Philadelphia has become an internationally known restaurant town. Almost every neighborhood boasts a variety of places offering nearly every conceivable type of cuisine.
The exception is Logan Square, which has very few restaurants. More than five years ago, the general public was looking forward to the opening of Venus and the Cowboy, chef Alison Barshak’s restaurant in the Windsor Hotel at 17th and the Parkway. The place was so disappointing, it closed within a year.
The location was vacant for a while. Enter Joseph Tucker, who turned the place into an Italian restaurant. It closed. Then it became Gianni’s, another Italian eatery that I reviewed two years ago. It’s shuttered now, too.
Now it’s called Asia on the Parkway, and it’s owned and operated by the same family from Taiwan who opened the delightful City Garden, at 18th and JFK — one of the first Chinese restaurants in the city to offer a vast array of steamed dishes and healthier choices. Chicken pops up in any number of dishes and less oil is used in stir-fries in both restaurants.
Nothing was done to the interior of the restaurant because Barshak did a nice job kitting out the place. The bar is a long wooden beauty. Asia on the Parkway does not have a liquor license yet, so you can bring your own. Tables and chairs are highly polished gleaming wood set with crisp linen napkins. The pretty cone-shaped chandeliers with tiny white lights are still in place.
Our waitress, clad French-style in a white shirt, long white apron and black bow tie, brought us pretty pottery glasses that she filled with freshly brewed tea. It had a scent of comforting jasmine.
Steamed dumplings ($4.50) were six light-as-a-feather pillows filled with shredded chicken and vegetables. You can order them fried or steamed. The classic dipping sauces are served on the side.
Lobster summer roll ($7) was a Chinese take on my favorite Vietnamese summer rolls. My husband and I received two Asian-style cannelloni, longer and more plump than their Vietnamese cousins. The rice-paper wrappers were thin and so transparent you could see the delicious ingredients inside. Chef Lin (his name is on the menu) filled them with sweet, chunky bits of fresh lobster, sugar peas and a julienne of carrots and cucumbers. These rolls were a real winner. We received a piquant garlic-lime sauce on the side for dipping.
Cold noodles with sesame seeds ($4.50) was a delightful salad consisting of cool, squiggly egg noodles, topped with thinly sliced cucumber and scallions tossed in a light peanut butter sauce, laced with a bit of olive oil to thin it — a tasty toast to Thailand. The salad was finished with a scattering of sesame seeds.
Asia’s seafood soup for two ($5.50) was uncommonly good, especially since I asked if we could have homemade won tons added to the broth. "Of course you can" was the reply. The charge was just $1 more. Our server brought us a large white bowl brimming with homemade chicken stock, light and dreamy homemade won tons filled with shredded pork, small shrimp, scallop slices, crabmeat, scallions and shredded vegetables. She spooned the steaming soup into our bowls and we dug in.
Duck can be iffy in any restaurant, but Asia on the Parkway’s crispy duck ($10) was so outrageously delicious I thought about asking for another order to take home. We received half of a generous-sized duck. Lin had marinated the bird in aromatic spices, steamed it and quickly fried it to a golden-brown. It was free of grease and perfect — the finest duck I’ve ordered in recent memory. The duck was cut up for easy eating with chopsticks. Perfectly steamed white rice came alongside.
Lamb with scallion ($9.50) was a good example of how a simple dish can be so tasty. A leg of lamb was marinated in a slightly sweet sauce, then sliced very thin. The tender, juicy meat was stir-fried with basil — another nod to Vietnam and Thailand — and tangy scallions and sliced bamboo shoots. The sauce, although a little sweet, was tasty and so good with steamed rice.
Our server watched the table, saw we needed more rice and brought over another steaming hot bowl. Fortune cookies and more jasmine tea completed a fine dinner.
When City Garden opened, the dishes were pure Chinese. Asia on the Parkway is different. Lin has added a number of Vietnamese and Thai dishes, offering his patrons a delicious mix of Asian fare.
The location is perfect for people who work in Center City or are visiting the nearby museums. Finally, an Asian restaurant in this neighborhood that serves delicious, large portions at honest prices.
Three tips of the toque to Asia on the Parkway.
Asia on the Parkway
1700 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
Credit cards accepted
Open for lunch and dinner
Free parking after 5 p.m.; call for details