XO Asian Cuisine

(Grand Rapids, MI) — Recently, our hectic schedules have forced us to grab meals where and when we can. We’re also making a concerted effort to eat more meals at home, saving a few bucks along the way. When Grand Rapids Magazine offered a two-plate date special coupon in their latest issue, though, we decided to finally give XO Asian Cuisine a proper review. It took no time to hop in our car and drive downtown, though parking can be a little challenging at certain times of the early evening. We finally gave up the search for street parking and took a cheap space in one of the nearby lots...

He Fed:

I make no bones about it: I’m not a fan of XO. Never have been. I’ve never really had outstanding food there, and I tolerate them because Juliet does like them. They do have quick home delivery service, though. So, I’m not very excited about our dinner but I’m determined to find something new and try to make the most of our experience. The unseasonably warm weather has brought out many restaurants’ patio and deck seating, so I’m happy to see the tables and chairs outside XO. I remember there were some drink restrictions (no glass) a couple summers ago, so we decide to sit inside.

We are greeted and seated, given a nice four-top near the front window. Perfect. Our waitress seems cheerful. We order drinks. I’m feeling vaguely optimistic, enjoying the view out the window. My beer—Sapporo—arrives and it’s not the shiny big can I usually like, but a smaller bottle. No matter, I think, fighting off the creeping feelings of unease. Just a minor hiccup, no reason to panic.

Then it happens.

The waitress accidentally tips over Juliet’s martini. Sweet, sticky red cocktail wooshes across the white tablecloth and swirls around my phone and camera, which are laying nearby. Immediately, I rescue both and evade any drippage onto my clothes. Our poor server tries to mop up the liquid, promising to change out the tablecloth immediately. In the end, though, they offer to move us to a clean table. Reluctantly we leave our primo table near the window and move to one near the entrance. Not much to be done except smile and try to move along. (I do feel bad for our waitress; accidents like this happen all the time.)

Fresh drinks at the ready, we order appetizers. True to my promise, I get something new: Takosu. It’s a small bowl of sliced octopus that has been marinated and blanched, then tossed with similarly cut bits of cucumber, and seaweed in a Ponzu sauce. The octopus is too “fishy” for Juliet’s taste, so she skips it after one bite. I press on. The seafood is a bit sharp, but I don’t find it fishy, just prominent. Otherwise, it’s a mild dish that I think could be helped along with some kind of spice...not necessarily heat, just something to push it beyond the borders of generic. Juliet’s fried tofu with peanut sauce is much better. The tofu is fluffy and hot, while the sauce adds just enough sweet nutty flavor.

For my main, I get the Crispy Boneless Duck. It’s not something I would ordinarily order, but I’m hoping it changes my mind about XO. In line with the $15 price tag, the dish is large and sprawling, with a lot of sliced duck on the plate, swimming in a shallow pool of dark sauce loaded with broccoli, mushrooms, bok choy, and other traditional Chinese vegetables. The duck meat is relatively dry, not quite overcooked, but definitely not highlighting the natural flavor of the meat. Crispy bits of skin are caramelized, but otherwise the sauce drags it down, heavy. Again, I find no real differentiation between this signature dish and many other Chinese meals I’ve had in the past. Nothing sets it apart.

Unfortunately, our dinner does not change my previous perception of XO. Most everyone else I know enjoys it, but I have not had that experience yet and I’m not sure I want to keep seeking it out. Time to move on.
She Fed:

It’s a gorgeous evening and we consider sitting outside, but opt for an indoor table right by the window for good people watching. There is a loud and boisterous table of four near us and it takes a few minutes for a server to appear.

Jeremy wants to start with the octopus, cucumber and seaweed salad. I’m not feeling quite that adventurous tonight and I opt for the fried tofu with peanut sauce. We each order a drink and just after our server puts down my Cosmo (not a very original choice, I know) she knocks it over while placing Jeremy’s beer on the table. The pink liquid flies across the paper covered table and splashes onto Jeremy’s phone and new camera. Our server is mortified and can’t stop apologizing. After a few futile attempts to daub it up, we are moved to another table and Jeremy’s electronics pronounced alive and well. Whewie!

I try a bit of Jeremy’s salad, first starting with the seaweed salad, which is sweet and slightly tangy. I like seaweed salad and have been reading recently about all the phytonutrients available only in kelp and seaweed. A few bites and I’m feeling downright virtuous. The octopus is just too cold and fishy for me so I move on to my tofu which has been flash fried with a light coating. (There goes the virtue!) The rich creamy peanut sauce on the side is lightly spiced. Combined with the crisp crunchy coating and the creamy interior, it’s truly delicious. Jeremy claims to find it bland, but manages to help me finish it off.

When we order delivery from XO, I order the same thing—potstickers to share with Jeremy and walnut prawns to devour myself. I decide to change it up a bit and go for the Panang curry with shrimp and chicken. Jeremy must have been thinking the same thing because he goes for the boneless duck, something he never orders.

My curry is served in a small wok over sterno to keep it warm. I want to make a joke as our server places it next to me, but she’s been so apologetic about the cocktail spill that I don’t dare. The curry is filled with thin red and green pepper strips, slices of chicken breast and several decent size shrimp. The coconut sauce is spicy from the red curry paste and has that unmistakable aroma of lemongrass. I can’t think of anything more comforting that steamed rice with curry sauce on it and indulge in a few bites before moving on to the veg and meat. The shrimp are done perfectly but continue to cook at the table and become a bit chewy as I make my way through the dish. The chicken and bell peppers are deliciously still crispy, which I adore.

I try some of Jeremy’s duck, favoring the pieces with bits of crispy skin. I’ve had this dish before and it’s exactly as I remember it, mild but rich, studded with broccoli, carrots, baby corn and mushrooms. This would be a great “middle dish,” one of those entrees you order for the middle of the table for everyone to try a few bites of. It’s just incredibly rich to eat by yourself. Of course, this is coming from someone who’s nearly polished off a mini-wok of red Thai curry!

I’ve always been a bigger fan of XO than Jeremy and tonight is no exception. My food was delicious. The service was solid overall and the prices were fair. They’ll still be my “go to” for home delivery!

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