When most people in the U.S. use the term "comfort food," they typically refer to butter-laden Southern fare like mac-'n-cheese, mashed potatoes, fried chicken and the like, and maybe a slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta here and there. South East Asian cuisine rarely comes to mind - but there's no better way to describe the food served at Café Asean on West 10th Street. It is comforting, soulful, and a marvel of vibrant colors and intense aromas.
The Café's interior decor prepares you for the coming riot of flavors. Bright paper lamps, weathered wood and exposed brick make for an unassuming, charming atmosphere indoors, while the back patio is awash in pristine white light, plain metal tables, whitewashed walls, and even a tree growing in the corner, its crown suspended somewhere above the roof.
Café Asean serves food from a number of different South East Asian cultures, and choosing what to eat is perhaps the most "stressful" part of the experience, because it necessarily entails having to forego trying many tempting dishes and settling for just one (or two). Perhaps my favorite dish so far is the Laksa Lemak, a sweet-spicy coconut soup with egg noodles and seafood, served with sprigs of cilantro for freshness. The broth is just spicy enough to get your taste buds dancing, while the coconut milk provides a sweet, calming smoothness. Although I normally despise cilantro, I love tearing off tiny pieces of the leaves and sprinkling them on each spoonful of soup - the flavors just jump in your mouth. The Laksa is surprisingly filling all by itself, but there's no harm in sharing an appetizer or two, such the Ghaw Chee, or steamed shrimp dumplings with a zingy ginger-lime-soy dipping sauce.
Finally, if you don't have room for dessert, don't miss the Chum - a mixture of Thai Iced Tea and coffee. The tea has a predictably saturated creamy sweetness, but the bitterness of the coffee cuts right through it and adds a surprising kick.
As if great ambiance and good food weren't enough, all of the dishes on Café Asean's menu are delightfully affordable, especially if you go during the lunch hour, when the entrees range from $8-$9.25 (dinner entrees range from $8.50-$19.00). All in all, every time I dine at the Café, I leave feeling completely and utterly satisfied, body and soul.
Yours truly, one bite at a time,
117 W. 10th Street, between 6th Ave. and Greenwich Ave.
Open Sunday-Thurdsay 12:00pm-10:30pm and Friday/Saturday 12:00pm-11:00pm