It's easier to read NAISA's sign if you're dyslexic: Owner Christina Hsieh says the exotic-sounding name is simply "Asian" spelled backward. "It sounds feminine, almost like 'geisha,'" the diminutive Hsieh muses.
The menu of this new Fountain Square eatery is billed as pan-Asian, but it takes most of its cues from Northern China, though basil and curry interpretations pay homage to southern areas of Asia as well. What the lineup certainly is not overrun with: Americanized goopiness, fattiness or other improvisations for the worse. Even when Hsieh caters to more chicken-fried tastes, like with her cinnamon sugar puffs ($4.95), she employs a light-bodied, fresh ginger sauce with bite instead of her counterparts' overly sugared sweet and sour messes.
Expertly nuanced flavors of Asian comfort food is where it's at here. Everything is made from scratch, from the sauces to the freshly grated zest of the tangerine chicken ($7.25/lunch) to the deep-fried dough of desserts. I tried the spicy basil curry ($8.95/dinner) dish studded with chicken, beef and shrimp. The title sounds a lot headier than the taste of this dish, which has just a touch of curry for flavor, slivers of basil and snap peas for crunch, and a perfect moderate-heat finish.
Hsieh is looking to develop a new lunch menu for summer, and one dish you should try that's not quite on the menu yet is "Golden Sunrise." It epitomizes the simple Chinese comfort food approach here: Served in a hot pot with lots of succulent juice from fresh steamed tomatoes, scrambled eggs and scallions, the taste is greater than the sound of its parts.
Attention to detail is NAISA's forte, and it starts with the décor: Hsieh says there are no less than 18 colors in the small, feng shui place, and they all blend together seamlessly; crimson plays as the back wall's exterior, while a space near the entrance is a deeper red. Like the dishes' subtle spices, you really have to be in tune to what you're taking in to appreciate it. Tea service is the same way: A heavy, cast iron pot is served with delicate chrysanthemum or jasmine leaves that will steep throughout, yielding a much lighter-flavored tea than expected.
NAISA will be home to Herron School of Art and Design students' work, and a few pieces are on display already. So you can bet that the small collage involving a vaginaed Jesus by the bathroom isn't necessarily of the owner's taste. But it makes for interesting dinner conversation.