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Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill

Randy Schoch delivers Chinese treats with an American twist.

So one day, Schoch decided to rename his Thaifoon location in Irvine, California, and as soon as the Ling & Louie's sign went up in 2005, so did the numbers. The place did one of its best weeks ever. He renamed another in Newport Beach, and the same thing happened. Denver's Ling & Louie's is the first to actually open under the name, and every customer who comes through its doors serves as a proof of concept for Schoch's Pac-Rim, mutt-Asian, family-friendly immigrant fusion — a niche market within a niche market.

Schoch's executive chef is Garrett Cho, a Korean-Japanese cook who's also from Hawaii. His menus are Thai, Japanese, Cantonese, Shanghainese and even Malaysian and Vietnamese — but most of all, they're American. The dishes are the naturalized grandchildren of dishes with their roots in southeast Asia, now given goofy names like "Evil Jungle Prince Chicken" (a Thai green-curry preparation) and "Black Orchid Ahi Tuna" (named after a restaurant Schoch once owned in Honolulu). Families are lured in by the promise of pad thai and sweet-and-sour chicken in the hopes that they'll move on to tom kha gai soup and Shanghai stir-fries.

At my first dinner, I ordered lettuce wraps that were just this side of terrible — bitter with heat-soured herbs, bland where they weren't nasty, almost identical to all the other lettuce wraps being done at all the other Americanized Asian restaurants in the country, and a far cry from the actual dish on which they are based: that Chinese hash of leftover meats and vegetables, dusted with five-spice powder before being wrapped in lettuce or stuffed into glazed rice-flour buns. The shrimp and pork dumplings weren't much better — knock-off Chinese shu mai, steamed and flavorless but for the competing stings of curry sauce and chile oil — and the lo mein was almost inedible, the flavors mismatched, combative, the texture all wrong. But the drunken shrimp were a wonder, drizzled in chile sauce and mounded up around a flaming cup of rum-spiked pineapple juice that my waitress thoughtfully ladled over the battered and fried shrimp, effectively searing the hot red chile sauce to them. The dish was theater, and so very tiki-bar retro cool that I was won over before I'd had my first bite. And then there was that bento box...

Ling & Louie's serves up Chinese party food.
Mark Manger
Ling & Louie's serves up Chinese party food.

Location Info

Map

Ling & Louie's Asian Bar and Grill

8354 Northfield Blvd.
Denver, CO 80238

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: East Denver

Details

8354 East 49th Avenue, Northfield
303-371-4644
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday

Children's bento box: $5.45
Shrimp and pork dumplings: $7.95
Lettuce wraps: $7.95
Sweet-and-sour chicken: $10.95
Honey walnut shrimp: $14.95
Lo mein: $9.95
Drunken shrimp: $13.95
Bangkok duck: $15.95

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When I returned for a second dinner, I was sans child and so was forced to eat like an adult. I had the lettuce wraps again and found them exactly the same, then retried the dumplings, which were just as dull. But while the kitchen is consistent in its thoughtless, repetitive construction of appetizers, it does more interesting work with entrees. The Chinese version of honey-walnut shrimp (the moreChinese version, anyway) is godawful — like a cold ambrosia salad made with crustaceans and mayonnaise rather than whipped cream and fresh fruit. Ling & Louie's American version is much more palatable — the shrimp deep-fried, the sauce made of honeyed coconut milk studded with walnuts and chewy straw mushrooms — while still recognizable as Chinese party food. The Bangkok duck has also been tamed for American tastes: The kitchen uses only breast meat (gently gamey Maple Leaf Farms breasts) and mounts it over shredded cabbage redolent of garlic and ginger in what's almost a purification of the traditional Chinese presentation, which generally involves hacked-up pieces of duck, dry as hell, over whatever wilted, about-to-be-unusable greens are kicking around the galley lowboy. And the firecracker fish — a fried fillet topped with red chile sauce — is an easy takeoff of the whole fried fish served at every Southeast Asian restaurant, the kind that scares so many people who, for whatever reason, don't like their entrees looking back at them while they eat.

Schoch is working hard to create a new interpretation of modern Amerasian dining, giving a lot of thought to the immigrant intersections of cuisine. He and his concept have come from an uncommon place, and together they're moving in an uncommon direction — limping toward a synthesis of flavors first learned in the original American melting pot of Asiana. And if Ling & Louie's were a stand-alone, independent restaurant, I'd be happily looking forward to the next menu change, the next improvement. But our Ling & Louie's is just one link in a growing chain, which means we may not see the next step in this evolution; it could come in another location, in another city, leaving us with only this freeze-frame of innovation, this almost-good restaurant with the vision, the money, the potential to be so much more.

But while I may not get to see Ling & Louie's grow up, I can at least enjoy dinner there — as long as I don't run out of friends willing to breed me dining companions or kids willing to trade me their lunches for a bag of M&M's.

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