One does not often expect noodles served with peanut sauce and salad, offered in an Asian restaurant. As we settled down in the new fusion restaurant, Akar, nor did we. Akar is located on Wydown in Clayton. It was opened in June, and it does not obey traditional Asian cooking styles. Akar offers an array of dishes, many of them vegetarian-friendly, and most of the food is also gluten-free, allowing greater accessibility for people with varying diets.
Bernie Lee, a Malaysian-Chinese chef based in St. Louis, has been in the restaurant business for 15 years. His latest endeavor, Akar has a welcoming atmosphere reminiscent of a family’s home. The dim lighting and wooden bar area set a warm tone to the environment, with jazz music humming softly in the background.
The many decorations around the room are incorporated by Lee from his homeland. The beautiful crystalline chandeliers that hang in the middle of the room are custom designed from Bali, and the pillowcases next to the windows are from Indonesia and Malaysia.
Astonished by the interior design, we settled down in two of the bar seats and ordered a salad, an appetizer, and an entree. The salad was made with green papaya, cabbage, and long beans, and was dotted with peanuts and crispy shallots. It tasted fresh and tangy, with just the right amount of crunch. Its aromatic spice was nicely complemented by the green papaya.
The appetizer we ordered contained fried crab, a homemade tomato sauce and home-cooked corn kernels with a hint of rosemary. The crab had a crispy shell while the inside of the crab was soft, chewy and flavorful. The tomato sauce was creamy to the right degree, and its freshness combined with the slightly sweet corn kernels blended perfectly with the spice of the crab.
We then had Mama Lee’s noodles for our main entree — a fusion of peanut sauce and thick noodles which were soft with a chewy bite. The dish was accompanied by a few vegetable meatballs, which contained tofu, lemon, and garlic. La piece de resistance was a fine sprinkling of rosemary, and the peanut sauce was irresistible. On top of the noodles, there were crushed peanuts that gave a surprising crunch.
We only ordered one serving, but it was enough to feed both of us. The waiter even served the dish to us in two separate plates after we mentioned that we were going to split the meal.
The plating was unconventional and eclectic, using different textures, colors, and geometric shapes.
“It is like your mind is going through different experiences. It was spicy and then it’s sweet,” Lee said.
Most of these dishes have a special meaning to Lee. For example, the soft crab sauce is a Singaporean sauce that would be simmering every time he came home, back in Malaysia. His Mama Lee noodles, on the other hand, remind him of his mother’s home-cooked noodles. The satay peanut sauce is one of his childhood favorites.
Most of his dishes reflect his personal memories of his childhood. Lee has a close connection with his roots and tries to go back to Malaysia every year.
“Everything that you do for food is related to your soul. Some days will remind you of the chocolate and the good times,” Lee said.
Lee notes that to remember a good dish, you must experience it in different senses: “Your eyes, visual, nose, smell, and taste. Everything in the face of sense must work together in order to make a good dish. Then you will remember if it was good or bad if it was sloppy or pretty,” Lee said.
The waiters at Akar were kind and helpful. The appetizers were served in less than two minutes, and they checked on us often. The staff resembled a family, with Lee being the head.
The trait that distinguishes Akar from other restaurants in the sense of home that it offers. Akar is not just a restaurant, it is an experience. It is a place for neighbors, friends, and families to socialize and share scrumptious food, memories and stories. For an unforgettable evening, enjoy the hospitality of Akar!