Friday, January 8, 2010

Asia Cafe

Another good authentic Chinese spot is Asia Cafe, formerly inside of Asia Market at 183 and Spicewood Springs. Sometime last summer they moved the restaurant into the space next door to the grocery store. I had been to the old location, I think twice, but not for probably close to two years. I remember the pea shoots and crispy whole flounder as being fantastic.

So I met two friends up there for lunch yesterday. Both foodies, and both much more into the organ meats than I. One ordered stir fried beef intestines (though I don't see it on the menu... somewhere in the #787-790 range, though those are all pork, I thought he ordered beef), and another dish that I don't see listed online, which was essentially pieces of coagulated beef blood; both dishes done Szechuan style, with lots of Szechuan peppercorns & chiles. I did try them both, and honestly, they weren't bad, but I am not sure I could eat a whole bowl of them. It was sort of amusing, because after about 2 bites, both my companions looked at the intestine dish and said "that's not tripe that's tongue." Where there was a brief break in the line to order, he asked the order taker, who went to check it out with the kitchen. She came back to our table and said they were out of tripe, so they substituted tongue, probably thinking the Caucasian dude wouldn't notice, but of course he did. He still ate it all.
My other friend ordered what I believe is #699, Combination Seafood Pot with Pork Intestines. It was a HUGE pot. Think mixing bowl. There were a few stares from both Asian & Caucasian people who were waiting in line to order. There was cabbage and broth in the bottom, and just covered with tripe and nicely battered and fried pieces of white fish throughout. Also lots of peppercorns & chiles, but very flavorful. We shared the #129, Zhong dumplings, which are probably some of the best I have ever had. They made their own dough for them, and once steamed, it comes out to be a really soft, tender, lightly chewy dough, that is perfect with the pork filling. They come bathed in a garlicy soy sauce, which is I think what makes them "zhong". I really love pan-fried dumplings, so on my next visit, that's what I want to try, assuming they are also done with the homemade dough.
We also got #675, the salt & pepper fried squid. A great light batter (rice flour?) around slightly thicker pieces of squid tubes, they kind of looked like gnocchi/fried cauliflower, and were delicious. Would have been nice if they came with a little sauce to dunk them in, but there were plenty of broths & oils on the table to do so. I ordered #568, spicy & sour sweet potato noodle, which turned out to be one of my least favorite items. It was okay....a broth of mostly chile oil, with the cellophane sweet potato noodles, a bit of ground beef, and fresh water spinach leaves. Hard to eat (at least politely), and the broth didn't have the depth of flavor that like the seafood pot or even the intestine/tongue dish had. But I could have eaten a plate of those dumplings!

A couple of notes: we got there at 11:30am, and by about11:50am there was a line at the register where you order that pretty much didn't stop. They give you a number when you order, and then call it out when the food arrives. Sometimes difficult to understand the man calling out numbers & dishes. Also, if you're not accustomed to Szechuan peppercorns, don't be alarmed if your mouth and/or tongue goes numb while eating and everything tastes a bit different than normal. It goes away once you're done eating. Finally, there's a cupcake place down to the right of the restaurant.... what's the name? Begins with a "C"... anyway, I got one cupcake to go (quite tasty, but no Sugar Mama's), which was packaged in what looks like to be an inverted sundae container. It seems to be the perfect way to contain one cupcake, rather than risking it tipping over in a paper bag. Kudos!

Asia Cafe is in the same shopping center as Chen's Noodle House. Both places are supposed to have killer lamb dishes... need to do a taste test and find out for myself!

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