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Pearl's found itself

Neither old nor new, Eastern Pearl has been open for a couple of years, but its unremarkable environs -- in the plaza across from Altamonte Mall -- close it in. It's a remarkable find, wondrous even, in the case of the "mango shrimp."

Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

Given the high caliber, prices are a bargain. The only gripe: For $7.50, the glass of Sterling Char-donnay could have been fuller. Hot tea was poured without request all evening, in keeping with the genteel serving skills -- practiced, politely distanced and informed -- that carried this meal to its distinctive conclusion.

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