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June 19, 2018

Executive Lifestyles - Dining & Spirits

Woks of Art

Jinja Asia Café opens in Lake Mary on its way to a planned nationwide rollout

Robert W. Tolf | 7/1/2005
Add Jinja Asia Café to the expanding Chinese chain gangs that now include P.F. Chang's and its lower cost, limited-service Pei Wei Asian Diners, Bamboo Club Asian Bistro, Panda Express, Mama Fu's Asian House and Paul Lee's from the Outback Steakhouse gang. The team that put together Jinja Asia Café, which just opened in Lake Mary (1541 International Parkway, 407/936-9990), was not a late bloomer from the stalls of Singapore or the streets of Chinatown but experienced food executives from the world of chains.

Tom Allin was previously senior vice president/zone manager for more than 1,300 McDonald's restaurants in the Western U.S. and before that president and CEO of a small brewery restaurant in California called Beirsch. His wife and partner, Lesley Allin, had been a food consultant to London-based retail giant Marks & Spencer and is the author of the "Great American Food" cookbook. Partner Doug Lanham was CEO of Famous Dave's and has spent three decades in the casual-dining industry. A fourth member of the team is partner Robbin Hedges, also a former McDonald's executive.

Wine Rack

An absolutely stunning addition to Golden Spoon-winning Casa D'Angelo in Fort Lauderdale is the Wine World (1201 N. Federal Highway, 954/416-1234, 800/575-WINE) alongside Angelo Elia's restaurant. Conceived a few years ago by Angelo and his partner Salvatore Mauro, Wine World is a knockout store during the day and private party room at night. It has temperature-controlled and tasting rooms lined with wines of the world and is blessed with the presence and management of star sommelier John Weber, the wine buyer who put it all together for Fernanda's International Market in Fort Lauderdale. He organizes regular tastings, including weekly Saturday Samplings, when he uncorks new and old arrivals in his magnificent cellar, and Wine Down Wednesdays, when four to six wines from across the world are uncorked -- they might be representative of the "Spanish Renaissance" with 1903 bottles or Super Tuscan or one with only the new screw tops, all presented and judged with great authority and acumen by Weber.

Together the four opened in 2002 the first Jinja Asia Café in Santa Fe, N.M. The Jinja in Lake Mary is the second in a planned rollout nationwide. The menus feature freshness and flavors not only from China, but also from Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The seating area is surrounded by a sophisticated setting with a bar and lounge serving Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiian, Banzai Tea and Singapore Slings. There's a waterfall and wall-filling mural of old China with banners strung from the ceiling and old family photographs from China, Japan and Vietnam, rendering a sense of place similar to the emphasis in such chain successes as Carrabba's and Olive Garden.

The menu sweeps across Asia noon and night with such luncheon combos as a Japanese crabcake, a pair of shrimp given the tempura treatment and a couple of Vietnamese spring rolls; Malay coconut soup with udon noodles and bean sprouts; miso soup with carrot, spinach, green onions and tofu; and a seared ahi tuna sandwich glazed with teriyaki sauce and decorated with a carrot salad, pickled ginger and daikon ($3.95 to $8.25). Thai jasmine steamed or fried rice are among the sides with stir-fried veggies and wasabi potato salad. There are also eight wok bowls ($7.25 to $10.95) with pad Thai, shrimp and eggplant, cilantro, red pepper and sugar snap peas in a coconut-green curry sauce; shaking beef, a Vietnamese specialty of wok-seared tenderloin with lime sauce; and a Thai version of the Chinese classic kung pao chicken with cashews and kaffir lime leaf.

Jinja's dinner menu has Small Plates ($5.25 to $8.95), including flash-fried calamari with Asian lime and mint dipping sauce; chicken and smoked pork stir-fry in crisp lettuce cups and crunchy noodles; lightly battered tempura shrimp and broccoli.

The emphasis on cross-country Asian cuisine has counterparts in the family enterprises, considerably more modest in cash flow and concept than such high-fliers as Jinja, including:

Lemon Grass Asian Bistro
420 E. Atlantic Ave.
Delray Beach
One of this year's Golden Spoon Best New Restaurants, it continues to perform in a satisfying manner on all fronts, attracting enthusiastic patrons.

Asian Fusion
1327 S. State Road 7
North Lauderdale
The name says it all, and the cross-culinary kitchen produces outstanding soups and such zingers as conch paired with crab and saluted with fresh spring onions presented in its own woven basket and great fish preparations that are handled with respect.

290 Sunset Ave.
Palm Beach
Coco has its own Palm-Asian menu with Manchurian lamb stir-fried with scallions over noodles and vegetables; a vegetarian Bento Box with Szechuan stir-fried curried vegetables and spicy tofu; ahi tuna wok-seared and encrusted with sesame seeds and served with noodles; seafood-filled scallion pancakes; Hong Kong shrimp with celery, green onions and red peppers; salmon fillet marinated with sake, mirin and miso then charred with soy glaze and served over bamboo rice and stir-fried Asian veggies; and wok-seared Chilean sea bass with fresh ginger, scallions and steamed veggies ($19 to $28). Chef Jeffrey Peng handles all that while chef Matsushita is in charge of the freshly rolled sushi and sashimi.

Thai-Sushi Express
1630 S.E. 3rd Court (Cove Shopping Center)
Deerfield Beach 954/421-2421
Opened five years ago in a simple storefront in a simple strip of shops, doubled in size and upgraded in 2004 with a fine sushi bar and a talented team of sushi chefs handling the Japanese side of the menu and a fine Thai staff in charge of the rest. There are lunch box specials with miso or salad and steamed soybeans ($8.50 to $10.95) and a full inventory of sushi and sashimi, including full dinners. I usually use the carefully assembled rolls as starters then move onto one of the many excellent Thai entrees featuring lots of ginger, basil, broccoli and the standard green, red and panang curries ($7.95 to $9.95).

Tags: Dining & Travel, Central

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