The search for truly authentic Asian cuisine in the desert can seem daunting, but Aiyara provides an oasis of deliciousness in the sands of Temecula. Located just outside the periphery of the Promenade, Aiyara opened last year in the Bel Villagio shopping center, surprisingly living up to the bourgeoisie lifestyle implied by the center’s name, but in a completely non-obnoxious way.
We began by ordering a bottle of their Fu-Ki brand plum wine, served chilled and sweet, but not sickeningly so. The underage member of our party elected to try their Thai iced tea, which also proved to be balanced between flavor and sweetness, neither sensation overpowering the other.
With a plethora of appetizer choices, anything other than the sampler plate (reasonably priced at $13.95, for all the food you get) seemed like an inadequate option. We weren’t disappointed: the chicken satay was cooked to perfection, and complimented by a flawlessly executed peanut sauce; the fried wontons contained a sinful cream cheese blended nicely with green onions and diced water chestnuts and fried to a golden brown (as were the vegetarian-friendly spring rolls); the ironically-named “naked shrimps” were wrapped in crispy fried egg noodles and served with sweet Thai sauce; and finishing off the sampler was a very un-kosher shofar-shaped item, the lady fingers, a simple dish of marinated shrimp wrapped in rice paper.
The next course arrived with our collective stomachs already getting full, but my shrimp Tom Kha (customized with a vegetable broth, available instead of chicken broth on all soup options) was bursting in flavor without bursting my gut (another tip—assume your flavor option is actually one above what you tell your waiter; my medium-level soup was definitely on the spicy side). This was the one area where my fellow diners’ experience fell slightly short; while the vegetables, wontons and BBQ pork in the wonton soup were of the same caliber as the rest of the meal, the broth by itself was a little on the dull side. However, the rest of the meal was free of disappointments.
Being a pescetarian, I’m often limited in my dining options, but Aiyara is more than accommodating for its vegetarian clientele, offering veg and tofu options on all entries, as well as mock duck, or mock chicken. I opted for the mock duck in my tasty pad Thai, which unlike other versions that I have had of the well-known dish, was moist and light, not dry and sticky. My dining companions expressed delight at their dishes as well, one requesting their special New York steak cooked to very strict specifications (pink in the center, no red showing, but not burnt on the outside . . . medium, to the rest of us), the other opting for chicken pad see-ew, also phenomenal in its taste and light texture. All dishes at Aiyara are designed to meet the needs of even the pickiest customers, with spice levels customizable for each dish.
While the dessert menu looked incredibly tempting, we had already requested wheelbarrows to roll us back to our cars. The meal for the three of us, with a sampler, three soups, a bottle of wine, an extra drink and three entrées came out to just over $100, which, given the amount and quality of the food, was a steal. Come to Aiyara starving Nicole Richie-style, and you’ll still leave filled, and with a satisfied smile.
Aiyara Thai Cuisine, 41533 Margarita Rd., Ste. M102, Temecula, (951) 296-5758; www.aiyarathai.com.