A fruitful mission

Azia’s cranberry puffs are a guilty pleasure

My friend Jarilyn and I hastily shuffled into the Whittier restaurant, Azia, on a brisk Sunday evening in a late-night happy hour mission to order cranberry puffs.

The $4.95 appetizer is Azia’s unique interpretation of cream cheese wontons, a mainstay nibbler at many Asian restaurants.

I’d been raving for months to anyone who would listen about the warm, gooey treats. Often, wontons are too hard, skimp on the cream cheese or are bland.

Cranberry puffs, however, have a crunchy yet also doughy shell wrapped around an ample pocket of cream cheese infused with a berry flavor and curry, along with several secret ingredients.

Inside Azia, restaurant Manager Paul Boyum shepherded us to a wood-carved boat, underscoring the age-old maxim that the quest for perfect wontons is, in fact, a journey. The boat is in Anemoni, a sushi and oyster bar adjoining Azia.

The table-boat, arranged at an angle, is strewn with decorative tassels and cords. Spherical paper lanterns hang at both ends of the boat’s roof and its arched timbers resemble a ribcage. The lamps give off a soft, canary-yellow glow. Jazzy, easy listening tunes play in the background.

Boyum said he was hooked on cranberry puffs after he first visited Azia some years ago. He returned two days later by himself, gobbling an entire plateful alone.

Now and again, he spots others doing the same thing. “It’s a guilty pleasure,” he said. “They’re addicting. Now, whenever I see other people ordering a plate of cranberry puffs by themselves, I think of that moment and smile.”

The six cranberry puffs are presented on a bed of lettuce and green onions on a white, triangular ceramic platter. Individually, the angular puffs are shaped like the pope’s hat. In the center, a square dish contains berry-colored homemade sweet and sour sauce for dipping.

Cranberry puffs are warm and rich, with a multilayered taste that begins with the flaky crust and ends with the dessert-like cream cheese. For Jarilyn, too, it was love at first bite. “I love how it tastes so much like what it’s made from,” she said, savoring them.

About 600 cranberry puffs are hand-wrapped in wonton papers daily. The dough, deep-fried to a crisp, golden color, is filled with that pinkish cranberry-blended cream cheese.

Other happy hour specialties include “Ping, Pang, Pong Wings” (chicken wings) flavored with teriyaki, curry, sesame and oyster sauce; “potstickers”; and oversized fresh herb rolls.

Executive Director Liz Grvechowiak exclaimed, “They’re the biggest herb rolls you’ll ever see.”

She said the restaurant’s Executive Chef and owner, Tom Pham, migrated to the U.S. from Vietnam as a teen. Pham developed the cranberry puffs because he wanted to incorporate cranberries, a typical Minnesota side dish, into a traditional Asian hors d’oeuvre, she explained.

Meanwhile, Jarilyn declared our wonton expedition to be a fruitful one. “I’ll be back!” she said, smiling.

 

Azia

2550 Nicollet Ave.

Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.

813-1200

www.aziarestaurant.com.

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].