Floor-length windows wrapped around the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel almost assures killer views of Central Park and Midtown. With its glamorous address, the people watching is bound to be good too. I’m glad to say that with both fronts, Asiate did not disappoint. My parents and I were ushered to a nice table flush to the window when we visited for lunch, and while the day was gloomy grey, the bird’s eye view of Central Park was still impressive. Mum also had her New York moment when Will Smith popped into the restaurant to say hi to his friends/relatives seated right beside us.  As a spot to wow, to romance, to indulge in attentive service, Asiate is an obvious choice.

But what about a place to dine? While lunch was enjoyable and a very good value at $24 for 2 dishes on the ala carte menu, or $38/28 for 2 daily bento sets, I would be hesistant to go back for the fully-priced dinner menu. Why? The food was in general, not memorable enough, and the view can only carry a place so far. For one, the restaurant, with a fusion-Asian pedigree and a Japanese chef played too often on racial conceit. Many dishes, from the India-influenced leek soup to the bland chai panna-cotta made use of Asian flavors that tended to overwhelm. My beet salad, with no obvious Asian influence, was too sweet, and the sauce lacked acid or salt to contrast with the ruby beet slices. And ironically, our favorite dishes were those without Asian condiments, such as a hearty beef short rib braised for such a long time that it just melted in the mouth, as well as the daily fish, lightly crusted, pan-fried and presented with a tangy berry sauce.

Besides Asian flavors, presentation were Oriental-inspired, but to varying success.  My father’s bento set was preciously presented in a wooden box that housed 6 separate tastes, ranging from salad to robust meats. However, it was really trying to cut into a succulent cube of beef short rib or a really nice piece of crispy duck bathed in curry sauce on a 2″x2″ plate, whereas the pair of chopsticks presented alongside the bento did not help. Try holding a large chunk ( ~4 largish mouthfuls) of meat on chopsticks and eating it elegantly. Impossible. And while I am being picky, the disposable chopsticks looked cheap next to the luxe settings.  

Still, a meal at Asiate can be very enjoyable with a couple of caveats. Recognize that one would be very disappointed to call it a Japanese or just Asian restaurant, because the approach at Asiate less clear cut than that, and more a blend of Western cooking technique but an Asian flavor palette. Indeed, I’ve had more Asian dishes at Jean Georges than at Asiate including a steamed fish dish that tastes uncannily like Teochew steamed pomfret.  Also take your time to enjoy the attentive service and the view, and soak in the ambience while you eat, for that is a big part of Asiate, possibly more than the food. That way, you too can claim a little piece of affordable luxury called the mid-week lunch at Asiate.

 Asiate

80 Columbus Circle, 35 Floor (60th St, between Broadway and Columbus Aves)

http://www.mandarinoriental.com/hotel/532000039.asp

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