Nestled on the island of Coronado, the Bistro d'Asia is a hidden gem in a sea of mediocre Chinese and Asian cuisine. I know there are plenty of high-priced Asian-fusion restaurants, and some are exceptional, but to have fresh, pan-Asian choices at a price anyone can afford, is indeed a rare find.
Oddly enough, I found myself the voice of reason and compromise in our trio: a vegetarian; a cynical New Yorker who believed New York acts as a high-powered vacuum, sucking in and trapping any and all persons who can produce any Asian meal worth a damn; and myself, the reasonable one who suggested the Bistro on solid recommendations and perusal of the menu, which included plenty to please the herbivore and enough interesting-sounding dishes to appease the skeptic.
The interior was clean and crisp-shiny black tables, wide mirrors and soft lights created a classic, simple feel. It was almost 8 p.m. on Sunday and the place was quiet, maybe three other tables were occupied. Classical music was piped in overhead as we debated sitting at the sushi bar or a regular table. The Bistro offers a nice selection of sushi and sashimi, but we opted for a table and hot, cooked dishes.
We were soon consumed with the menu and its numerous tantalizing offerings. The man from NYC and I started with the Last Emperor's Won Ton Mein Soup, a large bowl for two stocked with noodles, soft pork won-tons, tender pork slices, snow peas, carrots, shrimp and greens. The chicken-stock broth was superb, and the vegetables tasted garden-fresh. Instead of the usual Chinese restaurant-style thin slithers of pork, our bowl had hearty chunks of meat that had our chopsticks battling.
The vegetarian had egg-drop soup and quietly sucked down the majority before we had a chance to stick a spoon in.
Our appetizers proved equally enticing. An expensive and appetite-consuming choice on most menus, the Bistro offers Peking duck as an appetizer, a choice we could not resist. We matched that with the purported Vietnamese-style vegetable spring rolls and sweet-and-sour cucumber salad, both of which brought an excited smile to the vegetarian's face.
The duck was excellent. Spiced with a hint of cinnamon and clove and served with soft lotus buns, cucumber sticks and tangy hoisin sauce, one order proved enough for two rolls each-pretty good for $9.95. In Vietnam, the spring rolls are usually wrapped in thin Asian tortillas or lettuce, but at the Bistro they're served in a crispy shell. The lack of authenticity did nothing to detract from the taste. It was another winner, made even better with the sweet-and-sour dipping sauce garnished with fresh mint.
The cucumber salad accompanied by classic Thai sweet-and-sour sauce was tasty as well. Crunchy circles of cuke topped with sesame seeds and a generous splash of soy sauce cleansed the palate nicely and prepared us for the main course.
The entrees are divided into six sections with five dishes in each; Vegetarian, Woked, Steamed, Sizzled, Grilled and Noodled. We went with the Asian Tofu off the Vegetarian list, Mekong Seafood from the Steamed choices and Open Sesame Chicken off the Woked. From the Sizzled selections we chose the Firecracker Shrimp, and we rounded it all out with Cantonese Crispy Pan Fried Noodles. Once again, the Bistro had even the cynical New Yorker grinning sheepishly as he ate crow.
“OK, maybe there are some good Asian restaurants around here,” he said. “But I bet the chef worked in the City at some point,” he added obstinately.
Each dish proved to be a tasty as the last, and we devoured the multifarious options greedily. The chicken and shrimp were the choice picks of the lot. The Open Sesame Chicken was prepared in semi-sweet caramelized honey glaze sauce with a hint of lemon zest. The pieces of chicken were solid white meat with no “odd” parts as one often finds in a typical Chinese restaurant. The shrimp was served on a bed of sliced green peppers and onions and covered in a spicy Thai red and green curry sauce. The menu states that the shrimp are tempura-style, and although that usually conjures up images of thick, deep-fried batter, these shrimp were very lightly coated and absolutely irresistible.
The Mekong Seafood deserves a mention as well. The shrimp, scallop and mussel concoction even had our vegetarian friend taking nibbles of the redolent garlic, tomato and basil broth.
Faced with a variety of palates and an imposing set of standards, the Bistro came through like a champion. From soup to the chocolate cake dessert, not a complaint could be heard-only the sounds of smacking lips and, of course, the always pleasing sound of geographic arrogance crunching on its own words.