Balance Pan-Asian Grille at the busy corner of Central Avenue and Holland-Sylvania is as much a testament to entrepreneurship as it is excellent food.
A highly successful formula -- inexpensive, high-quality Asian food served fast and with a minimum of fuss in a hip environment that worked in Maumee -- is being repeated at the Sylvania Balance.
Ho Chan Jang, head chef and president of the Balance Pan-Asian Grille and a native of South Korea, and his Indian-American business partner Prakash Karamchandani, met at the University of Toledo and three years ago established the first Balance Grille in Maumee.
It worked exceedingly well and the satellite was opened recently at the corner of a small strip mall on Central, with plans to expand into a building just to the north of the current location.
Despite the high-caliber food, don't expect a typical Asian dining experience. Balance has austere decor, you can watch your food prepared by a young kitchen staff through the glass near a half-dozen tables, and indie music plays just a notch below too loud. Every time the doors opened the cold winter air blew in and the restaurant seems designed more for carry-out than dine-in.
The menu is relatively simple and for the bargain price of $6.50 you can build your own bowl. Five sauces that cover a gamut of spice levels from relatively hot to sweet and spicy are paired with a meat (grilled chicken, breaded chicken, steak, shrimp) or tofu and served over either steamed white rice, steamed brown rice, fried rice, noodles or fresh greens.
It's a great system and the sauces come with various built-in add-ons. For example, the Wiseman features broccoli, corn, kale, green peppers, mushrooms, and carrots that languish in the rich brown sauce and complement the meat choices and starch.
The Nuts4pao comes with roasted peanuts and fresh scallions and has a Kung Pao kick. The Four-Star features broccoli and scallions and is slathered in tangy General Tso sauce.
All three were wonderfully balanced (no pun intended, but the name of the place is perfect) and refreshing given that so much American-Asian food seems to exist on the two extremes of the flavor palate: either bland or overwhelmingly hot.
The Spring '13 Specials on the menu included Ramen noodles ($8), which we just had to try. These are not your college-era, budget Ramen noodles, but instead feature carrots and kale piled in the pasta. For $2 you could add a protein choice, so we chose chicken. It's a tremendous dish with a salty-spicy kick.
The BangBang balls -- homemade chicken and tofu meatballs served with noodles, onions, cilantro and drizzled with a yogurt sauce ($8)-- were equally remarkable. Be prepared for a lingering hotness that will make your lips a little numb but that never becomes painful.
Balance's pork egg roll ($2) is a generously sized mix of vegetables and pork, fried perfect and served with sweet and sour sauce. For our money, it's the best egg roll in town, given that it wasn't too greasy, it was packed tight, and the flavor of meat and veggies with the sauce was so complementary.
We also tried both the beef and chicken pot stickers ($4) and each featured crispy, fat noodles that were an excellent snack to get the meal started.
Despite the great food, Balance isn't perfect. We applaud the use of recycled material for serving plates, but selling only bottled water ($1) and canned and bottled soft drinks seems to defeat the environmentally friendly purpose and is a bit pricey.
Also, the restaurant is oriented far more for carry-out than dining in. On both of our visits the cold night air blowing in when someone opened the door gave the place a diner vibe. And on one of our visits the entrees were served a few degrees on the wrong side of lukewarm.
It's difficult to quibble though, when you consider the price and the superb quality of of the food. Folks in Oregon, Perrysburg, downtown Toledo and other areas of the greater Toledo area would be lucky if a Balance moved into their neighborhoods.
Contact Bill of Fare at email@example.com.
Balance Pan-Asian Grille: ****
Address: 5860 W. Central Ave
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Saturday. No reservations. Balance is relatively small and more convenient for carry out than dining in with large parties. It does have a catering service.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Average price: $
Credit Cards: AE, Disc, MC, V
Web site: www.balancegrille.com