It has been awhile since my good friend David Rasp and I have gone out for lunch. We used to be able to coerce each other (with little effort, I might add) to spend a couple bucks at the now-defunct Yen, as we are huge fans of Vietnamese food, but we are almost equally huge fans of limiting our casual lunches to east of Interstate 65. Time does not always permit our wanderings to reach West Mobile.
But when I get a craving for Asian food, he is on the short list of people I call. Today I called.
Subliminally I may have reached out to Rasp because I recently returned from a trip to Oregon and had Sasquatch on the brain. He can at times look a little like the elusive creature bound to traipse through the woods surrounding Mount Hood on cool fall days.
He’s not quite as blurry as most of those images we’ve seen, nor is he as hairy. But Rasp has to be pushing 7 feet tall or so. He’s changed a lot in recent months, though. The big man has put himself on a very healthy diet and is currently a lean, mean fighting machine. I couldn’t get him into a burger joint. Pasta was out of the question. It had to be veggies and seafood. Time wouldn’t permit us to travel to any of our usual haunts, so we decided to try a little hibachi dining at the Golden Bowl.
This is the little spot that has always been some type of Asian restaurant, at least since I moved here in the mid-’90s — just across from the Shoppes at Bel Air Mall next to Compass Bank, off Airport. I’m certain natives are familiar with the spot.
Several incarnations have struggled with identity crises at this address but hopefully things have changed for the better. I arrived at our agreed-upon time and got the familiar message that Rasp would be a few minutes behind. He’s so predictable. But I admit he beat me to Wintzell’s once. Once.
No harm for me, as I procured a table and sat reading our latest issue as the aroma of the restaurant pushed my hunger to the next level. The place smelled good. It looked pretty much like it has for a while, clean and to the point. There was a hot bar, a cold bar and several hibachi tables in the main room.
As my good friend approached the table, I had to comment that he looked extremely slim. Apparently the diet has been working. He was slimmer than the last time I saw him and it almost worried me. So we settled on starting off with two Thai iced teas ($3 each).
If you’ve never tried one of these, put it on your list. I became a fan when my friends Cliff and Jan turned me on to them in a place called Thai This in southern California. It’s a dark and strong tea that is incredibly sweet. Usually sweetened condensed milk is the culprit and sugar with evaporated milk is also common. Ours at Golden Bowl came in giant mason jars with handles. The evaporated milk on top had to purposefully be stirred in with the ice for a cloudy effect. I can’t imagine the calories in one of these, but I confess it took me all afternoon to finish it.
When ordering hibachi, guests are encouraged to treat themselves to the hot and cold bars. We each grabbed a variety of “healthy” items. This included some decent sushi and a very good seaweed salad from the cold bar. From the hot bar I had a very decent egg drop soup with green onions and crispy noodles and a small spring roll. Rasp stuck to the lighter side.
When it comes to the hibachi presentation, I am very much a no-frills kind of guy. I’m there for the food, unless my kids are with me. As a matter of fact, the last time I entered those doors my boys were in tow and we received a fine show that had Graham screaming and running for the fire extinguisher when the handy chef lit a large flame across the flattop. Today I appreciated the absence of fanfare as we were simply ready to eat.
We both thumbed our noses at the red meat and even bypassed the chicken. There was a flounder filet option as well as salmon and crabmeat, but in the end I think we both made the right choice with hibachi combo ($17.95) shrimp and scallops.
I watched this guy go to town on that grill, fast and efficient, beginning with our vegetables and fried rice. As he plated those and began cooking our proteins, I was almost certain the shrimp and scallops would be overcooked. They were going a little longer than I thought they needed.
With great skepticism I took my first bite, and wow, they were perfect. With scallops so large and done, I figured the shrimp must be rubbery but both were cooked to the exact doneness I desired.
The veggies were right and the rice seemed fresh. It was as good a hibachi lunch as I have had. Granted I am not crazy about spending $46 pre-tip on lunch for two, but I considered this day a splurge with my overly tall friend. I considered it a challenge to get a slim fellow of his willpower to eat so much food.
Those wishing to not spend as much would be happy to order off the menu with moo goo gai pan, pad Thai chicken and other familiar favorites for a much more reasonable price. I will certainly be back to try the Korean barbecue dishes.
Open at 11 a.m. for lunch, Golden Bowl stays open for dinner, closing at 9 p.m. school nights and 10 p.m. weekends, and is closed on Mondays. Put this on your list.
309 Bel Air Blvd.
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