BY NICOLE SHEIN | PHOTOS BY JENNIFFER MERIDA
Pan-Asian restaurants are popular because they offer the proverbial “something for everyone.” With its varied menu that incorporates elements of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Filipino cuisine, Chakara Bistro and Bar lives up to that proverb, without stinting on quality or authenticity.
The unassuming exterior of this Fairport-area restaurant belies a clean, minimalist, urban interior. There’s a small bar, where you can enjoy one of the signature cocktails–I tried the refreshing, potent Asian Pear, made with Grey Goose La Poire, sake, St. Germaine and sparkling wine–a glass of beer or one of several dozen wines.
As intoxicating as the cocktails was the warming aroma of fiery wontons. These morsels, essentially a spiced pork meatball encased in a soft wonton skin, are plated with garlicky red chili oil sauce and garnished with peanuts and scallions. They are less spicy than the name might imply, but diners who dig hot stuff need not worry, as a bottle of Sriracha tops every table at Chakara. A generous order of ten wontons means it’s no sacrifice to share.
Also from the “First Taste” section of the menu are vegetable gyozas. These dumplings look like the same dish you’d get from any Chinese take-out joint–but don’t be fooled. Inside is a crunchy, savory dice of cabbage, carrot and other veggies that’s delicious and very different from ordinary gyoza fillings. What really elevates these appetizers, though, is the dipping sauce. This garlic-ginger-soy “vinaigrette” is thick, slightly sweet, a little spicy and all around delicious.
Chakara offers some noodle and rice dishes, but focuses most of its attention on “Tour of Asia” entrees. I tried three, starting with Japan, in which a slab of soft, smoky eggplant plays plate to a pile of steak, chicken and shrimp. The meats are tender, almost velvety; the shrimp generously sized and succulent. A ponzu reduction serves as the sauce to unite the flavors of the proteins, while two crunchy tempura-fried shrimp and two crisp asparagus spears add texture and visual interest.
Similarly, the “Garlic Fusion Trio” offers steak, shrimp and chicken piled atop a stir-fry of Chinese broccoli, snow peas, red bell pepper and carrots. Although thoroughly Asian in presentation and flavor, this dish reminded me of nothing so much as a beef daube or other hearty stew. Its rich, brown sauce, studded with chunks of garlic, seems inspired by classic French cuisine.
My favorite of the three entrees? Lemongrass pepper shrimp. The minute my plate hit the table, the scent of lemongrass wafted upward, promising vibrant Thai flavors to come. A brilliant orange chili sauce starts out sweet and gets hotter as you’re savoring the shrimp, but the lemongrass, with its characteristic cool and woodsy notes, tempers and balances its spice.
Asian cuisine isn’t particularly strong in the dessert department, but Chakara does offer fried ice cream–your choice of green-tea or vanilla–topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. For those who must have a sweet, this is a whimsical conclusion to the meal. Vietnamese-style coffee and a selection of loose-leaf teas, including chai, cherry blossom and sencha, are available as well.
Chakara Bistro is located at 7328 Pittsford-Palmyra Rd. Visit them online at eatchakara.com.