Arts & Culture

Asian cafe spices up College Hill

Denden Cafe Asiana compensates for lackluster service with strong Japanese, Korean cuisine

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Korean barbecued squid and pork belly at Denden Cafe Asiana provides a combination of spicy and refreshing flavors. The cafe is located at the corner of Benefit and Meeting streets.

With its simple design and laid-back vibe, Denden Cafe Asiana, one of the latest additions to College Hill, can easily be missed. Sitting at the corner of Benefit and Meeting streets, the cafe’s exposed brick walls frame white orchids in the windows, as single light bulbs hang from the ceiling and patrons dine at minimalist wooden furniture.

The staff is nearly as bare-bones as the decor, with the two men running the front of the house offering attentive service when available.

But the most important part of the restaurant — the menu — is large and diverse, offering delicacies from both Japanese and Korean cuisines.

Odd combinations seem the modus operandi of Denden, but unlike at many other Asian fusion restaurants, the combinations are thoughtful and deliberate. Korean barbecued squid and pork belly fuses the sizzling, edgy side of Korean barbecue with a fresh, light flavor — a perfect combination for a spring lunch. The squid’s chewy texture provides a surprising and welcome alternative to the soft medallions of pork belly, and the sauce, which is absorbed by a generous portion of rice, provides a spicy burn, slowly building with every bite. Perhaps the only way the dish could be improved would be with an increased ratio of meat to vegetables, as the chunks of cabbage seem a sad alternative to bites of the tender pork.

The teriyaki chicken bento box, though a more standard dish, also packs a punch, combining the warmth of comfort food with the vigor of fresh vegetables and seafood. The chicken comes arranged over a bed of rice with various delicacies on the side — a cluster of seafood salad, a blossom of pickled ginger, a bundle of seaweed salad. Each of these complements the others, with the salty seaweed salad playing off the sweet sauce and nutty toasted sesame seeds.

The miso soup, which comes as an appetizer with the chicken, is a weak point among Denden’s offerings. It is jarringly salty and includes too-small bits of tofu, creating an odd texture.

With each of these meals ringing in at $13, the dishes may be considered a splurge for a weekday lunch. But the main courses come with sides and extras, making the price tags worth it.

The Denden experience leaves something to be desired. Though the design of the restaurant is appealing, the service is somewhat slow, and the attention of the server is hard to get — even at 11:15 a.m. on a recent Tuesday.

But if the service can develop to reach the excellent standard set by the cuisine, Denden could have a prosperous future on College Hill.

 

THE HERALD’S LUNCH PICKS

By Katherine Cusumano, Arts & Culture Editor

Olneyville NY System

It’s not a hot dog — it’s a wiener. Olneyville NY System has been dishing out the quintessentially Rhode Island sausages since the 1930s. The restaurant recently won the 2014 James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics Award, which vouches for its authenticity and diner charm. Wash down a hot wiener with “the works” — a delicious, unique combination of relishes — and a glass of ice-cold coffee milk. It’s like chocolate milk, but better.

Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. | 18 Plainfield St.

 

Not Just Snacks

This Hope Street outpost is sort of like Kabob and Curry’s more mature cousin — a little spicier, a little more authentic. Owner Mohammed Islam, originally from Bangladesh, emigrated from Kuwait in 1998 and started Not Just Spices, the Asian grocery across the street, the following year, soon expanding to food service as well. It’s a homey scene, with childlike murals painted on the walls, but don’t be fooled by the sparse decor; Not Just Snacks packs a heavy punch, and lives up to its name with giant curries and stews dished out over hearty rice and naan bread.

Every day 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. | 833 Hope St.

 

Foo(d) at AS220

A lively bar and seasonal menu establish Foo(d) as a more accessible, budget-friendly edition of farm-to-table heavyweights like Gracie’s and New Rivers. Choose from a variety of small, medium and large plates, or, better yet, order everything to share. Foo(d) is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, with a comprehensive menu that notes most prevalent dietary sensitivities.

Tuesday-Saturday 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. | 115 Empire St.

 

Amy’s Place

A close neighbor of Brickway on Wickenden, Amy’s is a better-kept secret of the Fox Point area. It serves up classic soups, salads and sandwiches, along with an almost overwhelming smoothie menu, whose items have names like “Hella Bomb” and “Whuddaberry.” Though the menu is somewhat limited, Amy’s makes up for it in location. The patio out back is ideal for relaxing and enjoying lunch during a lazy summer afternoon.

Every day 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. | 214 Wickenden St.