The Pacific Kitchen is a reboot of the former Pacific Moon, located in Montgomery near the Go Bananas Comedy Club. Owner Michael Ly, a former Pacific Moon and Shanghai Mama's chef, returns to his old stomping grounds armed with his "greatest hits" of Asian delights.
The layout will be familiar to Pacific Moon fans, but a lot of money and care was invested in its overhaul and interior modernization, which is equal parts rustic and upscale. Pacific Kitchens' extensive, yet well-designed, menu offers many dishes unique to the Pacific region, including Malaysian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and even Hawaiian cuisine. And like its predecessor, the restaurant offers dim sum on weekends.
We visited once shortly after it first opened earlier this year and again last week. They've clearly shaken out the service kinks in that span: where before the hostess had been frazzled and barely able to keep up with the constant flow of incoming patrons, now there's a sense of confident, orderly composure.
Shortly after being seated, water was served in fat, stubby, Polynesian-style Tiki glasses stamped with The Pacific Kitchen logo. It was a small but festive touch that lent a sense of playfulness to the experience.
Anyone's first visit to Pacific Kitchen will prove an overwhelming one. At eleven pages, the menu feels more like a bible in size, a dizzying set of verses divided into different styles of Asian cuisine split among ten different food/drink categories, each item stamped with a country flag icon meant to give the diner a clue as to where the dish originates. It's a fun idea, but the flags aren't particularly helpful without a country flag key, unless you wanted to match all your food choices --from appetizer to dessert-- as you would the Garanimals clothing of the 1970s and 80s. The menu did make me realize that Hong Kong has its own flag, unique to China's, so I felt I was getting some sort of education.
The biggest winner for us in the appetizer category was the Yucca Fries ($7), thick-cut strips of yucca fried crisp, salted and dusted with thai chili, cilantro and lime, then served piping-hot in a wire basket accompanied by both a chili and tamarind yogurt dipping sauce. The starchy strips are reminiscent of french fries, only heartier and meatier. We liked them so much during our first visit that, even after studying the many other compelling appetizer options, we were drawn back to these deceptively simple fried wonders.
Overall, my girlfriend liked both of her noodle dishes over two visits, but there were some missteps. In January, she ordered the Shanghai Noodles ($14), consisting of thick rice noodles, chicken, bean sprouts, onions, carrots, scallions, eggs and Malay curry. On her most recent visit, she chose the Hong Kong Hofun ($14), made with wide rice noodles, bean sprouts, onions, garlic, chicken, assorted vegetables and mushroom garlic soy sauce. She thought the Shanghai Noodles were a bit too oily and expressly asked the waitress for less oil at our second visit, which made for a notable improvement. She appreciated the thick, chewy texture of the noodles and was impressed with how much tastier they were the following day as leftovers.
On our first visit, I chose the Malaysian Curry Goat Stew ($24), a large stone bowl filled with hunks of tender goat, potatoes, onions, and peppers in a coconut-based Malay curry sauce. In our follow-up visit, I selected Rey Maualuga’s Loco Moco ($16), a Hawaiian dish named in honor of the Bengal's player. The dish was a fairly faithful recreation of the high-protein Hawaiian surfer staple of chopped steak served with fried eggs, strips of crispy Spam and a heaping of sticky rice, all topped with brown gravy. Carnivores will love this entree. The menu listed two fried eggs, but my Loco Moco was served with only one. Still, it was so much food that it seemed pointless to complain.
Entree prices at The Pacific Kitchen are generally on the high side, averaging $18. This falls in line with the trendy, upscale atmosphere of the place, though its rustic decor made me feel comfortable with my choice in casual attire.
The Pacific Kitchen is a welcome tour of Asian cuisine whose atmosphere and style hearken back to the heyday of similar trendy establishments meant to introduce diners to the exotic dishes of far-away lands.