This is the Place
Simple Elegance and Great Grills!
Restaurant: Ally's Asian Grill
When I pulled up on the first visit, it wasn't clear if the restaurant was even open. There was a canvas sign overhead, hanging on the side of the little strip mall, but no open sign, and I couldn't see inside through the dark windows. I almost didn't stop, then decided to check to be sure. It was definitely worth it.
Inside, the décor was simple, but that simplicity gave it a certain sense of elegance that was surprising, being in a strip mall. A pair of bamboo staves were on one wall, and wooden tables and chairs with more style than most small restaurants when they first opened. (A few tables needed to be wiped down, though.) The walls were a deep red, with some bamboo screens here and there, and dishes and kitchen utensils that had more class than I expected. (Again, being in a strip mall.) On one wall is a flatscreen TV, which was a little different, although I would suggest not having it tuned in to "Judge Alex," like it was, or any other type of reality TV roadkill program. However, the sound was eventually turned down on the TV and nice easy listening Soul from the '70s and '80s was played overhead.
You order at the counter, then it is brought out to you. If you haven't been there before, she recommends starting with "the grills" — sounded like good advice, so I took it. You don't pay up front, and you get your own soda from the fountain, or water. You get your own flatware, where you choose between stainless steel and plastic. The owners, a cute Oriental couple, both work there and, on this visit, had their two children there, as well. Their daughter, 4 or 5 years old, sits at a table drawing pictures. Her names is Ally — the restaurant is named for her. When I asked her mother about her, she said, "Yep, she owns the place. She's my boss."
First words out of my mouth when my food arrived: "Wow."
Plating was absolutely beautiful. Pork skewer lain across a hot metal plate, sizzling (a la fajita presentation in many Southwest restaurants) alongside mixed grilled vegetables and a mound of molded sticky rice cooked with butter. (They call it Java Rice.) I got some extra "spicy sauce" in a small porcelain dish. Service was a little slow, but worth the wait.
First words out of my mouth when I took that first bite: "Wow."
The flavor was excellent. There was a smoky headiness from the grilling, and that "spicy sauce" was amazing: hot enough to make my mouth warm out to my lips, but with a flavor that was just unbelievable. (The classic faux pas for spicy sauces is to turn up the heat with no regard for flavor — this is certainly not the case at Ally's). The grilled vegetables were very good, with a mix of carrots, onions, celery and broccoli. (I left the broccoli — I think that broccoli was created as a dirty trick or a dare.) The rice was simple, but had a nice flavor that didn't overpower anything, and was a good foil for the spice in the sauce. In fact, when out of meat, I used the rice to eat the rest of that sauce alone. Then again, a little more pork would have been nice, so I had that life-is-good feeling that a full stomach can give.
When finished, I returned to the counter, where I was rung up, based on "Mom's" memory of what I ordered and a simple question of whether I got my own soda or not. A kind of nice touch to end it all.
Most negative thing about the experience was one of their employees, who came out to bus a table wearing a Bajio t-shirt. Just seemed a little surprising, particularly when I saw that he was working the grill when I went up to settle up my bill.
On the second visit, there was the addition of a lit "open" sign out front (as if they had read my mind from the previous visit).
Inside, the décor was also improved, with two large, scenic murals with colorful photographic landscapes, and the addition of a couple very beautiful tables near the front that really gave the place a nice feel. The flatscreen TV was off, but there was the addition of audio equipment in the corner for live performance (although no one was in the spotlight at that time) and a sign indicating that there were also karaoke nights. The music playing overhead was subdued, with a mix of a man and a woman doing pleasant covers of some classic songs.
I ordered at the counter, then sat down at one of those new tables. It had stools, rather than chairs, and just had a solid feel that made me think of generations of culture. I was a little disappointed when I went to the soda machine and they were out of Dr. Pepper. They said it was on order, so they are not managing their inventory as well as they could. Ally was in attendance, as well as her older brother, and I enjoyed watching them interact and move about the restaurant like, well, they owned the place.
"Dad" brought out my food and made a point of laying out a bamboo placemat for me, which I thought was a nice touch. I ordered the grilled chicken and, once again, the plating was beautiful. Like the pork on a stick, the chicken was served on a hot metal plate, sizzling, alongside a mix of broccoli and cooked carrots that were perfectly cooked al dente. It was also accompanied by a mound of molded Java Rice.
First words out of my mouth when I took that first bite: "Oh, man, that is good."
The flavor was excellent. There was that same smoky headiness from the grilling, and the teriyaki sauce was excellent: sweet with enough of an undertone of heat that really took it the extra step to greatness. Although I am not a fan of broccoli, I went ahead and tried some. I cringed as I tasted it (I've had some really bad broccoli in my day), but found this to be fine. Not enough to break me of my aversion to it, but probably more palatable than any I had tried before. On top of all that, the chicken consisted of two chicken breasts, leaving me with that life-is-good feeling that is so important to me when finishing a meal.
Last words when finishing the meal: "It's official. I love Filipino food."
Most negative thing about the experience — I hate to say it, but the broccoli. No fault of their, I just don't like it.
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