Trend: The Far East Goes Mainstream

Asian influence finds its way out of Chinatown and into the mainstream. Whether its mango spring rolls at an Irish pub or wasabi flavored gelato, Asian inspiration is has turned up in many New American restaurants.

Christopher Curtin adds ginger, wasabi and Szechuan peppercorns to the chocolates he makes at Éclat, a high-end confectionery boutique in West Chester. John & Kira’s, a small chocolate company in Philadelphia, has drawn national attention for its distinctive flavors, which include star anise, lemongrass and Hawaiian ginger. At Capogiro in Center City, Stephanie Reitano makes Italian-style gelato and sorbetto from azuki beans, purple shiso leaves, green tea, wasabi, dried hibiscus flowers, fresh lychees and rambutans.

The Asian ingredients we learned to love in Chinatown are now getting prominent play far beyond that tasty enclave. Asian inspiration is evident at many New American restaurants, notably Alison at Blue Bell, Bliss, Twenty Manning, London Grill, White Dog Cafe and Jake’s. More recently, Asian accents have turned up in restaurants with a more traditional bent, proof that Far East flavors are solidly mainstream.

Asian-spiced tuna tartare is on the menu at Old Original Bookbinder’s, at Morton’s, and at Sotto Varalli, an Italian restaurant specializing in seafood. At the Irish pub Tir Na Nog, the regular menu lists crab and mango spring rolls with Chinese mustard, as well as roast chicken with ginger and lemongrass. Morton’s will soon be pouring lychee martinis, following a recipe developed at its unit in Singapore.

Asian accents are in evidence at bars (the tuna burger topped with wasabi mayo and ginger-dressed greens at N. 3rd), in hotel dining rooms (the Japanese breakfast at Four Seasons), at breakfast (big bottles of Thai sriracha sauce at Honey’s Sit ’n Eat), and on the dessert plate (green tea cheesecake at Fork). And we’re eating it up: When Buddakan edged out Le Bec-Fin as Philadelphia’s most popular restaurant in the 2005 and 2006 Zagat guides, publisher Tim Zagat wasn’t surprised. “This trend toward the increasing popularity of Asian cuisines has become a national phenomenon,” he wrote after the 2005 votes were in. “Quite simply, customer preferences have changed in city after city.”