Shangri-La. Eden. Paradise. Heaven on Earth. The concept of a remote and exotic utopia, a faraway haven or hideaway of idyllic beauty and tranquility, has long intrigued mankind. Paul Gauguin, the famous French post-impressionist artist thought his persistent pilgrimage for Paradise was over when he moved to Tahiti in the tropical South Pacific. Alas, his picturesque paradise, as with anything that seems too good to be true, was also discovered by French colonists who quickly transformed Tahiti into the antithesis of the “sensual loafer’s paradise” he had envisioned.
For aficionados of Asian cuisine, paradise might be defined as a restaurant from whose kitchen emanates the culinary diversity of the Pacific: time-honored and traditional delicacies, contrasting yet complementary flavors, exotic and healthful ingredients, varied and interesting textures, exquisite freshness with all cuisine reflecting the geography, culture and history of its originating nation. It would be a restaurant offering the culinary treasures of China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Mongolia, Korea and Hawaii and it would be an adventure in authenticity and deliciousness.
There are several restaurants in the Duke City which proffer entrees from more than one Pacific nation. The most ambitious, by far, is the aptly named Pacific Paradise Tropical Grill & Sushi which features fare from all the aforementioned locations. The menu is staggering in its breadth of coverage, showcasing cuisine representative of many prominent locales within Pacific Ocean, an area covering more than 64 million square miles, about one-third of the Earth’s surface. Now, it’s one thing to to claim authentic flavors; it’s another to deliver on that audacious promise.
My Singaporean friend Ming Lee, a prolific epicurean and student of Asian cuisine, used to tell me that restaurants which purport to be “all things Asia” tend to serve watered-down, inauthentic parodies of the real thing. He’s also incensed that such restaurants perpetuate the stereotype that all Asians are the same, joking that Americans not only think Asians all look alike, but eat the same things. It’s unlikely my great friend would appreciate Paradise Paradise too much.
In addition to cuisine specific to nearly ten different nations, Pacific Paradise also crosses cultural boundaries to feature entrees which very discernibly combine elements of two or more nations. The restaurant definitely takes creative license in some of its entrees, even employing eye-catching naming conventions (such as “Seafood Rice Pizza”) to spur interest. That, too, would leave my friend Ming less than mirthful. He’s as much a stickler for authenticity in Asian cuisine as I am about New Mexico chile without cumin.
Pacific Paradise, located on the northeast side of the small strip mall on the intersection of Candelaria and San Pedro, might surprise my friend. Several dishes were surprisingly authentic (at least to this gaijin who won’t pretend to know nearly as much about Asian cuisine as my friend) while others employed as much creative license as they did the “dumbing down” of flavors to suit American tastes. The dumbing down manifested itself most in slightly exaggerated sweet and sour properties.
The restaurant’s exterior frontage depicts the tranquil azure waters for which the ocean was christened the Pacific. The signage on the pitched tin roof is a bit misleading; the “Tropical Grill & Sushi Bar” standing out and partially obfuscating the much smaller “Pacific Paradise” portion. The interior is awash in color with a pronounced island theme. A tiki bar in the style of the Polynesian restaurants which were the rage in the 60s is the best seat in the house for a sushi soiree. Elevated booths overlook wicker chairs tucked under comfortable tables.
An abbreviated fourteen item “lunch rush” menu is available for diners in a hurry, but a world of adventures opens up to diners who can linger longer. The first page of the compendium-like menu lists appetizers, salads, light soups, specialty soups and a “kid’s paradise” selection of items for children 12 and under. Showcased on the menu’s center page is a menu of signature dishes as well as a Japanese combo special for one or two diners. Grilled entrees, “vegetable celebration,” seafood, stir-fried chicken and beef, fried rice and noodles, sushi, sashimi and desserts make up the remainder of the menu.
Entrees are served with your choice of a garden salad or steamed vegetables, your choice of a light soup and steamed rice or plain noodles, a refreshing departure from the seemingly de rigueur standard of miso soup and a garden salad. The garden salad (mostly iceberg lettuce) has a light drizzle of a citrus-based vinaigrette dressing. The steamed vegetable medley features green beans, carrots, broccoli, onions and mushrooms all prepared al dente. You could hardly call the noodles “plain” because they have a distinct sweet-soy flavor and are quite good.
14 February 2020: The light soup offerings are surprising–a cup of miso soup (Japan), minced chicken and corn soup (China), vegetable soup (Singapore) and hot and sour soup (China), not solely because of the variety offered, but because of their flavor profiles. The hot and sour soup is indeed both hot and sour, but best of all, it wasn’t overly thickened with corn starch as many of this ilk tend to be. The bigger surprise was the minced chicken and corn soup whose basis is a traditional egg drop soup. The soup is served piping hot as they should be.
4 December 2010: The sushi menu is extensive, highlighting maki rolls (a type of sushi roll that includes toasted seaweed nori rolled around vinegar-flavored rice and various fillings, not all containing raw fish as well as more pricey “Chef’s special rolls.” Nigiri sushi (vinegared rice with a piece of fish on top), sashimi, hand rolls and tempura rolls are also available. As do most sushi restaurants in Albuquerque, Pacific Paradise panders to locals with a maki roll named for our fair city. The Albuquerque Roll (green chili (sic) tempura, avocado, cucumber) is quite good although the tempura sheathe somewhat masks the piquancy of the green chile.
4 December 2010: On the day of our inaugural visit, the sushi special of the day was the intriguingly named “Lobster Roll” (Crabmeat, Avocado and Cucumber Inside, Baked with Lobster & Chef’s Special Sauce on Top) which didn’t quite conjure up memories of the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine where the best lobster roll in the universe is made. While we didn’t expect any maki roll could come close to approximating the Maine specialty, we hoped for something accentuating the unctuous flavors of sweet, succulent lobster. Alas, this roll (crab meat, avocado and cucumber on the inside baked with lobster and “chef’s special sauce” on top) obfuscated the flavor of lobster because of a cloying sauce. Not even an immersion in the wasabi-soy bath mitigated that sweetness.
4 December 2010: My personal preferences in the wide diversity that is Asian cuisine start with Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese dishes, all of which display a wider range of flavors (piquant, sweet, savory, tangy) than their Pacific brethren. There are no Malaysian or Singaporean restaurants in the Duke City, but a few restaurants pay a cursory tribute to these nations with one or two entrees. Pacific Paradise serves an entree with which I fell in love at a Malaysian restaurant in Mountain View, California. It’s Sambal Scallops (sauteed scallops with fresh mushrooms and bell pepper in a curry coconut sauce), a fiery and exotic curry dish with eye-opening flavors. Pacific Paradise’s Sambal is an excellent rendition with an authentic chili-based sauce that will singe the taste buds of the uninitiated.
4 December 2010: Several Hawaiian dishes punctuate the menu, America’s contribution to the Pacific themed menu. For non-risk-takers, a safe and delicious bet is the Hawaiian Golden Crisp Chicken (tender chicken breast in a light coat of tempura batter deep-fried until crispy and served with a pineapple sauce) which bears a striking resemblance to the chicken cutlets served at the fabulous Magokoro restaurant. The pineapple sauce is about as thick as a typical sweet and sour sauce, but distinctively different in that it showcases the pineapple with an attitude, just enough piquancy to surprise and titillate your taste buds.
14 February 2020: When perusing a menu–including or maybe especially–those with verbose descriptions, how you perceive a dish may not be exactly what’s delivered to your table. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Take or example, the Country Style Spicy Chicken, described on the menu as ” Extra spicy. A very tasty dish. Marinated chunks of chicken breast, fried then stir-fried with peanuts and dried red pepper in a spicy, aromatic seasoning.” Somehow, I perceived “chunks” to be bite-sized, not smallish pieces. I also read “sauce” into the dish even though it’s not stated anywhere on the description of the menu.
In all honesty, this is a very good dish. Okay, it would be better with actual chunks (not meager morsels) of chicken, but even so, the white meat chicken pieces are quite tasty with a light, golden-hued batter and a salt and pepper seasoning. Assertive dry red chili peppers provide an incendiary bite, one that doesn’t sneak up on you but strikes with the ferocity and speed of a charging rhino. These chilies will water your eyes and clear your nasal passages. Whole peanuts prove a nice foil for the chilies though you’ll probably find yourself reaching for your glass of water.
4 December 2010: Desserts also play homage to the Pacific nation of their origin. In addition to mangoes and sticky rice (Thailand) and crispy banana (Malaysia), you’ll find several Pacific Paradise unique desserts whose genesis is the fertile mind of the chef. Quite popular are the tropical ice creams: mango, avocado, coconut, green tea, plumwine, ginger and red bean. These ice creams are creamy and delicious with a light texture and flavors that resonate with the flavor of their named ingredients. A sure cure for the heat of a summer day, they’re delicious any time.
A visit to Pacific Paradise may not be paradise on Earth, but it does offer a culinary journey to the flavors of the Pacific and you won’t have to travel across the ocean to get them.
