We returned from a relaxing family vacation to a stack of Groupons expiring in the next couple of weeks. The first stop on our Use It Or Lose It Tour was Cafe Asia. We've been to Cafe Asia a couple of times and we still can't find a good way to describe the interior and vibe. It's just weird. It's a cavernous concrete space with a large upstairs area that's been closed almost every time we've dined there. The downstairs area used to be dotted with low tables and backless chairs (no fun), but has since been furnished with an assortment of booths and high-backed leather chairs.
You know that feeling you get when you walk into a restaurant that's about to close for the night? That's how Cafe Asia feels. On this visit we walked in the door and the host picked up the phone and then pointed to another host behind him. Host #2 was hunched over the desk talking on the phone and never looked up as we stood right next to him. We stood awkwardly in the waiting area looking into the restaurant until a waiter came and seated us.
We can deal with a weird vibe if the food is good and we've had reliably good food on each visit. It's nothing particularly innovative, but it's solid and hard to turn down a good Groupon deal. We kicked off this visit with the Firecracker Roll (tuna, jalapeno, tempura flakes, avocado and sriracha sauce). We didn't ooh and aah over the freshness of the fish (it was fine), but we were pleased with the texture of the rice. Rice texture is the key to a good roll, and Cafe Asia's rice man seems to know what he's doing.
Cafe Asia's wings help them stand out in the crowded field of pan-Asian restaurants in downtown. Cracklingly crunchy with a tangy sauce (that I'd bet money is my favorite Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce), we scarfed these puppies down in no time.
The first time we dined at Cafe Asia, B ordered a soup that had him doing the happy dance. When perusing the menu searching for a repeat performance, he selected the Curry Laksa, a Malaysian spicy and sour curry noodle soup with a coconut milk-based broth. I didn't see B running around the restaurant handing out high fives, but he must've liked it since the giant head-size bowl was empty when we left.
On a ramen kick thanks to Toki Underground, I sampled Cafe Asia's version. I can't pretend it's in the same league as Toki, but it was a flavorful bowl of soup with unexpectedly fresh noodles. The portion was enough for two meals, making the $11 price tag seem like a bargain.
I don't think Cafe Asia is amazing enough for you to run there ASAP, but if a Groupon comes along and you're in the area, grab the chicken wings and a giant bowl of soup and go to town.
Second Thoughts from B
When I woke up this morning, I looked at our weather clock and did a double take. As if it had developed a stutter, it read 80, 80, 80... and that was the low! So why on earth would we seek out hot and spicy soup?
I learned what real misery felt like when traveling through China. Hot, sticky, stuck on a bus in the middle of the summer swelter. As Adrian Cronauer said about the weather in another Asian country, hot and wet is "nice if you're with a lady but ain't no good if you're in the jungle." Still, despite the heat, everywhere we went people were eating spicy food and drinking hot tea.
The theory went that these things would make you sweat and therefore, cool you down. I'm still undecided on that, but I can vouch for Cafe Asia's air conditioning, which more than did the trick.
Cooling effects or not, access to tasty food does seem to make summer in DC a little more bearable. Most of the crowds (and residents) have fled, leaving the deals and open tables to those intrepid souls who will stay and sweat it out. So grab your Groupons and your Restaurant Week reservations, and enjoy it!