Cuisine: Chinese (Shanghainese/Cantonese) & Asian
5505 New Albany Road W, New Albany, OH 43054
614.933.8888 – 614.933.8802 – Fax: 614.939.9800
This is a guest post from our good friend and go-to person for all things Chinese, Choosygourmand. It’s a longer than average write-up, simply because it documents a veritable feast that 8 of us shared with him one evening at this new New Albany Chinese restaurant.
As it is with so many serious restaurants around Columbus, don’t be put off by its strip mall location (in the Giant Eagle shopping center north on the New Albany Road exit of Route 161), or its simple decor. Also, its pan-Asian name and menus hide the fact that Asian Taste offers some seriously authentic Shanghainese and Cantonese food.
After trying some dishes over a few visits, I invited a group of Chinese and Caucasian foodie friends to be able to sample more of their dinner offerings. We bypassed the standard menu and went directly to the 2 Xeroxed special menus offered by their two chefs. Owner/Chef Wu’s focus is Cantonese, presented on a two-sided typed menu; Chef Cui – a former owner/chef of King’s Garden – offers Shanghai specialties on a hand-written menu.
We began with some appetizer dishes. Scallion Pancake ($2.95) was nicely crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The salty/savory/flaky/crispy pancake wedges are a perfect accompaniment for drinks (Asian Taste offers beer). In Shanghai, street vendors sell scallion pancakes piping hot from their food carts as a snack food. Hard to make just right – I keep trying – these were almost as good as the ones that my godmother made for me.
The same type of pancake is offered as a wrap around ham and cilantro, jellyroll style, with a black vinegar and ginger dipping sauce: Scallion Pancake Rolls ($4.50). The toothiness of the ham offered a nice contrast to the crisp chewiness of the scallion pancake. This simple dish is a good example of the Chinese food principle that a dish should stimulate the senses, offering contrasts of sight, texture, aroma, taste, and even sound (crunch!).
Soy Duck ($8.95) is characteristic of Shanghai cooking: meat braised until tender in a salty and sweet sauce, the duck’s fat adding the other characteristic component: oil. The duck meat, presented in bite-size bone-in pieces, was succulent and moist, oozing umami.
You have to be able to handle fish bones to tackle the Smoked Fish ($8.95), but it’s worth it: beautifully prepared, moist, tender chunks of white pomfret meat and skin with a smoky-salty flavor. Reminded me of what my godmother made for me in her home. Delicious!
The Bean Sheet Roll Stuffed Mushroom ($8.95) is a classic vegetarian dish, using sheets of bean curd skin (yuba) to wrap a core of mushrooms, offering Buddhists and other vegetarians the chewy sensations of meat. In this case, enoki mushrooms replaced the traditional Chinese mushrooms and it’s offered as a hot dish in Shanghai braising sauce rather than cold. Very tasty.
Our one cold appetizer was from the Shanghai menu, a dish in Chinese untranslated after the Bean Sheet Roll. It’s a cold salad of Spicy Arctic Surf Clams with cilantro and lettuce ($8.95). The colorful red/orange slices of clam should be familiar to sushi aficionados as Ark Shell Sushi, but the price for the dish was less than 4 pieces of nigiri sushi. Here again, the contrasts are wonderfully apparent, chewy-crunchy with a light spicy-hot sesame oil dressing binding the flavors together. It’s not a traditional Chinese dish, but illustrates the inventiveness of the chefs, willing to take diners to new experiences. I love the sophistication and luxury of this dish!
On to main courses!
Dry Tofu & Bamboo with Pork ($8.95) is a characteristically Cantonese stir-fried dish, quickly and simply cooked to let the components tell their story: contrasting colors, textures, and tastes of julienned ingredients, with peppers adding a hot touch to the deliciousness!
Harmonizing with the crunch of the baby vegetables, Deep Fried Stuffed Shrimp Tofu ($10.95) – in Chinese, “Pei Pa Tofu,” reflecting the lute shape of the tofu balls – provide a crisp fried outer shell surrounding the light, soft tofu and shrimp mixture inside. Another delightfully stimulating composition of contrasting harmony!
