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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    March 2008

Passport to the Pacific

At Mix Pacific Rim Cuisine in Las Cruces, both taste and ambiance transport diners half a world away.

 

For a true taste of Tokyo, a classic curry, a Vietnamese tidbit or big bite of Australia — all served up with the sophistication of San Francisco — head to Mix Pacific Rim Cuisine in Las Cruces for an international dining experience that satisfies. This elegant yet comfortable restaurant — belying its strip-center address — offers impeccable food from a wide array of cuisines, unhurried service and a deep wine list, coming together in, well, the perfect mix.

The extensive menu incorporates flavors and ingredients from nearly every country touching the Pacific Ocean. The colorful yet subdued, airy main dining room soothes the senses, while the chef working at the open sushi bar adds drama and showcases the restaurant's Japanese specialty.

On this busy weekend, we are unable to get a reservation in the main dining area and accept a table in the converted "outdoor" room. No worries. Standing gas heaters provide plenty of warmth, even in winter, and the atmosphere is cozily decorated and pleasingly intimate.

Mix has a very good wine list, with a decent number and range of by-the-glass options and a fair selection of bottles that won't break the budget. In keeping with the Japanese spirit, there are Japanese spirits, too — a good assortment of sakes and Japanese beers.

We love pairing wines with our appetizers and entrees, and put a lot of thought into this. Our waiter allows us plenty of time and checks back twice before we order. He cheerfully compliments our choices and goes to get the first round. It's delightful to find a service staff not thrown off by a table that takes its time ordering and lingers between courses, even on a busy night.

Mix has such a wide variety of appetizers, it is easy to make a meal out of them — and we often have, sharing four or five between us, served in two courses. Our favorites include the Mix Calamari ($7.50) with its belly-warming creamy sesame dipping sauce, the Spicy Chicken Crisp Lettuce Cups ($8.50) in which chicken with sweet hoisin sauce is wrapped in lettuce leaves, and the Ribs Chinois ($8), baby back pork ribs char-grilled with Polynesian BBQ sauce.

Tonight we aim for a variety of tastes and textures with the Shanghai Potstickers ($7), Vietnamese Spring Rolls ($8) and New Zealand mussels ($8). Our gracious waiter does a thoughtful job of placing our choices and small sharing plates without making the small table feel crowded.

The potstickers are pork dumplings, steamed and stir-fried, and served in a bed of pleasantly spicy Chinese chile aioli sauce. We swirl the crisp-tender dumplings with our chopsticks, trying to get as much of the luscious sauce on each bite.

The spring rolls are artfully delicate, but disappoint on taste. The cool, translucent rice paper wraps encase delightfully squiggly rice stick noodles, crisp shredded carrots and touch of shrimp and crab. And I do mean a touch. While I distinctly remember tiny shrimp in these rolls in the past, it seems Mix has reduced the seafood to a bare essence. The sweet-tangy Asian dipping sauce is the saving grace.

The baked green lip mussels — pleasantly briny, oh-so-tender mollusks accented with a slightly garlicky sauce — turn out to be our favorite, providing a warming counterpoint to our round of appetizers.

Soon after the numerous small plates are cleared away, our soup course is delivered. All dinner entrees at Mix come with soup or salad. The dinner side salad is a nice, crisp plate of greens, elegantly dressed. But the miso soup is a standout — what miso soup should be, with just a smattering of tender seaweed and tiny tofu cubes in the delicate broth. The creamy cloud of the mellow white miso settles and rises again with the stir of a spoon. It is classic and delicious in its uncluttered simplicity. Go for the soup.

Mix's entrees ($12.50-$21) range widely across the continents: excellent curries, noodle dishes like Pad Thai and soba, eight different fish entrees, tempuras and teriyakis, and interesting fusion dishes, like the Australian Steak Wrap, with asparagus wrapped in thin strips of char-grilled beef. Dinner salad options ($8.50-$12.50) include Spicy Beef, calamari, portabella mushrooms and even char-grilled salmon skin.

At both lunch and dinner, Mix also serves all the classic varieties of sushi: rolled and sliced maki, hand-rolled cone temaki, delicately slivered sashimi and nigiri, in which the fish is placed atop a hand-formed lump of rice. Bento boxes offer a variety of sushi tastes, like the big Combo Bento ($19) with a mix of maki rolls and nigiri, made with red snapper, tuna, salmon and more, along with some crispy fried Inari (golden rice pouches).

My favorite Mix sushi is the Rainbow roll ($13), with salmon, tuna, red snapper and crab along with cucumber, green onion, avocado and more, all wrapped around the rice and sliced into multicolored rolls. The Rainbow makes an indulgent lunch or elegant, light dinner.

But on this chilly night, we can think only of warm entrees, choosing Teriyaki Chicken ($12.50) and Swordfish with Thai Green Curry ($19). The chicken arrives moist, tender and a touch sweet, as it should be. The perfectly cooked swordfish in its curry sauce is plenty hot, as the menu promised. Both entrees are nicely portioned — not too much, not at all skimpy. Side dishes of wasabi mashed potatoes and stir-fried vegetables, which accompany many of the entrees, add a delicious Asian complement.

For dessert, Mix offers some exotic sweets, like green tea, red bean or mochi ice creams, along with a dessert sampler of bars, meltaways and lemon squares, as well as a passable tiramisu. We pick the fried bananas with cinnamon, sugar and ice cream, and the tempura-fried ice cream. Both are top notch and different enough to make trading bites an interesting and satisfying venture.

Not every restaurant can pull off a menu with such a staggering variety of cuisines. Mix does, with authenticity and flair. Step in and be transported to many lands, no passport required.

— Donna Clayton Lawder



Mix Pacific Rim Cuisine, 1001 E. University Ave., D-4, in the FedEx-Kinko's strip center, 532-2042. Lunch and dinner, Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-9 p.m., Sat. 12-2 p.m., 5-9 p.m. Closed Sunday.



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