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Why Restaurant Eve decided to keep its Asian tasting menu

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Cathal Armstrong's Asian tasting menu at Restaurant Eve started as a temporary promotion in January, but now the Irish-born chef has decided to give it permanent status.

"When I go out to eat, my first choice is always going to be Asian," Armstrong said. "Something that requires chopsticks is always my personal choice."

Offered alongside Restaurant Eve's modern American fare, the family-style tasting menu is offered nightly and incorporates Filipino, Thai and Korean cuisines. Selections will change daily.

[Tom Sietsema's Dining Guide: Restaurant Eve]

Armstrong said he grew up going to what was probably the only Chinese restaurant in Dublin, which his family loved, although he now doubts its culinary pedigree. As a chef, he developed an appreciation for "the flavors and complexities" of Asian cuisine, which grew when he was introduced to the Filipino heritage of his wife, Meshelle.

"Any family gathering is always centered around food," Armstrong said.

He added Korean food to his repertoire thanks to his practice of tae kwan do, and became wrapped up in Thai cuisine after a trip last year to Bangkok and Chiang Mai as part of the State Department's culinary diplomacy program.

"I like to go off the deep end with everything I do," Armstrong quipped.

Working with native Thai chefs "got me a lot more excited and a lot braver about cooking food that I've always been in love with," Armstrong said.

The Filipino emphasis on the tasting menu is largely a tribute to his wife and her culture, he said. Because it's an island nation, Filipino cuisine, which Armstrong said is not typically spicy, places a high importance on seafood. His menu's "surf and turf" first course features kinilaw, a seviche-like dish in which the citrus juice is poured tableside, and pork belly.

Next come the five main dishes, which will always include a stir-fried vegetable plate and some kind of curry. Also featured: Armstrong's riff on callos, or tripe with Portuguese sausage, and dinuguan, a stew made with pork, blood and vinegar. (He grew up with black pudding, so "the blood thing never bothered me.") A variety of accompaniments, such as rice, lentils and Armstrong's own kimchi and pickled radishes, are also part of the meal. Dessert might be a coconut ice cream served over rice pudding.

Armstrong's menu is only the latest addition to a growing Asian food scene in the area that emphasizes less-Westernized versions of traditional cuisine, whether it be Seng Luangrath's Laotian Thip Khao in Columbia Heights, or the Thai chain import Mango Tree in CityCenterDC.

"I've never been one to chase a trend or try to set a trend," Armstrong said. He said he believes the Asian uptick can be attributed to the fact that chefs enjoy cooking the food and have had a chance to sample it abroad.

The tasting menu at Restaurant Eve has been so well received by customers and his staff, Armstrong said, that "I don't think I can ever give it up now."

Would opening a new restaurant devoted to Asian cuisine be the next logical step?

"I would love to, and we’re working on it," he said.

For now, Restaurant Eve's Asian tasting menu is available nightly for $65, with an optional $40 beverage pairing.

Restaurant Eve, 110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria, 703-706-0450.

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