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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com

Rolling Wok

Journalist Chuck Offenburger taught me a short-term reporting trick with long-term dividends. Whenever there’s a “once in a lifetime” athlete from a small town in Iowa, go to a big home game. Check out the local cafes for unique treats. That way you’ll always have an icebreaker to interview the stars, no matter how famous they become. Since I adopted his method, one town has produced two such athletes. I first went to Washington to see Mary Berdo set the all time basketball scoring record. Five years later, I returned to watch Stephanie Rich one-up Berdo. On the first trip, I found a really good Chinese café with a rare knack for frying vegetables just enough to alter their chemistry. On the second trip, that Chinese chef had left town.

I thought about that Chinese place in Washington after I tasted a simple stir-fry dish at a new Asian cafe in La Plaza. When cooked perfectly, onions and broccoli stalks taste like a new food. It’s a trick that few restaurants get right, particularly in this era of Chinese buffets. Yet it’s the essence of wok cooking and this new café is named Rolling Wok (RW). In a coincidence as symmetrical as a basketball, RW owner Pat Chan is the former owner of the same Chinese café in Washington that has haunted me for a decade.

RW has a trans Asian menu with Thai, Vietnamese and Lao dishes as well as American-Chinese standards. There’s nothing here to appease the wistful China diner looking for black bean pedigrees and dumpling magic — the pot stickers resembled deep-fried ravioli more than the famous Chinese dumplings. (Dragon House West has raised the Des Moines dumpling bar with a dozen superb selections on weekends.)

Short Thai and Vietnamese menus cover the bestseller list, with a couple notable exceptions. The beef jerky comes from the cutting edge of the sharpest cleaver. It’s called “heavenly beef’ because the dish is associated with Nakhon Sawan, the “Heavenly City” where the Chao Phraya river begins its run to Bangkok and the sea. Most American jerky is made from re-compressed ground beef parts. Rolling Wok jerky is muscle meat from beef rounds. Chan told me she dries her jerky in the oven, marinates it with soy and then fries it crisp in her wok before rolling it in sesame seeds. She serves it as an appetizer, but I crumbled it over pad Thai and stir-fry dishes. She also has a vegetarian spring roll I never encountered before, called “Bangkok roll,” which features avocado and tofu.

Thai curries had the familiar flavor of coconut milk and canned curry pastes. Pho was by the book — glistening bone stock with noodles, vegetables and a choice of exotic beef cuts, or roast beef round. Simple stir-fry dishes took me back to the days when all orders were prepared individually with garden fresh produce. Chan wisely touts her “basil mussels” as a house specialty. It’s a wondrous seafood dish of fresh basil and onions in a reduction of sugar, chilies, basil, fish sauce and garlic.

Presentations had the eye-appeal of those at the best restaurants in town, right down to the hand-carved veggies. Ambiance was as pan-Asian as the menu, with a wide screen TV, a non-smoking bar, western music and Hispanic color schemes packed into two rooms of white table cloths, banquet chairs and barstools. Bubble teas were available, but lacked the fresh fruit magic of those at Pho All Seasons.

Side dishes
San Francisco has banned plastic grocery bags while Boston, Portland and Baltimore city councils will vote soon on similar bans… The hottest new hybrid fruit is the aprium, which has plum texture and apricot flavor. CV

Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)
Chef Joe's Place (5-3-07) Suburban Restaurant (5-10-07)
Gateway Market Café (5-17-07) Irina’s Restaurant Bar (5-24-07)
Trailer Tripe (5-31-07) Azalea (6-07-07)
Pho All Seasons (6-14-07) Farmers Market (6-21-07)
El Sabor Latino (6-28-07) Crouse Café (7-5-07)
Bistro Montage (7-12-07) Jaliscolita rebounds (7-19-07)
New Saigon (7-26-07) Smokey D's BBQ (8-2-07)
Gourmet Burgers (8-9-07) Iowa State Fair (8-16-07)

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