Where Asia Meets Asia And East Meets West

DINING OUT

September 17, 1995|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Pacific Rim, 9726 York Road, Cockeysville, (410) 666-2336. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Major credit cards. Prices: appetizers, $1.50-$4.95; entrees, $6.95-$16.95.***

What to do when you're a restaurant critic taking five guests to a "multiethnic" restaurant -- guests who are perfectly capable of ordering sweet and sour pork when you want them to have something interesting like the Peking duck fajitas. One or two guests you could control, but having to kick five of them under the table when they get out of line is tough.

The solution: If the restaurant is the Pacific Rim, you call owner Sharon Hom -- using a fake name, of course -- and ask her to suggest a menu, then present it as a fait accompli to your guests. I recommend this even if you aren't a restaurant critic. It saves time; it saves hassle; and you end up trying, and liking, dishes you might not otherwise order.

The Pacific Rim is the metamorphosis of the Cathay Village Inn, a traditional Chinese restaurant that closed when the owners retired. After making extensive renovations, their daughter reopened it this summer as the Pacific Rim, with an east-meets-west and one-Asian-country-meets-another cuisine. (Ms. Hom's papa -- James Hom -- is still very much a presence in the restaurant. So much for retiring.)

The newly renovated restaurant is divided into a sushi bar and a couple of separate dining rooms. Gone is the red of the traditional Chinese restaurant decor. The dining rooms aren't fancy; but they are very fresh and cheerful, with comfortable booths and an almost, but not quite, Japanese simplicity.

For our "banquet" menu, Ms. Hom suggested dishes that showcased the Pacific Rim's new cuisine plus a couple of old favorites. My only change was to add a beef entree -- the emphasis at the Pacific Rim seems to be on seafood and chicken. We would start with a choice of soups and the chicken satay appetizer.

Our soups were a less-thickened-than-usual hot and sour, with a fiery heat that kicked in a nanosecond after it was swallowed; a pleasant but traditional won ton; and a thin, invigorating Japanese miso, with slices of fresh mushroom floating artistically on top.

The Pacific Rim's chicken satay was the only dud of the evening, and dud may be too strong a word. The strips of char-grilled chicken breast didn't have much flavor. And while their peanut sauce was fine, the "cucumber vinaigrette" consisted of two paper-thin slices of cucumber per three people swimming in what tasted like sugar water.

With that nod to Thailand the kitchen moved on to Korea and a dish called jae yuk guey. Eat it and weep. Sliced pork and onions with fiery Korean spices packed a powerful wallop, and don't expect the incendiary kimchi (pickled cabbage) side dish to ease the pain.

China was represented by a traditional cashew chicken dish with tender chicken meat, a suave and appealing brown sauce, and just-tender vegetables.

My favorite of the traditional dishes -- I hated having to divide it six ways -- was the one we added last, the teriyaki beef. The beef wasn't a spectacular cut, but the not-too-sweet teriyaki sauce complemented it beautifully, and I loved the simple vegetable accompaniment: a few perfectly cooked, jewel-green broccoli florets, several fresh green beans, a couple of baby carrots just steamed through.

Capitalizing on the current Tex-Mex craze, the Pacific Rim has Peking duck fajitas. The traditional ingredients are there: tender pieces of boned duck and crackly-crisp skin (not a smidgen of fat anywhere), steamed pancakes to roll them in, hoisin sauce to spread on the pancakes. But the duck is also served with lettuce, tomato and fajita-style peppers and onions -- if you roll all that up in the pancakes you have quite a meal. Interesting, but I ended up making a traditional Peking duck pancake and eating the vegetables on the side.

Our most spectacular entree was Sea, Ocean and Fire, or as Ms. Hom called it, the 30 shrimp dinner. Three green pepper rings placed on a bed of stir-fried vegetables contained 10 shrimp each. Each group of shrimp had a different sauce, each better than the last. One group was cooked in butter and basil, one in a very discreet black bean sauce and one tasted Cajun.

Our final entree was one pasta lovers will appreciate: excellent linguine with what looked like a marina sauce but tasted of ginger and basil. It was full of fat scallops and shrimp.

Although we got six, we really only needed five main courses to split among the six of us, what with the soup, the chicken satay and the fortune cookies and ice cream for dessert. (The ice cream flavors include red bean and green tea as well as chocolate and peppermint.) I was impressed to find that even with all that food and a round of drinks, the check came to less than $100.

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