Atmosphere: Suburban Trader Vic's; nice enough for dinner out, but you can dress casually.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Price Range: $4.95 for chicken chow mein to $14.95 for lobster flambe. Most entrees in $4.95-$7.95 range. Sunday to Thursday dinner specials $4.95.
Reservations: Advisable on weekends.
Credit Cards: American Express, Visa and Mastercharge.
Special Facilities: Parking in lot adjacent to restaurant; booster seats available; accessible to wheelchairs; cocktail menu and carryout.
Forget about strangers. You can have an enchanted evening with your own family at the South Pacific, one block from the Ballston Metro stop in Parkington.
The ambiance of this large and popular Polynesian restaurant belies. Lights and music are low, tables and high-backed rattan chairs are spaced to give the illusion of nooks and crannies, and diners the illusion of privacy. Small blue flames for warming egg rolls and searing cho-cho adorn many tables, and tiny green ceiling lights are laid out in the design of Hawaiian masks and other island motifs. It is like walking into a comfortable and beautifully lit cave.
Aside from the usual Chinese-style appetizers, the south Pacific's menu is evenly divided between standard Chinese offerings and a series of house specialities we thought the best of our meal. One can also choose from among three curries, three flambeed dishes, and Sunday through Tuesday, a mongolian barbequed dinner, which you can watch being cooked if you request. A special flyer advertises new dishes, several of which are offered Sunday through Thursday evenings at $4.95 each. So on a weeknight, South Pacific can be a bargain.
We bagan with wonton soup -- a lovely version fragrant with fresh ginger -- and egg rolls, cut in two and piled on a small brall plate over a warming flame. We ordered four entrees for five of us, but because of the Fringe benefits at South Pacific, we might have gotten away with three. One of the extras we hadn't expected was a salad bar our waiter directed us to as he cleared away our soup bowls.
The standard salad bar can be a pretty ho-hum affair, but South Pacific's is Polynesian and rather novel. It consists of four or five vegetable relishes somewhat like French crudites: chopped, shredded and matchsticked vegetables, each marinated in a different piquant dressing; prettily molded rice tidbits that looked like sushi but turned out to be just rice; and the kids' favorite -- crisp noodles as large as over-sized potato chips. All these goodies shall remain nameless since our waiter strangely had no idea what any of them were called, but luckily anonymity doesn't affect flavor. They were good.
We chose two dishes priced at $4.95 each: shiang su duck, half a bird tenderly cooked and seved in a gingery sauce; and moo shi pork. The pancakes served with the pork were too thick and heavier than they should have been, although the pork filling was good.
What we enjoyed most, however, were the two house specialties we decided to try: South Pacific pan, $7.45, and shrimp and beef imperial, $8.45. South Pacific pan combined pork, chicken and shrimp with Chinese vegetables and broccoli in light sauce. The girls liked it so much they ignored their favorite moo shi pork for it.
The shrimp and beef imperial was also a hit. Succulent pieces of beef and large shrimp were sauteed with deliciously crisp Chinese vegetables for another successful dish. An indifferent fried rice accompanied our entrees. Good as it all was, we couldn't finish what we had ordered. With our remaining dinner secure in carryout cartons, we had no appetite for dessert, although South Pacific has the expected flambeed fruits, ice cream and cheesecake.
One final comment. Our waiter was pleasant but, if anything, his service was too attentive; no one likes to be rushed when eating out, and when the waiter asks for the third time if everything is all right, I begin to think he feels insecure. He needn't be; at South Pacific, everything is just fine.
Out tab for five was $38.69, plus tip.