Review: Akar

first impression | There is a casual, minimalist vibe about this tiny spot on Wydown helmed by Bernie Lee. Tables, both inside and out, are few, as are menu items, and the decor is very zen. But that’s where the simplicity ends. The dishes themselves are complex, with layers of flavor. Described as Malaysian cuisine, the menu definitely feels Asian, but it also blends East and West to elevate each dish.

must try
» rangoon ‘ravioli’$15; These tasted like the best crab rangoon you’ve ever had, except they were stuffed with lobster. The skins were deliciously not greasy, the filling lightly creamy and generous on the lobster. Plus, the dip with spicy sriracha and sweet mango was the perfect complement to it all

» tempura soft shell crab: $17; The sweet Singapore chili sauce provided plenty of flavor, but our disappointingly tiny specimen had zero bulk, resulting in fried bits and little crabmeat.

» summer corn bisque: $9; This dish combined corn kernels (alas, not fresh from the husk, even though it was corn season) with coconut cream. Like others here, it played spicy against sweet, and came adorned with edible flowers and micro greens.

» short ribs: $32: This was one meaty rib, browned and tender and sitting on demi-glace dense with flavor. The richness of the meat came through in every bite, along with hints of exotic spices. Plus, it was served with a delicious pea mash and sweet, caramelized carrots.

» halibut: $35; The catch of the day sat on a flavorful pool of seafood bouillon subtly tinged with curry. The generous 8-ounce portion came topped with a decorative (but edible) stem of pickled green peppercorns. A few asparagus spears and a bed of black rice completed the dish.

» lemon coconut cream ice cream: $9; One of the few dessert offerings included lemon cookie crumbs and ground sesame seeds. Slightly tart, the dairy-free dish had a cool interplay of textures and interesting flavors.

wash it down
The wine list has plenty of offerings by the glass from $10 to $14; the beer and specialty cocktail lists are smaller but tempting. Shibuya ($14), the signature concoction, had the inherent sweetness of grain whiskey. Made with Nikka Coffey liquor from Japan, it was blended with brown sugar and had a complex citrus flavor from Peychaud’s bitters with a hint of chocolate in the after taste.

Akar, which means ‘taste’ in Malay, has the feel of a cool, neighborhood sidewalk cafe—maybe because most of the diners looked like they live in the neighborhood. But also because I overheard a walk-in ask if he and his wife could sit at one of the precious few outdoor tables just for drinks and dessert. The answer was a very welcoming affirmative. For that and the generally well-executed menu, I’m a fan.

7641 Wydown Blvd. | 314.553.9914

Pictured at top: Tempura soft shell crab with summer corn and Singapore chili sauce
Photo: Bill Barrett