The sign just popped up one day. Without any warning, a new restaurant was about to open in a still-developing shopping center along Route 9 here in Forked River. The name of the place was going to be Pan Asia, and my first thought was that this was some kind of PF Chang-ish restaurant chain. But after doing some research online, and not finding any such chain in existence, we started to get intrigued.
We were able to make a lunch date at Pan Asia soon after it had opened. The outside of the restaurant gave no hint as to what to expect on the inside. Once we entered, we were greeted with a Buddha head statue just before the main dining area. And then, once in the main dining room, it gets dark: walls of deep purple and black, dark wooden Venetian blinds, stone walls and high-gloss black tables. Even the chopsticks were black. Zen lounge music was quietly winding its way around the tables. Although we had our 17-month old baby girl with us, this was clearly a restaurant for big boys and girls.
More importantly, though…the place just smelled good! We were getting positive vibes.
The menu primarily featured items from Japanese and Chinese cuisine, with some Thai dishes thrown in for good measure. Scanning all the choices, we did not find anything that was really unique or unusual – so we settled on sampling a little bit from Japan, a little bit from China, and just a smidge of Thailand.
First up, the selection of appetizers we had picked: scallion pancake, a sushi appetizer and steamed pork dumplings. The scallion pancake was crispy and thick, much thicker than your typical takeout fare – almost bread-like. The pancake was also not heavily weighed down with grease. Our only complaint was that the pancake needed a little more scallion bite to it. The simple sushi appetizer of tuna, salmon and whitefish was fresh, simple, and tasted very much of the sea. Well executed. And then, the pork dumplings, which were juicy and flavor-packed – so much so that you could skip the dipping sauce and scarf them down on their own. It was a very good set of appetizers, and we liking our decision to stop in even more.
I had decided to go with one of their bento box lunches. My bento consisted of ton katsu (fried pork cutlet), miso soup, salad, California rolls and yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer coated in a barbecue-like sauce). The ton katsu was letter-perfect; crispy panko outside and still juicy within. The miso soup and the California rolls were standard fare, and the unremarkable salad was given a bit of life by the homemade carrot ginger dressing, which seemed to have a little garlicky kick to it. The yakitori was tender and very reminiscent of teriyaki.
Lisa wanted a Thai dish and asked our waitress for a recommendation. She told us that the Thai red curry with chicken was “really good”. Well, that dish turned out to be really disappointing. Although the components were, for the most part, of high quality (juicy chicken, crunchy fresh asparagus and peppers), the curry was hot (yes- it burned) but other than that it was almost bland! It lacked any real flavor, and seemed to be just hot for hot sake. Lisa felt like she could have made a tastier red curry at home.
Aside from that disappointment, we are thrilled to have a place like this open up in our town. Though the menu has nothing very exotic on it, it has a nice array of Japanese and Chinese dishes (we’re going to withhold judgment on their Thai items for now). It’s not a cheap meal, but could be worth a nice night out.
Right down the road from Pan Asia is the already-established Japanese restaurant in town called Fuji. Where Fuji is loud, Pan Asia is quiet. Where Fuji is colorful, Pan Asia is subtle. And where Fuji is a bit sexy, Pan Asia is more sophisticated. But what both have in common is that they are serving good food, and we locals really appreciate it.
Pan Asia Restaurant
416 South Main Street, Forked River, NJ 08731
John and Lisa Howard-Fusco are the Jersey Bites Regional Editors for Ocean County. Although the Fusco family calls Ocean County home, their John and Lisa Are Eating in South Jersey food blog has them traveling all over the southern region of New Jersey. They and their blog have been mentioned in articles by the New York Times, Courier-Post, nj.com and njmonthly.com. Lisa has written articles and reviews for South Jersey magazine as well as for Ed Hitzel’s Restaurant Newsletter and Hitzel’s Restaurant Magazine. And John could use a Gaetano’s cheesesteak right about now.