Ring in the "nu"

Jan 6, 1999 at 12:00 am

This place has it all. If it’s all about location, Little Tree is in the heart of Royal Oak’s restaurant mecca and half a block south of the Main Art Theatre III.

If it’s all about being seen, the very hip hang out here. Wear jeans and accessorize with cell phone. (Emily Post, where are you when we need you?)

For me, it’s all about food, and Little Tree really has it all in this category. A triple menu of Japanese, Thai and Philippine cuisine. A sushi bar. A full liquor license, an extensive wine list, and a selection of Japanese beer and sake.

Co-owner Shep Spencer coined the term "Nu-Asian cuisine" to describe the restaurant’s offerings.

"It means we don’t follow the guidelines," says manager Mike Martin. "We create dishes that you won’t find anywhere else."

I arrived at Little Tree tired and hungry. Just reading the menu was a tip-off. I told my companion, "This is a really good restaurant."

Each cuisine has a four-course selection including appetizers, salads, soup and entrees. Although Little Tree’s menu is large, the dishes seem to have been judiciously selected.

The sushi bar, under the direction of chef Edwin Bautista, has a separate menu. For appetizers, we took the easy route and ordered the sushi assortment. The disadvantage here is that you are not sure whether you’re eating something you ordinarily would eat, but it all tasted fresh and spare, in that curious way characteristic of Japanese food: Simultaneously indulgent and healthful.

I had the tempura, and did not mind a bit that there seemed to be no squid among the seafood. My companion had Ginataang, a Philippine assortment of seafood stewed in coconut milk and garlic. He complained mildly about the missing squid. We both enjoyed the garnish of crisp spears of garlic sprouts.

There is also a variety of Japanese noodle dishes. At $7-$8, these are economical as well as delicious. Nabeyaki Udon comes with thick, soft noodles that absorb the flavor of the broth. The oversized bowl overflows with chicken, fishcake, egg and, across the top, two huge tempura shrimp.

You may wonder why paella is on this oriental menu, and then you would be glad to have a military historian with you, as I did. Spain occupied the Philippines for 300 years until 1898. (And you were opposed to imperialism.)

The Japanese are not known for desserts, but Little Tree surely will be.

I like a menu that points you in the right direction, so when I saw "delicious" in parenthesis behind a dish called Leche Plan (sic) and Ube, I ordered it. Topped with a little mound of purple yam, and surrounded by a nouvelle, or "nu," presentation of tropical fruit, the flan had an unusual flavor that was meant to be savored.

Here’s hoping that this review will not add substantially to your wait for a table.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].