The menu is a collection of interesting Asian fare, with a nice variety of choices.
We grazed on the menu and tried fried shrimp wontons (Sha Jiao) with mirepoix, soy ginger, and roasted red pepper coulis ($6), scallion cakes (Shao Bing - $6), skewers of lamb (Yong Roe - $8) with a harissa yogurt dip, and some delightful steamed pork buns ($7) that brought me back to San Francisco's Chinatown. The small plate menu also has charsiu wings, squid salad, and a Vietnamese cold salad (6$).
From the entrée menu we sampled mapo rice gnocchi, a bizarre but interesting twist on mapo dofu with springy gnocchi made from rice flour ($16). The Hong Shao Roe is made with braised beef short ribs and served with a rich ginger anise soy glaze ($22), while the aromatic bowl of pho comes with shaved beef and fat udon noodles instead of the typical rice noodles ($15).
The showstoppers are the shared "for the table" dishes. The Seoul Food "Dakgangjeong" is Korean fried chicken with spicy housemade gochujang served atop a savory pile of smoked ham hock kimchi kale. It's a clever mashup of Southern fried chicken with Korean spices. My favorite dish had to be the Chinese Lion Heads (Shi Tzi Tao), a plate of giant braised meatballs full of ginger and served with Asian-spiced jus ($23). They also serve a whole fish for the table.
Desserts included a rich chocolate paté ($9) and a spicy ginger creme brulee ($6), while the wine list reflected Tony's interest in unusual and small production wines. We started with a bottle of Ruinart Rosé before moving on to an Arcadian Syrah.
The space, which was formerly Eurasia, is dark and cool inside. A key design element is the back wall made up of wood blocks, and the lighting is pleasingly muted.
They opened for happy hour today, and the cocktail menu has plenty of interesting specialty cocktails, including a Cape Cop made with bay leaf-infused vodka, cranberry, ginger beer, and lime ($7.50). Our waiter insisted we come back soon to try the Watermelon Sunrise, which mixes up Bombay Gin, fresh watermelon lemonade, and orange zest.
Aya is located at 915 Houston Northcutt Blvd. in the Whole Foods shoppping center in Mt. Pleasant.
Over the weekend, I got a sneak peek of Tony and Kelly Chu's Aya Cookhouse in Mt. Pleasant, which opened today at 4 p.m. for its first happy hour.