Big flavors, spice punctuate cuisine at Asiatique Thai Bistro
Ling Robinson arrived in the United States from her native Thailand 26 years ago as a single mother with a 3-year old daughter and a dream of building a new life.
She found work cooking in the few Thai restaurants Pittsburgh then had, eventually started a catering business, and launched one of the area's first food trucks.
Since those days, Robinson has owned a number of brick-and-mortar restaurants, including, currently, The Green Mango in Monroeville and Asiatique Thai Bistro in East Liberty's Bakery Square.
“I love to cook,” says Robinson, whose Asiatique menu features authentic Thai cuisine. “Cooking and cleaning is my happiness.”
She shops daily for provisions and emphasizes fresh, high-quality ingredients — including some organics — because eating clean food is good for both body and soul, she says. “When I first moved here, what surprised me is that people weren't eating well. I wanted to guide people in what to eat.”
Clean and natural goes beyond food, she says; it is a state of mind.
Robinson features cuisine from her birthplace in northern Thailand, where food is lightly prepared but well-seasoned and spicy. For many dishes, Robinson steams her vegetables and uses clear rather than thickened broths enriched with a complexity of herbs. “I use so many herbs, like lemongrass, turmeric and cilantro,” she says. “They're a powerful tool. They clean the body.”
Even the desserts at Asiatique are wholesome, she says, of the steamed purple yam with coconut cream (ube) and a custard-like dish made from cassava root, which is the source of tapioca flour.
The menu has plenty of appetizers, entrees, curries and soups for meat-eaters and vegetarians.
Diners can choose between stir-fried rice noodles and glass noodles, and they can pick their protein, whether tofu, beef, pork, chicken or shrimp. Noodle dishes include Pad Thai, a street food in Robinson's homeland, while curries — another classic in Thai cuisine — range from moderately hot red curry to spicy green to mellow yellow, and are seasoned with ginger, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, and other herbs.
Appetizers include Avocado Summer Roll — a rice paper-wrapped dish of seasoned spinach, kale, and tomato — served with dipping sauce, and Spicy Lemongrass Soup made with fresh mushrooms, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk. Popular entrees range from Phuket Pineapple Fried Rice, a dish made with fresh pineapple, cashews, raisins, shrimp, chicken and jasmine rice, to Magic Tofu, a baked-tofu plate with green peppers, carrots, bean sprouts and bok choy.
Asiatique does a brisk take-out business, and serves smoothies and bubble teas in flavors like Ginger Punch, Mango and Taro.
Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
2 cloves of shallot, peeled and chopped
1 stem of lemongrass, cleaned and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 stems of cilantro root
2 small red dry chilis (small ones are Thai)
3 large red dry chilis (big ones)
2 tablespoons of fresh galangal root
5 coriander seeds
5 kaffir lime skins, equivalent to 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
4 tablespoon coconut milk ( or more if you want to enhance creaminess of curry)
1 ½ tablespoons yellow curry paste
2 teaspoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons of vegetable soy
1 cup vegetable broth
Kaffir lime leaves, sliced, or basil leaves (choose one)
Thai chili, sliced (for additional spiciness, if desired)
Meat/seafood/vegetables (add as much you desire)
Grind all base ingredients using a mortar pestle. Reserve 1½ tablespoons of the yellow curry made from the paste.
Put 1 tablespoon coconut oil in pot and add the 1½ tablespoons of yellow curry paste. Saute for one to two minutes on low heat. Add ½ teaspoon of salt. Add 4 tablespoons of coconut milk or more if you want a creamier sauce, 2 teaspoons of coconut sugar, and 2 tablespoons of vegetable soy. Sautee about two minutes on low heat; add 1 cup vegetable broth. Turn heat up to medium. Add the meat, seafood or vegetables you prefer and slowly cook about five minutes. Add the sliced kaffir leaves or basil leaves. For spicier dish, add sliced Thai chili. Serve.