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Posted Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Several notable Cincinnati restaurants share exact or very similar names. How they haven't involved successful lawsuits is beyond me.

For example, there are two Sorrento's in town only a couple miles apart, which have nothing to do with each other. Sorrento's Pizzeria in Norwood opened in 1956, while Sorrento's Restaurant & Lounge opened in Reading in 1964. The former even has this disclaimer on its website: "NOT AFFILIATED WITH SORRENTOS IN READING."

Our most recent brush with foggy branding came after hearing good things about two different Asian restaurants, both called, "Asiana." Again, they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Asiana in Oakley serves Thai food, while Asiana in West Chester serves Korean.

The distinction would have been easier if feedback on one restaurant were predominantly negative, but that's not the case: each Asiana has its own set of raving fans. The only way to allay the confusion was to visit both restaurants and experience their food ourselves. Which Asiana would reign supreme?

Asiana Korean Restaurant, West Chester

Asiana Korean Restaurant
6875 Fountains Blvd # G
West Chester, OH 45069

I rather loathe a drive to West Chester: it's far away from me and every plot of land is filled with really ugly, cookie-cutter McMansions® (is there any other kind?). There's a gleaming new, mostly empty strip mall seemingly at ever corner. Attention real estate investors: a little originality would go a long fucking way.

In the midst of this maelstrom of Ferengian-style, "upscale" suburbia is a gem or two, like Asiana.

Housed in one of the aforementioned generic strip malls, the restaurant is a bit cumbersome to access. It's just one more gripe I have about West Chester: the street designs. I get that they want to avoid traffic nightmares found on streets like Colerain Avenue, Tylersville Road, Fields Ertel and Beechmont Avenue, but it doesn't mean I have to like their solution: make everything inaccessible from the main artery; force drivers to turn onto a side street; meander down a road with two lanes separated by a middle island, where one must make a U-turn to get to the strip mall driveway. Who engineers this shit?

A series of median U-turns later, we made it inside and began perusing a menu that now seemed entirely Korean. We'd heard they also offered an accompanying Chinese menu, but our waitress laughed after I'd inquired about their much ballyhooed hot-and-sour soup. "That is Chinese food, we serve Korean!" she chuckled at Silly White Man.

Asiana's menu features both familiar and unusual Korean items. The obligatory Bibimbap is here, as well as large and enticing soup bowls filled with your choice of short ribs, caviar, Kimchi, tofu, beefy dumplings or schools of fish varieties. Sizzling plates of pan-fried delights filled the dining room with nose-tickling aromas. My jaw ached from saliva gland overload as it flooded my empty mouth in a vain attempt to dissolve phantom yumminess.

My girlfriend quickly ordered the Dolsot Bibimbap, the popular Korean comfort food dish of rice topped with a variety of vegetables and marinated Bulgogi beef or chicken artfully sectioned in the bowl, then topped again with a fried egg. The stone bowl is very hot, cooking the rice at the bottom so that portions of it become crusty. After the initial presentation, the whole thing is mixed together along with spicy gochujang sauce for a very hearty, very satisfying meal.

I chose the "Oh Sam Bulgogi" entree, a (very) spicy, skillet plate of stir-fried squid, pork and assorted vegetables, including onions, carrots and squash, served with a small bowl of white rice.

Like most Korean restaurants, Asiana serves Banchan just before the main courses arrive. Six small bowls of appetizers are traditionally presented for all to share, consisting of items like fermented black beans, fried tofu, marinated mushrooms, kimchi, seaweed salad and pickled, spicy daikon radish. Every Korean restaurant serves different Banchan, and Asiana's was among our favorites, even rivaling those I enjoy at Sung Korean Bistro and Riverside Korean.

When our entrees arrived, a short, smiling, very enthusiastic Asian man, presumably the owner, arrived to present our dishes. Both came sizzling hot with steamy wafts of spiciness penetrating our nostrils.

The owner offered to stir my girlfriend's Bibimbap, a wait staff tradition at many Korean restaurants. When my girlfriend said no, that wasn't necessary and began stirring it herself, the owner lingered over her as though critiquing her work. Dissatisfied, he finally swooped in, taking the spoon from her hand and stirring it madly, smiling all the way, while my girlfriend glared hard across the table at my nervous laughter. The owner began laughing too, still stirring, stirring, my girlfriend glaring, glaring, until finally she had a Bibimbap mixture suitable for the Korean gods.

While my girlfriend enjoyed her Thoroughly Mixed Rice Bowl, I focused my full attention the plate of squid and pork before me, covered in a lovely reddish hue glaze that hinted at its spiciness. The slight char on the pork and squid paired well with the bold sauce. The squid was tender, and the spiciness of the dish left my lips tingling well after the meal.

Asiana makes me wish I looked forward to a trip to West Chester.

Asiana Thai & Sushi Bar, Oakley

Asiana Korean Restaurant
3922 Edwards Road
Cincinnati, OH 45209

Asiana in Oakley is a small neighborhood Thai and Sushi bar; there's little room for much else. The dining room is tiny, making every chair a "window seat" overlooking Edwards Ave. Drinkers will probably enjoy the BYOB aspect of the place.

The menu includes most of the usual Thai items: rice noodle dishes like Pad Kee Mao and Pad Thai; yellow, green and red curries; and several speciality dishes. Asiana also offers the regionally obligatory sushi menu.

Several college-age groups surrounded us during our visit; we were amused by two guys at a table sharing a couple six packs of beer; their conversation had become increasingly vulgar with each passing, motherfucking bottle.

My eyes gravitated to Asiana's specialities, including a yellow curry duck dish missing from their take-out menu.

The girlfriend ordered Drunken Noodles (aka Pad Kee Mao) with steamed tofu instead of the usual pan-fried variety.

Her plate arrived brimming with mostly onions, carrots and some red peppers and snowpeas, but there were very little noodles and tofu; ten minutes into her meal, she was left with nothing but a plate full of vegetables.

My portion of yellow curry duck was huge, presented well with an artfully decorated bed of radish, pineapple and broccoli. The curry had welcomed milkiness accentuated by the three-level spice scale, but the duck meat was too fatty and too abundant. There was a welcome crust to the duck's skin whose textural contrast I liked, but the overwhelming fattiness of the meat was off-putting.

With so much food prepared with such uneven ratios of ingredients, we chose to stop eating altogether, placing our meals in to-go boxes that we knew would never get opened again.

The Thai here is passable, but its quality can't live up to at least two other nearby Thai restaurants we like far better (Mekong and Lemon Grass). We'll leave this one to the college kids.

Asiana in Oakley will now be easier for us to distinguish against Asiana in West Chester; I only wish their locations were reversed.

Asiana on Urbanspoon Asiana Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Asiana Thai & Sushi Bar

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 2.5 out of 42.5 stars






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Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
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