Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

East Meets West

Grass Hut's successes are in its classic cuisine.

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In a wasabi-crusted nutshell, Grass Hut has some very tasty offerings, but the fusion lost its appeal after a few bites. We tried the pu-pu platter for two ($12) on our first visit. We munched around the plate blending each treat with the three sauces: peanut, sweet-and-sour and spicy chili and lime. The crispy spring rolls, light and not a bit greasy, were wonderful with the bite and tang of the chili and lime sauce. The tender pork and chicken kabobs stood well alone with a light barbecuelike marinade. The rice wraps offered a cool cilantro foil to the fried and grilled niblets. Happily, we moved onto the fusion.

When ordering, we asked the waiter, a very pleasant and helpful fellow, for suggestions and clarifications. The Udon Curry Bowl can be ordered with veggies ($14), shrimp ($15) or a combo of these plus beef ($17). The waiter's simple argument: More stuff equals more flavor. I got the combo. He highly recommended the Walnut and Wasabi Crusted Salmon ($17), singing the praises of the caramelized coconut sauce and also the Island Pork Chop with its lemon-grass-garlic marinade and cilantro oil ($18). Presentation was understated (no salmon tower or shrimp arches), but the saucy squiggles and dots adorning plate rims have overstayed their welcome, if you ask me.

The winner for flavor was the lemon-grass-garlic marinade with the pork chop. The flavors were well-balanced with the cilantro oil playing off the lemon grass and the garlic lurking below. The chop was a bit dry, but the sauce tended to hide this. Both of the other selections, however, had a diminishing appeal. The red coconut curry sauce on the udon noodles was pleasant for a few bites. But then the cloying sweetness became overpowering. The "more flavor" suggested by the shrimp and beef simply couldn't break through the candy of the sauce. Likewise, the caramelized coconut sauce on the salmon shone early, but there was simply too much of it pooled around. Over several bites the salmon was lost in the sweet. Surprisingly, not even the acrid bite of the wasabi could counteract it.

Grass Hut's finest accomplishments stem from the traditional. The chef's savory soy and peanut sauces are delightful. The rolls and wontons are fresh and flavorful. But the fusion aspects tend toward excess.

It seems to me that fusion may have operated as a type of surreptitious learning tool, cloaking the unknown in the familiar. You could look at it as a type of bridge leading the legions of Americans raised on La Choy canned moo goo and crispy noodles to the authenticity of pad thai and sashimi, and I don't mean to cast any aspersions on that utility. But as we have become more and more educated and eager about the delights of Asian cuisine, I see fusion cooking as a Styx concert T-shirt that we've outgrown. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, and pass the shrimp wonton. S



Grass Hut ($$$)

4040-H Cox Road

649-3800

Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dinner Monday-Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. (depending on crowd)

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