Asian on the Go

Asian on the go

Flavor: Mostly Japanese and Chinese
Ambiance: A somewhat narrow room full of booths and Asian flair
Service: A bit spotty

Set in a squat strip mall crouched at the edge of the steaming hot lake of asphalt that surrounds the Oteen Ingles, Asian on the Go may seem like a suspect location for a round of sushi.

However, I can assure any skeptics the sushi is entirely suited for consumption. I, for one, have been known to indulge in the pleasures of this particular strip-mall sushi on numerous occasions, even though the rather chewy little bands of nori that encircle the rolls require a bit of extra jaw work. The sushi’s merits lie not within the realm of the fancy, creative or exotic. Salmon, yellowtail and tuna round off the rather meager raw-fish choices (keep in mind that fewer options often equal greater freshness). Rather, the best thing that roll of rice and oceanic flesh has going for it – like the rest of the food at Asian on the Go – is that it’s fresh, cheap (the most expensive roll costs $5.95), and can indeed be had on the Go.

The name may conjure up a take-out-only joint. Asian on the Go, however, does have a dining room beyond the take-out area that is large enough to accommodate a large crowd. It is somewhat spare, but tasteful and interesting enough.

Patrons with sensitive ears beware, as the satellite radio station appears stuck on “Muzak Versions of ’80s Songs You’d Rather Forget.” Should you have a good sense of humor, however, you might enjoy trying to identify said song, and perhaps even engaging in some impromptu Karaoke. Bad behavior? Perhaps. Great fun? You bet.

For the most part, the food – part Japanese, part Chinese, with a Thai dish thrown in for good measure – inspires in me a single phrase. It’s a mantra that, when repeated throughout the course of a meal, in the face of foibles and successes alike, takes on a somewhat zen-like feel: It is what it is. Which is to say that what you see is what you get at Asian on the Go.

“It is what it is,” my dining partner and I said, as we tasted the various sushi rolls that brought no surprises to the table, save that dratted crunchy tempura flake that turns up more and more frequently in my spicy tuna (curse you, crunchy!). The eel was universally enjoyed; despite its reputation as a slithery, horrid little freak of nature, eel makes for quite good eating when appropriately treated and fresh.

“It is what it is,” we again chanted as we stole spoonfuls from a gargantuan steaming udon bowl laced with crisp snow peas, mushrooms and shreds of napa cabbage in an innocuous Japanese soup broth (a value at $6.95). What it was, though not worthy of much contemplation, was a simple and satisfying meal that echoes a winning formula Far-Easterners have succeeded with for eons: noodles, broth, vegetables and protein.

Miso soup? What you would expect, with maybe a little extra seaweed. Only $2.95 for a quart ($1.50 for a pint) makes it a family-friendly bargain, assuming that a bean paste-based broth is considered a “friendly” choice at your domicile. Seaweed salad? Just great, but exactly as you’ve had it before. Shrimp lo mein? Fresh components, warm predictability. Tempura? Well, you get the idea.

For all of its comfortable behavior when in familiar territory, the restaurant might do well to recognize its shortcomings, and perhaps forgo wading into more exotic pan-Asian waters. The Pad Thai, for example, was not what Pad Thai generally is, or ever should be, for that matter. I grabbed it for a quick lunch for only $7.95, and quickly realized that Thai food is not exactly Asian on the Go’s forte. It was distressingly without flavor, and smelled uncannily like fried rice.

That, however, is the solitary mishap the restaurant made, at least as far as kitchen output. The service is somewhat of a different matter; it seems to range from generally sullen and dreary to slightly sunny yet baffled. Anyone who’s been to Asian Grill – both restaurants have the same owner – will recognize the style from the restaurant’s earlier days. Asian Grill has since reformed itself and has generally great service (leading me to call it the “House of Many Thank Yous” in one review). Here’s hoping Asian on the Go will go the same route.

“It is what it is,” may not be a statement that indicates the paragon of culinary achievement. It’s just that the culinary daredevil inside of me longs for more exciting ethnic dishes (if anyone out there knows how to cook good Vietnamese, reveal thyself!) but will settle for food that makes no false claims. Make no mistake – predictability can be a good thing. When proximity to the restaurant, hunger and a thin supply of cash coincide, Asian on the Go is worth a shot. The vegetables will be fresh, the sauces will lack MSG, and your food will be quick and cheap. And fear not, my friends, the strip-mall sushi.

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