Dashi’s irreverent mashup of cuisines is at once weird and wonderful (Charleston City Paper) Dec11


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Dashi’s irreverent mashup of cuisines is at once weird and wonderful (Charleston City Paper)

They say a good chef will rise to any challenge. Legend has it, while at an impromptu late-night get together, Mario Batali saved the day by preparing foie gras accompanied with an ad-libbed reduction of orange Nehi soda and Starburst fruit candies (no word on any sexual harassment, but that’s a story for another day). The results were reportedly brilliant.

One imagines Dashi’s chef Stephen Thompson capable of similar unfathomable feats. As it stands, let’s say you’re in the mood for Thai … and Mexican … and definitely Japanese, as well as Korean. And you want them now, and in the same mouthful. No longer must you dispatch a fleet of Uber Eats drivers to satisfy your whims, as food truck Dashi has (also, the truck still roves on Tuesdays) taken their wheels off on Remount Road.

Since early 2015, the Asian-Latin fusion vehicle has been winning admirers all over town. Now permanently occupying the former home of Guatemalan El Chapin restaurant, the decidedly retro, ’70s-themed space is simple and straightforward.

The opposite must be said about the food.

Although fruity candy and citrus soda don’t appear among the listed ingredients on the menu, much about Dashi smacks of similar late-night, last-minute innovation. Saunter up to the counter and behold an eclectic collection of colliding cuisines. Here, banh mi ($12) and pad Thai ($11) mingle with tacos ($5/$9/$12) and burritos ($11), all of which come with a choice of protein. Choose from chili-marinated fried chicken, marinated fried tofu, five-spice pork belly, sauteed shrimp, and seasonal veggies and prepare to welcome a five-pound, eight-ounce bundle of joy into your life.

Encased in a cheese wrap and filled with fried rice, Thai slaw, and Sriracha hollandaise, plus both smoked gouda and mozzarella cheese, this is a diverse, decidedly non-Mexican mouthful. It’s also a mega amount of food, with no less than a dozen shrimp squeezed in. Overall, the flavors are mild and creamy, with the only real heat coming from the accompanying cup of sambal aioli. Burritos with a side of mayonnaise? Welcome to Anything Goesville.

Case in point, the duck ramen ($14). Also quite ample, the unexpected triceps workout is filled with culinary surprises, like rich, tender duck confit and a delightfully runny Scotch egg. While the presentation plays at bibimbap — with fresh cilantro, pickled jalapenos, housemade kimchi, and chunks of five spice-coated pork belly all relegated to their respective corners — the flavors are distinctly Chinese. Filled with Cantonese noodles, cabbage, and broccoli, the duck and miso-based broth is aggressively dominated by the sweet notes of five spice powder.

Set on Remount Road, the once-simple space has been opened up, and metal beams and aluminum ductwork loom overhead. The vibe is casual and noisy, and diners share a neighborly rapport. Along with Wednesday night trivia and occasional live music acts on the outdoor patio, there’s a full bar offering an admirable array of beer, wine, and cocktails.

Service is minimal and laid back. Order at the counter, grab a number and a booth and wait for the grub to arrive. Owing to the enduring food truck model, that doesn’t take long.

While a number of international cuisines are represented, Thailand reigns supreme. The lone salad available at Dashi is a fairly by-the-book Thai beef ($12) variation, made with fresh greens, halved cherry tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers. Topped with thinly carved flank steak and copious grilled red onion rounds, it’s doused in a bright fish sauce and lime juice dressing. Fresh and flavorful, it’s a light dish that’s also somehow substantial.

Dashi’s logo is all about Latin-Asian fusion, but make no assumptions, as other cuisines clamor for attention and many a dish is not what it seems. Made with blue crab and shrimp, the spicy seafood roll ($16) presents as New England fare, but the crisp topping of fried oysters and a generous layer of spicy mayo render it far more evocative of a punchy New Orleans po’ boy than an understated Maine lobster roll.

Similarly, after a few bites of the paella ($15), my dining companion happily proclaimed that he “really liked this dirty rice.” Decidedly oily, the soft grains are mixed with roasted poblanos and thin-sliced, intensely smoky chorizo. Topped with fresh cilantro, broccoli florets, and garlic aioli, note there’s also a family-size portion of sliced chicken breast. Nonetheless, in showcasing smoke over saffron and sausage in place of seafood, the dish comes across far more Cajun than anything hailing from Valencia.

Firing on all cylinders and true to its title, the Thai curry stir fry noodles ($14) are a slurpy, spicy, coconut milky dream. Interlaced with broccoli, carrots, and purple cabbage, the thin Cantonese ramen noodles bathe in a generous pool of vibrant Thai red curry sauce. Lighter appetites can anticipate getting at least two meals out of this, as your protein of choice will once again be administered in Herculean quantities.

Dashi is an enigma, but that seems to be the point. While traditional Japanese dashi is most recognized as a simple, umami-rich broth made with kombu (kelp) and bonito (fish) flakes, at Dashi, the fusion-by-way-of-hostile-takeover menu is all about detonating umami nukes.

Bold, brash, and prone to multilingual flights of fancy, come with an appetite for irreverence. Yes, some of the cheeky mashups are weird, but others are surprisingly serendipitous. Thai curry with Chinese noodles, Indonesian sambal, and Mexican cotija cheese? Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Along with Dashi’s whimsical array of globetrotting options and convivial atmosphere, big appetites on a budget can also bank on abundant portions with a large side of unapologetic culinary audacity.