Asian Bistro - A Blue Oasis
Author: David Gignilliat | Photographer: Photography by Anne
“It’s definitely calming,” says owner Wei Zhu, 31, gesturing to a sea of blue microbulbs that illuminate the dining area in his new restaurant. “Very peaceful.”
Color symbolism suggests that blue-lit rooms promote creativity, intuition and relaxation. Whether by design or coincidence, the effect works. The sleek, ambient lighting gives Asian Bistro, one of Hilton Head Island’s newest eateries, an inviting, almost otherworldly feel. And since opening in early July, the restaurant has quickly distinguished itself as one of the area’s must-see dining destinations.
“Most people that have come in here leave very impressed. I think the first impression is shock, like ‘Wow, this is very nice,’” he said. “You have a lot of people moving here and visiting here from big cities, and I think they want this type of [dining] experience.”
The restaurant layout is an interior designer’s dream, balancing measured refinement with a brash sense of adventure. Tight leather chairs and boothbacks, imported from China, complement rows of glass dining tables with a chic, postmodern verve. The walls, awash in diffused cobalt light, are a pleasing marriage of sandstone and mahogany. The room’s clean lines and geometric shapes are simple, yet somehow feel serious, thoughtful. Think tranquil pan-Asian retreat meets sleek New York City nightclub, but without the velvet rope, musclebound bouncer or the $20 cover charge.
A thirst for travel—to New York, to Hong Kong, to China—helped to inform Zhu’s stylish, upscale vision.
“You go to a nice hotel or a nice restaurant, and you [try to] make a [mental] note of things,” said Zhu. “I’d start thinking, ‘Oh, that’s something I like. Can we do that?’”
Zhu’s bold vision takes center stage at the restaurant’s small yet luxurious bar. A collage of blue mosaic tiles—navys, royal blues, periwinkles and turquoises—canvas the back wall of the bar. A black granite countertop melds harmoniously with the metal low-back stools that outline the area’s perimeter. The piece de resistance—a stunning circular aquarium—is home to an exotic moon jellyfish that captivates those waiting barside for a table or enjoying a cocktail.
Zhu worked diligently with a local architect to come up with just the right ‘look’ for his new place. The result is a resounding visual success—an elegant mixture of soothing colors and materials, executed with an understated Zen-like efficiency.
The restaurant boasts a menu that blends the best of different parts of classic pan-Asian cuisine, a sprawling tribute to the continent’s Chinese, Japanese and Thai influences. If you’ve had a dish somewhere else, chances are Asian Bistro has it too. The menu, divided into sections by cuisine, includes literally hundreds of choices for even the pickiest of palates. “Sex on the Beach,” a sushi roll with tempura shrimp, spicy Ahi tuna, white tuna, avocado and caviar, is among the menu’s early standouts. And if it’s Kung Pao chicken, beef teriyaki, or Peking duck that you want, you’re in the right place, too.
“It’s very convenient. We don’t want the customer to leave and go somewhere else,” said Zhu, referring to the bistro’s extensive menu. “We can do just about everything here.”
After running Empire Szechuan (a traditional Chinese carryout spot) for over a decade in the same building, Zhu decided it was time for a change.
“I figured it was about time for an upgrade. I always wanted to do something contemporary,” he said.
Even amid financial uncertainty, Zhu trusts in his business model. He believes diners will always value a refuge like his where they can leave their worries behind.
“The economy does present a challenge sometimes,” said Zhu, who offers $2.99 martinis during Asian Bistro’s budget-conscious daily happy hour. “But I think people still like to go out and have a nice meal, as long as it’s at a reasonable price and a nice place. People are always searching for a nice place to go, to invite their friends.”
Like many restaurant owners, he is a jack of all trades, switching from one activity (and language) to another with a breathless efficiency. On a busy Friday night, you might find him chatting tableside with a group of regulars or tourists. A moment later, he may be putting the finishing touches on your General Tao’s Chicken. Then, as fast as you can say “dim sum,” he’s helping his waitstaff clear off a table for a party of five waiting at the door.
“I’m here all the time, I’ll take care of anything, everything—whatever you need,” said Zhu, who pauses to seat a two-top during a steady September weekday lunch. “If there’s a problem, I’ll fix it.”
For lesser mortals, the challenges of owning a restaurant can often be a recipe for burnout. Not for Zhu, who seems to thrive on the constant activity.
“I spend a lot of hours here, so you kind of have to enjoy it,” said Zhu, who lives with his wife and two kids at a mid-island home. “When you really love the work, you never have to complain about a late night or early morning.”
Asian Bistro is located at 51 New Orleans Road and is accessible off of both Pope Avenue and Highway 278. The restaurant is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., offering a lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Delivery, catering and carry-out options are available. For more information or for reservations, please contact Asian Bistro at (843) 686-9888.