Update: Asia Time has changed its name to Saigon Bistro, presumably to improve their fortunes in a desperate attempt to fool customers that they are eating at one of K.T. Tranh’s restaurants. They aren’t. I’m not happy about this and neither should anyone in the Northern NJ dining community.
Asia Time Restaurant (Saigon Bistro)
58W Palisade Avenue, Englewood NJ
Retail restaurant spaces are all about the cycle of birth, life, death, and then rebirth, especially in these challenging economic times. Recently, one of my favorite restaurants in Englewood, Saigon R., closed its doors after almost 7 years in business and moved to Tenafly, re-opening as Simply Vietnamese.
In its former space, a new Asian restaurant has opened, Asia Time. Given Saigon R.’s former customer base which are likely to visit the location and that are unaware of their recent move, there will be the inevitable comparison to the previous restaurant, which I think would be unfair, because I think the new place, while sharing some similarities because of the Southeast Asian cuisine style, actually is already producing very interesting and different food, some of which is rare in Bergen County.
Asia Time was originally supposed to be a “fusion” style restaurant but it’s now taken the turn for the Pan-Asian, which I think is the direction they should probably go in.
The owner, Jessie, a young woman of Cantonese descent who grew up in Brazil, has brought along a Malaysian chef, who formerly worked at the Manhattan branch of the famous Penang restaurant chain (New Jersey has two Penang locations, one in Lodi and the other in East Hanover).
As such, he’s been trained in the various Asian cuisine styles that are represented in Malaysia, which includes derivatives of Chinese, Indian, Thai and Vietnamese, all with a distinctly unique Malaysian twist.
Asia Time, formerly the home of Saigon R. on Palisade Avenue in Englewood, is an exciting new Pan-Asian cafe that blends Malaysian, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese Cuisines.
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We first came in for late lunch, and with our entrées we were served spinach salads with a fresh and zingy carrot and ginger dressing which definitely blew the doors off of any bottled ginger dressing we’ve tried at Asian restaurants we’ve eaten at before.
While these are described as “Gyoza”, which typically are what you see on Japanese menus, these freshly made pan fried dumplings filled with a savory pork and scallion mixture are actually more reminiscent of the pudgy Chinese-style Jiaozi, but with thin crispy skins rather than the typical doughy-kind you find at most Cantonese Chinese restaurants. These were absolutely excellent.
I’m not a huge duck fan because I find that many Asian restaurants prepare it too greasy, but these duck spring rolls were truly divine, with nice juicy pulled pieces of duck mixed with cabbage and other vegetables. The restaurant also does a purely vegetarian version.
Duck Spring Rolls Closeup.
Jessie told me that her chef makes his own curry pastes, which is something you really only find in the best Southeast Asian restaurants. We ordered the Yellow Curry with chicken which is more Chinese Malay in style, but the restaurant also offers Green and Red (Penang) Thai Curries as well.
I could definitely tell the curry was made from freshly ground spices and chiles, although next time I will order it hotter.
This Mango Chicken had fresh slices of under-ripe mango with Malaysian-style spicing which made it a tad different and much more tangier and acidic than you would find at a Thai restaurant. Another really good choice.
Malaysians are known for their noodle dishes and this “Pad Thai”, while not in a traditional Thai preparation per se, lacking the tamarind element you’d find in a typical Thai version — actually more reminiscent of a Char Kway Teow did not disappoint. This packed plenty of chile heat and was more savory than sweet. A must-order.
At lunchtime, Jessie treated us to some of her home made Pacific-Rim style bread pudding (Budin) with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries.
We were so happy with lunch that we came back for dinner. This is the rock shrimp tempura appetizer, which has a tangy/sweet sauce on it with just a hint of chile. I liked this one a lot, but Rachel though it was a tad too sweet for her taste.
Tom Yum Wonton Soup. The wontons are of the “beggars purse” style, filled with big pieces of shrimp and some cilantro. The Tom Yum broth which is a mixture of chicken stock with Tom Yum seasoning added is EXTREMELY spicy, so I would only order this dish if you have a very high tolerance for chile heat.
The restaurant’s home made Shu Mai dumplings, made with shrimp paste, shrimp pieces, water chestnut and flavored with black fungus.
Fried Calamari Appetizer, in a Vietnamese-style preparation with a sweet chili sauce.
This is the “Garlic Broccoli” which comes either as an appetizer vegetarian-style or as a main dish with your choice of protein (Chicken, Shrimp, Beef, Tofu, Vegetarian Duck).
It’s definitely different from the Cantonese version and I encourage you to try it. The sauce does not taste like a typical Cantonese garlic sauce, probably due to the addition of Malaysian-style Fish Sauce as a seasoning and a higher chile content.
Vegetarian Duck with Basil Chile Sauce, served over rice. Not a bad rendition of Pad Kaprow, but not my favorite one served in the area — that one would have to go to Wondee’s in Hackensack. I thought it needed a stronger chile/basil flavor, but the chef will be happy to adjust to your taste preferences, especially if you like bolder flavors.
Duck Salad, with Cranberries and Walnuts. While the presentation isn’t particularly Asian the duck marinade and and dressing definitely is.
Malaysian Curry Noodle Soup with Shrimp. This has a similar soup base to the Wonton Soup, but with the home made curry paste added. This one has flat rice noodles, watercress and rock shrimps. Also a spicy choice, so beware.
Pineapple Fried Rice, Malaysian style, with curry flavor. This is currently only available during dinner. If you order this dish, make sure you tell the server you want it spicy, like the way Jessie likes to eat it.
Asia Time has only entered its infancy in its life as a restaurant, but it’s shaping up to be what I think has the potential to be one of the best Asian restaurants in Northeast Bergen County. With time, I’d like to see them offer more of the Malaysian dishes since we’re lacking good examples of that type of food in the area and we’ve got no lack of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese stuff, and Malaysian-style food is what this restaurant clearly excels at.
Jessie is still figuring things out in order to see what her customers are receptive to, so be sure to give her your honest feedback and tell her I sent you. Ideally, I’d like to see this restaurant create its own distinct identity rather than trying to emulate what others are doing in the area.