(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
Why: The New Phoenix Casino has recently opened the Twin Dragons Asian Cafe, which provides family dining amid the gaming atmosphere of downtown La Center. The menu offers a blend of influences from all over the Pacific Rim. Some classic dishes, such as Pad Thai, take on an unexpected personality. There are imaginative new options, such as the Okonomiyaki, that introduce some new flavors.
Atmosphere: The cafe is bright and roomy. Chocolate-brown walls above a bamboo wainscot and reed-patterned carpet help to create an Eastern feel. Comfortable, oversized booths line the walls on opposite sides of the dining room, and tables and chairs fill the open floor. Ceiling fans with grass blades slowly rotate above. Etched dragons adorn glass panels between booths and light-diffusing shields on ceiling fixtures.
What I tried: My dining companions and I began our dinner with the Okonomiyaki and the Fried Shrimp from the Small Bites & Plates selections. I decided on the Grilled Salmon Burger, which comes with your choice of fries or sweet and spicy chips. I inquired and learned the chips are barbecue Kettle Chips; I settled on the fries. My companions both chose the Pad Thai, which I also sampled. We had the Thai Peanut and Banana Wontons for dessert. We drank tea and Iced Vietnamese Coffee.
Our beverages arrived shortly after ordering, but the food took quite a bit longer than we expected at a time when only three other tables were occupied.
The tea was a delicious, flavorful variety, and the iced coffee had a robust coffee flavor that was sufficiently sweetened.
Our small plates were enough to share among the three of us. The fried shrimp included six crispy fried jumbo shrimp with three accompanying dipping sauces: hot mustard, Asian Ketchup, and sweet-and-sour. Of the sauces, the hot mustard was the most traditional. The sweet and sour was thin, and the ingredients separated in the dish. It had an incredibly weak and unusual orange taste that did more to detract from the shrimp than enhance it. We did a side-by-side comparison of the Asian ketchup and regular ketchup, and found the only difference we could detect was consistency; the Asian ketchup was slightly thinner. The waiter said the difference was the addition of mustard to the Asian variety.
Okonomiyaki is described as a Japanese-style stuffed pizza served with shrimp, pork and green cabbage. Reminiscent of egg foo young, the ingredients were incorporated into an egg mixture and fried. It arrives sliced like a pizza and topped with grated ginger and drizzled with a brown sauce that tastes like a cross between teriyaki and barbecue. The vast difference in potency between the flavor of the toppings and the pie did not reconcile to a happy medium with each bite. The strong flavors departed too quickly, and the overall impression was plain.
Our entrees were generous portions. The fries that came with my burger were standard restaurant fries. The burger is described on the menu to include Peanut Slaw and Wasabi Mayonnaise. I asked that the Wasabi Mayonnaise be placed on the side, so I could add it at my discretion. The burger’s salmon patty was topped with slaw that was mostly purple cabbage with a hint of peanut flavor. The Wasabi Mayonnaise was a ball — about a teaspoon — of wasabi atop a dollop of mayonnaise. I tried unsuccessfully to mix the two into a creamy blend, so could not either add it to my burger or dip the burger in it — I had thought this mix might be what my burger needed to elevate the flavors and give it a more desirable impression. An unappetizing addition to the plate was a wilted leaf of green lettuce and a very dry dill pickle spear.
The Pad Thai is described on the Twin Dragons menu as a mix of rice noodles, bean sprouts, onions, chicken, shrimp and a sweet and spicy sauce. It also contained basil. All the ingredients were readily identifiable to the tongue except for the sweetness of the very spicy sauce. The dish was garnished with lime and crushed peanuts. This version of Pad Thai is not common, though it is traditional. I found it resembled the variation that has a fish sauce instead of a sweet and spicy sauce.
Dessert was wontons filled with mashed banana and peanut, deep-fried and served with cold chocolate sauce that reminded me of Hershey’s chocolate sauce.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The Roasted Duck Soup sounded intriguing, as did the Curried Lamb. There is also a vegan Chocolate Mousse.
Other observations: Most of our dinner dishes were left on the table for the duration of our meal. Only two plates were removed when dessert arrived.
Overall, our meal was mostly bland. Some items gave a fresh impression.
The atmosphere was clean and pleasant, and the waiter was friendly.
Cost: All menu items are less than $10 except for the Curried Lamb Rice Bowl, which is $11.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Where: 105 W. Fourth St., La Center.
Health score: Twin Dragons Asian Cafe received a perfect score of 0 on Feb. 24. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.