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Artful Asian feasts at A.W. Lin’s

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published January 17, 2013 at 2:36 a.m.

A.W. Lin's - Shrimp & Scallops in XO Sauce

A.W. Lin's restaurant review

A.W. Lin's Asian Cuisine is located at 17717 Chenal Parkway in Little Rock. (By Jennifer Christman)
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— We ordered seafood at A.W. Lin’s Asian Cuisine.

We got swan.

There was no mix-up, just masterful presentation. The Seafood Bird Nest ($22) - a saucy dish of lobster, crab, scallops and pleasingly plump shrimp cooked with bright, just-right carrots and zucchini as well as mushrooms and cashews - was crafted to resemble a graceful bird with a curled-orange-peel neck, resting in a fried potato nest. The plate was further prettied up by a flower (edible, but save your appetite for better things).

A close artistic second was the Shrimp & Scallop in XO Sauce ($20), shellfish cooked with asparagus in piquant seafood sauce, served in a grand fried noodle bowl.

A.W. Lin’s, which opened in December, is the newest eatery at the Promenade at Chenal (facing Chenal Parkway, it’s across the main entry from the Coldwater Creek store). It’s the first Arkansas location of the Fulin’s Asian Cuisine chain, which has eight restaurants in Tennessee and Alabama - only it’s not called Fulin’s because there is already a locally owned Fu Lin Chinese Restaurant (200 N. Bowman Road) in Little Rock.

Not that one would confuse Fu Lin’s more conventional Chinese menu with the more contemporary Chinese, Japanese and Thai fare at A.W. Lin’s (whichblends the initials of owner Andy Lieu and executive chef and co-owner Tony Wong).

A.W. Lin’s moderate-toexpensive all-day menu includes rice/lo mein, Chinese and Thai entrees, sushi and sashimi and more elaborate chef specials. One could have a simple chicken fried rice ($9), a spirited Thai Spicy Red Curry ($14) or even a slow-cooked Drunken Duck ($21). Or Sauteed Snow Peas ($9), as there’s a small vegan menu. Or chicken tenders ($5), as there’s an even smaller kids’ menu.

Lunch specials with rice ($9), and lunch “sets” ($11) with a pork egg roll or vegetable spring roll and any soup or salad, are available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

From the moment we arrived, we felt well cared for. A window booth in the clean, classy space with a bar, sushi bar and party room had been reserved - and marked with a placard - for our party of four. Our server, though she struggled with opening our wine (an unpretentious $22 bottle of Ecco Domani pinot grigio), was supremely personable, as was a manager,who stopped by to make sure everything was OK and share a baseball joke.

To start, we split a Volcano Platter ($19), an aptly named array of appetizers (called, at traditional Chinese restaurants, a “Pu-Pu Platter”) with a side of pyromania and three dipping sauces. The spring rolls, egg rolls, fried shrimp, spare ribs, crab Rangoon and chicken skewers (two of each, all tasty) arrived in a contraption with a flame for grilling. Families with small kids will want to avoid this sampler and go for nonflammable individual servings ($3 for two spring rolls, up to $8 for four ribs) instead.

While the Mu Shu Pork ($13) didn’t - couldn’t - have the same presentation flair as the appetizer or aforementioned seafood dishes, the savory stir-fry of shredded pork, cabbage, scallions, Chinese mushrooms, carrots and bamboo shoots, served with pancakes and hoisin sauce, was a solid performer. Although the wrappers, specified on the menu as Chinese pancakes, looked like regular Mexican tortillas. (It was just after the ice storm, so maybe they had to improvise?)

The only disappointment was the Spicy Sesame Beef ($16). While it featured flavorful seed-studded strips of meat, the dish was plated with cold broccoli and four pale tomato slices. We preferred it - minus the tomatoes - when reheated as leftovers.

Dessert was Fried Cheesecake ($5) - two flaky, creamy triangles dressed with chocolate drizzle, whipped cream, strawberry slices and a flower - split four ways.

A second visit was for sushi. And also some healing hot and sour soup ($3 cup, $5 bowl) and hot tea ($2), because we were fighting flu and sinus troubles. Nonetheless, our tempered taste buds had no trouble picking up the torch and the tang of the balanced soup, as well as a shot of sesame oil.

Sushi and sashimi are available several ways: a la carte ($4-$5 for two pieces), sushi rolls ($6-$13), entree combinations ($21 for a sushi dinner up to $48 for a Love Boat for Two) and chef special rolls ($13-$19). We split an inventive assortment of the last category.

Here’s our take in the order that we liked them:

Beef Tataki ($16). Beef - it’s what’s for sushi. Even a meatand-potatoes person would have to enjoy this messy roll of thin, velvety seared steak with tempura crab, sweet potato, cream cheese and scallions and undisclosed sauces (maybe eel, soy or spicy mayonnaise, or all of the above?) with or without the slices of fresh jalapeno.

Mobster ($16): There was no way to lose with this roll of tempura lobster and crab with jalapeno and avocado; after all, it incorporated our four favorite food groups: seafood, spice, fruit, high-fatand-fried. Especially when dunked in soy sauce (our fifth favorite: salt).

Fujiyama ($14): The smoke of the seared tuna on top of spicy tuna, snow crab, seaweed salad, asparagus (and unidentified sauces, as it shared a plate with the beef roll) made this roll sizzle.

Royalty ($18): We royally disliked this one, which we could/should have predicted from the description: “tempura apple, tempura white tuna topped with king crab.” Still, it was too unusual not to order. With discordant sweet and salty flavors, it tasted off. And with a riot of colors - chartreuse (the wrapper), white (cream cheese; not in the menu description), neon green (kiwi sauce, also not in the menu description) and pink (the crab fluff on top) - it looked like a 1970s gelatin salad.

A very lovely gelatin salad, this being A.W. Lin’s.

A.W. Lin’s Asian Cuisine

Address: Promenade at

Chenal, 17717 Chenal

Parkway, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-

10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Chinese, Japa

nese, Thai

Credit cards: V, MC, D, AE

Alcoholic beverages: Full

bar

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible:

Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 821-5398

Weekend, Pages 31 on 01/17/2013

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