Not to mince words—I hate the name of Mary Nguyen’s new Pan-Asian Englewood outpost. Exactly what is Street Kitchen Asian Bistro supposed to conjure? Is it indoors, outdoors, bare-bones, upscale? How about Hawker Stall Steam Cart Pub & Trattoria? Or Floating Market Cantina y Brasserie? Never mind the fact that the acronym is SKAB.
But I guess I just gotta get past the souped-up moniker, because the place itself looks like it’s gonna be a winner. Mod & streamlined yet glowing with color (love those perforated, rectangular wooden pendant lamps), the space is super-inviting, striking just the right balance between energy & intimacy. Our server did likewise—showing her personality via banter while keeping her wits about her. In short, she read the table right. And the menu’s got sauce, in G. Love’s sense of the word—a playful mix of dim sum–style small plates, noodles & curries that pays homage to cooking traditions across the Asian continent while upping the presentation angle, as with this pretty little quartet of mixed pickles.
While not quite as all-fired inventive as the assortment I inhaled at SKAB’s Boston-area equivalent, Myers + Chang, it still packs heat & cold, sour zing in equal measure, from the cabbage-jalapeño combo on the left to the lightly curried mixture of diced carrots, cukes, what I think was shredded tofu skin, & chopped cashews on the right.
Points for presentation also go to the roasted, garlic-&-chive-speckled pork belly. So often these days pork belly is disguised in the form of precious little cubes; it’s refreshing to see it looking like the bacon it makes, striped with pure charred fat. A few bites were tough, but I liked its honesty, & the contrast between its smokiness & the cool of the excellent coleslaw it came with—crisp & perfectly dressed, lightly sweet-sour & just creamy enough.
I didn’t sample the happy-hour dumplings & buns my pals Mark—the former Denver Drinks Examiner who really should start a cocktail blog—& Amy ordered, but I was assured they were “delicate & texturally interesting enough” to compare with those of more traditional dim sum joints. The butterfly-shaped scallop dumplings sure looked like feats of dexterity.
Meanwhile, the highlight of my own meal was the Thai-style roast chicken I got to go. It’s worth noting that Nguyen’s attention to detail extends even to packaging: the box was fastened with a little sticker on which the name & description of the dish were printed—a handy way to keep track of multiple orders when the boss springs for take-out, thereby avoiding those awkward moments when you realize you’ve polished off half a colleague’s X & stuck her with your Y, to which she’s allergic. (Or whatever—office politics are not my area of expertise. The point is I assume the chef-owner is catering to lots of workaday-techie traffic.)
But what was in the box, despite losing its looks in the translation of transportation, was just great. Over a bed of more coleslaw sat half a chicken, marinated in coconut milk with lemongrass, ginger & Kaffir lime leaves & then roasted;
the result was extraordinarily moist meat & crackling, glistening skin, all gently suffused with the richly aromatic kick of the marinade. Best bird bits I’ve had in some time, word. In the end, if the name reeks of an identity crisis, at least the kitchen is crystal-clear on its mission.