Motel Meals, Strip Mall Trips

Eating Out Off the Highway

Marco Polo Restaurant

3200 South I-35 (at the Quality Inn), 445-5563. Open Daily. Lunch, 11am-2pm; Dinner 5-10pm

The trusted friend I'd invited along on this particular restaurant expedition finally arrived at the table and said "I drove by this place four times because I just couldn't believe you'd ask me to a motel restaurant." I explained that the cuisine at Marco Polo had come highly recommended and encouraged her to sample one of the delicious pan-fried pork dumplings with soy ginger vinaigrette ($3.75). Next there was shredded pork with hot garlic sauce ($6.95) and a mountain of shrimp fried rice ($5.95). By the end of the evening, any misgivings we'd had about dining at a motel restaurant with a menu made up of Oriental and European dishes were completely erased.

Marco Polo owners John and Alice Yim chose to name their new restaurant after the legendary Italian globetrotter who visited the Orient (1274-1295), served Mongol leader Kubla Khan and returned to Europe at age 42, carrying spices and richly detailed descriptions of Oriental foods and cooking practices. They've designed a menu that features mostly Chinese dishes plus a sampling of Japanese, French, Italian, and American offerings. Patrons can order from the printed menu or opt for the daily buffet and salad bar. Considering the careful preparation and good quality of the food, the buffet price of $5.95 for lunch and $7.95 for dinner is more than reasonable.

After the dinner outing, I enlisted another intrepid explorer to join me for the luncheon buffet and we were not disappointed. Arriving early, we stepped up to the bar and began with crisply fried pork won-tons and tender egg rolls filled with dainty pink shrimp. Next came fried rice, chicken with black bean sauce, moo goo gai pan, beef with szechuan barbecue sauce and a beef satay. The alternate side of the groaning board featured chicken breast in a chive garlic sauce, stuffed beef rolls and Lyonnaise potatoes, seafood stuffed mushrooms in a cream sauce, seafood tempura, and some small, tender ribs. The salad bar offered sushi and delicate spring rolls, salads and fresh fruit. If dessert interests you after numerous trips to the buffet, soft-serve ice cream is available.

While the Chinese menu items on the Marco Polo menu are more appealing to me than the alternatives, everything I've tried was well-prepared with great attention to detail. Fried foods arrive crisp and not greasy, shrimp are pink, tender, and perfectly cooked in every dish where they appear and everything tastes fresh. The owners have created a pleasant, inviting dining room in the somewhat non-descript building by using soft colors, placing flowers on each table and providing friendly, casual service. Traveling conditions have appreciated greatly since the 13th century. It should be no trouble at all to discover a route to Marco Polo.

-- Virginia B. Wood

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