Urbane Asian street fare downtown

By Frank Angelino

Although he bills his cuisine as “urban Asian street fare,” the sophistication that Ophaso brings to the table more readily merits the adjective, “urbane.” The Thailand-born Ophaso was classically trained in cooking in France, and cooked at Le Cirque and La Cote Basque until he became the opening chef at Nong in Union Square last year. There, he gained attention for the innovative way he infused ingredients from different Asian counties into standard New York restaurant fare.   

“My cooking is fifty percent Thai, twenty-five percent Laotian, and twenty-five percent Vietnamese and Chinese,” he said.

Created by Nancy Mah Designs Lotus has two levels, subtle lighting, attractive banquettes, and muted dark tones.

Appetizers are handsomely presented.  Baby back ribs get their distinctive flavors form Thai basil, crispy garlic flakes and a tamarind glaze.  It’s a neat and satisfying dish. Thai shrimp shu mai are as good as it gets. Uncommonly good quality shrimp dumplings accompanied by tasty hot dipping sauce.

Panko crispy duck shows how Ophaso is able to present several ingredients (a salad of cucumbers, cashews and chili) as background to the main event (Japanese breadcrumb coated duck.)  The dish presents Ophaso’s sure hand by contrasting sweet and spicy flavors in a harmonious balance.

Masman braised short ribs, caught people’s attention when Ophaso was cooking at Nong.  It’s at once both comfort food and exciting innovative cooking with the ribs taking flavors from coconut milk and masman curry accompanied by yams, mushrooms and red pearl onions.

Not surprisingly Ophaso says that the short ribs are one of his signature dishes.

Coconut milk, Thai green curry and Kaffir lime leaf accompany either crispy basil chicken or jumbo prawns.  With either the chicken or the prawns, the flavors are different than the Masman short ribs but are equally beguiling.

BBQ Mury chicken, with lemongrass, chili dipping sauce and Asian greens; steamed black sea bass with Thai country sauce, with scallions and chili; and, roasted Chilean sea bass with a yellow curry-Thai basil sauce are representative of the chef’s wide range of imaginative cooking.

Under Ophaso’s hand, the old favorite noodle dish Pad Thai comes alive and reaches it full, but so often unrealized, potential. Flavors sparkle; the shrimp, eggs, chicken and noodles make perfect sense here.

Ophaso was also trained as a pastry chef, so he’s able to offer such treats as a chocolate volcano with a molten chocolate interior that’s served with green tea ice cream, and excellent pecan brownies with espresso ice cream.

While good Belgium ales and an international list of wines are available, since Lotus is at heart a nightclub many patrons drink the well-made Mojitos and similar cocktails such as the mango-ginger highball.

Lotus was created by entrepreneurs Mark Baker, Will Regan, Jeffery Jah and David Rabin. After 11PM, the dining room yields to Suzie Wong’s Late Night Cafe where Ophaso turns out an Urban Asian twilight menu, which is available from midnight to 3:00 AM, with items ranging from $4-8.

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