Ever since Trey Yuen stood alone in a field on the Northshore serving up its Szechuan Spicy Alligator, the marriage of local ingredients with non-local techniques has been a staple of Asian restaurants around town. Trey Yuen has since been swallowed up in development’s untidy snarl but lately we’ve seen a multitude of places popping up that add a third ingredient to the “Gulf Coast meets Far East” mix: a mash-up of additional national cuisines. The results can be a mixed bag but there are plenty of hits to go along with the misses, and such offerings are a signature of the ongoing innovation and progressiveness in our dining scene.
Hoshun on St. Charles Avenue is contemporary in both style and menu. A labyrinthine establishment, its well-spaced tables and booths in the main dining room overlook St. Charles Avenue through floor to ceiling windows. While grounded in a variety of Chinese cuisines, the pan-Asian menu gathers influences from a slew of other nationalities including Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese. The Japanese influence is especially prominent, with a sushi bar menu featuring the expected list of outrageous rolls to go along with lots of small plates.
Good appetizers here include the Five-Pepper Calamari. The light, greaseless batter lends the dish a texture more akin to salt-baked than fried. From the sushi bar menu comes a nice Yellowtail Jalapeño, five generous slices of yellowtail attractively laid on a glass plate and laved with a yuzu and ponzu dressing. Atop each slice is a large cilantro leaf garnished with a dollop of jalapeño salsa. The citrus hits first, leveled out by the unctuousness of the fish and the distinctive herbaceous flavor of the cilantro underscores the whole. All in all, a nice combination of flavors. From the long list of rolls, the Hawaii Naruto choice swaps rice for a cucumber wrap filled with fresh salmon, tuna, yellowtail, snow crab and avocado. A smear of pink smelt row gives it some salty pop, and drizzled over it is a miso yuzu sauce. The combination of citrus and miso yields an almost passionfruit-like flavor. As an aside, many of the sushi bar combinations involve fruit and the paring of raw fish and fruit isn’t something I particularly care for. Still, there’s plenty else to choose from.
For the entrées, I enjoy their Crispy Ginger Prawns, which come battered and fried with scallions in a light tomato and ginger sauce. The sauce evoked memories of an old Chinese place in the quarter I used to frequent, Mr. Gins, so this dish tickled my nostalgia bone. Another dish of Kung Pao prawns is assertively spiced with dried peppers, with the addition of celery adding crunch and coolness. Less successful was the Pumpkin Seed Duck, which is butterflied then fried splayed over a pool of plum sauce. The pumpkin seeds sound interesting but don’t really add anything to the dish beyond a bit of crunch.
La Thai Uptown is the latest effort in Pannee Varnishung’s string of Thai restaurants that have bloomed then faded in the area over the last 3 years. These include the much-loved but now shuttered Bangkok Cuisine, the original La Thai on Metairie Road and Panasia in the Central Business District. Rounding out a small but strong collection of restaurants along this stretch of Prytania Street, La Thai Uptown offers up good lunch specials, classic soup and noodle dishes and fusion-y takes on traditional Thai cuisine.
For appetizers, the L.A. Oysters are a good bet, crusted with pecan pieces then lightly fried. The bed of sautéed artichoke-leek upon which they are served is taste-neutral but a dip in the ramekin of chili sauce brightens up them ’ersters. The soups here are a strong point. Particularly the Tom Kar Gai, made with a fragrant, lemongrass-infused coconut broth. Slices of poached chicken and Thai herbs give it some body and substance. Also very good is Mama’s Hot and Sour Soup, loaded with egg, baby corn and mushroom, making for a well-balanced combination of flavors and also a rumored hangover cure.
The Spicy Beef Salad is a bit of a departure from what you would find in a straight-up Thai restaurant. Instead of putting the spicy, marinated chilled beef in the foreground this dish is more akin to a large western-style salad, where the greens and dressing are as much a factor as the protein. It is large enough for a respectable lunch but a bit on the pricey side. Lunch specials here offer up nice choices like the Peppermint Chicken, which will be familiar to fans of Bangkok Cuisine, and the Drunken Noodles. There is also a nice selection of vegetarian options including Spring Rolls and a Masaman Curry made with tofu.
Chef Minh Bui returned to Mid-City following a sojourn into more upscale ventures such as 56 Degrees and a dressed-up version of his popular Lemon Grass restaurant in the International House Hotel. Downtown’s loss is Mid-City’s gain as this talented chef finds ever new ways to melds local ingredients with French and Vietnamese techniques at Café Minh.
Seemingly innocuous appetizers such as his Crab Cake come punched up with wasabi remoulade sauce. The puck-sized cake is a little heavy on the breading but still balanced with flavor, the Creole seasoning in the crab cake gets neat twist from a pass through the sauce. The Crispy Nutty Oysters present six bivalves cloaked in a nutty batter then fried crisp. This was more akin to a greaseless breading than a batter. A dunk in the ramekin of sweet chili dipping sauce added sweetness and heat.
The Oven Roasted Asian-Marinated Pork Tenderloin entrée does a good job of mixing things up. Medallions of pork are complimented by a tamarind-spiked sauce and a sweet potato puree enlivened with fresh ginger brightens up the starch. The dish is garnished with a slice of fried lotus root and pair of fried plantain chips.
Minh’s Bouillabaisse comes in a bowl rimmed with poached mussels, the broth locked and loaded with scallops, shrimp and fish atop a tangle of angle hair pasta. There is plenty here to take home for lunch the next day. Saffron lends the dish a delicate flavor and pleasing appearance.
Indeed, the soup dishes here are quite good. Try the Shanghai Soup with roasted pork and rich egg noodles or the Japanese-inspired Spicy Beef Udon. Lunch specials are a favorite as well, including the popular Grilled Kobe Beef Burger. For those wanting to stick with Vietnamese basics, a nice Charcoal-Grilled pork is on the lunch menu too.
FAR EAST FEASTS
1601 St. Charles Ave.
La Thai Uptown
4938 Prytania St.
4139 Canal St.