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Pan-Asia promises unique atmosphere to match great taste

A new sushi bar, a 55-foot wall of water, banquet facilities, fiber optic lights in the flooring, an outdoor dining area and display kitchens that make watching the food being prepared part of the entertainment experience will be featured at the new Pan-Asia restaurant in Ridgeland which will have its grand opening June 17-18.

The Pan-Asia restaurant has been open in Ridgeland for approximately five years, and has been so successful the owners decided to triple in size, going from approximately 3,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet.

“We are very excited to see how the concept will grow in a new location,” said John Kirk, vice president of operations for the restaurant division of Jackie’s International, a Mississippi-based company with more than 100 restaurants and hotels, which is a partner in the restaurant along with executive chef Grant Nooe. “It is the foods and flavor of Asia, not just Japan and China, but India and Thailand. The food is fantastic. Our partner and chef, Grant Nooe, founder of the concept, is an award-winning chef who is extremely talented and very creative. We feel it is a very unique concept and we have had plans for quite a while to make it bigger and better. We were kind of limited in the space we were in. We wanted to expand the concept and have more room to work.”

‘Contemporary, clean, unique’

The new state-of-the-art restaurant has many unique features including a new sushi bar overseen by Frances Mo, who was executive chef at Tao in Las Vegas. Kirk said Mo will bring in a lot of new and exciting flavors and combinations in sushi.

The architect for the building is Tracy Chen from Chicago, formerly of Taiwan.

“He did a fantastic design combining a lot of different colors, textures and shapes,” Kirk said. “It is very contemporary, clean and unique.”

With high gas prices, some restaurants have been seeing reduced sales. Kirk said everyone is feeling the impact of higher gas prices and a slowing economy, and that challenges everyone in the restaurant industry to be a little better at what they do.

“We have to provide the best product we can at the best value,” Kirk said.
The former restaurant was located in a strip mall and could only seat approximately 100 guests, which limited the possibilities, said Nooe, who merged with Jackie’s International approximately two years ago.

Nooe started the restaurant five years ago when he saw the trends for the increasing popularity of Asian food in the U.S.

“People are becoming far more health conscious,” Nooe said. “This is something different than the traditional American Chinese restaurant because we are not a Chinese restaurant whatsoever. We serve regional Asian food from specific areas like Thailand, Vietnam, India and Japan. We also do an infusion with American regional dishes that contain a subtle hint of Asian flavor.”

Achieving harmony

Nooe said “Asian infusion” should not be confused with “Asian confusion,” which he describes as a bunch of Asian ingredients with no harmony. Most of his infusion dishes have underlying basis that would probably be Thai cuisine.

The original Pan-Asia has been well received, but Nooe said there wasn’t enough room at the former location to create the atmosphere he wanted to be competitive in the full-service restaurant business.

“With this merger, it has been a real benefit for us because we have been able to design a world-class restaurant with an internationally known architect from Taiwan, Tracy Chen, who is based in Chicago and has offices in Madison,” Nooe said. “In this day and time, you must have all the elements. You can have excellent food, but also must have the atmosphere to coincide with it.”

One of Nooe favorite offerings is Pad Thai, which is one of the most popular dishes in Thailand and also in the U.S. It is a dish prepared with sticky rice noodles that have been tossed with chicken, shrimp or tofu, bean sprouts, pickled radishes, green onions and sweet-sour sauce made with lime juice, tamarind and fish sauce.

Nooe said he seeks to create dishes that are a harmonious blend of sweet, sour, salty, crunchy and sometimes spicy.

“As I create dishes, I seek to accomplish all of those,” he said. “One dish in particular I created that is the epitome of that is a crispy whole stuffed trout. Traditionally in China or parts of Asia you would use the whole fish with the bone in, but I made it more American friendly with the whole fish deboned. Both sides are intact and the rainbow trout with the head and tail on is stuffed with crabmeat stuffing wrapped with noodles and then flash fried. It is topped off with fermented black bean and soybean sauce. It also has sweetsour orange juice reduction, a little sesame oil, and lot of fresh cilantro and chives. So you really get everything: sweet, sour, salty and crunchy in that dish.”

One of Nooe’s goals is to have not just great food, but new and different things all the time. So he plans to have well known chefs from throughout the country come in as guest chefs.

“Once a quarter we will bring in nationally renowned guest chefs I have gotten to know over the years,” Nooe said.

Menu prices range from $12 for a stir-fry to $28 for rack of lamb. The restaurant doesn’t use MSG or corn starch. It uses 100% white meat for poultry dishes, and the food is cooked in a wok.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

About Becky Gillette

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