Restaurant Review

Suilan

Susanna Foo, owner of the premier Asian restaurant in Philadelphia, Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, never planned to open a restaurant in Atlantic City. But when the folks at the Borgata approached her, she couldn’t refuse: “They offered to build the whole restaurant for me, with no capital investment,” she says.

Suilan, Foo’s bigger, glitzier, Atlantic City venue, caters to the casino’s increasing number of Asian high rollers, and it has been extremely successful since its launch in 2003. Suilan’s two chefs, Joe Zhou and Brian Storey, were both promoted from Foo’s restaurant in Philadelphia.

Less warm and intimate than her city setting, the casino restaurant feels bolder and sleeker. With twenty-foot ceilings, 164 seats, abstract Asian oil paintings, strings of shimmering lights as chandeliers, and moody music with a pulsing beat, the atmosphere evokes a scene from Ocean’s Eleven. The service depends on the night, but the food is another story—dishes clearly marked with Foo’s signature gift of pitch-perfect sauces, winning ingredient combinations, and stunning presentations.

The Thai Caesar salad is a delightful mix of tastes and textures: feather-light, crispy calamari; crunchy shards of jicama; and soft, ripe papaya over romaine drizzled with a zippy dressing with a touch of fish sauce and puréed hot peppers. A satay of beef tenderloin soaked in a Malaysian marinade, then grilled and served with a peanut-curry-coconut dipping sauce, is especially succulent.

A recipe handed down to Foo by her grandmother from Inner Mongolia is still the basis for the comforting, pan-seared pork pot stickers, filled with ground pork butt, napa cabbage, scallions, and a hint of coriander and soy sauce, and served with a tart-sweet dipping sauce made of aged vinegar and minced ginger.

A few of the higher-end entrées are disappointing. There is nothing wrong with the lovely, buttery, ginger lobster sauce bathing the lobster tail that is removed from its shell tableside. But for $45, the crustacean should be perfect, not cooked too long, rendering it a little chewy and tough.

The Kobe beef is extraordinarily tender and flavorful, served with a crispy leek and potato cake and jumbo prawns. But unless you’ve just hit paydirt at the tables, $80 for eight ounces is just too steep. “It is a good piece of meat,” Foo says. “But I don’t know if I could tell the difference myself from a good sirloin.” It is something the Borgata wanted on the menu for the frequent gamblers who are “comped” meals, she says. (About 40 percent of Suilan’s business is complimentary meals.)

Better bets are the ever-so-tender, slow-braised short ribs in an intriguing sauce made from rock sugar, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, star anise, and ginger, served with a mushroom risotto made with sticky, short-grain rice. And there’s the beautiful “pinecone” black bass—a whole fish that is deboned and scored, dipped in an egg wash and corn starch, then gently seared to a crispy crunch and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce with a hint of ginger. (And it really does look like a pinecone!)

The desserts are not afterthoughts, but lovely versions of crème brûlee, a re-imagined Napoleon, a heavenly panna cotta cream with plum compote, and some traditional Asian ice creams that have been coated in sweet rice wrappers, like little pillows of frozen cream.

If it is a special occasion you’re celebrating, Suilan is a big ticket, but it does carry most of the sophistication and expertise of one of the best.

 

Reviewed in: December 2006

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