Beyond Eggrolls: Corner Asian Bistro
On any given night, patrons of Chinese descent are likely to constitute the majority of the crowd at Corner Asian Bistro in Brentwood. And a great majority of those are "Chinese college students missing home. They come from as far away as Bowling Green," owner Yanping shares. "I have started getting into it emotionally. It has become a relationship. They call me Auntie."
And what they come for is Sichuan – the famous, spicy Chinese cuisine centered in the capital city Chengdu. Auntie is Yanping, spouse of Chuanlu. Together they own and operate Corner Asian Bistro and its sister, Corner Asian Café in Cool Springs.
While both are native to China, they each boast deep Nashville roots. Chaunlu earned his Ph.D in comparative literature from Vanderbilt in 1992. Yanping got her start in the restaurant business at Peking Gardens, THE place for Chinese food in Nashville back in the 80's. It was here that she learned not only the Sichuan style of cooking – as a native of Xi'an, Yanping grew up with the Shaanxi cuisine – but also Japanese sushi from Nashville's Seung Lee, owner of Kura's Sushi.
With this background, Chuanlu and Yanping decided to settle in Music Cityand raise two children. "I had developed a love for this country," Chuanlu said. "I liked the lifestyle here. I wanted my children to grow up here." So, to make ends meet, the Chinese intellectual – his dissertation was the impact of German playwright Bertolt Brecht on Maoist China – and his lovely wife did the counterintuitive: they opened a Japanese restaurant. For nineteen years, Miyako's was a Brentwood institution, serving up sushi and teriyaki and all things tempura. When asked about the cultural sensitivities of a Chinese couple owning and operating a Japanese restaurant, Chuanlu simply gave a gentle smile and a calm reflection: "Our generation does not harbor the animosity of those before us."
Selling Miyako's, (it's now Tenno Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar), Chuanlu and Yanping first opened Corner Asia Cafe in Cool Springs – mainly a carry out place – before the Corner Asian Bistro. It is here that the fiery flavors of Sichuan are served up steaming hot and piled on plates. Their hot pepper chicken, a staple of the cuisine, is an absolute classic, blending succulent white meat with Sichuan pepper, a fruit native to Sichuan that, along with its heat, brings a citrus-like fragrance to the dish.
For those of us who aren't as familiar with Sichuan cuisine as a table full of homesick Chinese college kids, Chaunlu and Yanping provide some tips on what to order if you really want an authentic taste of Chengdu. First, try the soup: xie rou yudu geng. It translates as fish and crab soup, but that doesn't fully cover it. If you want the real Sichuan, make sure to ask for the fish maw version. That's the dried swim bladder. It might prove too fishy for some American palates but, then again, it might take your tastes to a whole new level.
Word about the Corner Asian Bistro has gotten out, much of it in Mandarin.