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Poleng Lounge

Southeast Asian Street Food Infused with Tea and Grooves

Located in the space that housed 1751 Social Club (and Storyville before that), Poleng Lounge is a tea house, food Mecca, and dance club all in one. This means experiencing the sounds of trickling water and the scent of fine tea leaves, before being hit with the bluster of seven dancing girls lining up against a velvet rope, waiting for entry into Poleng’s Temple Room.

Yes, the grooves may be the star here -- particularly on a Saturday night when the dancers take over the dining room, ponying up for cocktails at the bar. But Poleng also offers a daily happy hour and, during the day, morphs into a café straight out of Bali’s Ubud -- with free wi-fi, teas, snacks, and Asian salads and rice bowls for lunch ($3-8). However, there's a view of the neighborhood Albertson’s instead of Bali’s rice paddies.

Despite the emphasis on tea and dancing at Poleng, Chef Tim Luym, formerly of Fifth Floor, is serious about the food on his menu, delivering a selection of exquisitely fresh Southeast Asian street food. Standouts include Perkedel Jagung Corn Fritters with sweet chili sauce ($4) -- little pancakes with whole kernels of sweet corn served with Thai dipping sauce.

The Indo-Thai Eggplant Temple ($8) is served on a rectangular plate with grilled flatbread, a peanut curry dipping sauce, and a few tiny sliced eggplants, lightly pan-fried before being restacked into their original form. But best of all was Beef Tenderloin Salpicao with Marrow ($10). Served with a mango salsa, the seared beef and mango was reminiscent of a Thai beef salad. The marrow was served with coconut bread toasts and our only complaint was that we wished there were a bit more marrow to go around.

Of course, small-plate eating has its risks -- the plate size could provide a too-small plate of something sumptuous, or the opportunity to try many delights before staving our appetite (all dependent on the number of sake drinks at hand). Overall, there were few disappointments -- we found that the Papaya and Mango Salad with Sugarcane Shrimp ($10) had a bright flavor, but wished the fruit were shredded instead of julienned.

The drinks menu includes a small selection of wines, but the highlights are the teas, sakes, shochus (a Japanese/Korean spirit), whiskeys, and “elixirs” -- anyone up for a “Monkey Love Juice” ($9), a drink made of lychee juice, raspberries, Malibu rum, black tea, and Han Asian Vodka?

We tried to order a pot of tea, hoping to find an “antioxidant” to clear up the residue of a night of too many cigarettes and too much wine, but found many teas unavailable (clearly they’re still ironing out the details). Instead we ordered a pot of Velvet Tea ($5). Described as chocolatey, the tea turned out to be medicinal, despite the little hourglass timer meant to provide perfect brewing. We ended our meal with Coco Vanilla Bean Tapioca with Basil Seeds. The taste here was fresh and light, the basil seeds making this dish distinctive.

Though the service needed work and the dining room was understaffed, we thought Poleng lived up to its aspiration toward becoming a neighborhood hub. Yes, the space is multi-purpose, a concept in itself that can be overwhelming (would we really want to spend an afternoon drinking tea and surfing the web or an evening chowing on nibblets before dancing the night away at the feet of Buddha, tea-infused elixir in hand?). But the food at Poleng is surprisingly inventive and beautifully presented, making us wonder if soon enough the velvet rope would be keeping diners, not dancers, at bay.

Southeast Asian small plates
Western Addition
$

Reservations Essential? No