Ace has a split personality, and in more ways than one. There are two small rooms—one the tiny home to a sushi bar and a handful of tables, the other a narrow room lined with closely packed seating—which were filled to capacity on both our visits, stretching the capability of the staff. Dining at the sushi bar on one occasion and eating the cooked food in the dining room on another were two very different experiences. The Chinese sushi chef was skillful, creative, and calm, while behind him we watched (and at times heard) pandemonium in the kitchen.
With the arrival of the carpaccio of madai (Japanese red snapper) which was artfully dressed with the citrus tang of yuzu sauce tinged with chili oil, dusted with flying fish roe, and heightened with bursts of mango, our attention no longer wandered to the furor in the kitchen. Similarly, a pretty and very un-Japanese dish of salmon truffle tartare kept our focus squarely in front of us. Nowhere was the Indonesian ownership of this restaurant more apparent than in the ornately decorative presentation of dishes like this tartare. Fried wonton leaves surrounded the heart of chopped raw salmon, which was topped with frizzled leeks and drizzled with a generous amount of truffle oil. What could easily have been a multi-nation cacophony was, in fact, a thoughtfully balanced plate of textures, flavors, and mouth sensations.
Throughout the menu, influences from Asian, French, and regional American cuisines abound. From the “new wave taco plate” (seared ahi and marinated shrimp taco) to the ceviche with guava yuzu sauce to the étouffée and the pho, most dishes earn their name from one cuisine only to be influenced by the flavors from another.
While this multi-cultural fusion worked well with the sushi, it often flopped on the cooked food. In a bouillabaisse of steamed lobster, scallop, and shrimp, the pumpkin sauce that replaced classic bouillabaisse broth tasted great at first but quickly became cloying—and obscured the clean, sea flavors of the star ingredients. An odd special of duck carpaccio was served with a pineapple marmalade that was rather aggressively spiced like an apple pie and topped with a disconcerting garnish of goat cheese.
Although the cooked food was tasty at times, it often did not demonstrate the kind of intelligent balance that separates good food from great. An abundance of mayonnaise binding an otherwise enjoyable lobster salad distracted from the lively and appealing combination of the sweet-tart mango coulis and lively wasabi ponzu.
One dish was an outright flop: the toro yakitoben. This hot-pot-like special consisted of sheets of toro cooked to grey dryness with several varieties of mushrooms in meaty and deeply flavored mushroom broth. The fish was barely recognizable as such—all we could taste after the long cooking was a residual bitterness.
Dessert of a roasted banana crepe, on the other hand, was an over-the-top pleasure of gooey sweetness. A coconut crepe embraced warm bananas and was topped by a melting sliding scoop of vanilla ice cream—an ode to childhood desert fantasy. Yuzu cheesecake made a more adult dessert. Much like a lemon cheesecake, the citrus flavor of the yuzu fruit cut nicely against the rich cheesecake. It would make a lovely ending to a meal, which will most likely come from the sushi bar.
677 Commerce St., Thornwood
Tue. to Fri., noon-10 pm
Sat. to Mon., 4-10 pm
Sat. and Sun. brunch, noon-3 pm