From the day I drove by the building being erected in the constantly evolving area just South of the Eagle and Franklin Roads intersection with the sign saying “Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill / Rice To Meet You”, I was intrigued.
No, it wasn’t the punny tag line that got to me, it was the name. Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill. Ling is an Asian name, yes. But Louie? I was mightily curious about this, and as soon as I could plant myself in front of a computer, I looked into it. The “About Us” section of their website lays out a story of a young boy who fell in love with the cousin of an exchange student his family had hosted years before when the two reunited during Louie’s post-graduation trip to China. They married and later opened up the first location of the small chain in Scottsdale. The overall idea is Asian-influenced comfort food.
This interested me even further. During a rant some time ago, I suggested that Chinese restaurants in this country start referring to themselves as Asian-American Fusion, since the recipes have been so bastardized from their original versions. Now, here was a place that was leaning even more heavily toward the American side of the fence, and proclaiming it from the rooftops. A perusal of their menu yielded dishes that were decidedly more Asian, some that were barely Asian at all, and others that met at very interesting places somewhere in the middle. Throughout all of this, their Facebook page posted constant updates: pictures of the construction, early looks at menu items and drinks, etc. The whole thing was so fascinating to me that I couldn’t wait for them to get around to their grand opening, instead choosing to visit a restaurant doing a soft opening for the first time ever…
Despite how busy new eateries usually are in Meridian, myself, my roommate, and her children arrived early enough in the evening that there wasn’t any wait for a booth. The booths were new and comfortable, and I was really digging the simple, Asian-inspired look of the place. Despite all the times I’d looked at the menu, it took me forever to make a decision. While the internal debate continued, we ordered drinks and an appetizer. The kids got soda, and even though I’d been planning on trying one of their signature cocktails or beers and despite the fact that it was still happy hour, when my roommate ordered their Strawberry Limeade, I suddenly felt I had to as well.
The limeade, with its pool of bright, blood red liquid at the bottom surprised me in both appearance and flavor: it was far, FAR too sweet. I figured I’d appreciate it more later on when the spicy/salty/sour foods started coming out. Besides, it’s rare that you see this kind of drink come with a free refill, especially in a time when some restaurants charge for a refill on your soda. We waited some time for the waiter to return with our appetizer, called “Louie’s Loaded Nachos”.
|Louie’s Loaded Nachos|
The nachos certainly were loaded, and I suspect the person who invented them might have been a little loaded too. Here’s an ingredient list: seasoned wonton chips, cheddar jack cheese, ground chicken, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, hoisin barbecue sauce, wasabi-infused sour cream and Asian guacamole. I made myself hold back from tearing into them while we ordered our meals. From the typically limited children’s menu, the tween chose the Popcorn Chicken Bento Box, while the toddler opted for their Butter Noodles Bento Box. My fellow grown-up went with Drunken Chicken with fried rice on the side and I, flipping the mental coin one last time, picked the Korean Sizzling Salmon and added a side of Wasabi Mashed Potatoes for an extra $1.95. Of course I suddenly wished I had ordered the spare ribs about thirty seconds later, but what the hell, I can give pork a rest from time to time.
Finally, it was nacho time. This is one of those dishes that is a nigh-perfect example of evil genius. It’s weird, and it takes the first several bites just to get used to the concept. After that, it starts to grow on you. When all is said and done, it was a very interesting and tasty dish, but one I’d have to be in the proper mood for, and would be more likely to order during happy hour when it’s about 45% off. Still, there was something about it that made me look forward to the dishes that would follow even more. I mean if this is the level of creativity that they put into an appetizer…
One interesting thing to relate here. While we were downing nachos, our server returned and advised us that they were out of fried rice. This is a big red flag as far as I’m concerned. How does an Asian restaurant, even one that’s only half Asian, and even during a soft opening, run out of fried rice? He said something about probably not enough having been made earlier. So what, were they missing an ingredient that prevented them from making more now? Maybe it’s that thing about not using freshly cooked rice, but you’d think there would be some way around that in a pinch. I just don’t know, but still…wow. The roommate ended up getting plain jasmine rice instead. Anyway, the turnaround was much shorter this time, and our dinners started arriving while we were still working on the nachos.
