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The exterior signage at Asian Paradise

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So, a man walks into a bar (the bar at Asian Paradise, actually) and orders the usual, along with a bowl of soup. Not sure what the “usual” may be, but the soup is veggie hot and sour, one of four soups on the menu at Asian Paradise. Loquacious and curious, he asks what I’m doing there, recorder in hand, waiting for Rainbow, the GM at this venerable restaurant specializing in Pacific Rim recipes. I tell him about the interview process and the American Israelite Dining Out column. He proceeds to tell me a thing or two about his favorite place to stop for lunch during his workday. 

“This is a great place for lunch. I can get a bowl of soup or an entrée if I’m really hungry, and the food is always top-notch, the service is good — you know, fast — and everybody here is friendly, really outgoing,” he said. “The thing about this place (Asian Paradise) is that you can bring people here with different tastes in Asian food, Pacific Rim food, and everybody can find something that they will like. There’s Chinese, there’s Japanese and Thai; Vietnamese basil beef is one of my favorites. Then, there are all the Southeast Asian specialties and the sushi. A little of everything, and it’s all good! Everything I’ve tried is good.”

Asked if he would like to have his photo in the paper, he declined and did not want his name in the paper either. But he certainly had no objection to the use of his opinions about the eatery. Of the soup (pictured), he had this to say: “I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy food. My daughter has a whole comedy routine mocking me about spicy food. ‘Dad goes nuts with a number two (on a one-to-six spiciness scale). You’d think his tongue was on fire or something.’ Well, this soup is a little spicy; has that afterburn, I call it, because a spoonful doesn’t hit you right away, but it does hit. Not overpowering, but it gets my attention. That said, it’s very good. I love the texture and taste of it. It’s Chinese comfort food, like chicken noodle soup is here in the states,” he offered.

So, we tried the veggie hot & sour soup. The gent at the bar is correct. The soup is loaded with veggies — mostly mushrooms — suspended in a rich, thick nearly aspic-like broth. 

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Veggie hot & sour soup, topped with scallions 

Turns out, veggie hot & sour soup is the number one soup in China, based on popularity. It’s properties, according to Taste Atlas, include appetite stimulation and hangover remediation. And yes, it’s spicy, but not too spicy, there being the element of a slow burn to the heat. Spiciness is achieved through a blend of red and white peppers, the hot part, while the sour component is a result of a healthy slug of vinegar.  The veggies include mushroom varieties, but not conventional button-type white ones. The ingredient list includes shitake, enoki and cremini mushrooms. Also, wood ears, bamboo shoots and tofu contribute to the flavor profile of this Northern Chinese soup, a region of China where wild and cultivated mushrooms abound. For me, it’s easy to see why this soup is so popular, given the rich flavor and the hearty nature of the veggie-broth combination.

Next, we were treated to a fried rice entrée, the protein being beef. If you are looking for an entre dish at a “Chinese” eatery, fried rice may be the absolute best choice. Thoroughly Asian, this meal can be just about anything you want it to be. While our beef fried rice was mild, it could just as easily have been spicy; it’s your choice. The flavors are full and hearty, but general in a way that would appeal to any palate, I’m guessing. The fried rice combo we ate included pineapple, along with peas and carrots, giving it a pleasant fruity sweetness. While fried rice looks the simple dish to prepare, a lot goes into doing it well, according to Rainbow. “We use two wok to prepare, one to do the meat (beef that has been marinated) and one for combine (sic) everything. Start with cooked rice, white, or brown for more healthy. The rice, egg and seasoning go first, then the carrots and peas and pineapple added to the rice, and last the meat is added, but already cooked in separate wok,” she said.

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Beef fried rice with chunks of pineapple, adding sweetness

“Fried rice is a good seller, not the best, which is General Tso’s chicken, but we do good with fried rice and lo mein (Chinese egg noodle dishes). People can choose the tofu or chicken or beef (and other protein) to add to the fried rice, or just vegetarian if they want to be more healthy,” she said, adding that healthier eating seems to be a trend among Asian Paradise diners since the pandemic altered other dining-out habits. See you at Asian Paradise!

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