Lee Kan's Asian Grill, tucked into the corner of a Collierville shopping center, is the handiwork of Lee Kan and her husband Simon Huang. (The couple also operate Hunan Gourmet Buffet in Bartlett.) Kan started from the bottom about 20 years ago, working her way up in her family's restaurants, both in the kitchen and front of the house. In opening the Asian Grill in October 2005, Kan wanted to incorporate elements of French and other Asian cuisines and offer a modern atmosphere, like those she had seen in restaurants in other cities.
Although this lofty restaurant has the formulaic polish of a chain eatery, it is locally owned and operated in the best way. The owners clearly know many of their customers, and make it a point to chat with diners in a way that's a natural extension of that neighborhood feeling. The spare restaurant has high ceilings, big windows, concrete floors, and a huge fish aquarium at one end that's very popular with kids. The restaurant, in fact, is extremely kid-friendly (check out the baby-changing area in the ladies room). Because it's so cavernous, children can roam around without taking away the grown-up ambiance of the place. The only complaint is that sometimes those hard surfaces make it a bit loud even when the place is half-full.
The extensive menu includes excellent sushi rolls, sashimi, and nigiri as well as choices ranging from the predictable (edamame, dumplings, kung pau chicken) to the intriguing (snow-white princess shrimp, Fried Rice for the Brazen Fool).
On both visits, we started with a sampling of sushi rolls, the most delectable of which was the dynamite roll, consisting of a beautiful plate with rolls and garnish arranged into bird shapes. This sassy combination of spicy crawfish, shredded scallop, and avocado boasted a fine, spicy sauce, so we could almost forgive the inclusion of imitation crab (aka krab with a k). Also excellent were Lee Kan's velvet rolls. These teacup-size rice mounds with spicy crawfish and avocado were tempura-fried to crisp perfection and topped with slabs of sliced shrimp. The grouper tempura roll was also entirely crisp on the outside and very fresh-tasting, while the tempura in the crunchy shrimp roll was contained within the rice and nori wrap. The tempura here is wonderfully light, not bogged down with oil or overly heavy coatings.
Among the appetizers, we sampled the spring rolls, which were refreshing and well-made, served with a seasoned hoisin sauce that was dense and complex as melted chocolate. The house-made steamed dumplings were good, if a little predictable. More exotic was the snow-white princess shrimp, also available as an entrée. These large shrimp, with a somewhat thicker crunchier tempura coating than that of the sushi rolls, were served in a sweet milky sauce spiked with toasted hazelnuts and pineapple.
The grilled jumbo shrimp and scallops with soy beurre blanc sauce was the most obvious French-Asian fusion dish, cooked just right and subtly accented by the white-wine-and-saki-infused sauce. The marinated and grilled beef short ribs were unusual, in that they were cut horizontally through the ribs rather than vertically between the ribs, resulting in thin, crescent-shaped pieces of meat dotted with rounds of sliced bones. The meat was lean and chewy, a contrast to the fall-off-the-bone, braised texture one usually finds with short ribs, with subtle sweet spices. Both were served with grilled vegetables and a choice of steamed or fried rice. The sizzling steak and scallops consisted of those ingredients stir-fried with asparagus, peppers, and bits of ginger with brown sauce, then dumped into a super-hot platter to sizzle fajita-style. The sizzle only served to add, well, sizzle, to a good but not spectacular dish.
The Singapore angel hair rice noodles were subtly flavored with curry and prepared with plenty of small shrimp. We could not overlook the Fried Rice for the Brazen Fool, which boasts a "painfully decadent medley" of peppers and describes the experience as "Eat, Burn, Pain, Eat." Not my idea of fun, but Kan says it's not a joke and the dish actually has quite a following. (Look for diners who are sweating profusely.) The wise may opt for house fried rice.
For dessert we tried the tempura cheesecake, which literally was a slice of pretty good cheesecake, dipped in tempura batter and fried. A novelty item to be sure. The showstopper was the luscious chocolate cake, a sumptuous, rich, fine-grained molten chocolate concoction served with raspberry sauce. It was as good a version of this type of molten chocolate dessert as I have had around town.
The restaurant, which is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner, has a full bar including Asian beers and sake. The wine list is moderately priced, with many of the usual suspects available by the bottle and by the glass.
Service was quietly proficient, with details such as refills, timing of dishes, and follow-up carefully attended to. We had the same server both visits, and she recommended some sushi items we might not have chosen. She clearly knows the menu well, and in fact, we should have listened when she told us that sushi and a shared entrée would be plenty for two.
Lee Kan's Asian Grill is a solidly good restaurant, its menu grounded in fresh, well-prepared Chinese cuisine but with some nice twists as well. The dynamite and the velvet sushi rolls, the grilled shrimp and scallops, the snow-white princess shrimp, and chocolate cake were standouts. While some items were rather bland -- the sizzling steak and scallops, the beef short ribs -- everything we had was competently prepared. It may not be soaring with clever Asian-fusion flavor combinations, but the restaurant still has plenty to recommend it.