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Let's Do Lunch: RockSugar Pan-Asian Kitchen

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There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

America's favorite fast-casual chain restaurant is The Cheesecake Factory. Five years ago, Chef Mohan Ismail was entrenched in the Calabasas Hills R&D kitchens for the restaurant empire, putting out Pan-Asian dishes for Cheesecake CEO David Overton, but without a fixed destination. Soon a plan formed, and just over two years ago Ismail was installed as the Executive Chef at a stand-alone eatery backed by the Factory at the Century City mall. That place is RockSugar, where you can be introduced to the Pan-Asian eats via their prix fixe lunch menu.

Though I'm not a fan of the Cheesecake Factory, or large-scale national and international chain restaurants, I am intrigued by the concept, the affordability, and the culinary vision of Ismail, whose training extends back to Singapore, and a string of high profile New York restaurants (Spice Market, Tabla, Blue Hill).

Pan-Asian as a culinary category is as broad as the land itself the food represents. This is not fusion, however, but rather multi-national under one (rather ornate) roof. "Wait, I'm still at the mall?" you might ask yourself as you re-enter the shockingly bright open-air storefronts of the Century City shopping plaza. It's kind of Vegas-y, actually, from the almost new-age music to the choir vault of praying statues behind glass high up on one wall, combined with the retail vibe.

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But Vegas has grown to become known more for its fine dining and less for its opulent (but cheap) steak dinners and buffets. RockSugar is pushing for a fine dining distinction; lunch, however, is probably the best time to come and enjoy its spoils.

For $14.95, lunch guests can assemble a 3 course meal ($12.95 for just two courses, dessert being the forsaken) that is served family style and a la minute--meaning the servers will bring you your food as soon as it is ready, rather than hold it for the other items in the course. This is great if you are accustomed to Southeast Asian dining customs, or are with friends or family. Maybe not so great if you are having a first encounter or a business meeting, depending on your comfort level with double-dipping your chopsticks into the communal noodle bowl.

Culled from their regular menu, the options reflect the spectrum of cuisines repped at RockSugar, and also have several vegetarian options. The Potstickers, plump and juicy, were stuffed with chicken and mushrooms, with a nice crisp on the wrapper but a tender steam on the filling. The Indian stuffed flatbread was tasty, but maybe a less inspired choice.

Entrees are Thai-centric, and include options like a Lemongrass veggie stir fry, to two green curries, Thai noodles, and a Thai cashew chicken. We took the only two non-Thai dishes deliberately--after all, if you want to satisfy a craving for Thai, there's little reason to go anywhere but Jitlada, and if you've just spent time in Thailand, you might want to taste something from another part of Asia being just two of the reasons behind the choice. So Singapore Hainan Pork it was, along with the Grilled Short Rib With Rice Vermicelli, for the main course.

The volcano-esque pile of fried pork was a generous portion, perfect for sharing (even without a second entree) and is a good example of Ismail's Singaporean roots. Spicy without being scorching, the slices of pork were fried to perfect and coated with just enough sauce to not lose their firm, crispy texture from the drenching.

The noodle dish, which our server likened to a Korean bibimbap, was a cold noodle salad with thin slices of beef that didn't evoke the lush, fatty meatiness of short rib, and the inclusion of the Imperial Roll in the bowl was, as Coco Chanel would scold, one accessory too many. It was, however, a nice, cooling contrast to the spice of the Hainan Pork, and, minus the deep fried roll, a lighter option among many heavier entrees. Should we have gone with one of the Thai offerings? Perhaps.

If you are doing the prix fixe lunch, do yourself a favor and go for the three courses. That extra $2 is worth its weight in sweet delight, thanks to the amazing pastry and ice creams coming out of the RockSugar kitchen. By far the most memorable part of the meal was the Caramelize Banana cake with frozen banana custard "icing" served with housemade milk chocolate ice cream, candied pistachios, and creme anglaise. Swoon. Straight up. Quite possibly one of the most divine chocolate ice creams I've tasted. Our server's description of the other non-prix fixe and dinner menu desserts had our eyes bugging out, even after nearly wiping the dessert plate clean and having the leftover pork dish bagged up to take home. If you're weary from maxing out your credit cards at Bloomie's and the Apple Store, or have just seen a movie at the mall, take a load off and treat yourself to dessert at RockSugar.

The prix fixe lunch menu at RockSugar will do you well if you order wisely, plus you'll fill up your belly at midday without breaking the bank, in a space where exotic escapism is the calling card. Plus, the restaurant offers free valet parking for its customers, so you can pull up, and make your escape back out into the world with relative ease.

Previously
- RockSugar Cooking Class Review