By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela
By Lauren Saria and Heather Hoch
By Deborah Sussman
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch
Once again, across the room, we see our waiter preparing two plates from a sterno server on a cart. You guessed it, our entrees. We have missed out on the tableside prep again.
The chili frog legs promise to be fiery, and they are. But what a presentation! Smothered in heavy brown sauce and served with an ice cream scoop of white rice, they are not what I'd call aesthetically appealing. Aside from being spicy, these thawed croakers are just not that exciting. Even the few crunchy snow peas I can locate in the sauce can't save this dish, which, as Bobcat Goldthwaite would say, "Tastes just like chicken! Tastes just like chicken!" Only a little fishier.
Chicken Calcutta, an Indonesian curry, is worse. Even the array of condiments (called sambals) which accompany it can't elevate this dish from mediocrity. It's not spicy, it's mealy, and the chunks of chicken are a turnoff. At a certain point, we simply stop eating it. Funny, the rest of this tony older crowd appears to be enjoying itself. In fact, the big table in front of us has just ordered a third round of drinks. Maybe that's the key.
Our plates are finally cleared. Before we are even offered dessert, two fortune cookies are placed in front of us by our bus person. "We want to order dessert," I tell her. She tells us she will bring our waiter, who hasn't talked to us in fifteen minutes.
It's another five before he makes it over. It is not his fault. He seems to have the whole restaurant as his station. We order dessert. It is another seventeen minutes before it arrives.
The pina colada mousse is good, but odd. Textured more like a flan, it is dense, molded and low to the ground. There's some kind of clear sauce on top and it's sprinkled with peanuts. When I think about it, it reminds me of those Cool-Whip refrigerator desserts from the Seventies.
The Snow Ball, however, is a winner. Coconut ice cream is covered with chocolate sauce, then topped with fresh coconut shavings. I love it. I'm sorry it's sitting in front of my dining accomplice.
After visiting Trader Vic's in its current state, I'm not too sad about its possible future demise. True, the kitschy interior is a time trip, but is it worth it when the food is overpriced and the service leaves a lot to be desired? Pretensions aside, the mark of a truly fine restaurant is that nobody is treated like a second-class citizen.
Lunch Angel is a funny name for the Tempe area's first Vietnamese restaurant. Then again, Lunch Angel is not really billing itself as a Vietnamese restaurant. Rather, it describes itself as a reasonably priced restaurant serving "Unique Oriental Cuisine"--this at the recommendation of a consultant within the Asian community. The idea behind Lunch Angel is to make Vietnamese cuisine easy and palatable to Americans. For simplicity's sake, its menu has been organized into fifteen platter dishes. They range in price from $2.95 to $5.95. Some platters offer just one dish, others a combination of dishes; all come with rice noodles, steamed or fried rice and marinated vegetables. The interior of the restaurant is casual, yet soothing. The walls and carpet are complimentary shades of green. Tables and chairs are comfortable white-plastic patio furniture. Nagel prints and stark dried-flower arrangements give the take-out, delivery or eat-in restaurant an Eighties feel.
My dining accomplice and I choose a table and sit down. We are immediately greeted and brought water.
We order three platters which offer a combination of dishes. I also order iced "Angel's Coffee"--described as "special Oriental-style served in a unique way." When it comes, it is, in fact, Vietnamese-style coffee: An individual metal filter drips coffee onto a layer of condensed milk at the bottom of a tall glass; ice comes separately. The combined product is delicious--a thick, icy mocha drink.
The kitchen is slow on the day we visit. First out is the #1 Angel Salad. A modification of ga xe phai (shredded cabbage and chicken salad), Angel Salad features pieces of grilled chicken breast and shrimp served on a bed of iceberg lettuce, celery and pale tomato. I find it a little dull--too much bland iceberg lettuce--but conclude that it might be a nice choice for a summer dieter. Sadly, it's no improvement on the Vietnamese original. Sauces play a big role in this country's cuisine. At Lunch Angel, diners have the choice of traditional or house dressings with each platter. Traditional dressing is nuoc cham, a.k.a. Vietnamese special sauce, which is tangy, sweet-hot and clear. House dressing is also sweet, but dark, like teriyaki sauce, and coconut flavored. Also available on request is red chili sauce, for those who like to live on the edge. As I've warned in the past, this stuff is blowtorch hot. We make use of our sauces (we ask for all three) and pick at lettuce until our other two platters arrive. Both come in attractive sea-green-plastic molded trays. We request chopsticks and they are brought to us.