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Luck, be a menu tonight

Each week, the Hong Kong Bar takes diners on a new culinary experience through different cuisines from Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Since the "Hong Kong Safari" began in November, many customers have returned each week to see what new items will be on the menu at the downtown Ashland restaurant, which opened in October 2002.

Items that have been featured have included the Gyuniku Sashimi during the cuisine of Japan - seared fish drizzled with soy sauce and fresh lemon - coconut beef during the Malaysia/ Burma menu, and chicken and lamb kebabs during the Pakistan menu offered last week.

Owner Beasy McMillan said the innovative menu was created to entice diners during the town's off season and to give customers a chance to sample foods they normally can't find in the region.

"This is one of the most ambitious things I've ever done," he said. "And it's probably the most hectic thing I've ever put on one of my chefs. But I knew (head chef) Chandra (Corwin) could do it, and people love it. It's like coming to a new restaurant each week."

McMillan said most restaurants use a set menu, with perhaps a few specials each night, which makes creating a new menu each week unusual.

Learning how to cook and prepare new dishes each week has been quite a challenge, Corwin said, as well as teaching her fellow chefs how to cook the food just right.

She looks through recipe books to come up with ideas, then adds her own flair to the dish.

And the process begins again.

"It's unusual," she said of the weekly menu change. "It's a lot of work learning a new cuisine every week. It's been an education."

Corwin, who used to be an assistant chief at Cucina Biazzi, also owned by McMillan, said she enjoys the chance to create different types of food experiences for her customers.

"It's gratifying to be able to cook something new each week that people say they enjoy," she said.

To lessen the change each week, the restaurant has featured similar types of cuisine during some back-to-back weeks, such as the cuisine of India and Pakistan.

The Pakistani menu served Jan. 13-17 gave diners a chance to sample unique spices and flavors.

The menu featured items such as an appetizer of sweet potato & spinach pakoras, which came with a flavorful chutney sauce with fennel.

Main dishes included chicken tikki masala, a light and creamy dish laced with fresh tomatoes and spices, masala pork and a Pakistani vegetarian sampler platter. The dish featured a spicy punjabi cabbage, green and red lentils, and saag paneer, consisting of fresh spinach and homemade cheese.

The menu always features at least one vegetarian dish. Besides the weekly items, the menu always has several Asian influenced appetisers and the main course of crispy lemon fish with fresh ginger.

After taking this week off, the restaurant will reopen Jan. 27 with the cuisine of Laos.

In February, the Hong Kong Bar will feature the food of Cambodia, followed by the cuisine of Vietnam and Thailand. The Philippines will be featured from Feb. 24 to 28.

Starting in March, McMillan plans to feature for the month the food of Japan, a customer favorite from the safari. April will highlight Hawaiian cuisine, followed by the best of previous safari menu items in May.

The restaurant will return to a set menu with specials in June.

McMillan said it's still being determined if the restaurant will offer another weekly menu next year.

In the near future, the Hong Kong Bar plans to have a dim sum brunch menu on Sundays.

The Hong Kong Bar is located at 23 N. Main St. on the third floor. The restaurant can be reached at 488-5511.