$$$$ ($25-$34)
Grace's photo
James M. Thresher/For The Post

Editorial Review

Grace's Adds Asian Opulence to the Area

By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, January 25, 2007

The new Grace's in Bowie is stunning.

Just inside the double glass entry doors, a waterfall shimmers down ceiling-high panels of etched glass. A plush banquette to the left provides seating in case one needs to wait -- for a dinner guest, or to be seated at a table -- and strewed about are small tables meant for holding drinks and the latest editions of luxury lifestyle magazines such as Town & Country and the Robb Report.

Just behind the glass panels, granite forms the counter of the sinuous sushi bar with its stacks of brilliant white porcelain dishes. The bar's unusually comfortable stools have upholstered seats and wooden backs into which the name Grace's has been carved. Similar seating is throughout the restaurant.

A fretworked wall separates the sushi bar from the adjacent hibachi grill room. From the embossed tin ceiling hang 10 giant stainless steel exhaust hoods, one over each of the granite-edged griddles where toqued chefs twirl knives and rhythmically tap the griddle as they perform the rituals of hibachi cooking.

One long wall of the grill room, the largest of four distinct areas in the restaurant, is lined with wine bins and topped with an impressive collection of Chinese porcelain jugs and vases, a couple of large carved Chinese horses and handsome oxblood-colored wedding baskets.

On the other side of the wall is a formal dining room, set with granite-top tables and framed by a tented ceiling. Four private booths are draped in diaphanous gold curtains that shine when they catch the light.

The lounge is posh, too, beginning with the large flat-screen televisions suspended above the long granite bar and on the opposite wall. The same kind of plush banquette as in the waiting area provides seating along one wall of the lounge, but here they are in deep alcoves for private conversation.

Just as she did in 1990 when she opened her first restaurant, Grace's Fortune, about five miles east on Route 450, Grace Tang has made the new Grace's the most opulent place to dine in Prince George's County.

It seems no expense has been spared to transform this boxy space in the new Vista Gardens Marketplace shopping center into an example of big-city Asian luxe. In addition to the chefs performing at the tabletop grills, there is a master sushi chef and two executive chefs.

Deren Luo, Grace's manager and Tang's brother-in-law, said he and Tang took inspiration for their new Asian fusion enterprise -- Grace's Fortune serves only Chinese fare -- from restaurants they have visited in their travels. Grace's opening in early December was one more step in bringing fine dining to the county.

"We have had a lot of success in Bowie, and we thought this was the right location at the right time," Luo said.

Vista Gardens Marketplace, Martin Luther King Jr. Highway and Route 450, sits between low-rise office buildings to the south and west and affluent residential developments to the east and north where new home prices begin in the high six figures. Already, Grace's has become a meetingplace for business lunches and after-work cocktails, and a destination restaurant for nearby residents.

The menu is ambitious: dozens of sushi items, a dozen teppanyaki entrees -- not including combinations -- and a score of kitchen-cooked small and large plates that include spring rolls and crab cakes, grilled rack of lamb and stir-fried whole lobster. And those don't include about two dozen more lunch specials.

Among the offerings are dishes you might find on the menu at any Asian restaurant in downtown Washington. But for this part of Prince George's County, where national chains offering sit-down service have not even ventured, Grace's offers a startling array of possibilities. My main caveat: Prices are in the downtown mode, too.

The three sushi chefs on duty on my first visit were of varying proficiency and made no effort to engage a first-time diner in conversation. An order of seaweed salad, presented in a deep oval bowl, could have used a sharper vinegar flavor -- to my taste -- but it was crisp and pleasant. A request for chirashi -- an assortment of sliced fish atop a bed of sushi rice -- seemed to befuddle the chef in front of me. It took three starts before he had prepared it to the supervising chef's satisfaction.

Most of the fish was clean and fresh-tasting -- including tuna, white tuna (actually escolar), yellowtail and mackerel. But the salmon was mushy and watery, and the cooked shrimp was tasteless. (Later, another of the chefs warned a regular customer away from the salmon, advising that it wasn't of the best quality.) The assortment didn't include any of the usual marinated gourds and mushrooms that are traditionally included.

Again, it took several tries before the chef succeeded in preparing a salmon skin roll, but the order of rich eel was exemplary.

On another visit, a spicy seafood salad from the sushi bar was all that it should have been with fresh, clean-tasting morsels of tuna, yellowtail and salmon bound in a light but spicy sauce with bits of crisp cucumber. A quartet of sushi rolls -- eel, tuna, salmon and California rolls -- ordered as the main course arrived before the salad. This time, the tuna was mushy.

The busiest of the dining areas is the hibachi grill room. In addition to the entree, dinner includes a bowl of soup (served with a porcelain spoon that is very difficult to handle), a grilled shrimp (or chicken liver) appetizer, grilled vegetables and rice, all in large portions. Though I long ago stopped being impressed with the show at these tabletop grills, the results are sometimes impressive. Here I found the shrimp to be especially good, because the grill was hot enough to put a good sear on the shrimp, which are plump and juicy.

I think most of the taste comes from the sauces, because the bits of food don't cook long enough to caramelize.

Desserts are limited: It's either red bean or green tea ice cream or fried bananas over vanilla ice cream. Opt for the bananas, cooked tempura-style and then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with coconut.