A Wok On  The Mild Side

Despite An Abundance Of Creativity, Pan-Asian Fusion Falls Short At AZ Stixx.
By Rebecca Cook 

IN PONDERING MANY new trendy California restaurants, writer Caroline Bates of Gourmet magazine recently mentioned that several reminded her of a quote by composer Camille Saint-Saens.

Chow Not generally noted for his food writing, Saint-Saens nevertheless hit a universal nail on the head when he once described a colleague's music as containing much that was good and new. However, Saint-Saens went on to say, what was good was not necessarily new and what was new, not especially good.

A more apt description of AZ Stixx, the new restaurant in the former Olson's on Broadway space, would be difficult to find.

Owners Ericka and Alan Sanchez and Richard Katz have renovated and redesigned the property to suggest a venue of Asian splendor. The interior lines are clear, sharp and open. The decorative accents are lighthanded brush strokes of elegant simplicity. Even the slightly garish wall mural of a giant bowl of manna rice descending from the heavens puts one in mind of heady Eastern philosophies.

The theme at AZ Stixx is ostensibly pan-Asian, although inflections of Southwestern, Indian and Italian crop up from time to time as well. Depending on your point of view, this can constitute either an opportunity for excellence or a disaster in the making.

For instance, it's not unusual at AZ Stixx to find a Thai chile glaze embellished with a hint of prickly pear, or a crispy ginger-smoked duck with ginger-soy sauce served alongside cornmeal and chive pancakes and a papaya and sweet potato relish.

Is it genius or perversity? You decide.

Fans of the cuisines of China, Thailand, Japan and Korea will likely be unimpressed by AZ Stixx' many fusion dishes. Innovation and experimentation can be honored only if the end result is awe-inspiring.

If a chef is going to tamper with various ingredients representative of several different cuisines, he or she had better have a thorough understanding and appreciation of each and every component. At AZ Stixx I had the impression there was child loose in the kitchen--albeit a very creative and imaginative child--having fun with a host of exotic variables.

The menu at AZ Stixx can be annoyingly cute. How about some "really rockin' rolls" (spring, egg and sushi rolls) to start your meal? If this isn't appealing, perhaps one of the other "Stixx-to-your-ribs" appetizers will tempt you. Entrees are categorized as a "wok on the wild side" with options to "wok" further with either the "cow, bird, pig or fish."

This in-your-face marketing could be forgiven if the food absolutely knocked your socks off. Sadly, this isn't even remotely the case. Though, I must say, mediocrity never looked better. Hand-painted porcelain plates and artistic presentations are visually charming here.

Forget the sushi rolls if you're accustomed to and like the real thing. We tried the gingered lobster and basil roll ($6.25) and were extremely disappointed in not only a lack of freshness and flavor, but the gritty starchiness of the rice itself.

Much better were the Asian vegetable rolls ($4.50), crispy pockets of rice paper filled with a blend of shredded cabbage, carrot and rice noodles served with a dip of honey-soy sauce.

Lunch on AZ Stixx's lovely back patio one recent spring day consisted of a salad sampler plate and "ants climbing a tree," a picturesquely named dish of ground pork and noodles.

A choice of two ($6.95) or three ($7.95) salads can be assembled from a grand list of five. My companion's selections were a chicken, macadamia and pineapple combo, the papaya minted-fruit salad, and the long-life noodles with oriental cabbage and sesame dressing. The chicken salad won the taste contest, since the long-life noodles were almost completely devoid of flavor, and the fruit salad required careful scrutiny to identify the sole piece of papaya.

The spicy pork and cellophane-noodle dish, meant to resemble ants climbing the branches of a tree ($7.95), was laced with the toastiness of sesame and inflamed with the heat of an over abundance of chile oil, which completely erased the possibility of other flavors coming to the fore. Conspicuously lacking were the black mushrooms customarily included to simulate the industrious insects.

Dinner's entrees were more successful. The seared, rare ahi tuna ($16.95) was butter tender and quite fresh, although the chilly temperature of the dish caught us slightly off guard, as did a very timid wasabi soy butter served on the side.

A grilled swordfish special ($16.95) was good, but the two thin steaks had dried out a bit in the cooking process, and even a refreshingly piquant fruit-green chile salsa couldn't quite restore its promised pizzazz.

Dessert, like so much else at AZ Stixx, sounded fairly interesting, but turned out to be so-so. The "chocolate coconut" ($5.75), two candy shells of white and dark chocolate filled one each with mango coconut custard and chocolate raspberry mousse, just didn't come off, most notably because the custard had the distracting consistency of tapioca pudding.

A dim sum platter ($5.25) consisted of nothing more than an egg roll or won ton wrapper stuffed with pre-made fruit pie filling and fried to a golden brown. Not bad by any means, but certainly not exceptional.

A separate tea list along with a truncated wine list is offered at AZ Stixx, along with a bizarre assortment of specialty drinks (come now, a chocolate martini?).

Service is adequate, although the languid pace at which lunch is served will not meet the needs of those on a scheduled midday meal break.

I know some will say I need to lighten up, relax and enjoy the fun and zany atmosphere at AZ Stixx. Stop being such a snob, they'll say. Who knows? Maybe if the food had been less pedestrian and the cost more economical, I could have done just that. TW

Photo by Dominic Oldershaw

AZ Stixx. 3048 E. Broadway. 323-3701. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch Monday through Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. for dinner Monday through Thursday, and 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Open for dinner only on Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Full bar. All major credit cards, checks. Menu items: $4.95-$17.95.

Chow Scan is The Weekly's selective guide to Tucson restaurants. Send comments and updates to Chow, P.O. Box 2429, Tucson, AZ 85702; or use our e-mail address, tucsonweekly@tucsonweekly.com. These listings have no connection with Weekly advertisers.

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