Suzie Wong's on Madison is a new Asian restaurant located in East Walnut Hills. I have no idea if its name is an intentional literary allusion, but it would make sense: the deep red walls and decor smack of Hong Kong. But as was the case in the book, does this hooker have a heart of gold?
With prices like those on the menu, one would think so. The cynical side of me thinks this might soon become a bait-and-switch tactic, but for now, the prices are more than reasonable, especially when one considers the somewhat upscale feel and attention to detail one is immersed in when first walking through the door (that said, we felt pretty at ease in our jeans and t-shirts).
1544 Madison Avenue seems a cursed business location: Suzie Wong's is the successor to two failed restaurants that had resided there recently, including Seny, a Tapas bar; and Simone's Cafe. Neither lasted more than a couple years. It's sad, because it's a beautiful area and the large, expansive windows offer great views of eye-catching architecture, especially the old San Marco apartment building. Perhaps Suzie's Asian culinary flare can buck the unfortunate trend.
The menu dabbles in many parts of the Asian world, from the Vietnamese, to the Japanese, to the Thai, to the Chinese and the Korean. There's nothing on the menu that costs more than $15.95 and the average price of entrees is around $11. The item that'd drawn my attention was the Bibimbap, a tasty rice, beef and vegetable dish served in a hot clay pot that continues to cook before your eyes, forming a nice crust to the rice. At just $10.95, Suzie Wong's has the cheapest dinner portion of Bibimbap in town, a full $3-$6 less than other area Korean restaurants serving the same dish.
We started with the seaweed salad as an appetizer, thinly-sliced strips of Wakame seaweed drizzled with sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It was not entirely unlike the very same salad one can find in any super market sushi bin, but it arrived chilled, tasted fresh, had a pleasant, uniquely crunchy texture and was served with a visually appealing strip of beet.
My girlfriend chose the Cantonese Chow Ho Fun, a thick rice noodle dish with bean sprouts, scallions, peppers and steamed tofu. She was not asked for her preferred spice level and didn't inquire. Still, the entree was flavorful, despite the post dinner reflection that a little added heat might have perked things up a bit.
I wasted no time ordering the Bibimbap; I couldn't pass up the price and have tried just about every variation of the rice bowl classic available in town. While my favorite is still a toss-up between Sung Korean Bistro and Riverside Korean, Suzie Wong's version was certainly no lightweight. Large strips of beef complimented the bean sprouts, carrots, spinach and spicy kimchee. As always, I enjoyed the visual presentation of all the Bibimbap components, each primary ingredient carefully segregated in its own designated area of the bowl, then mixing everything together with the rice and hot bean paste.
This version didn't seem to be a true Dolsot Bibimbap, as the type of clay pot they'd used didn't crisp the rice at the bottom as much as I would have liked. The egg was also slightly overcooked: I'm more of a yolk man and enjoy letting the oozing yellow protein moisten the rice and other goodies in the bowl. Still, the flavor was pretty tasty and it's a very filling, satisfying dish.
With the help of good word-of-mouth and its increasing Facebook fanbase, Suzie Wong's on Madison may break the 1544 Madison Avenue restaurant curse. And now that I've found a cheap source for a Bibimbap fix, I'm just fine with that.