Heavenly Asian is well named11/1/2017
Getting straight to the point — greater Des Moines is now served by a San Gabriel class Chinese restaurant. San
Gabriel, California, is the first U.S. city with a majority Asian population, and it’s mostly Chinese and wealthy. It is the best place to go if one wants to spend a week, or weekend, eating the best Asian food in America. Being
an Asian food junkie, I have done that several times.
Heavenly Asian Cuisine and Lounge resembles the best of its genre, particularly at dinner. I have not been to a better Chinese restaurant in Des Moines. You will not find clichés of Chinese American cooking on the dinner menu. If you want deli-counter-style Chinese American food, stay away. Instead of crab Rangoon or egg rolls, there are pot stickers and dumplings. Instead of hot and sour soup, there is a pickled vegetable soup with white fish filets and noodles. Instead of sweet & sour chicken, there is tea smoked duck. This restaurant tries to replicate the regional cuisines of Sichuan and Gansu, on the Old Silk Route. Those are in western China where shepherding is still a legitimate profession. Yes, lamb is the star of the menu here.
Also, do not go here alone. These are large plates that beg to be shared with several dining buddies. My star on the small plates menu is the fish with pickled vegetable soup. It brilliantly mixes all the flavors on the chart. Amazingly, the whitefish was not overcooked. Besides the previously mentioned pot stickers and dumplings, pork belly in garlic sauce and sliced beef and tendon in chili sauce stood out. The garlic sauce was made fresh with tangy garlic. Crispy scallion pancakes and spicy chicken wings also graced the small plates menu. You can actually eat the wings with your fingers and not make a mess.
The superstar of the entrees was barramundi. This fish is enormously popular in Australia, where is gets its name from an Aboriginal word. It inhabits both coastal waters and rivers and has spread to most of south Asia. In the wild, it likes to dine on shrimp. You are what you eat and what your food eats, too. It is also known as Australian, or Asian, sea bass, but it does not look like other sea bass. It has a long, elongated body. Heavenly sources its barramundi from an Iowa fish farm. It was served whole with fabulous crispy skin and brown sauce. The head was severed and perpendicular to the body. The best flesh is in the skull.
The tea smoked duck had a lovely dark skin that was not crispy. I tried three of four lamb dishes. Ribs were lightly smoked and served with dipping sauce. Lamb with cumin, a brilliant pairing I had never previously encountered, was served stir fried with onions and fried rice. Sautéed lamb with scallions was crispier. From the cast iron menu, I sampled tofu with bamboo shoots. From the tableside wok menu, squid and shrimp in savory pot stood out.
The best-looking dish was shitake mushrooms with abalone. My favorite vegetarian dish was braised greens with shitakes. A very young dining companion pronounced the baby back ribs in plum sauce as the best ever. Whole lobsters can be ordered three ways — sautéed with ginger and scallions, sautéed with hot spicy sauce, or steamed with garlic. I skipped the pricey wine list ($28-$155) and sampled a few exotic cocktails. An Old Fashioned was made with lemongrass infused cognac and maple syrup. A new Silk Road was made with lemongrass cordial and honeydew infused pisco. A Manhattan was made with shiitake-infused bourbon, cacao nib-infused vermouth and black walnut bitters. All tap beers were from Confluence.
The lunch menu looked more like that at other local Chinese restaurants. To-go service was ready on time and neatly packaged and bagged. Menus were written in English and Mandarin. ♦