The brass at Luxor learned the hard way that their demographic doesn’t much cotton to high-end dining. Company, an American bistro, was a notable failure, and Café Giorgio, Piero Selvaggio’s restaurant on the Luxor end of Mandalay Place, flew too close to the Egyptian sun and burned up its wings.
That’s why a restaurant like Rice & Company makes sense. It’s a hybrid sushi bar/Cantonese restaurant where it’s possible to dine for a modest $20-$30 per person, and the food is fresh and tasty. Some may sneer that it’s little more than a retread of its predecessor, Fusia, but I disagree: Fusia leaned toward creativity. This is straight-shooter fare.
The main kitchen is the province of Cantonese chef John Kan, who once owned a restaurant called Kan’s Kitchen in Chinatown, and who does pot stickers, lobster Cantonese, Peking duck and noodle dishes as well as most Chinatown restaurants.
The sushi bar puts out lots of creative rolls, such as the Wicked—a yellowtail-wrapped rice roll filled with spicy tuna, cucumber and avocado, all drizzled with a spicy garlic ponzu sauce. Seating is at a long sushi counter, where a triptych of ceramic fish tiles frames the back wall.
If you’d call this cooking generic, the design is even more so. The restaurant is a labyrinthine series of softly lighted, small rooms. One offers a full view of the Atrium level at the Luxor, with its soaring, pyramidal ceiling; another faces a tangle of artificial, backlit trees. I could easily have done without the elevator music on the sound system.
That said, I was pleased with most of what I ate. One evening we were in a Japanese food mood, and started with delicious miso soup graced with tiny cubes of tofu and a surfeit of wakame seaweed. Then we had two pieces of nigiri (sushi cut into rectangles, with a topping), and some kunsei sake (smoked salmon). Both dishes got the juices flowing.
Starters make an impression. Szechuan chicken wings have the perfect amount of zest, and a lobster and jumbo lump crab cake paired with trendy sea beans and yuzu teriyaki Hollandaise wouldn’t seem out of place in a trendy Paris café—a real menu star.
Main dishes to try include lobster Cantonese (a steal at $25 considering it is a whole lobster in a rich ginger sauce loaded with scallions), and beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce. I love noodles, so I recommend Singapore-style rice noodles, lightly dusted with curry, and topped with red cooked pork, egg, onions and bean sprouts.
There are only a few missteps here: The chef tends to overuse sauce, and he leaves out ingredients such as pine nuts in his minced chicken lettuce wraps, a key ingredient for authenticity.
And my waiter treated us with diffidence when I demurred on wine or cocktails. Sensing that we wouldn’t run up a big check, he brought us all four dishes at once, even though one was soup and the other sushi.
For dessert, exotic fruits and berries, bathed in white peach sake with mint yogurt on top, is a must. Mochi ice cream is refreshing, as well.
If you’re heading for Egypt, Rice & Company makes a sensible detour.