Last night I had dinner at Cafe Asia with one of my besties (translation: best friend). Near the end of our meal, bestie asks me: “What happened to Cafe Asia? It used to be such a scene.” Good question, bestie. Good question. I don’t know what happened. I remember dining there often several years ago and thinking it was pretty good sushi in a cool, funky environment. Since then I’ve been to Cafe Asia twice trying to use the Groupon I purchased on a whim, thinking that Cafe Asia hadn’t changed.
Mistake. Cafe Asia has undergone some renovations. It has a new look and a new approach to executing their dishes. I’m not a fan of either.Yeah, I said it.The new look seems oppressive to me. The two times I’ve been there in the last six months (trying to rack up $40 worth of food so I could use my Groupon), I’ve felt claustrophobic. It’s as if I’m walking into a sad basement with poor lighting and furniture I’d find in a hotel conference room.
I used to love the steamed gyoza (aka dumplings) at Cafe Asia. At my urging, my bestie and I split an order. They were bland and filled with more “filler” than shrimp. I honestly couldn’t tell whether there were shrimp in the gyoza or if they were just steamed in shrimp water. We also ordered the succulent pork which was grilled pork belly in a soy-based sauce. If you’ve read my blog or at least read its sub-title, you know I love porky fatty goodness when it’s done well. The pork belly at Cafe Asia was all belly if you know what I mean. There was a sliver of fat hidden on each of the two big slabs of fat that we were served. Not good. We also ordered several rolls of sushi which I guess were decent. I will make one note here. One of the sushi rolls I ordered was supposed to contain a variety of fish including smoked salmon. All I could taste was smoked salmon. Now, I know that smoked salmon has a way of overpowering other flavors which is WHY you don’t put too much into your sushi roll unless you are trying to skimp on fresh raw fish or you have the numbed taste buds of a smoker.
I’m disappointed. Can you tell? Maybe the food has always been the same and I’ve simply grown out of Cafe Asia. It’s possible. Or perhaps times have been hard and Cafe Asia has sacrificed quality in order to make ends meet. If the latter, then Cafe Asia needs to pare down the menu and focus on quality over quantity. In any event, if I’m ever in that part of DC (17th & I St. NW) again and I’ve got a craving for sushi, I’m going to go with my gut and grab sushi at Kaz a few blocks down at 20th & I. You might want to do the same. By the way, quick plug here for Kaz – hands down one of the best sushi places in DC. You will not get sexy decor but Chef Kaz definitely focuses on serving a variety of quality, fresh fish that goes beyond the usual tuna, yellowtail, and eel offerings of most other sushi restaurants.