A few years back, Mart and I were weekly guests on the Nilon Report, a Newstalk show on WSRQ Radio. It was a fun gig that lasted a couple years and ended when the station was sold and shifted to music vs Newstalk.
During our weekly segment, we would bring in a local chef or restaurateur, do a tasting with the host, Sue Nilon, and talk about any upcoming events, new menu items or specials, basically whatever the Chef wanted to share. One of the most memorable shows featured the opening of Taste of Asia at their current location on Tamiami Trail. The Chef, Lam Lum, dropped off three large hotel pans of food for the tasting. It was amazing, especially since there were only 4 or 5 people working at WSRQ at any one time. Trust me, we enjoyed Taste of Asia’s leftovers for days, especially the cauliflower “rice” which isn’t really rice at all!
After that, Taste of Asia has always been a favorite spot for takeout, allowing us to try other flavors from Asian countries other than Chinese. So don’t ask me to explain HOW we missed blogging on Taste of Asia until now. It is truly unforgivable on our part. My niece, who is vegan, practically lives there when she’s in town, and I can’t count how many times Mart and I have picked up carryout. (Yes, I still order the cauliflower rice!)
On our recent visit, the Monday evening after the Super Bowl, the restaurant was particularly quiet. Only a few tables were taken, but the carryout was flying out the door, with most of the customers welcomed on a first name basis. It seemed a lot of folks wanted Asian food after a night of pizza, burgers, chili or whatever “game night” food they’d had the night before. We felt the same way!
We started our dinner with a hot sake for me and a cold Beerlao dark lager for Mart. Choosing to share an appetizer, we selected the Lumplings, no doubt a play on Chef Lum’s name. The four homemade steamed dumplings were filled with pork (our choice) and served on four spoons and dressed with Chef’s original sauce that featured the flavor of sesame and a cabbage garnish. Mart declared the Lumplings “love at first bite.” Sometimes simple is better.
“You can tell Chef learned to cook from his mother and grandmother,” Mart said. “There’s a certain hominess that comes with his food. He doesn’t have to get all showy with his plating because he is so on-point with the taste. Eating this, I don’t even know what country I’m in anymore,” he said. I just liked that I could bite into the Lumpling without losing that delightful sauce to the plate. The spoons are an excellent way to serve these treats.
All the dishes at Taste of Asia are from Laos, Viet Nam, and Thailand. Included on the menu are a number of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options available and most importantly, all the vegetables in his recipes are fresh, offering that certain crunch you won’t find with frozen or canned produce. That freshness factor was evident in my choice of entrée.
I ordered the Green Curry from the Thai Coconut Milk Dishes section of the menu and chose calamari as my protein. Most of the dishes at Taste of Asia start with a featured sauce that you can choose to keep vegetarian or add your favorite protein, and you can also choose your level of spiciness. Truthfully, I’m glad I went with calamari. The creamy texture of the green curry sauce bathed each delectable bite of calamari with a gentle bath of flavor, while every element of the dish that was supposed to be crunchy was crunchy and everything meant to absorb the green curry was silky and drenched in flavor. Most exceptional was the texture of the calamari . . . served without any kind of a coating, calamari can sometimes be a bit chewy. Not this calamari! They had a slightly firm texture that gave way to a gentle bite or two before swallowing. Nice! I was thrilled in this dish, but not so thrilled to watch Mart reach over and sample bite after bite of my dinner. I don’t mind sharing, but this was one of those “I want this all to myself” dishes.
Naturally, Mart felt the same way about his entree. He ordered the Lao Curry Noodle Soup with chicken, something he’d selected while perusing the online menu at home. He was in the mood for noodles, and boy oh boy, did Taste of Asia deliver! Chef Lum is deeply connected to his Laotian roots and his flavors don’t stray from them. “This is everything I’d hoped for, ” Mart said. “This is just what I craved, without knowing how much I craved it!”
Served in a nice sized bowl, the Lao Curry Noodle Soup features a broth showcasing the flavors of galangal, (which looks like ginger but tastes more earthly and citrusy) lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves within with coconut milk and curry broth. Each spoonful brought up a mouthful of rice vermicelli noodles, and bite-sized chunks of chicken, bean sprouts, cabbage, cucumber, scallions, mint, and cilantro. It is every bit as delicious as it looks!
The menu offers a cute language lesson in speaking Laotian, providing a few common phrases as well as showing the phrase written in the original alphabet. Beautiful!
There are few other menu items we’re excited to try on our next visit, like the papaya salad or one of their Bun Vietnamese rice dishes . . .cauliflower fried rice is a given! Taste of Asia has been known for their Pho (beef broth soup with your choice of ingredients) since their first restaurant in downtown Sarasota, which opened in 2005. They were on Siesta Key for 3 years before moving to the Tamiami Trail location in September of 2013 . . .which tells you how long ago we were on the radio, and how long we’ve been negligent in sharing with you the treasure that is Taste of Asia!
Kob jai, Taste of Asia, koy kor dee jai!