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Asian-conFusion

Looking back, I’m not sure what made me think eating Chinese or Japanese on a tropical island was going to be a good experience. But now that I’ve made this mistake twice, I thought I would try to save others at least.

We arrived in the Dominican Republic Thursday afternoon and got checked into our all-inclusive style resort without much fuss. Now before some of you foodies snarl your nose at the “mass-produced, recycled, monoflavor cuisine” that is stereotypical of this hotel genre, you should know that we’ve been lucky enough to find a couple all-inclusive places with very, very good food – good enough that we keep going back. At the same time, I’ve been to my share of beautiful resorts with grandiose rooms, pristine beaches and down right nasty food.  It’s just a chance you take whenever you try something new in another country.

 The concierge explained he had already made a reservation for our dinner that night at the mediterranean restaurant (aka Italian, as described by the desk clerk). Having read reviews about the resort before choosing it, I knew there were other dining options higher on my list. I quickly flipped through the 3-ring binder holding the menus of each restaurant and stopped at the one with Asian symbols. “We’ll go here,” I said, showing the menu to the concierge. It’s hard to mess up Asian food, I thought. Figured this should be a safe first meal, and besides, I was in the mood for some good egg rolls.

My husband questioned my decision, but I reminded him how good the Asian-fusion restaurant had been last spring at one of our favorite resorts near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It had a fairly progressive menu and served some quality meats and seafood.

I think he was a little hesitant because our first foreign encounter with an Asian restaurant was on our honeymoon in Bora Bora – an experience he won’t let me live down. AND it was on his birthday, none the less. I had inquired with the front desk at our hotel where we should go for a special birthday celebration. They had steered us to a couple great places earlier in the week, so I gladly took her recommendation for this “gourmet” Chinese restaurant.

As is typical in Bora Bora, the restaurant will send a car to pick you up at your hotel. Just the night before, the two of us had relaxed in the lush backseat of Mercedes SUV on our way back from one of the best meals of our marriage (that little place is still in the top 3, even now). So we were a little surprised that birthday evening when a tiny Kia Sportage pulled up already carrying a child (uncomfortably belonging to the driver) AND three other people. We sucked it up and squeezed inside.

Roads in Bora Bora are not exactly in good condition. In fact, many of them are not even paved. But it doesn’t matter much since you have to go slow to avoid the chickens most of the time. Well, none of that seemed to bother our driver who took off like a bat-outta-hell and on a mission. I would have sworn the speed demon TRIED to hit every pothole in the road, except that could have been accomplished  by driving straight. She was swerving, and gassing-it and changing the radio station and yelling at her daughter to sit down – I thought I was going to be sick! The side-to-side motion had me pressed up against the stranger in the bench seat next me. It was  ridiculous!!

We finally pulled up to our destination and quickly removed ourselves from the madness of the car. Just as we thought the worst part of our night was over, we walked into an expansive, yet EMPTY, dining room that looked just like every strip-mall Chinese buffet in suburban America. It was wild! The tables had oilcloth coverings, Chinese calendar paper placemats, and the stiff high-back chairs made from lacquered black tubes and cushions covered in plastic. Even the art on the wall looked like what you find at the Ming Dragon in Liberty!

What happened next literally had our jaws on the floor. As we were seated, we looked toward the door where our driver was rushing inside, handing her daughter off to an older lady, and grabbing an apron and notepad off the check-out counter. She was our waitress too!!!

I don’t recall if that’s the point we started to laugh at this whole debacle, or if it was later when we discovered the entire menu of Chinese food was written in French and we didn’t have a clue what we were ordering! Either way, by the end of our meal, we were in tears laughing at the whole scene.

 The food wasn’t terrible, but Ming Dragon is probably better. And the desserts – well I think I’ve blocked those from my memory, but – the Hubs remembers having something the server/driver lit on fire. He said it tasted like burnt whip cream and decribed the other chocolate dessert as a “runny, room-temperature protein shake”.

To top off the big birthday night out, as we got back into the little car to leave on of the cooks hopped in with us to catch a ride home!

Well, dinner in the DR wasn’t quite that entertaining. But I think the Hubs is convincing me that we shouldn’t eat Asian food in locations where we can see palm trees.  

The restaurant looked nice when we walked inside. Contemporary, sleek and divided into two areas:  Teppanyaki area and regular dining room. Without being asked our preference, we were seated at a nearly full Teppanyaki grill. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not anti-social when we travel. But it was the first night of our trip after a couple busy weeks at home and I had been looking forward to a long dinner of conversation and catching up.

We could have moved to the dining room, but the only option there was sushi. And I felt our odds for yummy food were better when being sauteed in butter and doused with those dipping sauces. Good sushi requires pristine fish and that wasn’t the meal on which I wanted to test this place’s quality factor.

All things started off just like your normal dinner at Hibachi. Everything except the chef towering 6-foot-4, nearly hitting his hat on the exhaust fans and NOT looking anyting close to Japanese. I should have known this wasn’t gonna be as good as Benihana when, after banging his little rhythm on the metal griddle and tossing the spatula and monster-fork into the air, he caught the fork on the stabbing side!  That and the fact that he didn’t toss diced shrimp into each person’s mouth, but rather fried egg! Yes,  a chunk of thick fried egg, at least a one-inch cube, maybe bigger. And his aim wasn’t so good either. Mine hit my chin the first time, then bounced off my nose and into my lap on the second try. Oh well, I was there to have fun!

Forget ordering the seafood or steak or chicken, this guy was just making everything for everyone. That was fine by me till he began by cooking the steak and didn’t take it off the grill until the very end. Dry chicken, dry steak, at least the shrimp were edible.

 I tried once to order some eggrolls, dumplings or an appetizer of sorts and was shut down by the waiter saying they don’t serve that in this area. So, typical me, I tried again with a different server. At least he got the job done. But what we ended up with was a combo appetizer plate containing baby fried chicken wings, grilled tuna skewers and two of the tiniest egg rolls I’ve ever seen! These  puppies were no bigger around than my pinky finger and shorter, in fact. All of it was doused in some chunky, sugary sauce. So much for those stand-by egg rolls I thought would be hard to mess up.

We did end up having a nice conversation with the newly engaged couple next to us. They weren’t very impressed with the dinner either. So that mad me feel a little less like a food-snob.

Well, lesson learned I suppose. The next time I go for Asian-fusion outside the country, it will be in Asia!

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. chuck #

    Jeeze, it sounds terrible.

    December 18, 2011
  2. I am laughing soooo hard I’m crying!!! I LOVE reading your post and can’t wait till our next trip.

    December 18, 2011
  3. Thanks for the comments!
    Wasn’t great but when you think about it, how terrible can some dry food or sugary sauce be when you’ve got one the best views in the world!
    Glad you laughed! I wrote this on our balcony this weekend and chuckled the entire time, reliving the crazy Bora Bora Chinese birthday experience! We had a great time recalling all the wacky details. I’m even smiling now thinking about it!

    December 18, 2011
  4. Margarita Fuksman #

    I have to say I love those type of dinners. The food might not have been memorable, but it will always be one of the most memorable evenings you’ll ever have…not to mention a great story! Makes me wish I was there to experience the whole thing! 🙂

    December 20, 2011
  5. Jen Morrow #

    Too funny! I do love reminiscing when it involves one crazy thing after another, especially when you are remembering the details that you thought you’d forgotten!

    December 22, 2011

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