Cafe Reviews

Chop Shop

Page 2 of 3

I'm a rabid soup fan, and George and Son's won ton bowl is a winner. Dainty circles of shallots, slabs of rose-edged barbecue pork and mid-size won tons are tasty, but leaves of fresh spinach and an airy, miso-ish chicken broth make for classy cuisine. We order the bowl for two, but Harry portions it into three bowls so my second companion, not sure if she'll like it, can sample, too. Hopefully there are enough won tons to go around, he smiles; if not, he'll raid the kitchen. A serving for two brings a full cup for each of us, and my friend slurps every drop.

Fortunately, there are only two of us the night I order tom yum soup. This Thai soup is hedonism in liquid form, floating with whole leaves and stalks of fresh basil. The woody, earthy tones of lemongrass and ginger and the acids released by chunks of soft, sweet tomato with a squeeze of lemon give off a fairly unpleasant smell. Get past your nose and into your mouth for a pungent, tangy broth lush with fresh mushrooms, bay shrimp and chicken breast. I do wish the kitchen would pick out some of the lemongrass debris -- the shards get stuck in our throats.

There's more spice to be found in Gramma's salad -- listed as "our own creation" but found on menus all over town from Sesame Inn to Tsing-Wa in Tempe. Patent pending, I care not, as long as I can enjoy the finely shredded cabbage with my choice of pork (or chicken) in red wine vinegar, soy and lots of red pepper.

At this point, it would be fine if I never made it past the appetizers, soups and salads. George and Son's would be a good, one-person lunch or dinner choice, cuddled up at the small bar in the entry, sipping on the restaurant's signature Whispering Peak Chardonnay, a Sonoma, California selection. The atmosphere's certainly welcoming, with mustard-toned walls, gray vinyl booths, suspended lights and boxy wood ceiling accents. Jazzy Asian symbol art is a focal point, with the eatery space sectioned into cozy nooks around a centerpiece dining room.

But Harry has returned, freshening the mustard-colored plates on our white table cloth, replacing a bright purple napkin that's fallen to the coppery orange concrete floor, placing our entrees in the center of the table.

Mandalay Nungyi noodles are pretty, with a generous tumble of white onion curls, cilantro leaves and shredded chicken. Enjoy the view now, though, Harry says -- he brings the dish out looking good, then messes it all up. Sure enough, he digs in with large spoons, tossing the mixture into a monochromatic burnt orange. The very firm, udon-size rice noodles don't need anything other than their mild, slightly gritty Burmese curry seasoning zipped with lemon, bare sauce and little chunks of roasted garlic.

Singapore chow fun is similar, thanks to the dry spice rub on the noodles. But here, the pasta is grasslike chopped rice vermicelli; the toppings grilled onion, green pepper, scrambled egg, red pepper, bay shrimp, shredded pork and bean sprouts.

Pork with eggplant features Asian eggplant, soft and mild in the middle, slightly bitter at the skin; and lots of red chile and scallions in a garlic ginger sauce are robust counterparts to full-flavored pig bits. It's all the better paired with fluffy, large-grain white rice.

The only letdown -- multiple highlights considered -- is Mongolian beef. I never thought I'd fault a Chinese restaurant for too little sauce, but this half-plate of dried rice vermicelli (picture Styrofoam frizzles) and half-plate of quality beef is just too dry.

Steamed salmon needs nothing more, however. It could do just as well with less, actually; the dining public would never know what it was missing if the massive portions were reined in. Yang stops by my table, stares at my barely nibbled plate and notes (with a truly playful grin) that Harry must have screwed up again. Yang has caught me licking -- straight from my spoon -- the salty clean black bean sauce, puréed to viscous liquid, spiffed with garlic and topped with scallions. But no, it's simply too much fish to finish, I insist, the portion weighing in easily at two pounds (no exaggeration) of moist, meaty fillet.

We'll take it to go, I say, and Yang says no. We've just bought him dinner, he teases, since it's his favorite, and he lays claim to leftovers. Then Harry appears, marveling at the fact we're happy, announcing that for some reason, the kitchen tonight got things right.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet