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Only a dumpling’s throw away

By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review 

Noodling your way through the Western Pacific

The latest venture from Blue Bridge Hospitality is a brightly designed eatery that loosely follows the paths taken by naval tours in and around the Western Pacific. It’s an ambitious undertaking featuring the cuisines of several Asian countries.

Vegetable dumplings (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

West Pac Noodle Bar is located a dumpling’s throw away from the Hotel del Coronado, and not far from other Blue Bridge establishments such as Stake Chophouse & Bar, Maretalia Ristorante, Village Pizzeria, and Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge.

At the stylishly designed West Pac, modern American spins are given to many of the dishes. In other words, if you’re expecting hard-core takes on Korean, Malaysian, Japanese and other Asian fare comprising the menu, you best look elsewhere.

Korean Fried Chicken (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Most dishes are marked by flags of the countries they represent — a fun, little lesson in vexillology. As starters, you find everything from house-made gyoza and wonderfully spicy kimchi to lime-kissed papaya salad and lumpia filled with minced pork and veggies.

There are also various styles of poke, which we skipped due to my recent, heavy intake of the stuff, as well as pho, ramen, and vegetarian miso soup containing yam noodles.

Visiting as a twosome, we kept a bowl of kimchi parked on the sidelines. The fermented cabbage was cut into nice bite-size sheaths, adding crunch and zing to everything we paired them to.

Bulgogi beef tacos on scallion pancakes (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

Chef Kaitlyn Weber, who immersed herself recently in Asian cooking after working at Tender Greens and A.R. Valentien, offers a shortlist of weekly specials. We agreed that her crispy veggie dumplings available on this particular day deserve permanent menu status.

Filled with a rich, earthy mulch of mushrooms, spinach and edamame, it seemed as though we were biting into some kind of delicious meat mixture. They were a shining example of modern vegetarian cooking and tasted all the better when dipped into the accompanying ponzu sauce.

Conversely, the Korean fried chicken was a letdown. Its pretty plate presentation and lovely orange color led us into four generous pieces of boneless chicken breast thickly encased in a cement-like batter of flour and potato starch. In addition, the gochujang sauce draping the meat lacked the traditional sweet heat you normally get from brown sugar, garlic and chilies.

While on our imaginary stop in Korea, we also tried the bulgogi beef tacos served on bubbly, tasty scallion pancakes. They were constructed with thin beef medallions and fresh cabbage, carrots and cilantro. However, the traditional bulgogi marinade of stone fruit, ginger and soy sauce seemingly escaped the meat, which tasted basically like grilled steakhouse beef, sans the bewitching complexity of classic bulgogi.

Our favorite dish was the Malaysian Laksa curry, an entree-size bowl housing shrimp, mussels, vermicelli noodles and cubed tofu in a luxurious bath of creamy broth made from coconut milk. The curry factor was robust, offering a solid medium-heat level that needed no support from the very hot bird’s eye chilies served alongside.

Malaysian-style curry with seafood and vermicelli noodles (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

We also ordered a bowl of pork tonkotsu ramen, which flaunted the traditional milky broth of fat and bone marrow obtained from boiling various pork parts for hours. The broth was generously stocked with tender pork belly, mushrooms, pickled ginger, wheat noodles and a soft-boiled egg. My only caveat was the yellow corn in medley; the kernels were too chewy and canned-tasting.

Other menu options include fried Japanese-style Togarashi shrimp with spicy aioli; Chinese-inspired dan dan noodles with minced pork and peanut butter; and chicken and noodles in a non-spicy broth. It’s an all-American dish marked on the menu by the Coronado flag.

West Pac’s chic interior features a bar with 23 beers on tap. It’s flanked by high walls, one of which is covered entirely in a photograph of a dense bamboo forest. Another displays what looks like fish scales in various shades of red.

Tonkotsu pork ramen (Photo by Frank Sabatini Jr.)

The vibe is casual, comfortable and friendly. And the Asian concept fills a long overdue niche in Coronado’s restaurant scene, even if the food isn’t as authentic as what you can easily find in many Asian-owned kitchens off the island.

— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at fsabatini@san.rr.com.

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