Asian Restaurant -- The philosophy of simplicity is reflected in the d & eacute;cor of the Asian Restaurant, which is utilitarian and unpretentious. The lunch menu sports an affordable assortment of Chinese, Thai, and American dishes. The $5.50 Pod-Sa-Iue (rice noodle, beef and broccoli) and the $6 chicken curry were well prepared but very mild in heat and a little bland. The $5 No. 3 Chinese combo (almond chicken with pork fried rice and pork chow mein) came with all-white meat chicken breast, drenched in what appeared to be cornmeal, covered in brown gravy and sprinkled with toasted almonds. Service was quick, friendly and helpful. 5306 W. Sunset Hwy., Call: 747-5760. (MC)
Herbal Essence -- The restaurant's interior walls are a deep cabernet and are highlighted by colorful artwork. Sparkly candles add romance. The clever, surprising menu here mixes and matches a variety of ingredients and flavors. Seafood stuffed 12-oz. ribeye ($24) was enormous and beautifully presented, with mashed potatoes forming a peak with a sprig of fresh rosemary on top. Sauteed squash added color and crunch, and the stuffing was deliciously rich in crab, shrimp and cheese. The coconut-crusted gulf prawns ($17.35) in a Key West sweet-and-sour sauce consisted of six jumbo prawns coated in coconut batter and pan-fried to a golden brown. The sauce was more sweet than sour and went well with the prawns. Our server was knowledgeable and very attentive. 115 N. Washington. Call: 838-4600. (LM)
Mootsy's North 9 -- The interior of Mootsy's North 9 is clean and offbeat with plenty of space to park it and original paintings and framed rock posters embellishing the richly colored walls. The menu features an interesting and tempting assortment of pizzas, sandwiches, and "extras." The sauces are handmade; pizza dough is hand-tossed. The toppings range from standard to gourmet. The North 9 ($8.25 / $18.95) is a spicy olive oil-based pie (no red sauce) topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts and fresh basil. There's the Santa Fe ($6.75 / $17.95) with mozzarella and cheddar, lime-marinated chicken, black olive and red onion, and topped with fresh tomato and fresh cilantro. Take your pick from a total of 11. You really can't go wrong. The slice-and-salad combo ($4.95) is a steal. 9 N. Washington St. Call: 838-0260 (MC)
UpStage Supper Club -- You don't need to sign up for theater to sample the quisine of Chef Kile Tansy (formerly of Quinn's) as the third floor of the old Odd Fellows Hall on West First is now open for dinner. The Scallops Mornay appetizer ($10) was generous, with meaty scallops in a delicious sauce under a blanket of melted cheese, served with thin French bread toasts. The Spice Island Tuna ($17) was a monumental portion of two yellow fin tuna steaks, with a thick rub of a pungent spice mixture served over a delectable, creamy coconut-almond rice. On top of the whole thing was a generous amount of a colorful fresh mango salsa. Some lightly steamed spinach grounded this beautiful and very tasty plate. Look for the menu items to change about every three months. 1017 W. First Ave. Call: 747-8243. (LM)
Capsule reviews are written by Lauren McAllister (LM), Mike Corrigan (MC) or Marty Demarest (MD), unless otherwise noted.