O'Asian is a strange name for a restaurant and bar. Irish/Chinese fusion? An exclamation of some sort? A sigh? To find it, you wend your way up from street level on Fifth Avenue at Columbia Street, via stairs or an outdoor escalator, to a pristine office-tower plaza. A Zen garden with gravel paths, stone benches, miniature maples, and other assorted foliage awaits. The garden is deserted on a Wednesday evening; the rhythmic squeak of an escalator can be heard from afar, and the silver panels of the building above gleam.
Seattle's new upscale dim-sum restaurant, adjacent to the garden plaza, is nearly as empty. O'Asian is mammoth, a sea of sleek black tables and distant glassed-in private rooms. Beaded and gilded mesh panels hang hither and yon; the low ceiling is of the exposed industrial variety, monochrome black; red light fixtures glow. While it's all familiar in a Lost in Translation way, it's still elegant, soothing.
The bar possesses the requisite tall communal table, underlit in blinding fashion; this and the black-and-white-and-red-all-over color scheme strongly recall the bar at Red Fin, another new upscale Asian restaurant at the other end of downtown. Even with a jazz soundtrack, eavesdropping is unavoidable at a sparsely populated happy hour. A woman favors four male colleagues with an unending monologue; they are effectively mute, while she dispatches a series of colorful drinks, speaking of clients and divorce and liposuction.
Nearby, a woman with a Teutonic accent and a mean spirit lectures a server about the clams. They were not her favorite, nor the favorite of her companion (silent, presumably wishing to crawl under the table), she asserts. "Too many flavors get in the way. You cannot taste it," she says, among many, many other clam-related edicts. The server, all in black with a string of pearls, nods eternally, understandingly, her canonization nigh.
Vociferous abuse of the bivalves notwithstanding, the happy-hour snacks are quite fine, and they're $5 per generous and prettily presented plate. Tempura prawns on a tiny tangle of greens are flash fried—all the cooking a prawn really wants—and the accompanying honey-caramelized walnuts don't cloy. An enormous dish of thick pieces of salt-and-pepper calamari tends toward the salty side, but green chilies and fresh cilantro and bits of fried garlic provide balance. Pot stickers, creditable; their soy/black vinegar/ginger dip, above par. Longevity Rolls, egg rolls filled with shrimp and mozzarella, are strange, as anticipated.
As for the strangeness of the establishment's name, it's a mystery not to be unraveled now. Asked about the meaning of O'Asian, one employee says with a winning smile, "I honestly don't know. I think maybe they just thought it sounded good." "Like oasis," offers another in passing.