Last fall, when Nikki Lum-Kleiber outlined the idea behind remaking Sarasota’s Taste of Asia into Stiks, she described it as somewhat of a changing of the guard. Her parents, Lam and Selina Lum, had run Taste of Asia for years. With Stiks, Lum-Kleiber and her husband, David Kleiber, were stepping in to take over responsibility for the family business, with a goal of lowering the restaurant’s prices and creating a more casual environment.
To accomplish that, they have done away with table service (now you order at a counter and grab your food from a window when it’s ready) and revamped the dining room, brightening it up and decorating it with cool couches and chairs you might find in an Anthropologie catalogue.
But while the look may have changed, the flavors have not. Taste of Asia specialized in Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, and those still form the core of Stiks’ menu, which encompasses noodle dishes like pad Thai ($8), soups like pho ($9) and curries ($9) that can be fortified with meat, tofu, seafood or jackfruit for an extra $3-$4, plus a handful of salads and Chinese dishes. Stiks’ Lao curry noodle soup ($9) is a calling card for the restaurant. Based on a Taste of Asia favorite, it remains exceptional—a creamy blend of coconut milk, chicken broth and red curry paste stuffed with thin noodles and vegetables. It’s so fragrant, you can smell it coming from several feet away.
Other soups are just as good. The pho broth is made with beef marrow and a stew of spices, chief among them star anise. A touch lighter than the broth you might find at other restaurants, it’s intensely slurpable, and brings life to the noodles and fresh herbs and vegetables served on the side in a small wax paper satchel.
Aside from the soups, green curry ($9) with shrimp (add $4) delivers an impressive wash of spice. The “sweet peanut” preparation ($9), meanwhile, coats the meat of your choice with a rich velvety sauce you’ll be spooning up. The fried rice ($8) is also outstanding. It’s less greasy than is typical at other restaurants; the kernels of rice have been toasted to a deep mahogany.
Stiks’ mix-and-match style makes it especially appealing for vegans, vegetarians or people avoiding gluten. Many of the dishes’ bases are made without animal products and are gluten-free, and it’s simple to put together a table full of dishes that can please people following particular diets. The restaurant has hopped on the boba bandwagon, and even those can be prepared in a vegan fashion. Try the pandan boba ($5.50), a luminous green concoction flavored with a leaf whose aroma resembles vanilla, or the popular taro or lavender varieties. All of them give you a good excuse to extend your lunch break a little longer.
In addition to hosting customers in its pretty dining room, Stiks is also an excellent takeout destination, with an easy-to-use online ordering system and prompt fulfillment. Fast, approachable and tasty, Stiks is the exciting restaurant reinvention we didn’t know we needed.