Seven years....my goodness. Asia Cafe....aaah, yes, it's been a while, over seven years since my last post if I recall. This wonderful little mom-and-pop-shop once held a place in our rotation and I'm not sure how it just kind of slipped off. Perhaps it was our trip to Laos and our experiencing the depth of the cuisine, the sour-bitter-salty vibrant cuisine. Or maybe it was Vientiane Thai-Laos in Garden Grove that did it. I'm not sure. Even though I haven't posted on this place for a while, I've gone back to Asia Cafe a couple of times, though not for at least about five years or so. So I'd say a revisit post was more than warranted.
The menu looked to be the same rather worn menu and we decided to order items we enjoyed on previous visits. It had been so long since we visited that the husband and wife who run the place no longer remembered us, which suited us just fine.
Things started off with the Yum Asia; a seafood salad of sorts.
This struck us as being a mere shadow of it's former self. The dressing was extremely sweet, throwing the whole balance of the dish off-kilter. Not enough lime or fish sauce and without a doubt not enough heat. Perhaps we were getting the "gringo" treatment after not returning here after so many years?
See Nam Tok was also another dish we used to enjoy. A simple charred flank steak, well seasoned with a salty-bitter-sweet dipping sauce.
Slightly chewy, this was not bad and an improvement over the Yum Asia. They still do a decent job with this, though it was a bit too charred. The dipping sauce was extremely bitter. Now bitter flavors, as in "sweet makes you dizzy, but bitter makes you healthy", so lets get another spoonful of that water buffalo bile in our Koy or just another piece of Sa-Kahn, bark of the Piper Ribesoides. But this was no fun.
Asia Cafe had always made very good sticky rice and it was nice to know they still do. Perfect in texture, not overly sticky, but perfect for forming that all too important three-finger ball of rice. It had me wishing for some good Jeow (a type of dip) for dipping.
The one item that I thought Asia Cafe made better than anywhere else in San Diego was Nem Khao, one of my Desert Island Dishes.
When made well, this crispy rice salad is a symphony of flavors and textures. Crunch from the rice that is fried....rice are made into balls then fried. The external rice becomes crisp adding that great texture. Fermented sausage adds the sour-meaty layer and the rest is delivered by various seasonings.....places in San Diego, or even Vientiane Thai-Lao doesn't use a whole lot of coconut, but the best version I've had in Laos did. Strangely, this was ok, but not quite as good as I recalled. Not enough sour sausage, it was also missing that "umami" that I enjoyed. somewhere along the line, it seems a decision was made to make this as "crunchy" as possible, which messed up the glutinous and crunchy textures. The Missus doesn't always agree with me, but sadly, this time She did. This wasn't bad by any means, just not as good as it used to be for us. I could tell that this bothered Her as She kept mentioning how sad She felt about the Nam Khao for almost the entire following week.
In the end, the folks here were wonderful as always, the prices so reasonable, unfortunately the food seemed a mere shadow of it's former self. I'm not sure; maybe we were "gringo'd", but that never happened to us here before.
4710 Market St
San Diego, CA 92102