I know it may seem odd to hit up an Asian restaurant for cocktail kicks, but you’d be surprised what’s out there. I got my start doing this column by reporting on the cocktails at Zom Hee, a Chinese restaurant in Pinellas Park that I still visit. Sure, the food’s great, but I love the kitschy cocktail-bar component even more.
Asie Pan-Asian, the third installment in the prolific Thuy Le’s restaurant portfolio — she’s also behind Thuy Café and La V — has racked up high marks for creative fusion fare in its first six months. But its globe-trotting cocktail menu is more than an afterthought, and curious drinkers should take note.
Although Asie is a restaurant first, it has a substantial bar in the center of its long dining room. That’s where you’ll find the modest but well-picked bottle selection, featuring some more uncommon spirits, such as Tanduay rum from the Philippines and Japanese whiskies from Suntory (Toki, Hibiki, Yamazaki). The bar even stocks Kikori, a Japanese rice whiskey — whiskey with an "e," as it’s produced specifically for the U.S. market — that has more in common with higher-end Korean soju than it does with its countrymates from Suntory.
These fun, colorful touches are a nice complement to the food, a collage of fresh and flavorful elements from Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Korean cuisine. Separate menus for vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are available upon request.
Right in the middle of the main menu, you’ll find some fun cocktail photos to accompany a list of six signature drinks. The cocktails are regionally themed: the Tokyo Old Fashioned uses Suntory Toki as its base, while the Manila Mojito uses Tanduay rum and fresh ginger for a Filipino twist.
Some incorporate regional influence more obliquely, like the Beijing Collins, which adds hibiscus to the classic, adding color and a light floral quality to the drink. The Saigon Sunset is effectively a foam-topped Cape Cod and is garnished with an edible flower.
The Seoul Sunrise, curiously, uses mango juice and Lebélula tequila as its bases, served in a chili salt-lined glass and garnished with a shiny red chili pepper. Nothing about this drink says Korean, but it’s tasty. Ever try one of those pickled mangoes in chili paste that you can get at the Vietnamese market? This is the cocktail version of those.
My favorite, however, is the Bangkok Unknown-Date. Langley’s gin is the base, but the combination of lychee fruit and fresh basil provide a wildly exotic aromatic quality that takes the drink to another level. This drink alone is worth a visit.
If Zom Hee is the Chinese restaurant with an old-school cocktail lounge, Asie is the modern take, with fresh and exciting cocktails to match a menu influenced by regional Asian cuisines. In both cases, it’s unlikely that I’ll visit with no intention of dining, but it’s equally unlikely that I’ll skip the cocktails.
— Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.