BEAR "“ Here are two words no one is initially fond of hearing in reference to their appetizer:
[caption id="attachment_171642" align="alignright" width="346"] Flaky Octopus Balls[/caption]
And so it was: The frilly shavings sitting atop our octopus fritters were shimmering and fluttering, like a patch of seaweed tossed by the tide. Poking the fronds with chopsticks, we see what's shivering: Incomprehensibly thin curls of dried bonito fish, so ephemeral and airy, but somehow substantial enough to lend a briny funk to each crunchy-chewy, sweet-and-salty bite.
It just goes to show: We shouldn't let our petty preferences for non-twerking food deter us from potential revelations. We should just trust that the folks at Nasi know how to go about elevating their budget-priced mashup of Thai, Malay and sushi delights, ranging from the rather unusual (crab and cucumber salad, anyone?) to the still-underappreciated (green papaya salad) to the by-now-familiar (pad thai).
No, this is a place where it pays to heed your server's all-business, no-nonsense proddings and go with the swiftly running lunchtime flow, designed expressly (it seems) to suit clock-watching Power Lunchers. Just squeeze everyone into one of these cushy-but-cramped booths or grab a stool at the sushi bar. Forget the lack of Wi-Fi, or the absence of meeting-ready rooms: There will be no time for mobile dithering or business-related blathering once the rapid-fire delivery of dishes begins.
[caption id="attachment_171641" align="alignleft" width="338"] Mango Salad[/caption]
And what delightful dishes they are: Deeply flavored chicken wings, boasting a perky Thai personality and a crispy-tender crunch ($7). Thin and chewy "roti canai" pancakes, deliciously suited to dunking in this creamy, curry-scented sauce ($5). A sweet-and-savory mango salad, laced with ribbons of red onion and a nefarious sort of heat ($6).
With each bite, Nasi's true appeal becomes clearer: Despite its strip-center location, its snug seating, its hurry-up-and-order service, this is a place of high standards, homestyle character and deep pride in their product. That much is evident from plating and presentation alone; it gets even better when you realize most dishes don't surpass $10 a pop, and never exceed $8 on the extensive lunch-special menu.
[caption id="attachment_171643" align="alignright" width="421"] Beef Rendang[/caption]
For prices like those, who could deny the regal nature of a green curry with eggplant, tofu and broccoli ($10), or a bowl full of slow-simmered and softly spicy beef rendang ($10)? From dish to dish, bite to bite, Nasi's dishes boast that fresh, vibrant, just-cooked snap that's missing from too many pan-Asian restaurants: Most are content to serve gluey, weary versions of chicken pad thai, but at Nasi, it's light, bright and deeply flavored ($10).
It's dishes like those that make you wonder what Nasi could be if it were somehow transplanted to the big city, situated somewhere near the nightlife, and given some insufferably trendy name: I'm thinking "Bambu," or maybe "yUm." Hipsters would adore it. Foodies would flock their way. Waiting lines would appear, and prices would inevitably soar.
On second thought, let's leave Nasi right where it is. Bear deserves a little gem of its own.
- Food and service: Low-low prices and impeccable execution of Thai, Malaysian and Japanese treats make Nasi a prime candidate for small business gatherings that are focused more on fun than function. Service can be rushed and brusque, but that's certainly preferable to prolonged lunch waits.
- Ambiance/elegance factor: Coolly modern design touches do much to ameliorate the snug booths and strip-center setting. It'll be tough fitting parties greater than four, though there's elbow room aplenty at the long sushi bar. (Lunch entrees $8-$16)
- Catering: Party trays available.
- Takeout/delivery: Takeout available; deliveries with advance notice.
- Private tables: No.
- Meeting-ready? No.
- Tech-readiness: No Wi-Fi available.
- Allergy-friendly? The menu does a decent job listing ingredients, but the complex construction of some dishes would suggest prudence.
- The Buzz: Nasi's $8 lunch menu may be one of the biggest bargains in Bear. Be sure to check out the Hairy Monkey sushi roll ($8).
By Eric Ruth