Asian food aficionados probably think they’re living next door to nirvana these days. No longer does the crowd have to agree on one type of fare. With the current trend in Far East-style eateries, most everyone can be satisfied.
Among the newer such restaurants on the block is East Moon Asian Bistro, which opened in October 2011 in the Shipley’s Grant community in Ellicott City. Behind the rather unprepossessing plate glass windows is a large, sleek dining room with separate sushi bar and wet bar. Decor in the 130-seat dining room is about as neo as you can get -- sleek, slick, bespeaking an expensive decorator and plenty of startup money from the on-site owner, Danny Tian, and co-owners who run the three other East Moon eateries elsewhere in the region.
Black is the background “color” -- the industrial ceiling, the silestone tabletops, the chairs. Banquettes are set up around the room’s perimeter. Colorful metal sculptures are hung here and there, all asymmetrical and arty.
A green welcome
While the bistro seemed understaffed the evening we visited -- they actually only have four servers on the floor, according to manager Cathy Chen -- those who did see to our needs were efficient. No mean feat with a party of five bent on sampling as much of the menu as we could.
Which brings to mind one downside (or upside, depending on your viewpoint) to these pan-Asian eateries: The menu is so inclusive it takes quite some time to read through it. There are Chinese and Japanese, which are predominant, but also Thai, Vietnamese, a bit of Indonesian, even a few “American” dishes, including something called “Mexican Jalapeno Beef.”
A charming plus at East Moon is that they bring you a salad to munch on while you make your way through the bill of fare: Crunchy iceberg lettuce, a few carrot shreds, and a slightly piquant peanut vinaigrette.
Among the appetizers we tried were a pair of noteworthy “designer” sushi rolls: The Tokyo, with rice and kelp wrapped around spicy tuna, then topped with non-spicy tuna and yellowtail ($13.95). Fun. And a new fave, Redskins ($12.95), a wrapped-up compendium of yellowtail, cream cheese, avocado and deep-fried crunchy tuna, with red tobiko (more meltingly tender fish) arranged on top. This selection has subtle flavors, interesting textures and is the work of a very creative sushi chef (actually there are three of them at East Moon). The Special Rolls menu entices with more offerings featuring lobster, crabmeat and shrimp in a variety of appealing combinations. Return sushi visits are in order.
One of our number opted for a non-Japanese appetizer, the Tom Kah Gai ($3.95). This classic Thai coconut-milk-based soup features fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, scallions and tender boneless chicken breast. The East Moon version was nicely spiced and balanced, but the broth was more clear than coconut-y.
Enjoying our noodles
Three members of our party chose entrees from the Noodles menu. All of our choices cost $8.95 for the dinner portion. (At lunch they’re $6.95).
Drunken noodles featured wide al dente rice noodles with bean sprouts, red onion and fresh basil in a spicy chili sauce. The filling, though nicely balanced, was not as spicy as our taster would have liked.
Pad Se-lew Fresh also featured wide rice noodles, these purportedly done up with broccoli, snow peas, asparagus, red pepper, egg and “sweet” soy sauce. It was very mild, with only a couple of snow peas and zucchini apparently subbing for the asparagus.
Pad Thai was a generous portion of linguini-size rice noodles tossed with green onion, red onion, bean sprouts and egg in a light sauce with chopped peanuts. While the dish was good and comforting, it was not the best version we’ve tried.
Another taster opted to continue in the Japanese theme, ordering tonkatsu ($11.95/dinner portion). These thin, moist, tender, generously sized pork cutlets had been treated to a light rice-flour batter, then crumbed with panko before being deep-fried to a golden, non-oily finish. Talk about mild! The perfect intro for a leery first-time taster of Japanese food. They were accompanied by steamed broccoli and cabbage and steamed rice (not the fried rice he’d ordered).
The consensus was that East Moon is a place to put on our “another visit” list. However, we have some concerns about this particular “all-things-to-all-lovers-of-Asian-cuisines” kind of place. Yes, the food was good, beyond acceptable even -- freshly cooked and served hot and efficiently, although a couple of the dishes we had ordered seemed not to be the dishes we actually got. Indeed, except for those special sushi rolls, it would seem that East Moon may be a jack-of-all-Asian cuisines, but isn’t quite a master of even one.