Pacific Rim Asian Bistro and Buddha Lounge
Oh so good
In sixth grade, living in Ulm, Germany, I hung out exclusively with Koreans. It was initially because they were the only ones who didn’t beat me up after school. But, soon enough, I came to appreciate my friends for other merits, including their mothers’ cooking.
Spring rolls started the love affair. I ate them as fast as those delicate rice wrappers could be stuffed. Then a friend’s mom introduced me to kimchee. I raced home to tell my parents about this exhilarating and strange dish I had eaten, only to have my father tell me it'd probably been buried in someone’s backyard for 100 years. Instead of deterring me, it launched my intrigue with the wonders of fermentation. I suppose, in a way, my obsession with wine was born that day.
I’ve never really forgotten that first mouthful of spicy cabbage that effervesced on my taste buds, but one bite of Pacific Rim’s kimchee refreshed my memory. It was a sharp contrast between my first experience. Painstakingly julienned cucumber burst in my mouth with sweet-hot ginger instead of fiery peppers. It was served alongside several other pickled and fresh vegetable dishes that accompany a Korean barbecue feast.
Called bulgogi and cooked directly on one of seven specially equipped tables with built-in grills, platters of marinated meat are seared either by your own hand or by the remarkably skilled serving staff. Both beef and seafood styles are impressive. Our cook/server grilled the meat to perfection and somehow managed to effortlessly sear scallops while simultaneously bringing squid, shrimp and veggies to cooked perfection. Did I mention that she was performing the same duty for four other tables—at the same time?
As impressive as the bulgogi is, a glance across the dining room reveals a packed sushi bar with a rather lively crowd.
As impressive as the bulgogi is, a glance across the dining room reveals a packed sushi bar with a rather lively crowd. Holding court is Sushi Chef James Oh. Elbow-to-elbow and packed into booths, Oh obviously commands a loyal following. Oh, formerly of Samurai Grill and Midori Sushi, brings to the table 20 years of experience and his Viagra salad. I didn’t try it, but enthusiastic patrons of the sushi bar yelled their approval out loud.
Want to discover what a sushi chef is made of? Fully put your trust in the chef's hands and let him or her call the shots. This is where I made, I suspect, a crucial mistake. Instead of telling my server to relay to Oh that I wanted to “be surprised,” I ordered from the menu.
The “Oh So Crazy” roll was described as whatever “Chef Oh is crazy about.” At first glance, it looked promising: an inside-out roll intricately decked with alternating patterns of orange, black and green tobiko (flying fish roe) and a shrimp tail curling out one end. Totally form over function. Drizzled with eel sauce, the roll proved to be disappointing though gorgeous. Don’t get me wrong, all ingredients were quality, and the roll was beautifully constructed, but looks only go so far. Deceptively bland in flavor, Oh’s craze of the day made me question if I was simply unable to pick up on the subtleties of Oh’s efforts.
Oh is obviously talented, but I suspect he's become accustomed to indulging the routine requests of the average California Roll Joe.
Pacific Rim is most definitely a restaurant displaying attention to detail, from its carefully executed décor to its exceedingly well-rounded menu. Appetizers like meaty sake clams in a garlicky broth cause the diner’s expectations to rise, and entrées like the fantastically named "Evil Jungle Prince Curry" deliver heat balanced by intoxicating fragrance.
I’m hard-pressed to point out any major flaws with Pacific Rim. It’s basically two restaurants in one—a sushi bar and Korean bulgogi with a dining room that brings all the elements together. And did I mention the Buddha Lounge? The small bar stays open late, turning out sake and sake-based cocktails alongside sushi and TV. What’s astounding is that they’re able to pull it off. And I’ll be damned if they don’t.
My only advice is this: Belly on up to the sushi bar, Oh’s most visible territory, and issue a challenge. Tell him to show you what he’s got. I have a hunch he’s holding back, just a little.
The Alibi recommends:
• Any bulgogi—remember to reserve a bulgogi table as they fill up fast.
• Sake clams
• Evil jungle prince curry
• Red bean ice cream—enough to share and so good!
Pacific Rim Asian Bistro and Buddha Lounge, 10721 Montgomery NE, 271-0920. Lunch hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun noon-3 p.m. Dinner hours: Mon-Thu 3-9:30 p.m., Fri 3-10 p.m., Sun 3-9 p.m. Price range: expensive. Credit cards accepted; wine, sake and beer served; large parties.