By Matt Tapia
Sometimes Chinese food from a heated tray, Panda Express-style, is a great way to grab a quick lunch. Sometimes Chinese food should be gourmet. JOY, at Fantasy Springs Casino and Resort, does Chinese with a modern twist incorporating other Asian cuisines, from Thai to Vietnamese.
The new addition to Fantasy Springs’ list of restaurants offers patrons a large menu to choose from. Although mostly offering Chinese dishes, JOY is an Asian cuisine restaurant. Among the dim sum are pho, sake and pad thai. Almost all of the dishes, while sticking close to traditional styles, have a few modern twists to them.
JOY offers a long list of alcoholic beverages from sake to the traditional cocktail on the front page of its menu. But what really should be considered is the relatively long list of hot teas on the menu’s back page. From JOY Oolong to Jasmine Pearl, the restaurant has seven teas to pick from. The teas are made traditional style: tea leaves in a pot for two.
Recommended to start is the Szechwan Roasted Peanuts. Although not what is usually considered a traditional Asian dish and more like something you’d find at a bar, after one bite it’s no wonder that the peanuts come recommended. Peanuts have a large role in Asian cuisine and are often snacked upon, but the peanuts at JOY are unlike any other. The slightly spicy savory pieces are delicious and a great snack while trying to decide what to order.
Another great starter is the Crispy Salt and Pepper Calamari, which also seems like another dish best served with a cold beer. But, like the peanuts, the Calamari makes a great starter. Cooked perfectly, the Calamari is crispy on the outside and not too chewy on the inside. The batter is a nice blend of salt and pepper plus a hint of red pepper to add just the right amount of hotness to the plate.
Other great starters can be found on the dim sum menu. For example the Shrimp Hargow makes a great appetizer. The Steamed Shrimp Dumpling is served with a ginger soy sauce. The ginger soy is much like what soy sauce tastes like after letting pieces of ginger soak in it, a flavor usually found at Japanese restaurants.
For the main course, a house favorite is the Walnut Prawns. Large prawns are battered and cooked in a sweet sauce with candied walnuts. This dish goes great with the Fried Yong Zhou Rice. Unlike most fried rice, JOY’s version is made without any sauces, just a mix of egg, Chinese sausage and vegetables.
The Cantonese Roasted Duck served with plum sauce is another great main course dish. The traditional-style duck is roasted and served on the bone, and unlike many places, the duck is cooked just right, tender and not too dry. The plum sauce also adds a great taste to balance the natural underlying dryness of the duck.
While the recommended and house favorites are true to traditional Asian cuisine, they are more mainstream than other items available on JOY’s menu. Among the more adventurous items are the Steamed Chicken Feet and Whole Fish, both of which are classic dishes that can be found in many Asian marketplaces and probably not at the local Panda Express.
For dessert, the chefs serve up their modern take on sweet-filled dough dishes often found in many Asian cuisines. The Chocolate Cheesecake Doughnuts are served with a sweet raspberry sauce. But this is not a doughnut whose gooey center you’ll want to poke as your plate will end up covered in Chocolate Cheesecake sauce. Messy and sweet with an Asian metaphor, the Chocolate Cheesecake Doughnuts top off the night and leave you filled with . . . well, joy.
JOY Asian Cuisine at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Pkwy., Indio, (760) 342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com. AE, D, MC, V.