Review: Asaysia bills itself a ‘dream within a fantasy,’ but what kind of dream is it? 

click to enlarge St. Louis-style pork ribs with pickled fennel slaw.

Tom Perkins

St. Louis-style pork ribs with pickled fennel slaw.

Asaysia Wine and Dine gives you a lot to digest before you ever take a bite. From the vision statement on its website:

"The Vision behind Asaysia is to bring the exquisite class, decor, and elegance of New York, Dubai, and Paris France to Downtown Detroit. In order to do this we created a make-believe world, a fantasy within a dream, where people can take pause, step away, and get away for a short stay, from the clutches of reality.

By creating a fantasy of what a perfect Restaurant should look like, we have created a dream within a fantasy. An upscale Plates to Share Restaurant that has no rival in service, quality, food, and ambiance.

Cheers & Bon Voyage..."

Dang. Just try to find another Detroit restaurant on that mission.

With that in mind, the Asaysia dream feels a bit like a recurring one, as a lot of the formula here is familiar. Asaysia Wine and Dine is also known as Asyasia Plates to Share, and the nation's love for shared plates stretches back a couple decades. The menu is also that "new American" fare that pops up with regularity, often on small or shared plates, while the craft cocktail menu offers the barkeeps' take on old classics and a few originals.

But Asaysia also created its own style — someone clearly spent a lot of money building out the Brush Street restaurant just north of Greektown. It's also worth noting there's more to come — additions to the Asaysia brand include a sports bar that will open upstairs later this year.

Diving into the menu, the first thing you'll realize is shared plates doesn't necessarily mean the small plates that seem to be implied. What would usually qualify as small plates that one would share is mixed in with the large plates, and vegetable dishes get their own section. In other words, "plates to share" is a suggestion and seems to be a part of the "good food, good times, good friends" Asaysia calls for with the phrase on its wall.

Far and away, the menu's best option are the cast-iron-seared pork chops, which at $25 arrive under roasted Brussels sprouts and apples, and atop a creamy sage polenta. The textures and deep flavors in each of the plates' components work well together.

The beef sirloin and arugula salad packed a bit less flavor. A mix of grilled cipollini, arugula, gorgonzola, fingerling potatoes, and balsamic that accompany the meat is lively, but the meat needs to be the kind of fresh, high-end, flavorful beef that can carry a dish, or it should be adequately seasoned. The medallions didn't seem to be either in this $16 plate. The crab cakes served with a cilantro-kale pesto suffered from the same issue — there was a lot of ocean in the tiny cakes, with meat that's a little stringier and tougher (perhaps because it's claw meat?) than the rich, luxurious variety I hope for in a $26 plate. A high note was the roasted beet salad with salty feta and golden and red beets, but the side of asparagus was a bit bland.

Similarly, one of our pizzas lacked the flavor that the description implied. The Brush Street Market comes with four cheeses, Italian sausage, basil, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and garlic olive oil. It sounds like a solid mix, but the crumbled Italian sausage was flavorless and the whole package could have benefited from more garlic olive oil — though a co-diner who is also a pizza chef thought it needed a tomato-based sauce. A better option is the vegetable pizza, but both pies came with a layer of flour on the bottom crust that didn't help boost the flavor.

On the other hand, the rubs Asaysia uses to enliven its jerk chicken wings and St. Louis-style ribs really pop. But while the chicken wings — four small wings for $14 — were flavorful, they were too dry. The dry-rubbed St. Louis-style ribs were tasty, but for some reason the plate came with a barbecue sauce that lacked any real life, and the accompanying fennel slaw that seemed exciting on paper turned out to be grainy and bland.

There were other issues at Asaysia. I twice tried to order the smoked pork belly trio, but they were out both times. We shared a meal with fruit flies, and an hour-and-45-minute-meal for two pizzas and ribs is too long, especially when there are three other tables at the restaurant. The garganelli with tomato, broccoli, artichoke, caper berries, roasted garlic cream, and romano cheese deserves some praise, but it arrived with capers instead of caper berries, and $19 is a lot to ask.

And that price point is worth a mention. Myself and two co-diners topped $200 on one visit. That includes cocktails, which were mostly solid, but it's a lot to pay for ordering caper berries and receiving capers, or finding a lot of sea in your cab cakes.

Overall, Asaysia was a little bit of an odd case because nothing was terrible, but there seemed to be a minor issue with each of the plates. It's all correctable, of course, and there's a lot of potential here. So hopefully the three-month old restaurant improves with time, because we don't like to see anyone fail in their dream.

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