- Food: ***1⁄2
- Atmosphere: ***1⁄2
- Overall: ***1⁄2
- Address: 6714-B Central Avenue Pike
- Phone: 865-688-8888
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
- Seating: First come, first served
- Beer, wine and sake.
KNOXVILLE — A couple of months back, I remarked on the trend of Asian-food restaurants serving the cuisine of multiple nationalities. So when I saw online that Asia Café—at the intersection of Central Avenue Pike and Callahan Road—offers Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese food, all under one roof, it was more than my curiosity gland could stand.
The Grub Spouse and I stopped in for dinner recently and discovered a menu that indeed seemed to cover a lot of territory, although it’s not always clear which dishes belong to which country. For example, some of the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian meals are noted as such, while others are not.
Those craving Japanese food have a number of hibachi- and teriyaki-style dinners from which to choose (chicken, shrimp, steak, scallops, crabmeat, etc.), served in bento boxes, on plates and in combination platters.
Most of the rest of the dinners are divided among several different categories, including curry dishes, vegetable entrees and noodle dishes. Among the Chinese favorites are General Tso’s chicken, kung pao chicken, Szechuan eggplant and lo mein noodles. Beyond those borders, you’ll find the other nations represented through recipes like pad prik, sotong curry and Thai mee Siam.
The most notable section of the menu is the Special Exotic Delicatessen, where you can have a go at chicken feet prepared with Chinese mushrooms, green onions and carrots, or you might be in the mood for my personal favorite item—Asia Café Exotic Stewed Pig and Cow Internal and Body Parts—where intestine, bladder, tongue and ear are prepared just the way you like them.
I admittedly am not that adventurous, so I settled for the Malaysian Bak Kut Teh—barbecue ribs with Chinese mushrooms, garlic and Chinese herbs, served with rice on the side. The Spouse played it safe with the moo goo gai pan from the Authentic Asian Cuisine section, prepared with chicken, carrots, onion, mushroom, zucchini and snow peas.
We started off, however, with salt and pepper calamari from the appetizer list, which also features spring rolls, edamame, pot stickers, fried chitlins and crab rangoon. The calamari was delicious, deep-fried in a tasty breaded shell and served with grilled veggies and a soy-based dipping sauce.
Our main dishes followed, which is when I learned something important about the Bak Kut Teh that’s not mentioned on the menu. It’s actually served in soup form, in a large broth-filled bowl, with yu cha kuay (small bits of fried breadstick) for dipping. Spooning through the bowl, I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie as I watched small, meaty riblets and large mushrooms bob to the surface.
This dish was tasty, though challenging in the eating. I’m a chopsticks lame-o, so I frequently switched utensils as I found myself spooning the broth, using a fork to cut the mushrooms and eat the rice, and holding the small ribs with my hands as I tore the tender meat away with my teeth. And I did often have to extract small bits of bone from my mouth while chewing.
But it was all certainly worth the effort flavorwise, as was The Spouse’s moo goo gai pan and its traditional blend of chicken and semi-crisp vegetables. The portions were large, so we both had plenty of leftovers to take home.
Of course, we didn’t have the fortitude to sample dishes from all five nations, but that will just leave us something to look forward to next time around. Although I’m fairly certain the chicken feet and the cow tongue will be safe from my clutches.
You’ll definitely expand your horizons at this north Knoxville Asian-food eatery, which boasts cuisine from five different nations.
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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