With the holiday season approaching last month, my thoughts turned to Asia — the Chinese restaurant in South Portland, that is, not the continent. I needed to prepare for the one-two punch of Christmas Eve and Day, when my favorite bars and restaurants close up early, open up late, or don’t open at all. Asia is among a select group of Thai and Chinese restaurants that cater to those not choking down eggnog with the in-laws.
Asia has been in the Mill Creek shopping district since 1992. In 2011, the restaurant had to relocate across the street when their original location was slated for redevelopment. The new place is spacious and welcoming. Asia does a brisk take-out business, but there’s a well-lit dining room with plenty of seating and two steam tables for the daily lunch buffet.
On the first of many visits I made last month, I settled into a separate, smaller room that has a few booths and a short stretch of bartop with space for about eight patrons. It was a weekday happy hour, and I was among about 10 other customers who seemed to know one another, which made for a friendly atmosphere.
The drink menu at Asia draws inspiration from the Tiki Bar era of half a century ago, which never really ended as far as most Chinese restaurant owners are concerned. These types of fruity cocktails typically include over-proofed rum and ridiculous garnishes, but Asia’s are well balanced and free of garish accompaniment. There are 20 drinks on the cocktail menu, including a couple really big ones designed to be shared. The prices are quite reasonable — most cocktails are $5.50; the big ones go as high as $11.95.
The Suffering Bastard is a Tiki classic, though its recipe varies a fair amount from bar to bar. Asia’s version is made with multiple rums, orgeat syrup, orange juice and lime. It has a full, solid flavor — not too sweet. The taste of the alcohol is present, but never sharp or at the forefront. And this Bastard leaves surprisingly little aftertaste, having enough citrus to cleanse your palate after each sip.
Another standout is the Fog Cutter, which has a light texture and hints of gin amid a number of fruit flavors that compete for your attention. It tastes similar to a Long Island Iced Tea, made with orange juice instead of cola.
I ordered the London Sour out of pure curiosity. It’s a scotch-based cocktail with fruit flavors. Asia uses Lauder’s. Its rough, bold flavor manages to cut through the citruses and sour nicely. The body is full, thanks to the scotch, and leaves a slightly peaty aftertaste. It can be a deceptive mouthful, given that the nose is dominated by orange juice, keeping the true impact of the drink off the radar until the liquor passes your lips.
The service I received for food and drink orders was prompt and friendly, and the dishes I had were large and well made. The menu is extensive and includes a dozen house specialties. A couple days before Christmas I placed a take-out order from my apartment on the West End and had food in hand within 15 minutes. Now, if only I could get one of their fine Mai Tais to go, too…
— Carl Currie