It's more than being loved by our mommy and being safe from barbarians from the North that we take for granted, isn't it? I found myself again and again going to Apsara Palace for lunch when I was in town, kind of a gastronomic migratory impulse, before it occurred to me to review the place and figure out what was so appealing.
Admittedly, the first thing it has going for it is my being a cheapskate. There is the list of 50-plus items on the lunch menu, most of them $4.75 on weekdays, with the additional nickel-kissing inducement that they're a buck more on weekends. Yes, yes, since it's an extra $1.50 for a preliminary soup, that brings the normal lunch past $6, in line with other Asian restaurants where soup is part of the combo, but I still like the sight of $4.75 and $4.95 for a meal. Call me nostalgic. With more than four dozen combinations, there are more mix-and-matches than mashups on the new Girl Talk disc.The one I sampled, pork Mongolian with eggroll, came with a choice of plain rice or a basic, simple fried rice, as do all the lunch specials. The eggroll was pleasantly unusual in that instead of being packed with cabbage and little meat, it was practically all minced chicken. Nice. The pork was pleasantly spiced, but watch the seeds in the jalapeños slices if you don't like things too hot.
These luncheon specials are nearly all Chinese, with an occasional nime chow included, though the menu is ostensibly pan-Asian. Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai items are more readily found on the dinner menu. Our shrimp nime chow ($2.99 a la carte) didn't forgo the Thai basil by the way, as some places do. There are also both chicken and vegetable versions.
I've enjoyed the hot and sour soup ($1.50) here, but since I was with a friend we decided on one of the half-dozen Thai soups for two. The spicy green curry soup, with vegetable, chicken, shrimp, fish, or seafood combo, was recommended by friends who love this place, but the dish below it caught my eye. The kaing kai soup for two is the same price ($6.99) and has most of the same ingredients but, in addition to coconut milk, it has lemongrass, for which I'm a pushover. It contained eggplant among the vegetables, and the broth was especially rich and flavorful, nicely complementing the salmon we chose.
Chinese dishes are clearly the strong suit here, judging from their preponderance on the menu, so I stuck to those for further exploring the full range of offerings.
We passed up their pad Thai with a twinge and a sigh because we were already quite familiar with it. Having checked out dozens over the years, I don't know that I've had better than theirs — the rice noodles firm, the vegetables, and bean sprouts in good balance.
The shrimp and string beans with black bean sauce ($8.75) was a peculiar combination that worked. Hot with jalapeños again, the green beans were crisp and the black beans more of an accent in the sauce than a main component.