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EAST-WEST CONNECTION

It certainly makes sense that the Pacific Rim, a formidable economic region in the world today, would also become a culinary one as well. According to a few globetrotting culinarians I spoke with recently, the variations and blending of Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Chinese styles of cooking will greatly add to the way Americans, and the rest of the developed world, dine.

Salt Lake City is becoming the beneficiary of this trend with an almost endless variety of places; unfortunately the menus have a certain sameness and predictability. Yet we were more than pleasantly surprised by our dinner at the East-West Connection, a Vietnamese restaurant that recently opened in the Foothill Village shopping center.The interior features minimalist Oriental decor, wide windows and light colors that add to the spacious second level location. While we could not identify any specific Western influence in defining the name, we noticed a certain ironic link. The view included the frantic pace of the next door pizza chain delivery crew rushing back and forth with their various orders. We serenely consumed our leisurely and enjoyable meal of Vietnamese specialties, connected only by a distant longing for pepperoni.

We sampled two traditional appetizers, deep fried spring rolls ($3.75) filled with thinly sliced vegetables, minced pork and chopped mushrooms, and the cold shrimp and pork rolls ($3.50). The latter include a filling of char su pork, shrimp, rice noodles and cilantro. Dunked in a spicy peanut butter sauce, they were very good. A won ton soup had a special subtle seasoning, with generous dumplings and chopped crunchy vegetables.

Each of the entrees we sampled came with a colorful array of sliced vegetables and a blending of colors and textures that were appealing to the eye as well as the palate. The Red Sea tofu ($6.50) consisted of lightly braised cubes of tofu filled with chopped shiitake mushrooms, onions and garlic, and sauteed in a rich but not overly thick tomato sauce. The "look luck" beef was tender cubes of beef, with a sparse soy sauce marinade, served atop a mixed green salad with a pleasant Vietnamese dressing.

Another entree was less subtle, though flavorful nonetheless. The curry chicken came in a golden sauce that included chunks of potatoes and onions. Our favorite was the house special rice served piping hot in a clay pot. Pieces of chicken, sliced Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots accented the steamed rice.

We thought the East-West Steam Boat ($10) a bit pricy. The large fondu pot had a flavorful broth with shrimp and beef with a lively tamarind sauce for dunking; but it lacked the imagination and intricacy of the other dishes.

Other menu items of interest include fried won tons with a plum ginger sauce, nine different Vietnamese noodle bowls (each around $5) with traditional variations with egg and malony noodles, Saigon style grilled pork chops, pork loin grilled with lemon grass, chicken curry sauteed with lemon grass, sesame shrimp on a grill served with rice paper and mint, prawns simmered with a sweet and salty orange sauce, halibut simmered in a clay pot, and the East-West veggie dish with Chinese broccoli, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms in a special house sauce, to name a few. None of the entrees include MSG.

East-West Connection's cuisine has both a variety and subtlety of flavors and seasoning that make it both a unique and welcome addition to the number of Oriental restaurants opening around the area.