Sticky Rice fuses Pan-Asian cuisine and low-end American favorites with some interesting results. 

Taters 'n' Tofu

I respect those who, despite the condescending sneers of "cultured" society, unabashedly embrace that which sophisticates blindly ridicule. So it is with Sticky Rice and the much-maligned Tater Tot. At this new restaurant $4.95 gets you damn near a half-gallon of these familiar golden nuggets garnished appropriately with a brimming bowl of ketchup packets like the ones from your school cafeteria. The Tater Tot is not exotic, expensive, difficult to prepare or even pleasing to the eye but nevertheless it is a fine way to eat a potato.

The careful reader may, with some justification, wonder why a restaurant that boldly honors this humble piece of Americana begets its name from a wholly different and quite foreign starch — sticky rice. The simple answer is that this restaurant fuses Asian with American diner food and evidently its owners thought "Sticky Rice" a superior name to "Tater Tots."

I dutifully studied this menu's small essay on the miracles of tea but was consecutively deprived of green tea on two occasions — "a supplier problem," the server said. Likewise, only on my second visit did they have spring rolls ($3.95) which are of the fresh rice-paper variety. Ours suffered from loose construction, an overabundance of rice noodles and a dearth of vegetables. Potstickers ($4.95) are not unlike the dumplings available from the most modest of Chinese eateries — well short of exciting. But edamame ($2.95), steamed soy beans served in the shell and sprinkled with ground sesame and salt, were appealingly simple and particularly satisfying. Our final starter, spinach salad, was either extraordinarily lacking in spinach or the wrong salad all together but a delicious wasabi-soy dressing, the server's personal favorite, rapidly distracted us from the error.

After you've polished off your appetizers at Sticky Rice, sit back in your booth, gaze at the huge mural depicting a furious Samurai pummeling his monstrous foe, and tidy up with the one of the moist towels that your friendly server has left steaming at your table in a basket.

For entrees, ponzu tuna ($11.95) seemed rather like tuna teriyaki, and came with sticky rice and sautéed zucchini. Although still pink in the middle, this marinated but sauceless fish was overly dry, uninteresting in flavor and a disappointment. A Dijon-grilled salmon special ($13.95) was an improvement — moist and nicely flavored with the mustard marinade. Sticky Rice offers a number of inexpensive sandwiches with an Asian twist like a meatloaf sandwich with shiitake gravy and teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple. A vegetarian Gardenburger ($4.95) is a nice option for the less adventurous vegetarian types — tasty enough but not terribly exciting.

We had better luck with the noodle dishes. Shrimp coconut ($8.95) combined sautéed shrimp, red peppers, charred red onions, peanuts and raw cucumbers in what tasted like a Thai red-curry sauce with a rich coconut fragrance — I'd order this one again. With the noodle dishes you choose between soba, udon and rice noodles. We had our shrimp with rice noodles but tried the veggie tofu medley ($6.95) over hearty buckwheat soba noodles. Although the dish needed a stronger sauce and a few more vegetables, the tofu was nicely fried, and the peanuts and cilantro lent enough flavor to make the whole thing work.

If the desserts here warrant praise for originality, they also suffer from the same hit-or-miss quality that afflicts the rest of the menu. We liked bananas fried in rice paper. Crunchy golden rice paper contrasts favorably with the soft, warm banana interior all of which is greatly improved by a drizzling of chocolate sauce. Asian funnel cake, on the other hand, left me with a furrowed brow. Picture limp funnel cake with a spoonful of canned blueberries on top and there you have it — enough said.

Overall, I applaud the concept behind Sticky Rice — a sort of fusion of Pan-Asian and low-end American cuisine — but the execution of this idea needs polishing. The good news is that the menu is inexpensive, the atmosphere is interesting, the service is friendly, and a few of the dishes are worth returning for. No matter what, I'll be back for the Tater


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