Food as Fine Art
One of the things that I– along with several friends — have always wanted in the area, but have noticed conspicuously absent, is a local sushi place. Enjoying this unique Japanese cuisine always translates into a drive away from South Mountain–often far away. Well, no more. Then, as if out of nowhere about two months ago, a new establishment offering Asian fare opened. Little did we know just what really was behind the doors.
Located in the Market Place at South Mountain, Pan Asia resembles, at least superficially, any number of restaurants in the vicinity. Step past the entrance and you become immediately aware that what is offered here is not like anything near it.
Starting with the brown slash burnt orange walls, which recall the classic Japanese color of a similar hue, the atmosphere is relaxed, restrained, urban and sophisticated. From the imaginatively shaped pendant lamps, to the flat screen televisions, Pan Asia has a polished interior–modern and the classic merged to create something new. It gives a strong indication of what to expect from the food.
While décor definitely makes for a more pleasant dining experience, its the food that keeps bringing people back. And Pan Asia doesnt disappoint. If you enjoy sushi and have a preference for the classic style, be prepared for fish prepared in fresh and imaginative ways.
As defined by one of the owners, John Leong, Asian fusion can be considered Asian food with a French presentation. Leong, along with his business partner and father in law, Kevin Lee, have created a restaurant that offers an arresting mixture of Japanese and Chinese cuisine with an emphasis on culinary creations that are as stimulating to view as they are to consume.
The chefs are Yama San and his brother David. The two have started working in tandem after several years apart. With resumes that include four- and five-star establishments in New York, the Caribbean and Houston, they have developed an approach to creating dishes that merge styles, techniques and tastes into pieces that borrow from the traditions, while at the same time fine tuning them. In other cases, the classics are reworked into totally new styles.
We learned from the West Coast style, and learned from the East Coast style and put it together. It can become wonderful, adds Yama San.
I like cooking a lot, says David San. The job I like is making sushi. I think it is beautiful. That sense of aesthetics is apparent in the Pan Asia New York Martini. This is no ordinary concoction: Black Pepper Tuna Tataki in a Martini glass. Its food creativity taken to a new level.
The artful presentation is akin to viewing a small-scale sculpture. Sauces decorate the plate with the arrangements that recall the French style. As that approach dictates, the decorations are colorful, elegant and tasteful without becoming garish.
One key feature of Japanese food, at least for me, is how to create subtle flavors that are intriguing without becoming mundane. It is the merging of flavors and how they interact–along with the texture of the food itself–that differentiates it. Yama and David San have approached sushi with restraint, but kicked it up into a high gear without losing the identity of the original source. The flavors they employ are rich, flavorful and sometimes arrive in waves. One minute you have a fresh taste quickly followed by a spicier one. At no point do any of the flavors contradict or overwhelm. Their arrangement is as discreet and imaginative as the way the food is presented.
Few things have the dramatic flair of flames to food at a table. Brining that dramatic sense, the Fire Roll is just that. Composed of California rolls with sautéed garlic shrimp, a special chefs sauce and Bacardi 151, when set to flame the result is nothing short of spectacular. Although the plates are basic and white, once given the special swirls and touches of color and sauces, these dishes become a thing to savor visually and gastronomically.
Personalizing dining, the chefs are interested in ensuring that your experience be the best it can be. Behind the scenes this translates into using fresh ingredients, sauces that can take 36 hours to create, always producing new dishes every week and paying attention to what customers say they enjoy. If sushi and/or Asian cuisine is new to you, the chefs here can direct you to that perfect creation. Once they know your preferences, they can make deft recommendations on what flavors will work for you. It is that interest in knowing where the customer is coming from that makes dining an event, not simply dinner.
Superior food and a tranquil atmosphere usually come at premium price points. Fortunately for us, Pan Asia is reasonable. Dining here is not taxing on the wallet, and apparently word has already reached our neighbors. Diners from Scottsdale and Surprise are arriving to sample what can only be had right here.
Perhaps some of the success they have achieved stems from the approach the sushi chefs have towards their profession.
I dont feel like I am working. I am creating and enjoying every day, said Yama San.
With business doing well, particularly on weekends, Pan Asia is filling a void in the area that has been in need of filling. Things are going so well that plans are underway to expand the kitchen outward to create an even tighter interaction between customers and chefs.
2485 E Baseline Road, # 157
Phoenix, AZ 85042
Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m to 10:30 p.m.
Saturday Noon to 10:30 p.m.
Sunday Noon to 10 p.m.