Four Asian cuisines at One Asian2/26/2014
Top Iowa chefs and restaurants continue to receive national honors (see “Side Dishes” below.) A different story on the café beat, though, has been every bit as significant to the sophistication of Des Moines’ collective palate. Its main player was not a chef or restaurateur but a politician. Gov. Bob Ray’s vision to make Iowa a friendly refuge for immigrants has given our culinary scene a wondrous variety of regional flavors from Southeast Asia, Mexico and Central America. Opened late last year in the previous home of Gorditas San Pancho, One Asian is the latest example.
Not much has changed with the décor. Hand-painted murals of downtown Des Moines still occupy window nooks. “Pancho” is still the focal point of one of those. Wood and leather furniture still looks Mexican. A couple Asian touches have been added, but, for the most part, One Asian seems like a Mexican café serving Lao, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. The menu is as busy as most Mexican counterparts, too, with more than 100 items.
Chinese listings include American favorites like orange chicken, Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken, shrimp Rangoon, fried rice, lo mein, plus hot-and-sour, egg drop and wonton soups. It also adds a few dim sum favorites such as pork-steamed buns, shumai, pot stickers and other dumplings. The Vietnamese menu includes spring rolls and nine kinds of pho (beef stock soup with rice vermicelli, meatball, tendon, tripe and brisket). One Asian offers the addition of roast pork, roast duck, seafood, chicken and vegetables, plus complimentary plates of cilantro, bean sprouts and chilies. It also offers soups made with yellow egg noodles plus pork chops and eggs.
Thailand’s famous soups tom yum and tom kha (chicken stock, lemongrass, lime and chilies, with or without coconut milk) starred on the Thai appetizer menu along with the spicy beef salad yum nua and a very spicy glass noodle salad yum woon sen. Five kinds of Thai curry were offered plus pad Thai (the national stir fried noodle dish of Thailand), rad na (wide rice flour noodles), roast duck, pineapple duck and deep-fried tilapia or catfish.
One Asian’s Lao menu included several items that are not that well known in Iowa. A spicy fish stew might well be the best soup I tasted all winter. Topped with a large handful of black trumpet mushrooms and perfectly cooked catfish nuggets, its lemongrass and kaffir lime broth included string beans, scallions and at least two kinds of eggplant. Khang nor mai is a bamboo soup with spare ribs and similar vegetables. Both were served with large bowls of rice. Other soups included kow poon (coconut curry), rice congee (a porridge- risotto hybrid), and khang kao lau, which seemed to be a Lao version of pho. Though described as spicy on the menu, soups were mild compared to a green papaya salad that had an unsettling aroma and super hot chilies. Larb (seasoned meat salads), jerky, fried wings, spareribs and fish provided less adventurous flavors.
Black rice with taro and bananas wrapped in banana leaves starred on the dessert menu. All dishes were priced under $10, and 20 different lunch specials cost less the $6.
Side Dishes The James Beard Awards named George Formaro among the top 20 restaurateurs in America, Phil Shires and Sean Wilson in the top 20 chefs in the Midwest and Archie’s Waeside of LeMars one of the nation’s top 20 wine programs… Food Tank announced its recommendations for this year’s World Food Prize: Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher of Ethiopia, Riya Sinha of India, Lester Brown of New Jersey, Vandana Shiva of India, Stephen Ruvuga of Tanzania, Norman Uphoff of New York, Slow Food International’s Edward Mukiibi and “Diet for a Small Planet” author Frances Moore Lappe… Table 128 and vom Fass will host a Scotch whisky dinner on March 9, $56. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.