Dining: Southeast Asian fare vibrantly shown at Batik
Batik invites diners to "experience all of Asia rolled into one." That is no small boast. In a cozy, casual two-story space (the upper floor is still a work in progress), the 2-month-old cafe serves food for our times. Universally loved Asian staples, noodles and rice, are comforting and affordable. Presentation is attractive. Portions are ample. No wonder the place is packed this evening.
The menu takes its cue from Batik's 10-year-old sibling, East St. Café in Union Station. Chef Yan Yu, who cooked there, now adds her magic to the Kentlands kitchen, interpreting family recipes collected by Emily Sy, wife of partner/manager Henry Sy and her mother. The fare spans the Pacific Rim with stops in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. Korea and Japan get a nod as well.
If you are looking for an Asian tapas-style meal, Batik has the answer. Fried foods, such as mini Shanghai rolls, crispy calamari, lumpia (Philippine eggroll) and vegetable or shrimp tempura (Japan), figure prominently in the small eats. Grilled skewers include familiar Thai chicken satay and grilled steak and Vietnamese lemongrass chicken. Less familiar are the Philippine delicacy Inang's pork bbq, Manila chicken bbq and garlic shrimp in coconut curry sauce. Getting hungry?
Dumplings are Batik's "niche," declares Henry Sy. "The seven kinds all taste completely different." Indeed, while we await our food, dumplings are appearing on neighboring tables along with dishes piled high with noodles. Eventually our "small bundles of joy," as the menu calls them, arrive. Filled with shrimp, chicken and red bell pepper and enhanced with papaya and basil, the Thai way dumplings seem fairly pallid.
But not so the rest of our food.
Salads, a meal in themselves, prove that healthy eating both looks and tastes good. Fresh basil, cilantro and spicy-sweet lemongrass vinaigrette punctuate superb marinated grilled beef over lettuce, spinach, red onion, scallion and tomato. Slices of moist grilled chicken breast top a mound of steamed al dente green beans, red and green peppers, broccoli and carrots in the colorful Thai chicken salad with sweet chili lime dressing. Dressings served on the side are appreciated.
Half a dozen noodle dishes hailing from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia can be customized with chicken, shrimp and beef.
Pancit bihon is a Philippine favorite, and Batik's kitchen does it justice. The thin rice noodles, enlivened with shrimp (our choice), green cabbage, carrots, onions and scallions, are not overpowered by sauce. This holds true for other dishes as well.
The Thai standby, pad Thai, its rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, (no peanuts, as we requested) with light fish sauce is mild enough for even a noodle-loving toddler to enjoy.
Curried kway teow, a rice noodle dish from Singapore is "very, very popular," Sy says. Maybe next time.
Coconut milk-infused curries, served with a dramatic cone of Batik rice (a special blend of aromatic red rice) come in three colors and intensities: mild yellow, hotter red and hottest green offered in a vegetarian version or with chicken or shrimp. The rice is a tasty foil for curries like the delicious yellow curry with shrimp, potato and tomato, as well as other dishes.
Mellow yellow slow down curry with white rice and the mild Japanese style hurry curry with Batik rice round out the picture.
The Good Eats section brings a couple of winning signature dishes, Thai basil chicken and spicy ginger beef. Batik rice complements the sweet and tangy notes in the chicken dish. Chiles add zest to the ginger beef. Served on rice noodles, it sparkles with color thanks to red and green peppers, carrots and zucchini.
Coco Batik, one of four interesting takes on fried rice, combines coconut milk and Batik rice.
Seating 30 at bar height tables, regular tables and a larger community table, Batik is attractively furnished. But with high ceilings, exposed ductwork, fairly bare walls and windows, the dining room can get noisy.
When construction is finished upstairs, Batik will add another 40 seats and front and side balconies. That and a liquor license will increase future pleasure.
200 Main St., Gaithersburg
Hours: lunch Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner Mon.-Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., closed Sun.
Style of cuisine: Asian cuisine and dumpling bar
Dinner entrees: $9-$14
Credit cards: All major cards
Main floor accessible
Website is planned