First Bites, Hutong Fresh Asian Cafe

It's fresh, and not so fast, but that's okay

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By David Hammond

Hutong Fresh Asian Café is offering pan-Asian cuisine prepared a la minute, made fresh the moment you order it, rather than made in advance only to sit under heat lamps.

Speaking of the "heat of the moment," Hutong's menu reads like Asia's Greatest Hits: from China, Kung Pao; from Korea, Bibimbap; from Thailand, Pad Thai; from Mongolia, the spicy beef, and from the British Occupation of several parts of Asia, Crab Rangoon.

So what we have here is less Asian fusion and a more pan-Asian menu.

We went for items we'd never had before, like Grandma's Tofu with cabbage and leeks, which sounds like something a Polish-Japanese nana might make. The toothy fried tofu chunks were so satisfying they almost made one think it might be something more substantial than soy curd.

Continuing a vegetable theme, we tried Leeks and Beef, our clear favorite of the night, with chunks of steak lightly coated with cumin and cooked dry so that each piece had a jerky-like density, very flavorful and good.

The Red Curry (usually less spicy than the Green Curry) was so mild my cat was able to eat it, but overall the flavors were good, and I will say this about the food of Hutong: it is not repetitive. I'm sure when you're turning out multiple dishes, there's a temptation to use a handful of the same sauces in many dishes, but in the six or so menu items we tried, there was no duplication of tastes, which speaks very well for Hutong's kitchen.

There were birds eye chiles in several dishes, which provided light heat, but if you feel the need to bump up the Scovilles, you can always bite into one (they're hot!)

The night we stopped in for carry out, co-owner Diane Johnson was working the register and she told me that a lot of people come in for carry out. That night, there were pretty much the same amount of people standing in the doorway waiting to take away food as there were people inside sitting at tables. Though I'm sure Johnson is welcoming to all customers, she did not seem particularly pleased that many of her customers grabbed their grub to go. When food is taken away from a restaurant, the items are jumbled in a way that would never be acceptable in a restaurant, particularly in Asian restaurants where the aesthetic disposition of items on the plate is of such critical importance.

Next time I visit, I'll definitely stay to eat in the dining room.

Some menu items that piqued my interest and that I intend to try: Octopus Nuggets, Honey Shine and Old Beijing Noodles.

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