3000 San Pedro Dr NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 February 2020
1st VISIT: 4 December 2010
# OF VISITS: 2
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Ginger Ice Cream, Avocado Ice Cream, Albuquerque Roll, Sanbal Scallops, Hawaiian Golden Crisp Chicken, Country Style Spicy Chicken
4 thoughts on “Pacific Paradise Tropical Grill & Sushi Bar – Albuquerque, New Mexico”
Aaah Soo…(and please pardon the international ‘flavor’ of this review)! With such a controversy about PPTG&SB, how can one not check it out especially as a pic of the interior allayed my concerns the setting might challenge my
fluorephobia. (No offense to so many entrepreneurs just starting out!!, but…)
Speaking of ambiance: Eh…there should be at least one place in town where Y’all can get off the beaten track periodically and into some Retro-Tiki…who amongst some of us wont to hope to want Don Ho to step out of the all-encompassing shadows of a palm tree at any moment to enchant us with Tiny Bubbles http://tinyurl.com/7eclkwm ! Sad… kids today can’t experience the wonders of Trader Vic’s or the ‘olde’ Masque(sp?) of Vegas’ Rio with its periodic thunder storms, let alone having Don the BeachComber place a splendiferous Mai Tai con umbrella and speared fruits before us???? Apparently, a gaggle of Angla Wahines agreed, as they chose this place to bid Aloha to a Comadre off to the Islands for a new job as they donned grass skirts and leis for the occasion while extolling this place for its sushi, if not a tad more than several others!!!
Nevertheless, I stayed ‘conservative’ and had the aforementioned Hawaiian Golden Crisp Chicken nicely adorned with swirly carrots, cuques, wedges of pineapple and melons (the latter of which I spooked off.) While I never ‘fried’ the coating of tempura, I’m thinking the coating for the coq is of some kind of ‘other’ crumbs which however, was quite delightful. To be honest and despite the delightful dipping sauce, the chicken itself was a tad dry. Bottom line: Apparently, I dined at a ‘discount’ time as my tab for a nice entree, a great cup of Hot n Spicy Soup, a just-my-size and tasty salad, and bowl of rice complemented by a tasty (albeit inexpensive) Plum Wine was under 15 yen!!!! and thus no complaints from this Capricorn.
Ooh….did I mention my attentive wait staff sans piercings/tats/nekked belly pooch?
Yes, with that extensive a menu et al, I’ll say Sayonara & “I’ll Be Back”, to quote the Guvernator who is down in Belen doing a flick.
It wasn’t my intent to generate any controversy with my review of Pacific Paradise, but if it inspired a visit or two from astute readers, mission accomplished.
In the early 80s, there was a Polynesian restaurant–my memory often fails me, but I believe it was–on Indian School off Wyoming near or where a Garcia’s Kitchen resides today. It may have been the closest to the Trader Vic theme I’ve seen in the Duke City. Over the years, vestiges of the Trader Vic’s theme have been tried to some extent at other restaurants (the Polynesian Room at New Chinatown, Pacific Paradise, Pacific Rim) but none to the extent you describe.
My last over-the-top Polynesian restaurant experience was in San Francisco’s Tonga Room. A Disneyesque ambiance (including the rumbling volcanoes and tropical thunderstorms) couldn’t make up for mediocre food.
Insofar as Don Ho, Albuquerque lost a true treasure in 2007 with the passing of Freddie Baker, a Hawaiian native who performed at such venues such as the The Town House Restaurant (soon to reopen). His rendition of Tiny Bubbles was quite good.
Hey Jeff, (or can I call you “Dick” for short?) Speaking of slamming hard-working people, Gil works hard to write a web log that captures and articulates his perceptions of the exciting variety of food in and around New Mexico. And he must be doing a pretty good job too, since his work is regularly praised in numerous local and national publications. He is a good enough writer that he is frequently invited by many publications to write articles for them. When the two cable food channels plan a trip to NM, they call Gil for recommendations. To slam the work Gil does for free (Do you notice any advertising? Did you ever have to pay a membership?) is really looking a gift horse in the mouth.
And speaking of mouths, when you slam Gil, you also disparage a large number of his fans. By the way:
Either you were dropped on your head as a child, or the fact that your parents were first cousins may have given you a problem. Don’t reproduce.
I am not sure your culinary acumen is worth you even writing a critique of this restaurant. First they have two menu’s, one which is authentic Dishes but they do not offer it because most people like you don’t really know what that is. If you did you would not have suggested that your Asian friend should try it which he didn’t an then you go out of your way to tell us that it wouldn’t be authentic enough for him. So you entire critique is actually laughable. You self report that your friend is better at discerning authentic Asian food and then you try to guess what he would think. A fictitious pile of crap. If you are going to slam hard working people at least do adequate research. If you knew anything at all, you would know that most cuisine from other countries has to be Americanized and that they usually if not always have an authentic menu. I personally think it is one of the most under rated restaurants in Albuquerque. People like you who don’t know what they are talking about should stick to what you know and that is breakfast burritos at golden pride or some other drive through and anything else that will hold green chile in a tortilla. I have an idea, let’s get one more Mexican restaurant and one more Casino while we are at it.