DESCENDING from Greg Bower's Charleston mothership, riding the cresting wave of pan-Asian cuisine lust that has sent Savannahians scrambling for the nearest Pho or Hot Pot eatery, CO Savannah has definitely arrived.
Sleek and modern, with cool, shadowy corners, it sits conveniently across the big parking garage at the north end of Whitaker. With exposed brick, red booths, minimalist art prints, the only hint you’re getting Asian food is the trio of black and white posters of a Vietnamese movie star from the 1950s.
“Co” is Vietnamese for “feast,” and if you are looking to try an amazing sampling from not only Vietnam, but Korea, China, Thailand and Japan, take out that menu and peruse to your heart’s delight.
I grabbed a foodie buddy, Scott West, a dude who, as a world traveler, can really appreciate Asian cuisine, and we were practically rubbing our palms in delight over the plethora of goodies featured.
Manager Andy Oswald hovered around the bar, greeting regulars and discussing their tempting array of infused sake cocktails, and our server, eager to please and knowledgeable, though a tad forgetful, was happy to point out the local favorites such as Drunken Noodles & Pad Thai.
Everything here comes to you beautifully plated, jewel colored and obviously fresh made—even the slaw of purple cabbage, onions and peanuts in a light sauce was a treat; this accompanied a truly amazing dish of Malaysian Chili Wings, in coconut milk marinade, tossed in a pineapple, ginger, lemongrass & chili sauce. The flavor was exciting, and the perfection of spices, with just the lightest bite of chili, made them supremely memorable.
Ah, the Pork Belly Buns—if you are a fan of the swine, you gotta try these. The buns have been thoroughly buttered and baked slow so the crunch when you bite into them, plus the marvelously flavorful, tender pork, will have you crying out for more than the two you get.
The gyoza and yaki mandu (served here in Pho) will be familiar to anybody who patronizes Japanese restaurants. The Chinese call’em jiaozi—they are all basically the same thing: thin, half-moon shaped dough wrapped around tasty fillings of meat or veggies.
They are well-loved throughout Asia for good reason—get’em here with chicken, beef, pork, or for vegetarians, edamame in a vibrant dashi broth.
The sushi is mind-boggling—and the two choices we ordered were that indeed. I do not claim to be a sushi expert, and I avoid anything with mayo or cream cheese (which I’ve never found in authentic Japanese eateries in Asia), but the Glazed Eel & Avocado roll, with its creamy, smooth texture... well, melt-in-your-mouth may be an old cliché, but it rings true here.
The Spicy Tuna Crunch roll, with its fresh, delicate tuna, crispy cucumber and a restrained dabs of spicy masago aioli is finished off with a topping of crunchy tempura cracklings that break apart delectably at the first touch of the tongue, was glorious!
Scott’s a Pad Thai lover from way back, and ordered this well-loved dish as an entrée. Manager Andy tells me all the noodles are house-made, and these have a pleasant chewiness that is a centimeter below true al dente.
The shrimp tasted divinely fresh and the sauce flavored, but did not overwhelm, the dish; a bundle of delicate cilantro topped it off and if you’re a true peanut lover, stir them in from the accompanying mound on the side.
By this time I barely had room for the fragrant Bún Bò Hue with tender sliced brisket, piquant lemongrass, braised pork, bun rice noodles, & purple cabbage, but when you see that brimming bowl coming at you with a big side dish of fresh mint, cilantro, snowy bean sprouts, and sliced jalapeño you take a deep breath and dive into it. You’ll be rewarded with a rich, slightly oily chili broth & toothsome meats, very authentic and bound to please.
The cocktail menu stretches itself well with Mangosteen Red Sangria & CO’s own version of the Singapore Sling and bounces between international borders with the Jalapeño Guava Margarita and Cucumber Mojito. Southern brethren can take heart at the delicious Orange Blossom made with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka or the Ginger Julep.
The Coolers here, with their light, refreshing taste of fresh fruit and herbs, work well with the menu. Coconut or Lychee juices make everything better, and the only real complaint I have is the lack of Thai Tea, that Oolong delight with coconut milk.
In general the menu can pass for authentic, though items like General Tso’s sauce may give one pause—for most Americans, though, this is a viable substitute for a plane trip to Bangkok. No weekly specials available, but with such a diverse menu, who needs it? Sip your Bex Reisling and call for another appetizer—you’ll be coming back soon for more!