You've got to hand it to Kwang C. An. He's long been a part of Tucson's culinary scene, and at 70-plus years of age, the man keeps on truckin'.
He has opened (and sold) numerous restaurants, and always seems to know what people want—and how to give it to them. Most nights, he can be found talking and laughing with customers at one (or more) of his three restaurants.
His latest venture is An del Sol, an Asian eatery located at Casino del Sol. While this isn't knock-your-socks-off Asian fare, the food works: Proteins and vegetables are cooked perfectly, and the myriad sauces—used both in prep and for dipping—are full of flavor and bring out the best in whatever they accompany. Finally, everything is beautifully presented.
Tucked back behind the poker tables, An del Sol is painted in blues and golds and reds. A bar with big-screen TVs and specialty cocktails galore sits off to the side. Rows of golden Buddhas line one wall. Above the sushi bar, small hanging lights resemble large sea urchins. Large paper lanterns hang in the main dining area. Off to the side is a space all done in red. Diners have the choice of intimate banquettes, tables or half-booths upholstered in a snazzy red.
Portions are huge—even with the appetizers. The pot stickers ($6) consist of eight golden-brown, perfectly pleated dumplings, each plump with a juicy pork filling. The soy-based dipping sauce has an underlying bit of heat. All too often, these dumplings are undercooked, overcooked or just plain dull—but here, they prove that the ubiquitous need not be boring.
Of course, there's a sushi menu; after all, it was at Mr. An's Sakura (which he has since sold) where many a Tucsonan first experienced sushi and other Japanese food. Before Sakura, he ran Great Wall China (which he now again owns), which was the standard for Chinese food in town for many years.
The sushi menu has all the usual offerings, as well as house rolls with fun names and unending combinations. Big Birtha ($11.50) includes coconut shrimp topped with fresh tuna, wasabi sauce and coconut sprinkles. It is in one bite crunchy, creamy, hot, cool, sweet and spicy.
One unusual appetizer is the calamari sea salt ($9.95). Again, the portion was big enough to be an entrée. Bite-sized bits of lightly coated squid were tossed with sautéed slices of green and white onion, and red and green pepper. It all sits atop a bed of crispy noodles. Different textures and tastes come together to create an interesting dish. The sesame mayo that was supposed to come with this plate was replaced by a sweet orange sauce which actually balanced the heat of the calamari.
Other app options include two green mussels ($5.50) baked in a rich, spicy aioli, and a wonderful tuna tartare ($11) that puts other versions to shame. Tuna, tomatoes, avocado and cucumber (we requested that the pine nuts be left out) had been molded, sprinkled with both red and black roe, and placed in a creamy salmon-colored sauce that popped with a subtle heat. A ginger shoot was placed artfully alongside. It was pretty and tasty, all at the same time.
Some might balk at the prices here (mu shu pork or sesame beef for $12.95; teppan New York strip for $22.95; sweet-and-sour fish is $15.95), but the amount of food more than makes up for any sticker shock.
The mu shu, for example, was piled high with strips of savory pork and slivers of green onion, mushrooms, scallions, cabbage and carrots, all bound together with a bit of scrambled egg. Wrap it all up in a "pancake" with a shmear of the accompanying hoisin sauce, and you've got yourself a nice meal (or two).
The sesame beef was a nice version of this dish. Plenty of beef had been lightly coated, fried and tossed with a dark, rich sauce—there was a hint of hoisin—and liberally sprinkled with the sesame seeds. All this was encircled by fresh broccoli sprigs. The dish was simple, pretty and delectable.
Although there are no flashy teppan stations here, teppan plays a central role. The prices run from $16.95 for the teppan chicken to $36.95 for the lobster/filet mignon combo. These all come with fresh vegetables, rice and noodles. The New York strip is a good choice. The meat was tender, lightly seasoned and cooked to order. The veggies (broccoli, onions, carrots, zucchini and carrots) were tender, crisp and just plain good. The noodles were cooked al dente and not overly sauced. Two dipping sauces—one, a snappy ginger concoction; the other, a hot, hot mustard—complemented all of the other ingredients.
One of the house specialties is the sweet and sour fish. This may have been the best take on sweet and sour I've ever had. The battered pieces of an unnamed white fish were so crisp, they actually crunched when you bit into them. All the other ingredients—pineapple, green pepper and onion and carrots—were crispy as well. Best of all, there was a judicious use of sauce, and that sauce was nicely balanced and utterly yummy.
Dessert choices are pretty limited: ice cream ($2), mochi ($5.95) and something called crispy rice banana ice cream ($7.95).
An del Sol may just be Mr. An's best venture yet.