Pot of Gold

One of the nicest things about Rainbow is how they work to make unglamorous dishes perfect. The Moo-Shu Pork ($8.25) is studded with pricey slivers of spicy shiitake mushrooms, which give a well-balanced bottom to the sweetness of the pork and the lightness of the Napa cabbage and airy bamboo shoots. I've never had a better version of this dish, which is so often a goopy, oily mess. The sesame noodles ($4.95), when served warm, are made with short, fat rice noodles that showcase the bright ginger-sesame dressing; the dry sautéed green beans--spectacularly dressed with sour shreds of preserved cabbage and garlic--are so adroitly cooked that they get a meaty bite around their still-crunchy middles. And don't miss the wontons, filled with a ginger-laced pork mixture and made with a melting, pillowy wrapper.

On the other hand, you can trust the Wong family enough to venture into uncharted territory, as I did when I shared a family-size portion of fish-ball and seaweed soup with some wary companions, who pointed out that the clear bowl with fuzzy clumps of seaweed floating around looked a lot like a tidal pool. The white and black pepper in the fish balls (like meatballs, but made of boneless white fish) balanced so pleasantly the scent of lemon in the broth and the iron-tinged seaweed that in an instant the dish went from threateningly novel to cozily nouvelle.

Similarly, I first tried Rainbow's pickled mustard greens two years ago, and since then I've become an impassioned fan of the sparkly-sour greens that the sisters' mother--respectfully referred to only as Mrs. Wong--pickles on the premises. I especially like them tossed with cross-hatched tubes of sweet blanched squid and the tender brown caps of tree mushrooms ($11.25). Follow a meal of such stimulating flavors with an elegant martini glass of green-tea ice cream scattered with honey-roasted walnuts, and it's easy to see why Rainbow has such fiercely passionate fans--and why those fans are willing to ignore any growing pains.

For there are some problems at Rainbow these days, though it feels mean-spirited to mention them: Clearly the sisters are trying very hard and succeeding mightily. However, in trying to be all things to all people, the service on the high end falls off. If you're simply getting two cups of wonton soup and splitting an order of eggplant with garlic sauce, you'll be getting a fabulous dinner for two in a pretty setting for a grand total of about $13 with tip, and will thus feel like you're getting away with murder. However, once you add in all the goodies--with appetizers, wine, beer or cocktails, an entrée for each diner, and dessert, prices can easily reach $30 per person--the slapdash service starts to become quite irritating.

The whole restaurant teams up to deliver food and drinks to your table, and while this ensures that food is delivered piping hot, this it-takes-a-village approach also leads to such diffusion of the chain of command that you're never sure who is supposed to be attending to your minor needs--your water glass, tea pot, wish for new drinks, desire to have empty plates cleared. I spread out my three visits over the course of a couple of weeks, hoping that the chaotic service would go away or reveal itself not to be a problem during off hours, but that didn't happen. It was usual to get appetizers and main courses at the same time (though soups come reliably early). Water glasses remained empty while drink orders went unfilled, and desserts had to be demanded because servers would tend to drop the check prematurely. As much as I adore Rainbow's food, I have to admit I wouldn't go there with someone I wasn't utterly comfortable with--no first dates, no business dinners.

On the other hand, I wouldn't go to Goodfellow's and expect to be well fed for $7 a head. Between Rainbow's elegant new space and excellent food, the Wong sisters are accomplishing exactly what they aimed for--feeding the hearts and palates of a doting community.

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