom in a velvety broth. Rounding out the appetizers was a fan-freaking-tastic order of salt and pepper wings ($8). Just as big as the pot stickers and tossed with jalapeño, garlic and green onion, they were savory, slightly sweet, and fried crispy without being remotely dry. I practically licked the plate clean.

Walnut Prawns ($15) are usually a favorite, but sadly this dish wasn’t the best example. The texture and flavor of the shrimp and sauce were OK, but the fried mochiko batter was rendered a bit soggy. More disappointing was the chef’s decision to dust a mere suggestion of pulverized walnut on the shrimp, whereas I expect candied nut pieces that add a lot of texture and flavor. The menu description reads, “tossed with honey aioli and served with candy walnut.” Perhaps they simply forgot—or ran out—of walnuts.

A mainstay of Chinese food in America, combo chow mein ($11) almost seems out of place against some of the more impressive morsels on this menu. I’ve been more disappointed than not with most batches of combo chow mein, but this chef treats the dish with more care than most. Nearly soba-sized wheat noodles were fried just the other side of al dente, with flavor and texture that was quite pleasing to the palate. The sauce was light, and the meats and veg weren’t overcooked. Perhaps I’ve eaten at too many quick-noodle shops, but I had no idea chow mein could be anything but a so-so experience until now.

Last to the table (along with a bowl of steamed rice), lamb with black pepper sauce on a sizzling plate ($13), featuring tenderized strips of lamb stir-fried with onion, bell pepper and a honey black pepper sauce, served on a sizzling, ceramic slab (Asian fajitas?). As with the chow mein, the veggies and lamb were done just right, and that sauce was something else. This is a dish you’ll ask for again and again, or enjoy the next day for lunch, as I did, along with the leftover chow mein. You know a dish works well when it still wows after being refrigerated and reheated.

Despite a few missteps during their first weeks, I think Crawfish Asian Cuisine may be one of the best new restaurants in town. If for nothing else, I’ll be back for those delectable wings.