Even when newer eateries turned my head, Pacific Rim was still there, in the elegant stretch of Liberty alongside the upscale and also oft-favored Bella Ciao and West End Grill. It's existed in its current form since 2001, when chef Duc (pronounced "Duke") Tang partnered with Y. B. Ko, whose parents launched the original Kana as a Korean restaurant in the early 1980s. Ko moved to Hawaii in December 2006, leaving Tang the sole owner.
In the pan-Asian food arena, Tang has unique street cred-his life has intersected with multiple geographical points on the actual Pacific Rim. Born in Vietnam to a Chinese-Vietnamese family, he lived in the Philippines and Hong Kong before arriving in southern California. After Yale, he returned to the West Coast for graduate studies in Vancouver; he met Ko there and ended up moving to Ann Arbor to be Pacific Rim's chef. After his nomadic youth, he is happily ensconced on the Old West Side with his wife, Janet, and their five young children.
Tang is an intuitive and imaginative cook, and even with the added responsibilities of ownership, he's still very much a hands-on chef: the cooking here is as good as ever. The menu seems less creative than it once did, leaning too heavily toward old favorites, but Tang says he's trying to add new twists by changing vegetable side dishes and adding seasonal specials. On our recent visits, there weren't many of the latter-just a couple of appetizers, including an avocado soup. As it turned out, this was one of the best dishes of the night-a silky, unexpectedly delicious puree of avocado combined with a little stock and a dash of cream, with texture supplied by a haystack of crabmeat and crisp wonton strips.