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Asian Grill, Rolling and Old Keene Mill Road, Springfield

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Farther up Old Keene Mill, behind the Whole Foods, is the Asian Grill -- more suburban Chinese brought to you by the family that own's Ho's in Burke.

What do you recommend ordering at Asian Grill? I went today for the first time, and ordered the fried calimari and an entree from the "Chef's Specialties" section of the menu that was named for the restaurant. It was thinly sliced chicken breast and little shrimp in a sauce that tasted good but was a disconcerting shade of terra cotta. There were a few slices of water chestnuts and mushrooms in it as well. It tasted fine, but was monotonous. As a part of a larger meal with other choices, it would probably be great.

I liked the apple-filled cinnamon-sugared fried wonton that was presented at the end of the meal.

If I give this place another chance, what should I order?

Meanwhile, I was left wishing I'd gone in search of Delia's instead.

ETA: In Googling the Asian Grill I came across this website, listing vegan restaurants in the DC area, which proclaims that Asian Grill serves "beef" and "chicken" in a variety of ways. What I had was definitely not mock chicken or shrimp, but the real thing. I guess some vegans will be disappointed.

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Asian Grill is for those who like suburban Chinese-American food. General Tso's chicken for example. But the owner, who also owns Ho's Garden in Burke, is often seen having his mid-day meal behind the screen off the dining room, including such items as crispy whole fish (he must know something). I've also had fried soft shell crabs both here and at Ho's, and they're quite good (in season). The Kung Pao chicken is very reliable here too, if that's what you want.

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Return visit last night, and I was happy to see that the place was packed in the midst of a lousy economy. Girlfriend and I started with chicken wings and grilled fish stick, the latter of which is nicely executed along the lines of satay, but with a sheet of salmon covered with a tangy hoisin and sesame sauce. Maggie, the owner's wife and head waitress, steered girlfriend to the Mandarin seafood combination and it was perfect -- chunks of flounder swimming in onions and a semi-spicy sauce. I had the Lamb Chops special, which is an award winner. Four tender and juicy lamb chops with a nicely salty crunch, served over a mound of brown fried rice and with two dipping sauces -- the spicy one was best. Then came a surprise dessert that supposedly came with the lamb chops, a plate drizzled with chocolate sauce and covered with sliced bananas and strawberries, with a 'crepe' in the middle of the plate stuffed with a frozen banana and topped with a fresh dollop of whipped cream. Wow.

The owner was working the dining room, playing with the children at various tables and hugging the women as they arrived and left. He is also the owner of Ho's Dynasty in Burke, but apparently spends all his time at the Springfield outpost now (Ho's has been in Burke for over 20 years). If you're looking for a place where the food is good, even a little creative, and the prices are right and the management makes you feel like you're best friends for an hour or so, this is one of my Springfield recommendations.

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Quick return visit last night for carry out. I've been feeling under the weather and had a hankering for the egg drop soup, which is almost creamy with egg and loaded with chicken flavor, and really hit the spot. Also ordered the Kung Pao Chicken, which is a little different from standard Americanized Chinese fare by virtue of what seems to be Thai peanut sauce as a backdrop, and with nicely consistent triangle-shaped thin slices of white meat chicken that were tender and juicy. Call it comfort food, Americanized Chinese style, but with hints of authenticity here and there.

Darren Ho is the owner, and he works the dining room like a part host, part entertainer, part birthday party clown. He and his wife Maggie try to learn everyone's name and make every trip there an up-tempo event. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I'll take the carry-out.

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For whatever reason, I've eaten here twice in the past three days, and I've been impressed both times. I'm thinking that if I had to use Sietsema's ratings, Asian Grill is in the 1.5 to 2 star range, and the past few nights, in the 2 star range.

[First, a mea culpa. Darren and Maggie are not married to each other. They have worked together for 17 years at Ho's Dynasty and now Asian Grill, and they work together marvelously. But they each have spouses.]

Over the past few nights, the appetizers that SO and I have enjoyed included fried chicken wings, cold noodles in peanut sauce, spare ribs, and chicken-apple salad. All were good, but the highlight was the chicken with apple salad. I'm not sure how Chinese it was, but it was doggone good. The spare ribs evoked old-style Americanized Chinese, with lots of meatiness and the mysterious red color. The fried chicken wings were cooked perfectly, but otherwise not very distinct. The cold noodles were decent, but there was no kick in the peanut sauce.

As for the entrees, girlfriend had the Szechuan seafood and vegetables combination both times, while I had the fried soft shell crabs on Thursday and the kung pao pork tenderloin tonight. All three were really good, and maybe excellent. The seafood combination was loaded with flavorful shrimp, lobster and scallops, along with fresh broccoli, carrots and baby corn. The dish had a nice spicy kick, the seafood was obviously fresh and the shrimp were the size of small lobster tails. This is a top-notch seafood dish. The soft shell crabs were fried to perfection, which, when compared to the chicken wings, seemed to indicate that the kitchen knows how to handle the ol' fryolator. This is how I want to enjoy crabs, as often as possible. And the kung pao pork tenderloin was the best recent Americanized Chinese dish I've had. Lots of flavor, with some crunch and spice. Very satisfying.

This is not sophisticated cooking nor is it authentic Chinese fare. But what it is, is good, flavorful, enjoyable and hearty. And Darren and Maggie make it an enjoyable event by virtue of their gracious personalities and welcoming presence (even if they're not married).

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