I’m lucky to have a pretty stellar extended family living in the greater Cleveland area. A favorite of myself and my friends alike is my Crazy Aunt Kathy. I use the word “crazy” as a term of endearment – as in good crazy, not bad crazy. While she blames herself for my fear of boats (it’s a long story), she’s always been my go-to super cool aunt that would take me and the bro on fun adventures growing up. As I got older, our relationship changed and grew through our meet-ups at downtown lunchtime hot spots.
Since I no longer work downtown, Crazy Aunt Kathy wanted to take me out for a belated birthday dinner (yes, I am still celebrating). She emailed me quite the list of options around the CLE. There was one restaurant that had been on my wish list for awhile, so it was an easy selection: Bắc Asian American Bistro & Bar.
From their Facebook page: A casual bistro with a full bar and outdoor patio. Featuring authentic Asian and fusion cuisine, along with Asian-inspired drink specials.
We arrived during happy hour on a Wednesday. Other than a private party inside, there was only one other table dining that evening. Like them, we chose to sit on that patio and enjoy the summer heat after sitting inside in the air conditioning all day. Our server (who was a John Krasinski look-a-like) filled us in on the happy hour specials and took our drink order (Aunt Kat ordered a cocktail; me, a simple unsweetened iced tea). He took a pretty extended amount of time to return with our drinks, so we made him take our order right away.
Happy hour at Bắc was pretty solid on the specials, so we decided to take advantage of the $5 appetizer deals. Aunt Kathy and I split the SUMMER ROLLS: Rice paper rolls filled with sliced shrimp, rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber and basil. Served with dill cabbage, carrot and peanut sauce:
There was no question that the flavors of these rolls were clean and fresh. If you are looking for that, search no further than this appetizer. There were no strong flavors to bowl you over in the rolls by themselves, but the peanut sauce did the trick. The sauce added the flavor kick the rolls needed. I was perfectly content on that hot evening, but I think the average diner might want more.
For her “main”, Aunt Kathy ordered the COCONUT MILK CREPE: Crispy crepe filled with shrimp, pork, mung beans, bean sprouts and onion. Served with shredded lettuce and sweet garlic vinaigrette:
Aunt Kathy LOVED her crepe, so much so that she had me take a bite of it before she rocked the entire thing. I quickly understood her enjoyment. The crepe was both crispy as promised, but soft as a crepe should be. The fillings added so much flavor to the crepe that was already delicious itself. She emailed me the next day, “I want to go back for another coconut milk crepe or two. That was tasty. So were the summer rolls. Come to think of it, I think I could eat about 100 of each.” So there ya go.
Aunt Kathy also ordered the BACON GUACAMOLE: Fresh avocado, sautéed bacon, garlic, red onion, scallions and cilantro. Served with wonton crisps:
I’ve been on a gluten-free kick this week, so I stayed away from the wonton crisps. I snagged a bite of the bacon guacamole. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from guac at an Asian inspired bistro. I wasn’t surprised either. Of course, adding bacon to anything is going to make it better, but the guacamole could have used some extra season as I got a big bite of smashed avocado. The wonton would have helped add the salt it needed. On a future visit, I would opt for a more authentic appetizer choice.
For my main, I ordered the VIETNAMESE NOODLE SALAD with Shrimp: Thin rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, basil and cilantro. Topped with dill carrot and crushed peanuts. Served with sweet garlic vinaigrette:
First, the kitchen got HUGE points from me for presenting the dish with the vinaigrette on the side. I loved I could control the sauce distribution on my dinner. Secondly, I enjoyed what the seasonings on the shrimp, the dill carrot and the peanuts brought to the dish. After enjoying my first couple bites, I realized quickly I should have ordered a different protein as this noodle bowl was very similar to the Summer Rolls I started my meal with. No worries though, as I highly enjoyed my entrée. Next time, I would try the pork (beef, chicken and meat-free were other options available). The portion size was very generous. Even with both Aunt Kathy and I eating some on the patio, I had about half of the bowl to take home. They heated up very well in a skillet with some extra veggies the next night.
One note about the service: While I appreciate a relaxed, non-rushed dining environment, our server “Jim” was fairly absent during our 90 minute visit. He may have been busy with the party inside, but considering there were no more than two tables in the rest of the restaurant and on the patio, I have to take dining points off here. I watched a table that was sat at the end of our meal get very anxious to order their drinks and meals after he disappeared for a long period of time. Another man (whom I believe was the owner) ended up taking our check to process our payment. This establishment might want to look into encouraging their servers to be a bit more timely throughout their diners visits.
LONG STORY SHORT: Bắc Asian American Bistro & Bar is exactly that – a fusion of all sorts of Asian flavors that have been Americanized enough to still make this silly Ohio girl feel at home. Does it stand up to some of the more “authentic” Vietnamese or Thai cuisine in the area? That’s up for debate. However, considering we were overall pleased with everything that was presented, Aunt Kathy and I had a lovely meal at Bắc that Wednesday evening. I might not rush back with all the other places to still try, but I would definitely keep Bắc in mind for a fun Happy Hour alternative to the beer and wings the typical bar might serve.