Asian Station Might Be the First Multi Ethnic Restaurant to Ever Be Good
As much as I love Asian food of all kinds, there is one thing I can’t stand. The Asian Combo Restaurant. You know what I’m talking about. The Chinese food restaurant that serves sushi, or the Vietnamese food place that serves pad thai. I’m not talking about fusion cuisine, which is an entity all itself. I’m talking about the restaurant that decides they are going to serve something for everybody- and inevitably ends up doing it none of it well.
So when Asian Station opened on 52nd btw. Lex+3rd, I was naturally skeptical. In fact, I had written the place off knowing that it was probably too expensive for Midtown Lunch purposes. But once Lunch’er Joe forwarded along the all under $10 menu, I knew I’d have to check it out. My cheap Asian food loving stomach won out over my combo restaurant hating brain. And boy am I glad it did.
The lunch specials on the Asian Station menu are all in the $6-9 range (with shrimp being the most expensive option), and they come with your choice of soup or salad and rice. The salad was fine, even though it had a slice of apple in it (weird), and the soups were good enough. The miso soup definitely tasted like it was made in a Chinese food kitchen (not surprising since the owners of Asian Station are Chinese), but it was passable. And the wonton soup and hot and sour soup were just fine. Not the best soup you’ll ever eat in your life, but they were all easy to finish. (I will fully admit I chickened out on trying the “cream baby corn” soup.)
As for the lunch specials, let’s start with the Chinese food since that’s the nationality of the owners. I have a well documented obsession with General Tso’s chicken (it put me in the hospital in college), so I couldn’t resist trying their version- even though it was advertised as “white meat chicken”. I know this is a plus for some, but I think dark meat chicken has more flavor, so when it’s done right (i.e. without all the filler) dark meat General Tso’s is always going to be tastier and moister than white meat General Tso’s. This version was crispy, had good flavor, and as advertised, the meat was white meat and easily distinguishable (no mystery meat here.) For $7, it was definitely a success (although personally, I would have liked a bit more heat and a little bit of broccoli.)
I will always be skeptical of sushi from a non-Japanese restaurant, but Asian Station has a nice looking sushi bar- and the ever elusive 3 roll combo for $10. Aoki (on 48th btw. Bway+8th) used to do this, before raising their price to $11 (along with the rest of the cheap sushi places in Midtown.) My favorite threesome in a combo like this is eel and avocado, spicy tuna, and salmon and avocado- unless they do shrimp tempura, in which case I go for that instead of the salmon. Asian Station does all four, plus another 20+ options. As expected the rolls were on the small side, but I was more than happy with the taste and freshness. Of course two of the options were cooked, and spicy tuna doesn’t really give you a good idea of the quality of a restaurant’s raw fish (quite the opposite, actually. You’re probably eating their old/throwaway tuna.) But at $10 for 3 rolls, plus a soup or salad, it’s not really much of a financial gamble to check out for yourself.
I think Thai food is always the toughest thing for these kind of restaurants to handle (the ones not run by Thai people, obviously.) And even though it might be a cliche, I think Pad Thai is one of the best dishes to rate a place on- because it is surprisingly difficult to make. (I can make a freakin’ awesome Thai green curry at home, but my pad thai attempts have been disasters.) Most places will do crazy things, like add ketchup and lord knows what else to their Pad Thai. But the good places use tamarind juice as the main flavoring, and will give you a slice of lime (not lemon), a scoop of crushed peanuts, and bean sprouts. Asian Station hit all the right marks, and while it won’t be replacing any of my go to Thai places in the city, their Pad Thai is a really good version for Midtown. We splurged ($9) and got the shrimp (which were huge), but you can get a white meat chicken version for $7. With soup or salad, that is an amazing deal for Midtown.
Finally, as a wild card recommendation from the waiter, we tried the Malaysian Red Curry Chicken. I have eaten Malaysian food a few times in my life, but I’ll admit I’m not an expert by any means. And I have no idea what an “authentic” Malaysian red curry is supposed to taste like. But this dish was really good. It falls on the sweet side, with flavors not unlike what you would get in the curry sauce that comes with roti canai (or maybe a massaman curry?) Spicier than the General Tso’s, but it was still on the mild side of spicy. Perfect of for the person who likes a little kick, but doesn’t want their mouth burned off. I’m sure you can request it spicier.
All in all everything we ordered at Asian Station was surprisingly delicious, and for a restaurant in Midtown this nice (the decor is hip business casual) it is super cheap. Apparently the Chinese Chef did some extensive traveling throughout Asia, and it shows in a lot of his dishes. Plus the menu is long enough that I would need to go at least 3 or 4 more times to try everything that looks good (like Szechuan Crispy Shredded Dried Beef, $8; XO Sauteed Udon Noodles, $7-10; Beef Negimaki bento box, $8; and baby eggplant in garlic sauce, $6-9.)
I don’t think it will stop me from rolling my eyes at the next one of these places that opens, but Asian Station has at least proven that I should withhold judgment until after trying the food.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- The decor is super nice, and with lunch specials around $6-9 it is amazingly cheap!
- Something for everybody. If you like sushi, and your coworkers want Chinese this is your place.
- The menu is like a greatest hits of Americanized Asian food (with sushi, Pad Thai, General Tso’s, Sesame Chicken, and a number of random curries)
- They have a number of vegetarian options
- They use white meat chicken
- Not everything is going to be super “authentic”, but at least it all tastes good
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- F!@# that. If I want Thai food, I will go to a Thai food restaurant. And I want my sushi made by a Japanese guy!
- White meat chicken is flavorless and dry. Gimme some dark meat!
- Everything is just a notch below being really excellent
- A little too hip for its own good. I like my Asian food out of a dirty looking hole in the wall.
- Portions could be a little larger (although with the rice and soup you’ll end up full)
Asian Station, 155 E. 52nd (btw. Park+Lex), 212-421-2294