Unagi but Nice

If you haven't gotten your fill of unagi from the sushi, una-don should satisfy your craving. It's the main-dish version, lots of barbecued eel teamed with rice and sauce.

When dinner's done, the chef will peel and cut up an orange, then artistically put it back in its skin and pour on a bit of sweet syrup. It's designed to put a smile on the customer's face. But the effort is superfluous: Most people here have been grinning from ear to ear from the moment they picked up their chopsticks.

Oriental Seafood Restaurant, 1951 West Indian School, Phoenix, 264-3131. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Oriental Seafood Restaurant is just the kind of place I really wanted to like. It's cheap, it's ethnic, it's in a funky part of town and it's run by folks with only limited English skills. Every once in a while, a spot like this turns out to be an ethnic gem. My hopes were also buoyed by a rave review from the daily paper, proudly displayed on the front door.

But in my line of work, you can't let hopes interfere with critical judgment. And in my critical judgment, if you get the urge to visit Oriental Seafood Restaurant, you should lie down at once until the feeling passes.

The restaurant's specialty is live seafood. You can't miss the setup: Just inside the entrance are tiered banks of spotlighted tanks. Circulating water cascades down from the top. It makes a nice initial impression. But once you get close, the impression isn't nearly so pleasant.

To be frank, I haven't been this reluctant to go near the water since I saw Jaws. No, I was in no danger of being attacked. Just the reverse: Most of the live seafood here looks frighteningly comatose.

More than half of the crustaceans in the murky shrimp tank lay upside down, motionless. Not even their antennae were twitching. Perhaps they were practicing the synchronized backfloat. During another visit, I overheard a group of customers order a tilapia. I watched as one of the staffers dipped a net into the tank and hauled it out. Usually, a fish pulled out of water puts up a struggle. This one didn't even wriggle. And though the lobster and crab showed occasional signs of life--a raised leg, a moving feeler--there was none of the vigorous scuttling that might have helped ease my mind about their seaworthiness and eatworthiness.

By this time, the thought of making my way through the menu filled me with the kind of dread that Kierkegaard might have felt at his gloomiest. But duty called.

I wish I hadn't listened. The food here is awful.
I thought I'd ease into dinner with pan-fried dumplings. They arrived scorched and greasy, which did nothing to relieve my anxiety. An energyless Oriental seafood soup, flecked with bits of desultory shrimp, squid and fish and a touch of greenery, didn't ease my mind, either.

The scallops were the last straw. They were "off," ruining the two dishes they showed up in.

There's no sense lingering over the rest of Oriental Seafood Restaurant's dismal fare. I made sure that the Szechuan hot shrimp were made with creatures other than the "live" specimens in the tanks. But it didn't matter. This dish was moribund, DOA, with no zip, no heat, no taste. Gritty oysters in black bean sauce came with an unappetizing crunch--somehow pieces of shell got into the mix. Ginger chicken showed not a trace of kitchen skill, from the prefab-looking chicken to the huge, inedible slabs of ginger inelegantly tossed in. What's special about the house special rice noodle? It couldn't have been the taste. And yui-shan eggplant, a dish that usually gets me in a lather, couldn't even raise a sweat.

I have a friend who supplies local Chinese restaurants with meat. He makes it his business to eat at every restaurant he calls on. I asked him if he'd ever been to Oriental Seafood Restaurant. He nodded. "I ate there." Then he raised a finger, as if in warning. "Once."

That's one more time than you have to.

Hiro Sushi:
Arizona roll
$6.95
Dragon roll
9.95
Pork katsu
4.95

Oriental Seafood Restaurant:
Pan-fried dumplings
$4.25
Szechuan hot shrimp
6.95

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...