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Monday, August 29, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: Sakura Asian Express

If looks can be deceiving, Sakura Asian Express may be the most deceiving of them all in the Greenville area. Instead of the Chinese fast food joint you'd maybe expect the place to be from the outside, Sakura is a remarkably honest restaurant serving anything but Chinese, including a wide variety of Asian cult classics such as Vietnamese Pho, Japanese Soba, Thai Pad Thai (Ha.), Korean bibimbap, and even Malaysian curry. Malaysian curry!

With such an eclectic menu though, Sakura has to take a few strange twists and turns, crafting interesting riffs on traditional dishes that both excite and impress. Take the bibimbap for instance, a classic Korean dish of mixed vegetables and grilled meat with rice. Sakura gives this traditional dish a very American spin, using a blend of American-friendly vegetables like carrots, peppers, and onions instead of the usual Korean fixings, but with the classic bibimbap sauce and korean grilled steak to make a familial, yet distinctly Asian dish. For an even more American twist, look no further then the hibachi sandwich; a simple, but clever hibachi stir fry served on a grilled kaiser roll and topped with an Asian slaw. How have we missed the boat on crisp, buttery bread with stir-fry, I do not know.

On more foreign dishes like Vietnamese "bun," which on the surface has little room for creativity, Sakura still manages to add their own subtle spin by swapping the traditionally light, sweet fish sauce with a beautiful sweet and spicy concoction that really elevates the dish in a surprising way. People familiar with Vietnamese bun might go what the heck!? on first bite, but the dizzying array of tastes and textures begin to mesh and make sense after a few more bites, be brilliant even.

In some cases, it's not creativity that stands out at Sakura, but the willingness to go the extra mile to make a dish better. The eggroll, for example, isn't that cheap knockoff found at other Asian restaurants and to-go places. It's a quality eggroll wrap often used at home rather than restaurants because of its high costs. The extra buck or so is worth the bite; the crispiness and light texture of the wrap really trancends the cheap knockoffs so popular in Chinese fast food. The list only goes on for Sakura. Kim chi is often made fresh in the facility or by local residents. Appetizers aren't frozen boxes, but freshly handcrafted and hot out of the kitchen. Herbs are fresh from local gardens. Vegetables such as daikon and carrots are pickled in house. For a growing menu that stretches from Korea to Vietnam, it's downright amazing the extent they are willing to go for customers.

No Reservations, the downlow on Sakura
Atmosphere: Clean, comfortable, and inviting.
Costs: A touch high at around $8-10 for entrees and $3-5 for appetizers.
There plenty of budget bites though that don't hurt the wallet.
Try: The "bun", pho, and really any noodle dish.

Most ethnic restaurants aim to serve dishes at their most authentic. I think Sakura's bravery for exploring new directions makes them one of the most exciting places to venture to in the Greenville area. They pride themselves on bringing authentic Asian flavors to town, and they absolutely do, but at the same time they also bring something that is uniquely themselves, and for that reason I have to call it one of my favorite places in Greenville, NC. The owners are incredibly sweet as well and greet all customers warmly as if they'd known each other all their lives. Ignore what you see outside and check out one of Greenville's best.

A Word to the Wise
Heat is usually a funny business in Greenville when it comes to Thai food. From 1-20 scales to unreliable alphabetic combinations, Greenville's got a lot of strange options at Thai restaurants that often result in disappointment. Not for Sakura though: the food is not only spicy at times here, it's almost volcanic. The kim chi stew for example, though a wonderfully hearty and vibrant dish, is near impossible to finish with the heat resonating from the kim chi and added spices, and the heavy glass noodles only provide a dangerous vehicle for it. The spicy basil isn't just a quaint name; it's a flat out threat.

Lassiez-faire, as they say. Sakura's heat scale is no joke and they are proud to tell you that. On a simple one-to-four scale, stick to two if you want a nice hot and spicy dish. Three or four will leave you stitches if you are not ready for it.

Sakura Asian Express on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

My husband and I tried Sakura because of your recommendation and fell in love. Thank you! I tried Vietnamese bun and had one of the best meals I've had in a while.

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