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Salem, Massachusetts, has long been nicknamed the “Witch Capital of the World,” but locals know that Salem is fast on its way to a new moniker: the culinary center of the North Shore. This little city currently is home to close to 130 restaurants, many of which receive consistent high marks and attract patrons from the North Shore (and beyond) who seek a dining experience that rivals – and often surpasses – that of Boston. Salem’s newest addition to its growing list of fine dining establishments is Fresh Taste of Asia.

What you notice first about Fresh Taste of Asia is its location. At the intersection of Essex and Washington streets, in the heart of historic Salem, this beautiful yellow building with its sophisticated patio seems out of place. You don’t stumble onto this restaurant; it is right there, in your face, totally out of character in a city built on history. Fresh Taste of Asia looks like a Painted Lady, more suited to San Francisco than quintessential New England, but therein is its magic.

If feng shui was employed in the design of Fresh Taste of Asia, it’s working. The yellow color scheme, which commands attention on the street, is carried inside, creating a sense of tranquility and flow. There’s only minimal artwork, but who needs it when huge windows look out onto one of Salem’s most popular people-watching site: the “Bewitched” statue?

There are two bars inside. One serves drinks; the other serves sushi. Their dark wood contrasts regally with the light oak walls. The kitchen is almost entirely visible to the patrons. The contemporary juxtapositions of glass and wood, light and dark, create the immediate feeling of stepping into someplace that is very far away, very exotic, very Asian. It is the paper take-out menus that bring you back to reality.

At first glance, the menu reads like a typical Chinese restaurant menu: barbecued spareribs, egg rolls, hot and sour soup, chicken lo mein with a few signatures that  incorporate interesting ingredients like pine nuts. The Japanese side of the menu seemed more impressive in the breadth of its offerings. Appetizers, salad, tempura, agemono, teriyaki, and makimono can be ordered from the kitchen, and seafood sunomome, tuna tartare, tuna tataki, saki kinuta mai, and kappa sashimi maki are available at the sushi bar. The sushi menu includes everything from shrimp and mackerel to flying fish egg and sea urchin.

We decided to order our old standby Chinese favorites to see if they were prepared any differently from the norm: wonton soup, crab Rangoon, General Gau chicken and tropical taste chicken. The soup, priced at $2.75 per serving, arrived hot and steamy in white bowls. Three sumptuous wontons floated in a light broth delicately garnished with shaved pork and scallions. The wontons were perfectly al dente, and a first bite released a tangy scent of freshly grated ginger. Next came ten large crab Rangoon triangles served on a large square platter. Quite the bargain at $6.50, these fried fantasies were crispy golden on the outside, without a speck of oil, and with a hot creamy filling.

General Gau and tropical taste chicken came to the table, this time on round platters, garnished with carrot flowers. At $10.50 and $9.95 respectively, either dish would have been more than enough for two people. Fresh Taste of Asia’s version of General Gau was crispy/crunchy on the outside and delicate on the inside with a robust sauce redolent of garlic, ginger, and hot pepper. Tropical taste chicken, though, was the winner with its tender chicken scallops.

Although we had ordered classic Chinese fare, there was nothing typical about any of it. When I first heard the name Fresh Taste of Asia, I suspected, given current culinary trends, that it might be a fusion restaurant. After dining there I realized that this food establishment does not seek to blend two disparate cuisines, but rather, to celebrate, under one roof, the uniqueness of both Chinese and Japanese food. And they do it by presenting classics, as well as some signature dishes, in a new way that offers diners a taste sensation as unique as the restaurant itself. The entire experience can be described in one word: fresh. Fresh Taste of Asia is sure to become one of Salem’s favorite haunts.

Fresh Taste of Asia

118 Washington Street, Salem, MA  01970

978-825-1388 or 978-825-1368

Fax: 978-825-1788

Sun – Thurs: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm

Fri & Sat:  11:30 am – 11:00 pm