Heads (of Lettuce) Will Roll: Ling & Louie's vs. Fez
In the last decade, American restaurant menus have been under siege. Mozzarella sticks have held off the invading queso and tortilla chips. Chili fries have been trampled by Southwest egg rolls. And lettuce wraps -- once an exotic foreign visitor -- are now a staple of Chili's, Applebee's and other American chains.
For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we pitted a now traditional appetizer against its unique cousin. Read on to find out whether one AmerAsian joint's sweet BBQ wraps held their own against the colorful dried fruit-studded version at a downtown Mediterranean lounge.
In One Corner: Ling & Louie's Asian Bar & Grill
5040 Wild Horse Pass Blvd. in Chandler
A clever name and 100% "Like It" ratings on Urbanspoon drew us to the Wild Horse Pass branch of hybrid American-Asian restaurant Ling & Louie's. The decor is Asian Modern; screens, lacquered wood tables, drum lights, stalks of bamboo and a red color scheme that's scientifically guaranteed to make you hungry. We breathed deep meditative breaths walking into this calming oasis (then again, maybe it was just sighs of relief after passing through the cloud of stale, choking smoke in the casino).
For the best comparison, we settled on the standard chicken lettuce wraps rather than the ahi version. Our wraps arrived in record time, served piping hot and bathed in a deep brown hoisin-based sauce. A wedge of crisp iceberg leaves accompanied the dish.
My dining partner and I heaped a few tablespoons of the chicken mixture onto our first leaves and bit in. Diced white meat chicken bites were juicy and flavorful, imbued with sweetness from the hoisin and a briny soy undertone. Thin shreds of Thai basil gave the meat mix a peppery finish. The lettuce leaves were more than just a holder for the filling, helping to mitigate the intense flavors so that the sweet BBQ sauce didn't become overwhelming.
"It's amazing how sweet the water chestnuts are," voiced my companion between nibbles. "I usually find them very bitter." To most diners, this aquatic veggie is just filler. Water chestnuts can range from bland to very bitter depending on growth conditions and freshness. Here, they absorbed some of the sweet liquid and added a delightful crisp texture and sweet crunch to the dish.
The accompanying Asian dip wasn't necessary with such a sauce-heavy dish, but the vinegar-based condiment did balance the sweetness with a zesty acidity. Overall, a pleasant dish, even if its Chinese ancestry is questionable.