I reviewed Tao Too in February 2010; since then, the restaurant has been purchased by a new owner and the name has changed to Tao Asian Eatery. Soon it will change again, this time to Asian Eatery.
The new name is because of a trademark issue with a restaurant in New York, but don’t worry: It’s all good at 2072 West St. in Germantown, whatever they call it.
The restaurant serves mostly Chinese and Thai dishes, though a few of the dishes are Chinese-American, such as General Tso’s chicken, or even Japanese, such as the gyoza appetizer (simply called pot stickers on the menu, but gyoza just the same). There’s a nod to healthful eating, though it would be a stretch to
say they’re serving health food. No MSG is added in the preparation of any dish, pork is forbidden, and the food is undeniably fresh.
Mango shrimp is undoubtedly one of the best Asian dishes in town, right up there with dim sum dumplings or a great Thai curry. The shrimp are fat little morsels in a light batter, fried until perfectly crisp, then smothered in a savory brown sauce sweetened with the flesh of the mango.
This is a fancied-up sweet and sour shrimp, but the magic is in the fancying. The flesh of the mango — in this case, the common red-and-green Tommy Atkins — is diced and tossed with the shrimp, the sauce, paper-thin sliced carrots and slivers of green onion. The result is served in the mango shell, with a side order of nutty rice.
Though the Tommy Atkins mango isn’t the tastiest variety, and can be a bit fibrous, the light cooking it gets here is all the cure it takes. It’s velvety and lush in this dish; further, I’ve eaten this in the past when it’s been served in a Haitian or Ataulfo mango (they’re very similar, and I’m not sure which it was), so I believe the mango is apt to change according to availability.
At dinner we split the mango shrimp and a few other dishes. While it was rated tops, we were smitten with the crispy tofu, an appetizer that I order every time I eat at Asian Eatery.
I didn’t truly like tofu until I first tried it here. A cube in hot and sour soup at Shanghai, a dip made of tofu at a hippie friend’s house — it was OK, but not anything to get excited about. This is what they do at Asian Eatery:
The tofu is breaded in cornstarch and panko, then fried just until crisp. The “just” makes all the difference. So often, fried tofu forms a coating that’s more like skin than crust, and the inside dries out from the heat of the oil. Not here, where it’s creamy and soft inside, crisp on the outside. Sauteed onion, garlic and sliced jalapeño peppers are generously piled in a heap on top of the tofu, which sits on a bed of crisp rice noodles, slivered carrots and a scattering of cilantro, and a light ginger-soy sauce is served on the side.
It’s delicious, though telling a tofu-hating child that it tastes like fried cheese will not fool her into liking tofu.
Edamame is served with salt and lime, and once you try it with a squeeze of lime, you’ll want what I call the tequila treatment every time you eat it.
I can count on both hands — and I barely need the second — the restaurants I visit when I’m not working. I like to cook, and I like to spend time at home, too, and there is only so much time. This is one of them. The Devil’s Nest soup, a triple-pepper bowl of fire, is one reason we go.
I don’t want to repeat what I said in my first review, but you might need a little instruction. Don’t approach a fiery soup timidly. If you take a tiny slurp, it will slap you in the back of your throat and hang around to torment you. You’ll cough, your face will get red, your mean friend will laugh at you. Take a spoonful, blow on it until it’s cool enough, and put it in your mouth. Swallow and repeat. It’s hot, but it’s not going to kill you.
There are a few dishes on the menu that were new to me, though I’m not certain how new they are to the menu. The honey-glazed walnut shrimp is very sweet, as it’s supposed to be, and also well prepared. Bill Lam, who is the current owner (and was the chef even before he bought the restaurant), has a talent for delicate frying, which is also evident with the lightly battered salt-and- pepper calamari and the thin slices of fried chicken in the Asian chicken salad.
Asian Eatery soon will expand, taking in the space formerly occupied by Haute Mama. When the expansion is finished, the new sign will go up, and the new name — Asian Eatery — will be official. For now, you’re at the right place if you see the “Tao.”
Address: 2072 West St., Germantown
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Reviewer’s choice: Crispy tofu ($5.95); Asian chicken salad ($7.95); mango shrimp, ($12.95); honey glazed walnut shrimp ($12.95), Devil’s Nest soup ($8.95)
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars