In 2012, food trends like “weird Chinese” and “Asian hipster cuisine” hit a fever pitch in New York City. With the advent of Quan Hapa and neighboring Japanese izakaya hot spot Kaze, the trend’s finally supplanted itself in Over-the-Rhine, albeit, with less outlandishness.
“Hapa” is the word for a mixed race Asian or Pacific Islander, the perfect nomenclature considering Quan Hapa’s food is an iteration of the best dishes and spirits from Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Hawaii. Owners Duy and Bao Nguyen and David Lee established themselves with Findlay Market’s Vietnamese staple Pho Lang Thang, but at their new eatery with chef Matt Cranert, you won’t find banh mi sandwiches or pho.
The tool shed-sized restaurant’s situated inside an old garage housing three long wooden communal tables, wooden slats on the wall and artsy canned jars of kimchi placed on shelves above the kitchen area.
Eschewing the communal experience, we sidled up to the monochromatic bar and sat in front of a well-stocked and diverse beer fridge that whispered to us, “Drink me.” Next to the fridge, large format bottles of sake, Arco tequila and multitudinous other spirits glistened in the light and also beseeched us to imbibe them. It was a weeknight but the eatery was filled with a lively crowd; a few kept their coats on due to the chilly nature of the garage, probably yearning for warm weather when the garage doors would be open for al fresco dining.
The first of its kind in OTR, the Asian gastropub melds the experience of pairing haute Asian cuisine with international beverages.
There are three basic types of liquor offered: soju, sake and shochu, all typically rice-based alcohols indigenous to Japan or Korea. Several of Quan’s cocktails are created with its house-made syrups and one of those aforementioned spirits, so I tried the Yuzu cocktail (a citrus fruit syrup combined with soda and shochu) while the boyfriend sipped on an Ikkomon shochu shot that tasted akin to vodka. The Yuzu was tart and slightly sweet with just a hint of shochu flavoring at the finish.
The wall of booze got me thinking — where else in the city can you find such an eclectic array of international liquors? Among the many offerings, Quan has Tiger Beer from Singapore, “33” Export beer from Vietnam, Moon Rabbit sparkling sake from Japan, bokbunjajoo (a Korean fruit wine) and 21st Amendment beer from San Francisco.
As for the food, their menu is delineated into sections of small plates, steamed bun sliders, noodles, poké (Hawaiian marinated fish salad) and rolls, with all of the dishes shareable. We tried one dish from each section, so we began with the crispy pig ears ($6) that were braised and then fried in a vat of duck fat; the result was sweet and salty porkness. One of the more interesting things we tried was the Spider Slider ($10), a flash-fried piece of soft shelled crab sandwiched between two flat, sweet pancake-like buns and smothered with wakame (seaweed), fishy miso aioli and pickled red onion, with the crunchy crab legs popping out of the bun.
The squid ink soba noodles ($7) were presented as a knotty pile of glassy blackness with deposits of red flakes mixed in; it was a surprisingly mild and light dish that just happened to dye our lips and tongues black. If you’re trying to impress someone, skip it, but if you’re heading to goth night, go ahead and indulge.
I’d recommend the chunky Kajiki (blue marlin) poké accompanied with brittle, black sesame rice chips for scooping purposes and the ambitious Ca Thi La roll, which is turmeric bass fish with fresh dill, basil and rice noodles rolled tightly into a spring roll and served with a cup of blood orange dipping sauce and a shrimp/peanut sauce lightly drizzled on the plate. I don’t usually like shrimp, but the peanut masked the shrimp flavor and meshed better with the fish than the main dipping sauce.
Quan Hapa had three desserts on the menu but I decided their Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk (the same they have at Pho Lang) would be an adequate substitute. The nifty contraption placed on top of the glass cup took a few minutes to slowly drip and required much patience before I could relish the delightfulness that is Vietnamese drip coffee.
As we left the eatery, our lips still shaded black, we pondered all of the dishes and spirits we’d try on our second, third and fourth visits.