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Friday, June 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

Menu yields few clues to best dishes

Special to The Seattle Times

Chef Liao is a very talented chef, but it's too easy to end up with gloppy Americanized Chinese food at his restaurant in Phinney Ridge. This isn't a terrible fate, though: Even though too much of the food is swimming in thick sauce, it's cooked and seasoned well. Other dishes are divine.

Unfortunately, Chef Liao's menu will not help you drill down to the good stuff.

It recommends certain dishes as "best!" that definitely are not. Sweet and sour pork ($6.95) gets the designation. There's also a section of "Chef Liao Specialties," from which I tried two dishes. The Yummy Yam Fish was unusual and tasty, and the Braised Prawns in Hot Chili Sauce fluorescent and gloppy.

The menu also advertises "Asian Fusion Cuisine," which is misleading. While there are a few Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese dishes on the menu, nothing is actually fused within a single dish.

Chef Liao

6012 Phinney Ave. N.

Chinese

$$

Seattle; 206-789-6441

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 4-9:30 p.m. Sundays.

Beer and wine / credit cards: V, MC / no obstacles to access.

But Chef Liao's potstickers are good enough to make you forgive his sometimes frustrating menu, and the service at his small restaurant is prompt and to-the-point. With a bar alongside the open kitchen, it's unusually well suited to solo dining, and the place is laid-back and inexpensive.

If you happen to go and crack the code, please let me know.

Check please:

Potstickers: These are outstanding in every respect — crispy, smooth, chewy but not too chewy, doughy but not too doughy. The dipping sauce, while tasty, is entirely superfluous. I can't think of any way to improve these dumplings.

Yummy Yam Fish: Find this dish under "Chef Liao Specialties"; it's worth seeking out. The stir-fried boneless snapper chunks go nicely with strips of sweet potatoes, and the overall effect is much less sweet than I'd feared.

Green Beans Chicken: This solid vegetable-heavy dish consists, not surprisingly, of green beans stir-fried until wrinkly with tender slices of chicken breast.

Braised Prawns in Hot Chili Sauce: The hot chili sauce in question here is sweet, red and not very hot — and there's an ocean of it, which makes for a cloying dish. Poorly conceived but well-executed: the shrimp and the accompanying steamed broccoli were perfectly cooked.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Potstickers $5.50

Yummy Yam Fish $10.95

Green Beans Chicken $7.50

Braised Prawns in Hot Chili Sauce $9.95

Steamed Rice $1.30

Tax $3.15

Total $38.35

Matthew Amster-Burton: matthew.reviews@gmail.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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