Restaurant Review: Asian Temptation
Disappointing White Plains effort from the folks behind Mount Kisco’s beloved Temptation Tea House.
There are a few phrases that strike fear in foodies’ hearts. “All you can eat buffet” is one, “Discount Sushi” is another, and “Pan-Asian” is a third. The first two obviously are chilling, but why is “pan-Asian” so bad? Because the national cuisines of Asia are as complex as they are different—it takes entire careers to master a single tradition. To expect a kitchen to show proficiency in several cuisines (including Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai) is as absurd as expecting a “pan-European” bistro to serve great cassoulet, paella, pasta, wienerschnitzel, pickled herring, and lutefisk. It’s just not going to happen. Yet that’s exactly what Asian Temptation is attempting. At its best, Asian Temptation hearkens back to an older sort of Asian restaurant, Polynesian-style Chinese places like Trader Vic’s that never aimed to serve authentic Chinese food. Instead, they were notable for their party vibe, sugary Americanized dishes (like sweet and sour pork), kitschy tiki décor, and potent drinks like scorpion bowls and mai tais. Certainly, the dramatic décor at Asian Temptation is evocative of those glitzy restaurants, with a koi pond, luminous sushi and drinks bars, bas-relief Buddhas, and Asian antique. The décor is fun, but problematic. On all three of my June visits, the restaurant was so cold that the clientele, dressed for summery weather, were visibly chilled. The lower dining room is also fairly dark—while the walls are highlighted, the tables are not.
Just like at Trader Vic’s, drinks are an important part of the Asian Temptation experience. The good news is that Asian Temptation serves a wide selection of intriguing non-alcoholic drinks, including premium and bubble teas and delicious fresh fruit and juice mocktails. Of all the offerings at Asian Temptation, these are the most interesting—they’re definitely worth a trip on their own.
Also like Trader Vic’s (and nearby chain restaurant, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro), Asian Temptation is not geared toward serious foodies. The bold and sometimes challenging flavors of the cuisines quoted here have been seriously muted and spun toward the sweet end of the spectrum. This became apparent with starters from the house-special snack list.
The restaurant’s take on a Vietnamese summer roll lacked the herbal crunch of mint and cilantro and, instead, was filled with rice noodles and a stripe of sugary sauce. The gyoza, pork shumai, and dumplings were all fairly bland, and while we’d hoped that the red oil dumplings might have some heat, we were disappointed.
Salads are a better option. My wonderfully crisp, chewy seaweed salad was brightly flavored, and the sweetness of ripe mango was welcome here. Our tuna-mango salad was also refreshing, although unevenly dressed. Also, the raw tuna was cut into uneven pieces, and some chunks were unpleasantly mushy—a trend that continued on the sushi menu.
Sushi purists will be disappointed at Asian Temptation, but they’d probably opt for Sushi Nanase, anyway. While the fish is reasonably fresh, several cuts on our regular sushi platter were mushy. Asian Temptation’s signature rolls employ the kitchen-sink approach of Americanized sushi and include everything from tempura chicken and shrimp, to mango, Cajun spices, and kiwi fruit. Our Russian roll (yellowtail, salmon, tuna, and asparagus wrapped in paper-thin cucumber slices) would have been better were it not dramatically presented in a pool of sweet mirin/soy sauce. While attractive, the roll absorbed too much sauce.
Some of our least favorite dishes were found on the Chinese and Thai menus, which is not surprising given how carefully these cuisines are balanced. In either tradition, you rarely find sweetness unchecked by pungency, heat, or acid—often all four notes are poised within a single dish. Pungency, heat, acid—and even much curry flavor—were missing in a bland Thai curry with beef. There was also no balance in Asian Temptation’s crispy orange beef. In it, the deep-fried beef slices were so thickly battered that the (admittedly, truly crispy) slices tasted more of batter than beef. The very sweet, mild sauce lacked the orange’s acidity, and the sharp slices of peel found in other versions of the dish would have been welcome. In fact, any counterpoint to sweet and fatty would have been welcome: this dish (which is presented in an edible, deep- fried bowl) is more like a children’s menu option than an adult entrée.
Desserts offered little respite. A deep-fried green tea ice cream ball arrived soggy and greasy, even though it was spectacularly flamed at the table. “Mama’s” apple cake was better, if not particularly Asian.
Asian Temptation will most likely draw crowds for its party atmosphere, dramatic décor, populist food, and, especially, their fun and pretty cocktails. If that’s what you’re looking for (and you’re not particularly bothered by lack of authenticity), then give it a go.
Asian Temptation ★ ½
23 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains
(914) 328-5151/(914) 328-5157
Hours: lunch every day 11:30 am-3 pm; dinner Sun to Thurs 3-10 pm, Fri and Sat 3-11 pm. Appetizers: $4-$12; entrées: $18-$30; desserts: $6-$9.
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good