Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Chinese, Japanese, Thai - doesn’t matter. Nine Pan Asia does ’em all well.
Nine Pan Asian Cuisine\r\nChuka salad $5.95\r\nAsian pancake $7.95\r\nPork vermicelli $7.95
Viet Chinapan Thai

Even though Nine draws from all over Asia, the South Hulen-area eatery is masterful.


Nine Pan Asian Cuisine

4625 Donnelly Av, FW. 817-732-9799. Mon-Fri 11am-10pm, Sat-Sun noon-10pm. All major credit cards accepted.

The pan-Asian restaurant concept represents the triumph of consumer choice over history and geography. China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and other Asian countries have had complex and sometimes violent relationships with one another, but all of those details tend to get smoothed over on the pages of a menu. Long-observed Sino-Japanese hostilities be damned: If Western diners want miso soup with their moo goo gai pan, they’ve got it.

Such an ill-advised combination can be had at Nine Pan Asian Cuisine, located in the densely packed strip-mall village of restaurants and shops near Central Market. Outfitted with a sushi bar and hibachi tables, Nine strives for a dimly lit, relaxed, generally upscale aura — white tablecloths, tightly folded and tucked cloth napkins, and genuine chopsticks instead of those splintery wooden disposables you have to pull apart like wishbones. Dishes on the large and diverse menu aren’t grouped by nationality, which would’ve been a helpful touch, although most entrées and appetizers are labeled as Thai or Vietnamese or whatever. After a recent visit, the biggest compliment to Nine turns out to be that, despite the mix-and-match approach to distinct culinary styles, each dish sampled maintained its bold native punch.

The chuka (or Japanese seaweed) salad is technically an entrée for folks trying to slim down a bit, and it arrived like an autumn leaf pile on the plate, tumbled high with mixed greens, carrot and red cabbage pieces, a fine sprinkling of sesame sTeeds, and a rather modest portion of seaweed threads coiled at the center and marinated in an almost-too-sweet vinaigrette. More of the vaguely coppery-tasting seaweed would’ve helped, especially since the salad proved to be unsatisfying despite the illusion of its large size.

The entrées were more formidable and uniformly delicious. The grilled pork with ramen-like boiled white vermicelli became a kind of meaty pasta salad after the generous portions of bean sprouts and long, thin, rectangular cucumber slices were all mixed in. The pork pieces were big and juicy but with no visible trace of fat and dusted with peanut crumbles. The ever-so-slightly charred flavor of the pork nicely grounded the dish.

Stir-fried vegetables with tofu might not sound like the most electrifying meal experience, but suspicious diners who regard tofu with the same sketchy eye that Martha Stewart has for the federal government’s meatloaf should really try it stir-fried — Nine’s isn’t a bad choice. The near-gelatinous edges of the finger-sized bean curd had a hot, chewy edge, almost like fried potatoes, and the texture blended well with the softer, sour tofu center. The only complaint here was that not enough of the (fresh, not canned) mushroom buttons, broccoli florets, and cauliflower heads made their ways into the dish. The thin, salty brown sauce united the plate and turned it into a heartier choice than might have been expected.

Best of all was the Asian pancake, which was a crispy, golden, wafer-thin Franco-Vietnamese crepe folded over a moist, scrumptious spread of bean sprouts, still-firm green beans, small shrimp, and pork shreds. A bowl made of lettuce leaves carried julienned carrot strips on the side. The famous Vietnamese condiment known as nuoc cham (fish sauce with chili seeds and garlic) here had curly tendrils of zesty lemon grass. Its Pavlovian power to fire up the saliva glands was especially potent.

Nine Pan Asian Cuisine offers an impressive convergence of superior Asian flavors, but we hope that it also serves as a gateway experience into the smaller, immigrant-owned Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean establishments scattered across Tarrant County. Citizens who aspire to the nebulous “world-class city” status for Fort Worth should know that right under their noses are solid opportunities to sample Asian flavors that other cities don’t possess in such abundance. Nine is a good place to play catch-up on those venerable but newly hip food styles: If Thai was Chinese for the ’90s among more adventuresome American diners, then maybe Vietnamese is the new Thai.

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