In recent years, the Asian-fusion trend has spread across the country, inspiring numerous establishments to create low-carb dishes, high in protein, made from fresh ingredients and accompanied by flavorful sauces. Desirous of spring rolls and stir-fry, I headed a few miles down University Avenue from campus to Firefly, a restaurant featuring a versatile menu inspired by the Pacific Rim. Firefly is owned by Food Fight Inc, which owns many popular Madison-area restaurants, including Ocean Grill, Luna Caffe, Bluephies and Johnny DelMonicos. As I entered the dining room of Firefly, I passed a modern, Art-Deco style cocktail and bar area featuring exotic drinks, including inexpensively priced sake, specialty martinis, cocktails and wide-range of red and white wines by the glass or by the bottle. Firefly is an awkwardly shaped space decorated with white Chinese lanterns, colorful walls in vibrant hues and Frank Lloyd Wright-style windows. The creative décor of the restaurant and the strong aroma of garlic and curry create a welcoming restaurant environment. My party and I sat down at a table for three by a window overlooking University Avenue, and within a few seconds the attentive waitress introduced herself and filled our glasses with water. Firefly’s menu is traditionally creative, offering favorites such as deep fried egg rolls, chicken, beef or grilled portabella satay skewers, as well as a variety of soups and appetizer sized salads. Before we had the opportunity to peruse through the entire menu, our appetizers arrived, beautifully arranged on large white square plates garnished with parsley. The Wild Mushroom and Tofu Spring Rolls were covered in a black bean garlic puree, accompanied by a small ramekin of sweet chile sauce. The spring rolls, wrapped in rice paper, were nicely stuffed with a fresh spring salad mix, cucumber pieces and portabella mushrooms and tofu marinated to perfection. The spring rolls were a satisfying introduction to our meal. After we polished off the spring rolls, our second appetizers, the marinated chicken satay arrived. Despite a seductive description on the menu, the chicken skewers were a bit too yellow for my liking — it seemed as if they were over-marinated in curry. I was also disappointed with the sauces that accompanied the chicken — the spicy peanut sauce lacked zest — it was bland and resembled creamy peanut butter, and the Asian chili slaw sauce was overly sweet. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two sauces had been transported from a can to our table. The entrée section of the menu features a wide-variety of vegetable, chicken, seafood, beef and pork dishes, each paired with noodles or your choice of jasmine or brown basmati rice. Overwhelmed by the extensive menu, offering a diverse variety of entrees, with help from our friendly and professional waitress, we settled on the Chicken Vegetable Stir Fry, the Scallop and Shrimp Lo Mein and Red Curry Eggplant Tofu. Like the artistic presentation of the appetizers, the entrees were beautifully presented and generous in portion. The Chicken Vegetable Stir Fry arrived in a huge bowl — I was pleased with the large quantity of fresh vegetables — snow peas, red cabbage, carrots, broccoli, red-bell peppers and chicken. While the vegetables were fresh and the dish was nicely presented, the stir-fry was lacking flavor. The menu listed this dish as sautéed in a hoisin stir-fry sauce, however, my portion was unsavory — perhaps the chef forgot to add sauce to my dish. Below the mounds of tasteless chicken and vegetables was over-cooked basami rice, which I discarded. The Scallop and Shrimp Lo Mein is a banal plate of fishy wheat noodles, bok choy, green and red bell peppers, bamboo shoots, napa cabbage and mushrooms, with a few small pieces of scallops and shrimp. My friend, who ordered this as her main course, took three or four bites and then bit on a shrimp tail; at that point, she was disgusted and had to stop eating. Despite my dissatisfaction with the stir-fry and the seafood lo mein, the Red Curry Eggplant Tofu was outstanding. When the waitress brought over the steaming-hot plate, my senses went wild. The large slabs of tofu were perfectly sautéed with roasted green and red peppers, fresh ginger, curry, coconut milk, cardamon and slices of garlic, served with a heaping portion of moist basami rice. Dissatisfied with our overall dining experience, we passed up dessert. On our way out, however, my party and I noticed a special menu posted on the exterior of the restaurant. I had heard from a friend who visited Firefly the week prior that the special parchment-wrapped salmon was incredible and I was disappointed that our waitress forgot to present us with the specials. In its efforts to jump on the pan-Asian bandwagon and offer diners an exotic and innovative menu, Firefly has potential and unfortunately, I failed to witness it. Considering my less than satisfactory experience, I think that if I were to return and order from the special menu, I would have a more enjoyable dining experience.
This article was published Sep 29, 2004 at 12:00 am, and last updated Sep 29, 2004 at 12:00 am.