Ambiguous Asian restaurant delivers deliciousness
Before I lived Downtown, I would park on side streets so I wouldn’t have to deal with parking in congested areas or have to pay for parking. Just imagining parallel parking with two blocks of traffic behind me gives me anxiety. On these trips to Downtown I was usually going to bars with friends. We would often walk past Asian Noodle Bar and I would wonder if the restaurant could be good with such a lackluster name and uninteresting storefront. Since I’ve been living down here for over a year now, I decided it was time to try it.
I stepped inside one warm winter’s evening and took a seat in one of their many wooden chairs. The inside of the restaurant was much more interesting than the outside. The décor was natural albeit dark; the seating and tables were wood, the floor, stone tile. The room was decorated with flowers and plants and stone. After opening the three page menu book, I saw it had a reasonable selection of food.
Normally I’m overwhelmed by options in restaurants but this had a good mix of vegetarian, meat and fish options without being too much. I noticed desserts weren’t listed but I just asked at the end of my meal and was told a few options. The servers were attentive when the restaurant wasn’t packed. Larger parties normally get more attention, I assume because having a group of people watching you and collectively thinking (and whispering) about how they want you to come over quickly is highly uncomfortable and stressful. No skin off my nose—I was just happy to be in a dimly lit place with good company and a beer.
After my boyfriend and I ordered, we quickly received the starter dish, Asian shrimp ($7.95). It didn’t look appetizing: fried shrimp on a bed of iceberg lettuce and dried some-kinda noodles. The soft crunch of the battered shrimp cured my judgmental thoughts. The shrimp topped with sliced almonds met my palate with a very sweet and understated sensational spiciness and a wonderful crispness followed by the dense shrimp body.
Sushi was next. The salmon sashimi ($11.95) was soft and I could cut through it with my teeth as easily as butter which is unusual in my experience. The flavor was mild, but when dipped into soy sauce it was much stronger. The octopus nigiri ($5.95) had a much milder flavor that served as the perfect transition from the sweet shrimp to the spicy main course. The octopus was cut thinly but was very cold and juicy. Concentrating on the flavors, I was able to taste the salty sweetness of the creature.
My next plate, or bowl, rather, was the Thai tom yum ($9.95). After the octopus nigiri the spiciness was incredible. It was like waking up after having a terrible cold and realizing you feel completely fine. I don’t mean to say that the other food wasn’t good—it definitely was—but heat is my home. Without spice I feel like a meal isn’t complete. The broth was spicy, and lemongrass added a hint of citrus. The rice noodles were perfect. Most of the time when I encounter rice noodles, they’re mushy. They’re fine and mushy. But the noodles were soft and plentiful. The shrimp tails were still on, but I was so enamored with the dish I ate them without regret. The vegetables were wonderful and, with the amount of mushrooms in the soup, one may assume that they rain down from the heavens. They were soaked all the way through with the broth so that they mirrored the flavor of the dish perfectly. There may have been a 1:1 ratio of mushrooms to noodles, and the onion was coated in the zest of the soup and added its own tickle of flavor.
The spicy sesame ($8.95) was beautiful. I was so excited to eat it after my previous dishes, I didn’t even wait for it to cool down. The heat of the dish originated from the sesame soy sauce, so in addition to being fiery, it was effortlessly saline. This served more as my savory step in the culinary journey. The udon noodles (my favorite kind of noodles, mind you) were delightfully slippery and chewy. The vegetables in this plate were my favorite though—they were cooked perfectly. The carrots were crunchy and coated in the soy sauce and the mushrooms were flavorfully infused as well. The vegetables were tender and juicy and, God, I would drink that sauce.
For dessert I had Thai iced tea ($3.95) and dessert rice (~$3). The Thai iced tea was exactly what I expected: deliciously sweet. I mean really sweet—if that tea were a person, I wouldn’t think it was being earnest if it spoke to me, but this tea was. It told me I was beautiful and I should have all the sugar in the world. My boyfriend says sugar makes me crazy, but I believed the tea.
Out of all the dishes, though, I think the dessert rice—which is basically rice pudding—was my favorite. Simple doesn't equate to boring and it was beautifully simple, served in a martini glass garnished with a few slices of mango and strawberry, topped with more diced mango. It took me back to when I was a child spending Christmas at my grandmother’s in the snowy hills of southern Colorado when she would make me and my cousins tapioca pudding. It was warm, wonderfully saccharine and delectable. I ate the mango slices first, enjoying every succulently sour bite. The combination of sour and sweet was truly, truly stunning.
After I paid my bill, I waddled quickly off into the night. It had grown much colder since the evening but my belly was now full and warm, as was my heart.
318 Central SW
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11am-9:30pm, Friday 11am-11pm, Saturday 12pm-11pm, Closed Sundays
Vibe: Casually dark (but happy about it)
Alibi recommends: octopus nigiri, spicy sesame and dessert rice