2009-07-16 / Cuisine

David Wong's provides a tasteful tour of Asian classics

We've had a pandemic of pan-Asian restaurants in recent years. It's not enough to serve excellent Japanese fare or Thai or Vietnamese. Instead, in the highly competitive industry, many restaurateurs attempt to be all things to all diners.

Based on my experiences with such establishments, more fail than succeed. Rather than doing one cuisine well, they wind up with a menu that's all over the globe and produce dishes that are memorable for all the wrong reasons.

However, once in a while someone manages to grasp the subtleties of multiple complex cuisines and develops a menu that showcases some of the best dishes each country has to offer.

One such restaurant exists behind an unpretentious storefront on U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs. David Wong's Pan Asian & Sushi doesn't look like much from the road but Mr. Wong has created an oasis of Eastern delights that's worth a trip from Fort Myers or Naples.

The space that used to hold Cilantro Tamales has been transformed, the Mexican ambience replaced with the subtle warmth and charm of Asia. There are no paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling or kimonos draping the walls. Instead, soothing pale yellow and gold walls, maroon curtains and planters with Japanese-style dried stalks and flowers create a lovely and comfortable setting for a meal filled with vibrant flavors and artful presentations.

On a recent weeknight, there were only a few tables occupied, with one server and another man, who turned out to be the eponymous Mr. Wong, attending to them.

There's no wine list here — just a variety of house wines. We tried the pinot noir, which was about the only item we ordered that was unremarkable.

The menu covers some serious ground, but doesn't overwhelm. There's a full sushi menu — sushi, sashimi and chirashi, available a la carte or as dinners — as well as about three dozen rolls. Other choices include salmon carpaccio, scallop or tuna ceviche, sunomono and tuna tataki.

Then there's the rest of the menu, which tempts diners with the seductive flavors of Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Cambodia and Indonesia. Curries and pho, teriyaki and stir fries abound.

Ahi tuna stars in this dish in which it's featured both seared and in sushi. Ahi tuna stars in this dish in which it's featured both seared and in sushi. We started with a sampler platter of appetizers ($12.95) and a green papaya salad ($7.95). The sampler consisted of two pieces each of four items: coconut shrimp, which were generously coated with unsweetened coconut then fried to a perfect golden brown; tender chicken satay; Vietnamese shrimp ravioli, with chunks of shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and celery wrapped in a delicate wonton skin; and shumai, shrimpfilled dumplings that were as expertly fried as the shrimp. The platter came with balsamic soy sauce, which worked well with the shumai; creamy peanut sauce and a sweet and sour cucumber salad. The salad went with the satay, as did the peanut sauce, which also complemented the coconut shrimp, while the soy sauce paired well with the ravioli.

The papaya salad was a resplendent rendition of this Thai classic. Shreds of crisp green papaya were combined with peanuts, tomatoes and long beans then marinated in a chili lime dressing. The result is a wondrous crunchy, sweet, sour and spicy salad. That alone would be worth a second trip to Wong's.

The affable Mr. Wong visited our table to tell us of some of the house specialties such as crispy whole red snapper, roasted crispy duck and charred Chilean sea bass. In my never-ending quest for truly crisp crispy duck ($19.95), I decided to give that a try while my companion, in his never-ending quest for the perfect seared tuna, ordered the ahi tuna two ways ($22.95).

I'm happy to report that we were both well satisfied.

The tuna's presentation was gorgeous — two dia- mond- shaped pieces of fresh tuna had been ohso lightly seared then stacked one on top of the other and garnished with a nest of what appeared to be shredded beets. Three pieces of tuna nigiri atop squares of banana leaves adorned three corners of the plate while the fourth corner held a mound of picked ginger and a leaf-shaped wedge of wasabi. Beneath the tuna was a mix of stir-fried veggies and a pool of citrus sauce. The tuna was excellent

— buttery, tender and not at all fishy. The ginger was crisp and paired well with what my companion happily described as "wasabi with no excuses" — that means spicy. As for the duck, it also came two ways. Were you to look up the term crispy duck in the dictionary, you could well expect to see a picture of Mr. Wong's dish accompanying it. A duck breast had been roasted to a most definitive crisp state, then sliced into thin, easy-to-eat pieces. It came with sautéed bok choy and more slices of duck in a mild brown sauce. Accompaniments included warm moo shu wrappers and three sauces — hoisin, mango and coconut-curry. I had trouble deciding which went best with the duck, some of which I tucked into the wrappers and ate Peking duck style.

Dessert seemed superfluous, but we nonetheless shared a slice of tempura cheesecake ($6). Yes, that's fried cheesecake and it was richly decadent, with a crisp exterior and a creamy filling. Vanilla icing and whipped topping complemented it well. The only thing I'd have omitted was a drizzle of red sauce that was no doubt used to add color but which also contributed an artificial berry flavor.

Although there was but one server working the floor with Mr. Wong, none of the halfdozen

parties was neglected. Both men stopped by frequently to make sure all was satisfactory. We had no complaints and I didn't notice anything but praise emanating from the other tables either. This one's a keeper. Anyone with a craving for Asian fare will be amply rewarded for finding their way to this little restaurant that delivers in a big way.

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