Flounder fillet pieces are stir fried in Superior Pickle Sauce Fish ($11.95). Overcooked fish is the bane of most Chinese, but no problem here. The fish is cooked to perfection, providing ethereally light pillows with the crunch of black tree ear fungus, snow pea pods, and artistically carved carrot slices. Another feast for the eyes, mouth, and ears!
Hot Spicy Squid ($11.95) provides the zing of peppers to the curls of fried squid. The pieces of squid provide a toothier feel than the typical fried squid rings and cooking them properly offered tenderness here instead of rubberiness.
Three Cup Chicken ($9.95) is another classic preparation. Chunks of bone-in chicken are stewed in equal quantities of sweet soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and sesame oil (not necessarily an entire cup of each), with sugar and basil leaves. It’s a richly flavored dish – put some of the delicious sauce on rice – but you have to be able to negotiate chicken bones.
After all that meat, we need a vegetable dish to balance the meal. Always ask what’s fresh that evening. Our server Anita – Chef Wu’s spouse – recommended Chinese You Cai ($8.95), quickly and simply stir-fried with garlic to maintain its crunch and color.
Hong Kong Pan Fried Noodles ($9.95) is another comfort food dish for Cantonese diners and is prepared very nicely here. The crispiness of the outside layer of noodles girds the tender inside layer and is softened by the sauce of the stir fried shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork, snow pea pods, baby corn, carrot slices, and Chinese celery cabbage. This all-in-one dish is a good one to consider if you’re going to order only a couple of dishes because it offers seafood, meat, vegetables, and starch.
A classic Shanghai noodle dish is Pan Fried Rice Cake ($11.95). It’s a must-have dish around Chinese New Year, because the oval coin-shaped rice cake pieces symbolize pieces of silver, wishing everyone who eats it prosperity during the year. It’s offered year-round as a noodle dish, the rice cakes providing a nice, chewy alternative to wheat or rice noodles. Here, they’re cooked with shrimp, pork, and yellow Chinese chives that provide a mild garlic note.
Most Chinese prefer desserts less sweet than westerners are accustomed to and many of those desserts come in soup form. Jiu Niang Dumplings ($5.95 for a bowl that can serve 2) are small glutinous rice flour dumplings in a sweet broth made from fermented rice, with egg white drops and pineapple. The chewy rice dumplings contrast with the crunchy pineapple and silky egg white pieces.
Sesame balls ($1 each) presented with artistically carved orange wedges. As tempting as it is to dive directly into the seductively crispy, freshly fried sesame balls, always eat the orange wedges before other sweet things, for if you eat the orange second, it will taste sour. (Try it! Take a bite of the orange, then the sesame ball, and then the orange again.) The sesame balls are made from glutinous rice flour and have a lightly sweet red bean filling. When they’re fresh out of the fryer – and piping hot, so be careful as you bite into it! – the sesame layer provides a marvelous crunch that marries perfectly with the chewiness of the sticky rice and the softness of the bean paste. Ah, Chinese comfort food!
Somehow, 9 of us managed to consume 16 dishes, an instructional feast of classic and innovative Shanghai and Canton dishes, for under $20 per person.
Asian Taste also offers two classic Shanghai/Taiwan breakfast items: Soy Bean Milk (Dou Jiang) and Long Fried Bread Stick (You Tiao). This is the only restaurant in the Columbus area in which I’ve found the “salty” version of Soy Bean Milk: a thick savory soup with little bits of preserved vegetable, dried shrimp, pork, and soy sauce with spicy-hot sesame oil for flavoring. Accompanied by the freshly fried You Tiao torn into pieces and put into the soup, it’s a hearty and comforting start to the day.
It’s wonderful that we in Northeast Columbus can now get such a marvelous variety of real Chinese dishes in our own part of town! And it’s worth a trip from elsewhere for those looking to delve deeper into the wonders of Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine.