THE DRINK- The lychee key

By Amber Williams

The continent of Asia has many wondrous sights, tastes and people, all of which make its countries distinct celebrations of culture, but if for no other reason, a seemingly simple piece of tree fruit offers a grand draw all its own — the lychee. If Iowa’s climate could sustain it, likely a lychee tree would grow among the apple, pear and peach varieties in orchards and backyards across the region.

Stranger In The Night is a signature martini exclusively served at Wasabi Chi and Wasabi Tao.

Stranger In The Night is a signature martini exclusively served at Wasabi Chi and Wasabi Tao.

But since it doesn’t, Iowans must settle for less-than-fresh canned or packaged versions found in niche stores or specially ordered. Lychee is worth the extra effort, though, which is why it is the staple ingredient in one of the most refreshing cocktails perhaps ever concocted dubbed by its inventor, the “Stranger In The Night.”

No finer stranger could ever darken a doorway. Essentially just lemonade and lychee juice spiked with Citron and Peach Schnapps, Stranger In The Night is fruity without the syrupy drawback of most tasty cocktails, perfectly balanced between sweet and stout. The brainchild of Wasabi Chi bartender, Ben Wang, the New York City-born drink is potent enough for sipping but pleasing enough for gulping. Before you know it, you’ll be on your second, which is fine, because Stanger In The Night complements any Asian cuisine from appetizer to dessert. Nearly any meal option fits. Stanger In The Night’s only flaw is its eliteness, as it’s so exclusively offered in Des Moines.

“It’s not popular here because there is no supply, so most places don’t offer lychee cocktails, but we do. We ship it in from New York City,” Wang explains. “I’ve yet to find another Asian establishment that serves lychee” — other than Wasabi Chi’s sister establishment, Wasabi Tao, downtown.

Served as a martini, the yellow translucent elixir is first like a sip of water on the lips. Then the citrusy flavor kicks in and gives it a bite that distinguishes it from the kiddies’ lemonade stand. On a bamboo skewer, the drink is garnished with a happy trio of plump and squishy lychee sponge balls that burst watery juice down the back of the tongue with the slightest squeeze of the jowls — three rewards for spending seven dollars in such a delicious and fun way. RELISH

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