As I was trying to find a suitable restaurant to meet a friend at for lunch in the downtown area, I took a look at COK's VegDC.com. It listed Cafe Asia as being veg-friendly and located in the right area so I made a reservation. The last time I dined here, I did not have a good experience, but that was four years ago so I thought I'd give them one more chance.
I arrived slightly earlier than the time of my reservation and decided to check in. There were about 15 people waiting to do the same. The hostess finally got to me and asked if the other individual in my party had arrived yet. I told her she had not and she immediately told me to take a seat -- in a very rude manner. Strike number one.
As soon as my friend arrived, we were promptly seated downstairs. The space looked fairly large and was obviously a club at night as there was a projector and screen. I went to use the restroom and was surprised to find a unisex bathroom, which seemed very unusual for an Asian restaurant. This was weird. I mean, I've seen these at clubs, but not at restaurants and this place operates as a restaurant during the day.
When I got back to my table, I ordered a lemonade to start and began looking at the menu. COK's website said they offered dozens of Asian-inspired vegetarian dishes and that a few items listed contain fish sauce so one should check with the server before ordering. I asked my waiter which items could be made vegan and he said there was only one! I was sure this was incorrect so I asked him to check with the chef. When he returned he confirmed that only one item on the extensive menu could be made without fish sauce. He said that all items on the menu have a little fish sauce in them and that the base for the sauces is premade so it can't be changed. Wow. So, I ordered the one item I could have -- Panggang (grill). I had no idea of what it was, but I guess that didn't really matter. Strike number two.
I received my lemonade, which was nothing special and we continued to talk while waiting for the food. The service was incredibly slow given that the restaurant was half empty. When my entree finally arrived, it was not what I expected. The menu stated that it was a tofu dish with Indonesian style sweet soy sauce & galanga topped with crushed peanuts, which was fairly accurate. I guess I was expecting something different. It was like a whole package of firm tofu sliced into thirds, fried and encrusted with peanuts. There was also cabbage and carrots with peanut sauce. The tofu was hard on the edges and there were way too many peanuts. The sauces were not very good and didn't seem to help the dry peanutty tofu. And, the portion size was ridiculously big for a lunch entree. Strike number three.
During a weekday at lunch, usually restaurants are quick about giving you the check as they realize you need to get back to work. Not so here. It took him like 10 minutes to bring us the check after we finished our food. If there was a strike number four, this would have been it.
So, all in all, considering that the hostess was rude, the service was poor, and there is only one vegan entree which isn't good, I would highly recommend staying away from this place.
1720 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20006