Granite State of Mind, #126: The Asia Restaurant, Dover
The city of Dover has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance in public regard in the past few years. I've always thought of it as the transitional space between Durham and Rochester, an aging mill city with a quasi-urban feel and working-class liberal sentiments, a place my French-Canadian grandmother and the Lebanese family her mother married into felt right at home. I lived there briefly after coming home from Texas in 1997, in a snug Cricket Brook apartment with future former missus Jen. I commuted from there to my United Way and later Ballet New England gigs, and we'd make the walk down Henry Law to the old Biddy Mulligan's watering hole. I'd spend more time there during my Citizens Bank days, working out of the Washington Street branch under William Shaheen's office.
Dover has an emerging funky vibe, a very junior varsity Northwestern feel, craft brews and vinyl shops and the inevitable hipster invasion of a union burg. Like its big brother Portsmouth, Dover is experiencing the growing pains of a lunch pail heritage confronted with an influx of ironic t-shirts and beards. I have no problem with the coffee-bean and hops culture, but to me the quintessential Dover eatery is the venerable Asia Fantasia. Established in 1970 on Third Street (and not to be confused with the since-closed "new" Asia in Newington), the Asia squats behind an unimpressive and unimposing brick facade, sharing the road with a furniture store and the grad old Strand theater. The true magic of the Asia is the interior decor - fish tanks, sure, tiki lamps, the old haze of blue smoke from the bar (once upon a time) - and bamboo. Endless bamboo. Look, I'm loyal to the Szechuan in Exeter, but there's something to be said for the over-the-top commitment to supposed Chinese/Polynesian surroundings. It's dimly-lit, cozy, and the food is actually pretty good. Plus (or perhaps minus): karaoke.