At the end of 2006, I sat down and wrote a list of resolutions. But instead of making it a wish list of the things I hoped I would do this year (eat less, exercise more, pray for world peace, blah, blah, blah), I assembled all the things I had already done and never wanted to do again: act in a community-theater play, suffer through a blind date, spend a weekend in Wichita, hike a Montana mountain wearing snowshoes, attend Santi-Cali-Gon Days, eat in another Japanese steakhouse.
I managed to keep most of those vows until recently, when I had a couple of meals at Stix at The Legends. I knew there was a teppanyaki-grill component to the 16-month-old restaurant, but a friend had assured me that I could eat there without ever spotting a flying shrimp or hearing a bad joke. "The Japanese-steakhouse part of the restaurant is in a different room, behind a curtain," my friend explained. "You don't even have to see the grills."
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the teppanyaki concept as a delightful form of entertainment for other people. It's just not for me, all that communal "fun" of sitting around a hot metal grill with a group of strangers who giggle and clap when a knife-juggling chef creates a smoking volcano out of onions. For me, it's sheer torture; I'd almost rather sit through another amateur Cats.
The good news at Stix was that if I wanted one of the entrées prepared that way, I could order it right off the menu while sitting in the main dining room — on "the Asian side," according to the hostess who took my reservation — without sitting through the so-called show. That's what I call customer service!
Stix is an ambitious concept, offering that Japanese-steakhouse fare along with traditional Chinese-American dishes and some excellent sushi. Like most of the restaurants at The Legends, Stix isn't a locally grown operation; it's the first Midwest installment of an Atlanta-based minichain of five restaurants. And it has no connection to Pick Up Stix, the fast-growing, Minneapolis-based chain of casual Chinese restaurants — though judging by some of the flirting I witnessed at the sushi bar, it might be possible to pick up more than a yummy roll.
Because it offers such an array of possibilities, Stix seemed like an ideal location to have dinner with a group of fussy eaters. Lisa, for example, won't eat seafood ("It's too fishy," she insists), and neither Lisa nor her boyfriend, Richard, likes sushi. Judy likes sushi but prefers spicy Chinese fare; her daughter, Carrie, is mad for sushi. And I'll eat just about anything.
The "Asian side" is a dark, sexy dining room that dominates the front half of Stix and has borrowed some decoration ideas from P.F. Chang's: stone walls, earthy color tones, drum-style lights (designed here to look as if they're tortoise-shell) and exceptionally attractive young servers.
As Carrie put it, "Our waiter looks like Ryan Gosling."
He did, sort of. But it was hard to tell because he seemed to be in constant motion: bringing us metal pots of jasmine tea, plates of excellent chicken-and-vegetable dumplings (the steamed version is better than the crunchy, deep-fried pot stickers), a bowl of hearty miso soup for Carrie and supple slices of pan-seared ahi tuna tataki for the three fish lovers. We even coaxed Lisa to nibble on a piece of that ruby-red tuna. "It isn't fishy," she said, marveling at the flavor.
"Fresh fish is never fishy," Judy said, and we knew what she meant.
Other seafood choices — the dreaded sushi — weren't alluring enough to tempt Lisa and Richard, though Richard daringly ate one of the maraschino-cherry "eyes" skewered by a toothpick in the slithery caterpillar roll. That roll was also loaded with potential aphrodisiacs: slices of fresh eel, avocado, cucumber and cream cheese, all assembled to look like Disney's version of a creeping bug.