By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD The location of the new Asian restaurant at 1168 Boston Road is a familiar one it has been the home of several previous Chinese and Asian fusion establishments but the cuisine is definitely different.
Manager Henry Gunawan of Jia Pan Zest explained the chef has 30 years experience and the sushi chef has 25 years behind the counter and that shows in the dishes we sampled.
Although there are a few Japanese items on the menu besides a considerable selection of sushi Gunawan said there is a focus on Chinese dishes, many of them quite unique.
The restaurant has a full liquor license and Gunawan wanted us to sample a martini, a kind offer the three of us declined as we were still on the clock at lunch.
We did, however, welcome the bubble tea he sent over. "Bubble tea" is a sweet soft drink that neither has carbonation nor necessarily any tea among its ingredients. The "bubbles" are large pearls of black tapioca.
What came next in the sampling knocked us of our chairs: a very generous selection of specialty sushi rolls, including an incredible "Springfield Roll," which had a center of cooked shrimp tempura wrapped in spicy tuna and caviar.
I will make a confession here: I like the cooked rolls; I've never tried the raw fish. The Springfield Roll featured the raw, spicy tuna and it was marvelous. Also extremely delicious was the "The Tuna Lover's Roll," named for its heart shape that has two kinds of tuna and avocado.
Gunawan then performed a little restaurant theater by lighting a house specialty entree called Jia Pan Zest Sizzling Delicacy with high performance 151 Rum. The combination of beef strips, fresh vegetables, shrimp and scallops on a sizzling plate was delicious.
He then sent out the restaurant's pork fried rice, which was very light. None of the dishes we tried had any of the heavy, greasy flavor or texture that one finds at lesser Chinese restaurants.
Next up was a chicken teriyaki with slices of marinated chicken and a mound of fresh cooked vegetables. The teriyaki sauce was among the best I've ever tasted.
The climax of the meal was something I've never seen before in an Asian restaurant: tangerine scallops with toasted walnuts. The scallops had been fried in a very light batter and then served in a tangerine sauce with a generous portion of walnuts as the garnish. We barely contained our desires not to have to share this dish.
Open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jai Pan Zest is a very welcomed addition to the local restaurant scene.