Shan Asian Cuisine (Not TerraMia Pizzeria) in Lake Mary
I have been trying to get to Lake Mary to try TerraMia, a pizzeria and trattoria, for the better part of a year. I just never quite got around to it. The reason I was anxious to try it out was that it is owned by Rosario Spagnolo, whose Terramia restaurant in Altamonte Springs is a longtime favorite of mine. I awarded it the Critic's Choice Foodie for best Italian multiple times.
This week I told myself it was time to just head up to Lake Mary and give the place a go. I'd given up on trying to arrange schedules with other people to drive along with me and just decided to enjoy a lunch solo. That, apparently, was not acceptable to the young woman who greeted me at the door.
After learning that I would be only "one for lunch," she tried to steer me the bar. I told her I didn't care to sit at the bar. Then she pointed to a small, tall table in the back, next to the bar. I said I'd really prefer a seat where my feet could touch the ground. She looked back and forth at the two empty tables in the small dining area, then plaintively at me. "I only have two tables available," she said. I told her that was perfect because I needed only one table. And keep in mind that this was after1:30 p.m., not at the height of any noontime rush. She motioned to the table so close to the front door that if the door had swung in instead of out it would hit the table. I aksed why I couldn't have the other table, the nice one in the front window. She frowned, turned to another server passing by and said, not quite under her breath, "You're getting a one-top."
She turned back to me with a forced smile on her face and told me I could take a seat. I said, "I don't feel welcome here." "No, it's fine," she said. I assured her it wasn't fine; her treatment of me was shabby. At first I started to take the seat at the table -- I told you, I really wanted to try this restaurant, and after waiting so long and driving so far, I didn't want to walk out. But that's what I did. I decided the food couldn't possibly be good enough to make up for the service.
So instead, I went around the corner to Shan Asian Cuisine, another restaurant that has been on my list for over a year.
Shan is in the space that had previously been occupied by Jinja, a sort of pan-Asian restaurant that was showing improvement the last time I visited, in 2006, but which apparently couldn't overcome its earlier shortcomings.
A manager at Shan told me that she and Shan's owner had gone to Jinja for lunch one afternoon and found a sign on the door saying the restaurant had closed only a week earlier. Instead of getting lunch, they got the restaurant.
Shan's owner is one of the original owners of Eastern Pearl, a Chinese restaurant in Altamonte Springs that also is a recipient of multiple Foodie Awards from me. At first, I thought I was going to have the same issue as I did at TerraMia. The greeter wanted to seat me at a table in the middle of the dining room. I asked if I might have one of the booths, but instead of protesting, she said she would have one cleared and set right away, and while I waited, perhaps I'd like to sit at the bar and look over the menu. She offered to bring me something to drink and said she would have the server stop by if I'd like to give my order while I waited for the table.
And the server couldn't have been more pleasant either. After I took my seat, I ordered the sushi sampler ($7) and the lunch special of cumin beef ($10). The sushi included four pieces, salmon, tuna, white fish and shrimp, a tad smallish but nicely formed and applied to the pads of vinagared rice. (It's a sign of a good sushi chef when you can pick the piece up, flip it over to dip in the soy sauce and the fish stays put on the rice.)
The lunch special included a choice of soup, salad or egg roll. I chose soup, and from among the available selections, the egg drop. It was a rich broth with a velvety mouthfeel and had lots of feathery wisps of egg. And I liked that the soup was served with a metal spoon instead of one of those plastic dippers that look more like spoon rests than spoons.
The cumin beef, a Szechuan specialty, was unusual and good. There was a generous portion of sliced beef with diced peppers and onions coated with the cumin sauce, which had a dominant and pleasant aroma and only a mildly spicy flavor. I wish I had chosen the steamed white rice instead of the fried, which had no distinct taste.
Shan's decor is rather dark, perhaps more so on the dreary rainy day that I visited. But mahogany stained wainscotting, and ox blood colored floor and black laminate tabletops don't do much to cheer the place up. (I did notice the waiters were starting to set tables for dinner and were putting white cloths on them, so that might help brighten it up in the evening.)
So my drive to Lake Mary hadn't been a waste, and in fact had turned out rather pleasantly. And as I was leaving the restaurant, someone made a point of calling from a side room "thank you for coming."
Now was that so difficult?
Shan Asian Cuisine is at 1541 International Parkway, Lake Mary. The phone number is 407-833-3883. For menu and other information, visit Shan Asian's Web site.