Asian Cook House is sweet surprise10/21/2015
Some restaurants take confusing names. When Proof opened, it featured sandwiches, none of which used proofed bread. Scenic Route Bakery is in the middle of downtown. Bonefish Grill serves no bonefish and not too many kinds of seafood. It’s appreciated when a new restaurant let’s you know exactly what it does rather than trying to dazzle you with words that have nothing to do with it. I do not know anyone who has eaten panda, jade, or gold yet thousands of restaurants use those words in their names.
Asian Cook House has no intention of deceiving you. It’s a lovely new café, in a new building on a lot where thousands of towed cars were taken when Owen Crist operated there. A restaurant consultant might likely have suggested they refer to that inglorious history by calling the place “Impound” or “Crash.” Instead the name lets one know exactly what kind of Asian cooking you can expect — any and all of it. Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, Korean, Indian, Japanese, Hawaiian and Singapore dishes are all on the 33 item menu. There are no pretensions in the name either. After all Asian Cook House has cooks, not executive chefs, hand crafters, or designers.
This is not at all like other inner city Asian cafés. It has a distinctly suburban look and feel. Bright lime green walls, a drive-through window and Americanized recipes are rarely seen east of the western suburbs. All seating is at uniform tables with metal and wood seats. There are no high tops nor bar seating. Do not expect to find many distinctly Asian ingredients here. There was no gailan, bittermelon, fermented black beans, long beans, baby bok choy, white radishes, pea tendrils or lotus root. I could not even find a dish with eggplant, leeks, mustard greens or spinach. Asian herb salad, with green papaya, was much sweeter and milder than green papaya salads are. Several dishes used iceberg lettuce and bell peppers appeared to be more popular than Asian peppers. I tried some crispy egg rolls because the menu said they were stuffed with taro, but I could not detect any of that while deconstructing one. Crab Rangoon was made with cream cheese, bacon and surimi, but no real crab.
Everything I tried tasted sweeter and less spicy hot than I expected. This pleased a twelve year old friend whose favorite Asian restaurant is Hy-Vee, another place that sweetens everything a lot. The condiment trays did not include chili oil though some was produced upon request. Pho, wonton soup and rice vermicelli (bun) all compared favorably to those at my favorite Asian cafés. Both chicken and beef stocks were quite good. There was only one type of vermicelli available though, compared to double-digit options elsewhere. “Chicken porridge” had a different texture from the jooks and congees I have enjoyed in other Asian cafés. The ingredients had not turned as mushy as usual, and there was little or no ginger flavor. My favorite dish was an Indian-style coconut curry beef. Excellent brisket mixed well with carrots, potatoes and onions in a mild curry. I will return to try their five spice brisket.
The dessert menu consisted of cinnamon puffs with three kinds of nuts and rainbow dessert of mung beans, red bean paste, coconut cream and jello. Judging by the time it took to be served indoors, I would recommend one call ahead with orders rather than wait in the drive-through line.
Bottom line: There is a good chance that this will become your favorite or your least favorite inner city Asian café, depending upon your personal taste.
Side Dishes: Wasabi Chi is planning to open a second restaurant, in West Des Moines… Des Moines Chef Andrew Havlovic, of the just-opened Sidebar Restaurant, won first place honors at the Iowa Restaurant Association’s Dine Iowa Grand Tasting Gala. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Asian Cook House
1221 Keo Way, 243-9897
Mon. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.