Like solo people who enjoy driving in carpool lane during rush hour in Nashville (I see you!), I thought maybe checking out this strip mall joint would be a little questionable. I mean the odds were stacked: Nashville’s Asian food has not been spectacular so far, the lights for “Corner” in the name were out, and they didn’t place chopsticks on the table by default (an inside trick to suss out authentic Chinese food). That being said, I was pleasantly surprised.
I was the only person that ate in – almost everyone was picking up take out. In fact, this surprised the wait staff, who initially thought my sitting at a table was just waiting for food to be given to me in a plastic bag like everyone else. I wasn’t. I wanted my food on a plate. And I’m glad I did – the food was much fresher, the crispiness of certain dishes were retained, and I could eat dish as soon as it was ready.
You might not know this about Chinese food philosophy, but we believe that the hotter food is, the better. This is true both of serving temperature and of spice, at least when it comes to Szechuan-style dishes. Soggy plastic bags are not appetizing (plus you don’t get free hot tea with takeout orders).
As for my personal taste, I usually can’t stand Asian restaurants that have the back-lit food photos and menus above the counter. Something about it screams tacky – and that tacky desperation sometimes gets articulated in the food by way of “Americanized” flavors – that is, a bit too salty or sweet for traditional Asian eats.
Despite having the name, “Corner Asian Cafe,” don’t be mistaken: this is Chinese food (mostly). Of the Szechuan variety. Sure, you have your Americanized staples that are safe for anyone who thinks Panda Express is the real deal: General Tso’s, Broccoli Beef, Crab Rangoon, etc. but the more interesting dishes are the specialties. For real…”Crab Rangoon,” with it’s cream cheese filling is about as legit Chinese food as Taco Bell’s Doritos taco shell is Mexican. Probably less so.
I decided to kick things off by ordering an appetizer: the Salt & Pepper Pork Spare Ribs. Interestingly, appetizer translates toin Chinese, which literally means “small dish.” Incidentally, these little nuggets of joy didn’t show up until last, near the end of the meal, which meant that the restaurant was bringing out food as soon was it was finished. I like that.
The ribs were excellent. They had a nice crisp to them, decent spice level, and were soft and warm in the middle. It was like cozying up in an electric blanket of flavor. I would definitely recommend ordering these in the restaurant so they don’t have a chance to get soggy on the way home.
The next dish ordered was the Shrimp & Asparagus. Very appropriate name, as it was just shrimp, asparagus, and brown sauce.
Brown sauce is this mystical combination of soy sauce and oyster sauce. Depending on who is making it, it might also include some beef or chicken stock, sugar, dark soy sauce, hoison sauce, or hundreds of other items. This particular brown sauce was slightly sweet and small bits of roaster garlic. This dish was also solid. Plump, bouncy shrimp, plenty of asparagus, and a decent brown sauce.
Finally, I went with a traditional Sichuan favorite: Braised Pork Belly (Mei Cai Kou Rou). This is a traditional dish that is made with pork belly that is braised, then steamed, and served over a bed of preserved mustard greens. It is definitely comfort food from the motherland.
This dish was pretty good. It definitely could have used a heavier glaze/more pronounced sauce and the veggies could have had more pickling for a stronger tart kick. However, it ended up having a similar consistency and texture throughout instead of having little pops of flavor that the pickled veggies normally provide. It wasn’t the best version of this dish that I’ve had, and it certainly wasn’t the worst.
All in all, I was pretty pleased with my experience here. If you want to try some Szechuan styled dishes, this isn’t a bad place to start. I’ll definitely be here again.
Corner Asian Cafe, 10656 Concord Rd, Brentwood, TN 37027