|Butter Noodle Bento Box with fries|
|Popcorn Chicken Bento Box with fries|
About the children’s bento boxes, there were some things I loved and some things that just made no sense. First of all, the boxes themselves are awesome, done in an actual sectioned style rather than a cafeteria tray or something. As for the food itself, the menu says that the kids’ meals come with edamame, a choice of fries, rice or noodles, and a sweet treat. The entrées themselves were interesting too. The butter noodles are obviously Asian-style, which is odd but I’m sure tastes about like you’d expect despite the different texture. The sides do bother me though, I mean there are two noodle-based entrées to choose from, and all of the available sides are also starches…and one of the choices is more noodles! Still, I guess it’s okay considering the massive pile of soybeans. Interestingly enough, there is no mention on the menu of the wonton chips and sauce that accompanied both of the children’s meals. In regards to the popcorn chicken, I’m kind of speechless. It would have been right in my comfort zone as a child, but the entire point of popcorn chicken is that it’s served in crispy, bite-sized nuggets that can be eaten like popcorn. These were more like small strips in a sweet and sour kind of sauce. The fussy kid who thought she was getting popcorn chicken and received this instead was severely underwhelmed. Still, she decided to tough it out. If nothing else, we learned that the toddler LOVES edamame. She tore through hers, and then what was left in her sister’s meal. Oh, and the “sweet treat”? Fun size bags of M&M’s. Odd for a place that feels the need to transform popcorn chicken and butter noodles into Asian food.
The Drunken Chicken is described in the menu as crispy chicken “in a sweet-and-spicy chili sauce, served flaming with fresh pineapple, peppers, onions and broccoli”. It was actually the sauce that was flaming, and the waiter spooned some of it over the food before safely extinguishing the flames and serving. The roommate didn’t say much about this dish. It was clear she didn’t despise it or anything, but it obviously didn’t grab her either. There was still quite a fair amount of it left on her plate at the end of the meal. I don’t remember which one of us noticed it, but if you’ll compare the pictures of the drunken chicken and the children’s popcorn chicken, you’ll see that the chicken used in both dishes is identical. I’m not quite sure why this bothers me so much since, as has already been stated, the kid’s meal doesn’t actually come with popcorn chicken, but it still feels kind of like it would if I went to a place and ordered a salad that ended up being served with chicken nuggets on top.
|Wasabi Mashed Potatoes. More or less.|
Ms. Golden Rule was the first one to try the Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, since she’d been as curious about them as I was. Well, that and she’s just an insane mashed potato freak. After two bites, she reported that they were okay, but she wasn’t tasting much wasabi in them. I took a bite and concurred. Suddenly I realized what the problem was, and mixed the sour cream topping in with the potatoes. This was the second recycled ingredient of the night as the mashed potatoes had no wasabi mixed in, they were just topped with the wasabi-infused sour cream that had also been applied to the nachos. This made them better but, much like the popcorn chicken, it just wasn’t what I had expected.
|Korean Sizzling Salmon, a dish that certainly lives up to its name.|
My dish arrived hot. Very hot. So hot that it kept cooking for some time after it was set down on the table. Unfortunately, this resulted in the sesame-garlic sauce being scorched into a nasty, carbonized pancake in the bottom of the pan. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the asparagus was resting in that sauce and ended up taking on a burnt flavor. The salmon itself was good, but I didn’t feel the portion was very reasonable for the price (trust me, it wasn’t as big as the picture makes it look). At $14.95, it was one of the four most expensive things on the menu after all, and considering the size of the appetizers and my companion’s dinner, I was expecting a little more.
By this point the only one not disappointed was the toddler, who was still eating every soybean she could lay her hands on. I was keeping a brave face on things though, to the point of being in denial. I wanted to like the place so bad, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a cheap bill, so I was grasping for any silver lining I could find. Then came dessert.
|Banana Caramel Spring Roll|
We opted to split a dessert amongst the four of us, which was just fine considering the size of most of the meals and that giant appetizer. We chose the Banana Caramel Spring Roll because it was the more interesting of the two dessert options presented on the menu, which describes it thus: “A decadent spring roll filled with banana cheesecake and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Served with fresh strawberries, caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.” I loved the ice cream, the strawberries and the caramel sauce, and the wrapper was okay, but the cheesecake…there was something off about that banana cheesecake.
“It tastes like baby food”, came the remark from across the table.
And damnit, she was right. The kids were unfazed, but I couldn’t get the thought of baby food out of my head now. There’s a reason why cheesecake is chilled after all, and if you put banana cheesecake in a warm spring roll-type wrapper, you get warm, banana-flavored mush. The dessert now more or less ruined for me, I left the remains to the girls. I had to admit it to myself now, the place was interesting and the food was okay, but it was nothing special. Rather, it was just the Asian version of Chili’s or T.G.I. Friday’s. I can’t help but wonder how much different that first, non-chain Ling and Louie’s was from what it’s become.
In the end, I guess the question is whether or not I would return. The answer is probably not. Perhaps if I got a really good coupon or something, but I can’t see myself paying full price again. Still, the unique madness of those nachos does give me a bit of hope that other inspired things might be lurking on the menu…
Service: B- (I’m bumping this up a little since I know they’re still working out the kinks)
Final Grade: C+