Pacific Paradise Tropical Grill and Sushi Bar
Rain and rainbows
On San Pedro and Candelaria is a long-titled Pacific Paradise Tropical Grill and Sushi Bar, cooking up a mixed bag of Pacific offerings. Pacific Paradise serves up the diverse cuisine from all around the Ring of Fire, Asia and Hawaii.
Inside, artificial palm trees and beach murals wrap around elevated booths that look over tables with wicker chairs. There’s even a tiki bar and walls paneled in bamboo. Well, aloha!
Owner Denny Deng grew up in China, spending time in his grandparents’ restaurant then heading off to culinary school. He ended up in Washington, D.C. and worked in restaurants to hone his skills. He found his way to Albuquerque and eventually opened this place. Drawing inspiration from the cuisine he was raised on as well as his own creativity, Deng has put together an extensive menu that runs the gamut from avocado rolls to wontons to tom yom goong soup. Though packed with lemongrass, mushrooms and shrimp, the tom yom goong proved to be painfully spicy with a strong fish sauce presence, with very little of the promised lime flavor. But an order of dumplings was wonderfully simple and subtle. Filled with flavorful chicken and bright scallions that were enhanced with a hint of sesame oil, these were definite pleasers. Petite and delicate spring rolls also made a good impression. Snow peas spiked the usual shredded cabbage and added a green, vegetative element to the rolls.
A salad of giant iceberg leaves and one lone grape tomato left much to be desired. Drenching the wilted lettuce was dressing that looked and tasted like oily Sunkist orange soda. It pooled beneath the salad in a Day Glo puddle and only contributed tooth-shocking sweetness to the greens.
PP’s entrées were a little hit and miss. On the outstanding side was beef teriyaki. Sirloin, cooked to order, was served with a phenomenal teriyaki sauce with full-bodied soy notes.
Hawaiian mahi-mahi was overcooked but had a fresh taste. It was topped with a confusing sauce of bell peppers and melon. While intriguing, the two flavors ultimately clashed and just refused to bond.
I just don’t get the rice pizza. It’s basically jasmine rice (though it lacked the typical fragrance) mixed with scrambled egg, tomato, pineapple, mushrooms, onion and chicken or shrimp, then covered in melted cheese. I found it to be bland, but someone else might enjoy the homey weirdness of it all. It's dude food, through and through.
From the sushi bar I tried a combo plate that had California, spicy tuna and Albuquerque rolls. The Albuquerque roll's tempura-fried strip of green chile was a tasty complement to avocado and cucumber, but their appearance was somewhat sloppy. The side of gari (pickled ginger) had an artificial saccharine taste that did little to cleanse the palate—in fact, it was hard to wash its aftertaste from my tongue.
I just don’t get the rice pizza, but someone else might enjoy the homey weirdness of it all. It's dude food, through and through.
For dessert I tried two ice creams. Both were fantastic. Mild and almost savory, the avocado ice cream was a calming end to a heavy meal. The plum wine ice cream was light and slightly tart with chewy pieces of plum.
All of the staff was friendly and accommodating, but when it came down to simply waiting tables, things fell apart. I visited the restaurant twice, at peak and empty seatings. Both times the service was equally bad. My salad came out after the entrée, my drink came out after the appetizer, and my servers seemed to have conflicting ideas about what was included in my order. On both visits I ordered combo meals plus appetizers. One server gave me a choice between wine or dessert and the other offered both. Both visits left me sitting after dessert watching my leftover ice cream melt while I waited for my check.
This restaurant has potential. Some dishes lack sophistication and common sense, and a little coordination between the kitchen and waitstaff would also go a long way. But this is one to keep your eye on. As it is, the tiki experience is unlike any other in Albuquerque. And as long as you're prepared to sit out some turbulence, my hope is that Chef Deng will fly this thing to paradise, not the Bermuda Triangle.