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Grand Tour of Asia

Mai Lan's menu spans the cuisines of three countries

By Lester Chang

DO CHINESE RESTAURANTS serve only Chinese food? Of course not. The menu offerings at South Bay eateries frequently flow over China's borders into Vietnamese culinary traditions. And the vastness of China guarantees that even if a restaurant stays within the borders of the Great Wall, the cuisine can range wildly from northern to southern styles.

But all that variety isn't enough for Irene Kim Chew, co-owner of the Mai Lan Restaurant in Sunnyvale. Her establishment serves Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, a unique menu that brings customers back, she says. "People like the idea they can get dishes from three different countries in one place," Chew says. "My customers like to rotate. One day they eat Chinese. The next day they eat Vietnamese. The next day they will eat Thai."

The same concept is employed at Thanh Da Restaurant, another place she and her family own in Sunnyvale.

Each business has three cooks who specialize in dishes from each country, Chew says. The idea is to ensure authenticity. But diners also can mix the dishes, and Chew is happy to guide them through a menu that offers 120 entrées.

Chew, 35, says she loves to cook and has been at it for 25 years. She learned how to cook Vietnamese and Chinese food while growing up in Vietnam. She moved to California in the early 1980s and worked in Monterey restaurants for a decade before opening Mai Lan. And Chew's explorations may be just beginning: She's thinking about crossing the borders into other Asian cuisines.

Dinnertime favorites include salted fried shrimp, Mongolian beef and catfish in a clay pot. Lunchtime favorites are combination plates composed of Vietnamese teriyaki beef with fried rice and chicken curry over steamed rice. Prices range from $4.95 to $7.95 for most dinner entrees, while lunch dishes run from $3.25 to $6.95.

Mai Lan, 1205 Wildwood Ave., Sunnyvale (408/735-1999 or 245-1342); Mon.­Wed., 10am­9pm; Thu.­Sat., 10am­9:30pm.

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From the March 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro

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