Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cafe Asia - Rosslyn 1/28/2011

Cafe Asia
1550 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1
Arlington, VA 22209

Cafe Asia is a "fusion" restaurant...the type of place now ensconced in the better strip malls across the American heartland. As a rule, I generally avoid "fusion" restaurants for the simple reason that I don't fully understand the appeal of being able to order candied Pad Thai with a side of California rolls squirted with syrupy teriyaki sauce on top. But, as it so happens, I was meeting some people after work and since this restaurant is conveniently located in the hive-like catacomb of office buildings in Rosslyn, we all decided to come here.

The interior is of a minimalist design, de rigueur for this type of establishment. The walls are primarily glass, the open-air kitchen is composed of burnished stainless steel, the furnishings are made of blonde laminate, and the place is otherwise unadorned with ornament (the gigantic projection screen broadcasting a basketball game being the one notable and garish exception). The color palette of the interior is, much like the food, whitewashed. All we would need to complete this archetypal design scheme is a gigantic Buddha statue, a rock garden, and some bonsai trees surrounding a little electric-powered fountain with a cutesy spout.

The clientele is to be expected: young urban office drones wearing their Friday night best, sipping on industrial pinot grigio and gamefully spearing pieces of gamy spicy tuna roll on their chopsticks. Luckily, since it was a Friday, they kept their yoga mats at home, though every table had a Blackberry, Droid, or Iphone sitting next to the bottle of soy sauce and packages of Nutrasweet.

The cuisine was as I expected. I ordered a beef rendang, which the menu characterized as an Indonesian curry. I have had this type of curry before in Malaysian restaurants, and it is an interesting cross between Indian and Thai style curries: it contains the earthiness, weight, and deep color of an Indian curry while also having the creaminess and some of the brightness of a Thai curry. The sauce in this dish was actually pleasant and piquant; unfortunately the beef was not properly braised and thus insufferably stringy. After eating this dish, I can now safely report to any medical journal two surefire ways to contract lockjaw: stepping on a rusty nail and masticating the beef in this rendang.

I had a taste of my friends' dishes as well. One ordered the Lemongrass Chicken, which was fine. It was made out of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (vastly superior in flavor to chicken breast). It had a nice char, was moist, and surprisingly tasted like chicken (though I didn't taste any lemongrass). Nothing you couldn't get anywhere else.

My friend had Shrimp Pad Thai. It was bland and limp, which is actually a vast improvement to most other pad thai I have eaten because at the very least it wasn't saccharine and cloying.

Then there was fried rice. It looked fine. At least it looked like it wasn't prefabricated in a factory and reheated in a wok.

All in all, the one reason you would come to this place is that it is convenient and there is so-so people watching, if pasty-faced Rosslyn office workers tanned by fluorescent lamps are your thing.

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