Rating: 2 out of 5
Summary: A disappointing entrée selection paired with an above-average sushi menu does not make for a winning combination
When walking into Café Asia, we felt like we stumbled into a really boring night club. Large open spaces and an assortment of colored lights shining on the walls, we weren’t sure what impression the interior was trying to leave us with beyond being thankful we didn’t have to pay for a cover to get in the door. The club like atmosphere brought us to expect modern techniques to classic dishes, new interpretations to our favorite sushi rolls and an interesting drink menu. Instead, what Café Asia ended up serving was a disappointing experience that made us wish we hadn’t ordered beyond our appetizers.
As with most sushi-related restaurants, we wanted to start with a rice wine. The sake menu is not the most extensive, but was better than the average Asian bistro. We decided on the Shirakabegura “The White Label” Tokubetsu Junmai, which describes being a delicate balance between traditional hand-crafted sake and advanced sake brewing technology. It was a cool, clean finish with a banana after taste. It was a good start to the meal and made me eager to get to our first course.
Our first order was the Spider Roll, soft shell crab tempura with tobiko and lettuce wrapped in rice and sea weed. A classic specialty roll found in any sushi dive, we were first disappointed by the minimal five pieces, but the amount of crab tempura jammed into each piece made it well worth the amount. Great seaweed and high quality rice brings the roll together. A California roll also offered great crab while a Cucumber roll showed off the fantastic rice. Most items on the offered sushi list didn’t stand out as especially exceptional or thought provoking, but the quality of the ingredients used did impress.
If only our review stopped here. Unfortunately we ordered sushi only as appetizers, relying on the entrée selection for our main dishes. This turned out to be a poor decision.
Our first entrée was Drunken Noodles, a common flat rice noodle dish made with Thai brown sauce, minced chicken, bean sprouts, peppers and fresh basil. We would usually say we have never met a drunken noodle dish that we didn’t like. Café Asia turned out to be the exception. The noodles were barely tossed in the sauce, providing for an overly bland and almost rubbery rice noodle. The minced chicken was a different interpretation on the usually sliced chicken we would normally find with this dish. We sincerely hope to never find the chicken minced again, both the size and the preparation of the meat left almost no flavor for the diner.
The second entrée is Nasi Uduk, an Indonesian style coconut rice platter with spicy beef, crispy anchovies, pickled veggies, emping (acorn chips), chicken satay, gado-gado and spicy prawn sauce. With a lot on the plate, we had hoped to sample as much as we could of Café Asia’s culinary style and traditional-inspired cuisine. Yet, it turns out we should have focused on quality over quantity. The peanut sauce that covered most of the pieces of meat on the plate was a surprisingly bland for the large amount of finely chopped peanuts swimming in the mixture; this left a very uncomfortable consistency in the mouth. The chicken and beef by themselves were not terribly cooked, but the overbearing sauce made any real flavor fall flat. The combination of emping and gado-gado was a lot like straw and beans on chips, making me sincerely reconsider the idea of ever having Indonesian cuisine again. The pickled vegetables were a nice addition to the plate, if only for the vinegar dressing neutralizing the haunting taste of the emping and gado-gado. Half way through this poorly imagined assortment of woe, we did consider ordering a new entrée all together, but decided to just stick it out and quickly ask for the check.
While we have never advised anyone to visit a restaurant and avoid their entrée list, Café Asia is an unfortunate example. We enjoyed our selections from the specialty and regular roll menu, but were disappointed by what was presented to us for our main course. While the sake and sushi are worth a visit, there are other, better places to visit in DC for a sushi-focused experience. If you work in the Farragut Square area or have an online coupon for the restaurant (we used a LivingSocial coupon when we visited), then Café Asia might be worth a visit. Otherwise, save yourself the trouble and lingering regret.