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Belly Up

March 22, 2012
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Wasabi Chi lounge has feng shui

Wasabi Chi bartender/server Ben Wang’s drink invention Stranger In the Night features an exotic Asian fruit that pairs well with the half-priced sushi offered at Happy Hour.

By Amber Williams

A mystifying sort of magic occurs when you belly up to the dimly-lit, marble-topped bar at Wasabi Chi: It’s the adventurous excitement of being a foreigner in an exotic land coupled with the contrasting comfort of also being right at home.

The latter is compliments of the genuine smiles that cross the faces of the staff and the refreshing hospitality and need to please that follows. The former is the result of the Asian ambiance the room imbibes. Subtle sounds of Brazilian drums and flutes float down from a speaker hidden in the shadows of the walls. The hanging décor features an old fashioned Chinese wine barrel the owners brought with them from New York City’s China Town, framed Buddhist photographs showcasing the authenticity of chef and co-owner Jimmy Zheng’s Thai- and Chinese-fused background and the “four faces” at the bar that co-owner Jay Wang says represent a 3,000-year-old Bejing belief that they protect the house (or in this case, the restaurant/lounge).

Although Wasabi Chi Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar is known more for its food (and with delicious good reason), its lounge experience is unique enough to stand separately. As the former Timothy’s Steakhouse, the building had one of the most American names and offerings in Des Moines — a great place for a steak and a beer, one could safely assume. But, how about half-price sushi rolls at an early Happy Gour with an exclusive sake-tini, Wasabi Flir Tino? Or, try bartender Ben Wang’s original invention, Stranger In the Night, made with lychee, a citrus fruit found only in south Asia — a cocktail that is as potent as it is easy to swallow.

“It’s not popular here because there is no supply, so most places don’t offer lychee cocktails, but we do. We ship it from New York City,” Ben Wang said. “I’ve yet to find another Asian establishment that serves lychee.”

They not only serve it in some of their most exotic and popular drinks, but it’s a common ingredient in many of their cooking sauces, he said.

“Sushi goes very well with things that are light, like white wine and spirits,” Ben Wang said.

In addition to the sake varieties (including the sake bomb) and the exotic cocktails, Wasabi Chi also offers six different Asian beers representing flavors found in China, Japan and Singapore.

Whether you’re there for the food, the drinks or both, Wasabi Chi will leave you feeling light on your feet, which is all part of their plan, co-owner Jay Wang said.

“We’ve got feng shui, and that’s what we want to leave our guests with,” Jay Wang said. “That’s why we play Brazilian music — it picks things up, boosts energy, which is something you can expect at Wasabi Chi: more energy.”

And he means it. He even has it tattooed on his back.

“People call me ‘Kang,’” Jay Wang said. “In Japanese it means very healthy and energized, and that’s what we offer here.” CV


Wasabi Chi Asian Cuisine and Sushi Bar

5418 Douglas Ave.


Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. noon-10 p.m.

Happy Hour: Mon.-Fri. 3-5:30

Capacity: 95

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