Cafe Asean: Generic Asian With Character
There are a lot of cheap generic Asian (excuse me, pan-Asian) spots in Manhattan, and most of them either have no character, crappy food, or both. Yet, luckily enough for me, just around the corner from my Perry Street abode is an Asian restaurant that not only charms patrons with it’s quaint decor but also serves flavorful and well-executed Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian cuisine.
The unexpectedly spacious spot on W. 10th Street seats no more than 30 guests in the front room, which evokes old American farmhouse rather than authentic Southeast Asian eatery. Tables are fashioned from recycled metal and wood and painted bright candy colors. The exposed brick walls shelve potted plants, various items of cookware, and the occasional burned-down candle. Colorful paper lanterns dangle from the ceilings, lending a soft and funky flair to the already casual environment. Through to the back though is an airy windowed interior ‘garden patio,’ complete with lush greenery and lots of natural light. The vibe is relaxed and intimate; conversations are carried out quietly amongst dining couples, friends looking to catch up, and those just stopping through for a quick n’easy meal.
The food is Cafe Asean’s greatest asset. Fresh, flavorful, and satisfying, it’s a welcome retreat from the over-cooked and soupy crap that’s usually delivered to your door by various vaguely Asian vendors. The kitchen takes liberties with the type of food it serves, especially on the specials menu. The decidedly non-Asian shrimp-stuffed zucchini blossoms were delectable and refreshing, an unusual yet surprisingly tasty starter for those lucky enough to catch it as a special. The “sotong” is another remarkable starter, turning basic calamari into an explosion of flavor with just salt, pepper, and a spicy mango salsa. A curry fan, the “kari kapitan” is a personal favorite. While simply a chicken curry dish, Cafe Asean’s version goes above and beyond with succulent and juicy chicken tidbits and an uncharacteristically thick coconut curry sauce with diced potatoes. A house favorite is the “hu tien,” broad rice noodles sauteed in either beef or chicken (beef is the best.) and bok choy; it’s simple, hearty, boldly seasoned, and authentically prepared.
Cafe Asean is a breath of fresh air in a neighborhood dominated by either expensive and chi-chi haute restaurants or ultra-cheap delivery hovels. A neighborhood spot with oodles of charm, it’s quaint and friendly in a way most Manhattan eateries aren’t. Despite spot-on good food, you’ll never have to wait for a table and if things get unexpectedly busy, they do some of the best take-out you’ll have downtown.
Perfect For: quick bites and takeout, satisfying that curry yen, dinner with your best friend, a relaxed and unfussy dinner out, indulging in a little escapism