THE ART OF FOOD Jacky’s alluring fare.
The first time I visited Jacky's Waterplace, it was just before the grand opening, and who should be there to give us the grand tour but Jacky Ko himself. He proudly guided us through the elongated space that overlooks the Woonasquatucket River and the basin at Waterplace Park. The restaurant almost seems to conform to the curve of the river, with large windows on two sides and an outdoor patio. It must be glorious on a WaterFire night.
But we were there on a bright July afternoon, and Ko's designers have created plenty of eye-catching details to compete with that river view, beginning with a four-sided aquarium that has fascinating sea anemones along with small clownfish (think Nemo) and several unusual varieties of exotic tropical fish (no common goldfish or black mollies).
Perhaps the aquarium is intended to prepare you (ever so slightly) for the experience of walking through Jacky's: purple carpet with white swirls (think sea fans); tall vases with curvaceous dried reeds; large orange woven orbs of light; blue neon lights along the sushi bar; soft sea-green chairs; blue-flowered banquettes. It combines to pull you into an enticing world of colors, shapes, and textures that you had never imagined together in one room.
But Ko has been imagining unusual combinations since he opened his first Galaxie restaurant in North Providence in 1996 (there are now two others, in Bristol and in Cumberland). These restaurants all have a flair with design, be it in the dining room or on your plate. And the menu has encompassed many Asian cuisines, including Chinese (Szechwan, Hunan, and Hong Kong styles), Japanese (with full-fledged sushi bars), Thai, Vietnamese, and Cambodian), with a contemporary twist.
And even though we were going for a bargain lunch during Providence Restaurant Weeks, our entrée options spanned the regular menu: from a sushi plate or two maki rolls through General Tao's chicken breast or shrimp, beef steak in teriyaki sauce, and shrimp with chili sauce. Although tempted by the latter, Bill settled on crispy fish with citron sauce, and I gravitated toward the chicken with asparagus in garlic sauce.
For appetizers, we had choices of three soups or two salads; for dessert, four kinds of ice cream.
Though we didn't have linen tablecloths, we did have elegant lavender cloth napkins; and though we were ordering from a lunch menu, the portions seemed dinner-sized. No skimping involved.
Bill oohed and awed over his hot and sour soup ($5; prices as listed on the dinner menu), always a benchmark for his Asian restaurant visits. This one had a delicate balance that pleased him tremendously.
I had chosen the seaweed salad ($6), dressed with sesame oil, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and incorporating at least four kinds of seaweed by my count (remember that aquarium?). It was quite filling, and Bill was glad to have me share it with him.
His "crispy fish" ($20) was two good-sized cod fillets, their crunchiness a nice contrast to the velvety marmalade-like sauce with stir-fried onions and carrots. My chicken with asparagus ($18) was scrumptious and way too much for me to finish. Both the chicken and the asparagus were expertly cooked, neither overdone.