Restaurant Review - On the rim

Pacific Asian Bistro attempts all things Asian

When a restaurant tries to be all things to all people, it sometimes ends up all bad. And when said restaurant is tackling the nuances of Asian cuisine, it finds itself in even more hazardous territory. The subtlety of Japanese sashimi doesn't always sit well with the chilies of Thai pad prik, which may then be paired alongside Chinese sizzling beef and scallops.

That's the risk Pacific Asian Bistro is running.

Ted Fang's new restaurant in Gwinnett Place mall is richly decorated with oriental antiques. The rickshaw near the entrance and aged Chinese window frames on the tabletops add warmth to the corporate space. But walking through the eatery's 200-year-old doors (hand-carved during the Ching dynasty), you can't quite forget that you're down the hall from the Gap.

It's a corporate concept successfully pioneered by the P.F. Chang's China Bistro chain: Take the Asian food out of the dingy surroundings of small family-owned restaurants and package it in an upscale environment with top-notch American-style service, large portions and hefty prices. Fang's restaurant has a lot in common with Chang's. The prompt, courteous service, authentic antiques and Americanized menu should please the pickiest palate.

But Fang goes even further than Chang's by ditching a dedication to Chinese dishes in favor of all things Asian. Pacific Asian Bistro's menu features Szechuan, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese dishes alongside Japanese, Thai, Malaysian and Korean options. A lunch plate of pad thai with shrimp ($8.95) includes a salad with Japanese-style ginger dressing and Chinese egg drop soup. The individual elements are all acceptable and inoffensive; the dressing is gritty and sweet, and adds flavor to an assortment of greens. The egg drop soup is rich and buttery. The pad thai is loaded with large shrimp and pleasantly seasoned with peanut oil. It's all good, but nothing wows.

The full sushi bar is impressive; head Chef Masahiro Kondo has been perfecting his skills for 15 years. Sushi entrees range from a dinner of California rolls and a mix of nigiri (raw and cooked pieces of seafood on pressed rice) to the all-inclusive sushi and sashimi dinner of rolls, nigiri and 14 slices of raw fish.

If you're looking for a wide variety of small dishes, go no further than the appetizer menu. Spring rolls (Chinese), satay skewers (Malaysian), thai fried shrimp (Thai), tempura (Japanese), gyoza (pan-fried dumplings stuffed with pork and cabbage), and kimchi (Korean) are just a few of the offerings. The popular pan-Asian lettuce chicken wrap appetizer ($8.95) is re-imagined with finely diced chicken morsels, green onions, red peppers, water chestnuts and a light sauce. The crisp iceberg lettuce is plenty to handle the generous portion of chicken and vegetables, which is then topped with a hoisin sauce.

Kung pao chicken and pepper steak can be easily devoured — and, to his credit, Chef Tian-Liang Guh adds a bit of imagination to these standards. It'll cost you, but check out the seafood in bird's nest bell ($18.95): scallops, shrimp, squid, crab and vegetables in a fried potato "nest." Or if you're feeling really fancy, try the Pacific lobster au gratin ($28.95). The signature dish of pan-fried lobster is prepared Hong Kong-style with white wine sauce, and covered with cheese.

It's the epitome of mall eating. Everything you may want under one roof — that is, if you're willing to pay the price.??