Friday, September 4, 2009

A Wonderful Culinary Discovery at Pacific East

While originally planning a dinner outing for a group of out-of-town college friends, I discovered that several of my friends expressed an interest in sushi. The fact that two of us had eaten the pristine sushi at Pacific East on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights prior to this led me to suggest that we return for an encore meal. I have eaten at this location and at the location in the Eton Collective in Beachwood and I have always had wonderfully fresh and delicious sushi in both spots.

After ditching my car in the public parking deck in Coventry (which by the way, gentle reader, they have installed new parking meters that only accept quarters now ... don't do as I did and only realize this after putting in a handful of dimes wondering why no minutes were accumulating on the read-out), I walked up the road to 1763 Coventry Road, right across the street from Grum's Sub Shoppe and saw this awning outside of the restaurant:

Once inside, I sat down and waited for my friends to arrive. The first thing I noticed that differed from my last visit was the creation of a separate Malaysian menu:

In prior visits, there was always just one menu devoted to mostly Japanese dishes. A small portion of that menu was dedicated to a few of their Malay specialties. I was actually happy to see this new menu; it was replete with an exciting array of dishes that I had heard about in my various epicurean travels but had never had a chance to try. Along with the Malaysian menu, there was also the traditional Japanese menu:

Having originally picked Pacific East because of their sushi, I was now beginning to rethink my strategy a bit. Perhaps a combination of Japanese and Malaysian cuisines would be on my radar tonight. When my dinner companions finally arrived a few minutes later, they also made the same startling discovery. As a result, we ended up ordering a mixture of cuisines, but most of the ordering would be from the Malaysian menu.

My one associate decided to do a maki roll and nigiri starter. He ordered the eel maki roll and a piece of the uni nigiri:

Having had uni several times before, I could never understand why everyone always raved about. Honestly, the problem I had always had with uni was a textural issue. I won't go into what the issue I had was, but let's just say it reminded me quite a bit of the experience of having sinusitis. That being said, I had never even considered trying the uni at Pacific East before. Knowing how good the rest of the sushi was, I decided to give it one more try and piggy-backed an extra piece on my friend's order; the second piece of uni nigiri you see sitting on that plate was for me.

My friend went first and ate his piece. He confirmed that it was indeed very good uni. At least I knew that I now had the opportunity to try a piece of uni that had been positively confirmed by someone with a more educated palate than mine. I dipped the rice quickly in just a little bit of soy sauce and put the entire thing in my mouth. I chewed slowly to make sure I experienced the texture to its fullest and to allow the flavor to develop in my mouth. What was the verdict? I have to give props where they are due; this was by far the best version of uni I have ever eaten. I can also see why some people compare the texture of uni to foie gras. It has that same sort of mouth feel to it. The flavor was briny and fatty. Was I able to swallow the piece in my mouth? Absolutely. Would I ever order this again? The answer lies somewhere in the middle of "maybe" to "probably not". At least I finally knew what good uni was supposed to taste like.

Shortly after, my appetizer arrived, the chicken satay with peanut dipping sauce:

Having had this dish numerous times at Thai restaurants, Pacific East's version was good, but not great. The chicken had decent flavor and was nicely grilled. The peanut dipping sauce was a bit of a letdown for me though. You could definitely taste the peanut, ginger, and fish sauce flavors, but it really didn't have any zip to it. Granted, the menu indicated that it wasn't a spicy dish, so I can't fault them too much for delivering on that promise, but still, that would've really elevated this dish in my mind.

My dining companion who ordered the eel and uni appetizer decided to order the chicken rendeng:

Served with plain rice, this was quite good. The chicken was tender and flavorful and you could really get a nice sense of the lemongrass and coconut milk infused into the dish. The dish is marked as a "medium" spice level on the menu and that was how my friend ordered it. To my palate, this dish was more of a mild than a medium. For customers who can't do heat at all, this would definitely be spicy. For those with a more adventurous palate, you might want to ask them to take it a few spice levels higher.

I decided to order the laksa:

The menu describes the laksa as, "Noodles in full of flavors - slightly creamy infused with coconut milk, seafood, egg, tofu, chichen and bean sprouts, chili and spices." Interesting translation to English aside, this was a really lovely dish. The menu indicates that this is a "spicy" dish. Knowing my penchant for extremely spicy food, I asked the waiter if there were different levels of spiciness. He indicated that there really weren't, but he'd be happy to bring me a side of chili sauce so that I could adjust it myself. It turns out that the cook was happy to make it hotter for my taste and it came out already adjusted. I'd say the spice level was somewhere between medium and spicy. It was definitely spicier than my friend's chicken rendeng, but not so spicy that I couldn't taste the other ingredients in the dish.

The egg noodles were nice, sort of like ramen noodles. They were tender to the tooth and while you couldn't really pick up any of the egg flavor from the actual noodle, the dish was studded with hard boiled eggs to reinforce the flavor. The broth was a lovely mix of spicy and creamy; the coconut milk acted to reduce the spicy edge from the chilies. The seafood mentioned in the menu description actually refers to several shrimp that were in the bowl. These were a nice size, but they were a slight bit overcooked and just a touch rubbery. However, that is really the only criticism I have of the entire dish. It was quite delicious and I would order it again when I return. Actually, to be honest, the Malaysian menu is so thorough now that you could order from it the next twenty times you go to the restaurant and still not have worked your way through everything.

To our great surprise, what had initially been an outing for some wonderful Japanese delicacies morphed into an almost all out Malaysian culinary odyssey. I don't know of any other Malay restaurants in Cleveland, Akron, or Canton, so if you want to try out this wonderful cuisine (and I seriously suggest you should), give Pacific East on Coventry Road a try. And don't forget to get at least a little bit of sushi or sashimi while you are there, too.

Pacific East Japanese on Urbanspoon  Pacific East Japanese Restaurant on Restaurantica


shep said...

It was, indeed, awesomely tasty.

nat.steiner said...

I just stumbled upon your blog today and am pleasantly surprised! I consider myself a food-lover/foodie and living in the area, its definitely nice to have a local food blogger whos well traveled around NE Ohio. On that note, I am a Singaporean myself and our cuisine and that of Malaysia is essentially intertwined, being once the same country after all. I frequently go up to Pacific East as it is the only restaurant in Ohio that serves our cuisine, which is basically a mixture of Chinese, Malay (ethnicity vs nationality-Malaysian) and Indian.

Authenticity-wise most the dishes work quite well. The chilli sauce they have on tap is "sambal belacan" which they make in house and will actually sell in batches. I find it a perfect complement to half-homemade (imported spice packets hehe) Laksa. Do return to try their bak kut teh (pork rib soup) or Char Kway Teow (fried flat rice noodles), both done well there. Cheers!

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