August 29, 2008

Monsoon on the Rim

By Angele Sionna

6 East Aspen Ave, Flagstaff, AZ (downtown)
(no menu online)

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Monsoon's Mandarin Orange Chicken"]Monsoons Mandarin Orange Chicken[/caption]

The Food (taste/flavor/quality of food & drinks)
>>= mixed bag, can be good but can be bad, can’t count on it

The Atmosphere (environment, wait staff, comfortableness)
xxxx= comfortable

Price (what to generally expect to pay per person per entree)
$$ = $10

Value (what you get for your money)
** = okay - overpriced for quality/taste

Asian fusion is how Monsoon on the Rim downtown Flagstaff describes itself. Japanese, Thai, and Chinese are all represented on the menu. It had been a while since I’d been to Monsoon, but I decided to go there earlier this week because I got a great coupon in the mail for a free dinner with purchase of another dinner and two beverages. That’s like a personal invitation to me. Plus, the coupon stated across the top: “Under new ownership! Completely Redecorated!” So we went. I couldn’t really remember why we stopped going there. We used to go weekly when we first moved to town.

When we walked in the door, I didn’t notice any of the “completely redecorated” portions of the restaurant. It looked pretty much the same, minus a new paint job and some light fixtures. Monsoon always had a nice feel to it with large windows around two sides of the restaurant looking out onto one of downtown’s busiest streets.

We opted to sit out on the patio because it was a nice night. The patio is very casual. People seem to linger here longer than inside the restaurant, busy people watching as they eat their meals.

When the waitress brought the menu, it looked pretty much as I remembered it, except for one little detail I’m sure the owners were hoping customers would forget – the prices. There are two menus now with different prices. The dinner menu tacks an extra $2 to each entrée. But you don’t get any extra food or better service or even different plates. It’s all the same, it just costs more – maybe to pay for the new paint job inside? I would have preferred the old look with the cheaper prices.

When I took the first bite into my dinner, I remembered why we used to come here. The Mandarin Chicken ($9.99) is great. It’s breaded and fried into crispy strips and coated with a sweet orange sauce with water chestnuts, carrots and celery mixed in and is served with white rice.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="320" caption="Monsoon's Chow Mein"]Monsoons Chow Mein[/caption]

A few minutes later when it was all gone, I remembered why we stopped going to Monsoon: the portions are small (though cleverly and deceptively spread out thinly across oval plates) and the prices are high for what you’re getting. (That, and our favorite waitress Marla stopped working here and relocated over to Beaver Street Brewery, where we see her often.)
They even cut back on the amount of white rice that is served with the meal. You used to get a big bowl of white rice for the table to share, but this time we got a tiny bowl. Not really enough to compliment the dish, even though it is on the skimpy serving side as well.
We also ordered the Chicken Chow Mein ($9.99). It has a gingery kick, but is short on vegetables. I’m not sure why it’s called chow mein when it is served with lo mein noodles, but they taste good. (Read the difference between lo mein & chow mein HERE) Though again, a small portion is served and no rice comes with it.
If you want friend rice, that’ll be an extra $9.99, as it is served as an entrée. The old menu, which I happen to have a copy of and am looking at as I type this, had fried rice for just $5. You can order any entrée for the price listed on the menu with beef, chicken or tofu. If you want to upgrade that to shrimp, calamari, or scallops, Monsoon adds on an extra $3.
The food tasted exactly as I remembered it, which is a good thing, as flavor is not something lacking at Monsoon. Other items we’ve ordered and enjoyed in the past include the Spicy Calamari ($9.99) (which used to be on the appetizer menu for $6), Mongolian Beef ($9.99), and the Szechuan Broccoli Beef ($9.99). There are also vegetarian options, which I’ve tried in the past, including Steamed Broccoli ($7.99) which is stir-fried with water chestnuts and carrots and Szechuan Green Beans ($7.99), stir fried with onions and peppers for a little spiciness.

The appetizer menu includes: Edamame ($4), Spring Rolls (2/$4), Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($8) (again, these used to be much cheaper at $4.50), and more. Deserts look interesting, though I’ve never tried them, with such choices as Chocolate Seduction with raspberry sauce ($4), Banana Spring Rolls ($7) and Plum Ice Cream ($4).

Despite good tasting food, when you consider the jacked up prices for food, sodas that cost $2 (and we had to ask every time for a refill), and service that was lacking (our waitress did not seem like she wanted to be there), Monsoon isn’t the kind of spot I’m going to be heading back to any time soon. If I’m going to over pay for food, I at least expect good service. *TIP: If you go, look for the “Money in the Mail” coupons beforehand. You can save quite a bit. I wouldn’t recommend going for dinner with out one.

For more photos of Monsoon on the Rim, click HERE.


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