Stepping into Asoka Bali, an unassuming little shop next to Old Florida Seafood in Wilton Manors, is akin to passing through a portal into another world. Sensory overload sets in immediately, in a good way. The scent of incense wafts through the air, along with soft Asian music. But it's the eyes that are most overwhelmed. Everywhere you look there is... stuff: silky sarongs and shirts, fish and dolphins fashioned from abalone shells, pottery, pillows, lamps, rocking horses, carvings in stone and ebony, giant ceremonial masks. A friend and I found ourselves, two hours after we arrived, still wandering through the shop's three jam-packed rooms, discovering items we'd overlooked earlier.
Wood, more than any other substance, dominates Asoka Bali. Indonesian teak seems to be everywhere, carved into animals, including amazing dragon lizards and sea turtles and cobras, and nude human torsos, some life-sized. The air is as heavy with the fragrance of well-oiled wood as it is with incense. Then there's the wooden furniture. Sometimes it's tricky to find it, but it's there, buried beneath bowls and urns and other items. And it ranges from, say, a coffee table that looks like a big, barely modified piece of driftwood to more traditional pieces -- a minibar, a curio cabinet, a settee, an armoire. On our visit, there was a massive slab of wood serving as a dining room table, with chairs so heavy they could barely be moved. Can things that are functional also be considered art? It's an age-old aesthetic argument, and some of the gorgeous items at Asoka Bali further complicate the question. Asoka Bali is at 1408 NE 26th St. in Wilton Manors. Call 954-564-4021. -- Michael Mills