Culinary jam session

Asia Monica combines Asian and American cuisines with a dash of entertainment.

By BUZZY GORDON
July 22, 2015 18:13
4 minute read.
Restaurant in Hasharon

Asia Monica restaurant in Hod Hasharon. (photo credit: PR)

The Sharonim Mall in Hod Hasharon is becoming a suburban hot spot for dining and leisure, and one of the up-and-coming players is the popular restaurant Asia Monica. It’s the brainchild of chef Daniel Zach, who came up with the concept of one eatery serving the biggest hits of both Eastern and Western cuisine – not as fusion but from two parallel menus.

In addition to this unique culinary approach, Asia Monica has launched Thursday night jam sessions: live music, featuring a female vocalist accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer. The folk/jazz music is scheduled to kick off around 8 p.m. On the night I visited, the restaurant was lively and full by the time the band started to play.

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The menu is dual not only when it comes to food – half Asian, half American – but in its format as well. You can peruse a printed menu or click through a colorful electronic one on a restaurant iPad in Hebrew and English.

The iPad also lets you preview pictures of most menu items, including some distinctive cocktails (NIS 35). We tried the Pink Monica – a combination of rum, coconut liqueur, coconut milk, pineapple juice and strawberry essence – and a Santa Monica Apple Whiskey, which combines bourbon, Drambuie, apple liqueur, ginger and tonic. Both were refreshing – the former sweet but not cloyingly, and the latter bracing, with some bite.

The Asian offerings fall under several categories, the primary ones being sushi, bing, bao and dim sum. The sushi is prepared by a master from China, Xiang Yang, and you can sit at the bar and watch him work, swiftly and fluidly.

The sushi at Asia Monica is available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, and the prices are very reasonable. An order of sushi, for example, starts at NIS 18.

One of the most interesting sushi variations is the volcano roll (NIS 42): salmon, avocado, asparagus, and strips of pickled zucchini and imported pumpkin. The salmon is both inside and outside the rice: raw inside, while the outside piece is seared. As a whole, it’s an innovative and tasty creation. It is served with wasabi and pickled ginger, as well as three dipping sauces: teriyaki, soy and a spicy mayonnaise. There is even a choice of white or brown rice (the latter is NIS 3 extra).

Zach is proud to be a pioneer in bringing several types of Asian street foods to Israel. One is bing, which he calls a Chinese version of malawah, which is served with a tempting selection of toppings. The bing is fried just right, with none of the oiliness of its (smaller) Middle Eastern counterpart. The bing that comes with a slice of beef fillet seasoned with Thai hot sauce is highly recommended.

Bao – steamed bread in the shape of a roll – is the vehicle for a number of tapas-sized dishes. For example, Asia Monica’s own pickled salmon, with red onion and fresh basil atop a spread of mayonnaise infused with herbs and preserved lemon (NIS 25). The interplay of flavors certainly tickles the palate.

A more familiarly Asian bao sandwich is fresh eggplant in Hoisin sauce with mixed fresh herbs (NIS 28). Fans of the spicy sauce will like this vegetarian adaptation.

Dim sum is the term Asia Monica uses for its selection of dumplings, which here are shaped like gyoza, Japanese-style filled pockets of pasta. Be sure to specify whether you prefer them steamed or fried. Once again, vegetarians will find reason to rejoice. The gyoza filled with chopped shiitake mushrooms are every bit the equal of the chicken dumplings. Two dipping sauces accompany them: sweet and sour, and a soy-based hot sauce. (NIS 35 – NIS 52)

The American offerings are the familiar standbys – hamburger and steaks – thus too much to handle after having sampled generously from the Asian menu. But given the meticulous attention to detail evident in the preparation of the Asian food, there is every reason to believe the US dishes would be more than satisfactory. The menu lends itself more to beer than wine, and the restaurant has an adequate selection of brew on tap. The Weinstaffen – a German wheat beer – is especially good in summer (NIS 25).

The themes of Asia and America continue to the desserts. The American ones were quite tempting: dark chocolate fudge and New York- style cheesecake, for example. Nevertheless, we chose to go a less filling route: lemon grass crème brulée (NIS 34) and tapioca with coconut milk and fruit salad (NIS 28). The crème brulée was not only perfectly crafted – crispy crust and cool interior – but the lemon grass infusion made it one of the most memorable desserts I have had in recent memory. The highlight of the second dessert – tapioca pearls bobbing in the coconut milk – is a rarity on an Israeli menu and well worth a try.

With its large al fresco area, proximity to a children’s playground and kids’ menu, Asia Monica is an ideal place for families. And adults will appreciate the scope and quality of the food. Zach has been flourishing here for six years and shows no signs of flagging.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant .


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