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Yuba is a new Japanese restaurant that opened in the East Village. I’d heard a little bit about it on eater.com, but not much else, which is sort of surprising given that one of the chefs is of Masa heritage. However, one of my friends wrote a quick review on his Facebook page that was talking about how good and creamy the Kumamoto oysters were. That piqued my interest and I decided to try it out on Sunday with my gf.
The two chefs-owners are George Ruan, who spent 5 years at Masa and Jack Wei. They occupy the spot that formerly housed the now defunct Korean restaurant Sura. While the restaurant is located in the East Village, which is generally busy, it happens to occupy a street that is fairly quiet and has little foot traffic. So perhaps that’s why I haven’t heard much about it.
Normally, I’d be skeptical about two Chinese guys manning an upscale Japanese restaurant, which is not meant to be a racist comment, but rather I’m generally skeptical whenever the given ethnicity is not preparing the food as I find people often don’t know what the food is supposed to taste like and that would go for any given ethnicity. However, given the backgrounds of the chefs, I was very curious how they would do.
The restaurant is small with a dining room laid out very cleanly and simply using mostly dark wood. We decided to sit at the sushi bar as I always prefer to eat my sushi at the bar because of the short half life of sushi. George mans the sushi bar, so we were able to speak to him extensively. He’s very nice and knowledgeable about the food he’s serving; you can tell he paid his dues at Masa.
The service was good and attentive. I was surprised how empty the place was although it was Sunday night and after eating there I was even more surprised at how a restaurant of this quality is not packed as I know many Japanese restaurants serving food a couple notches below this that are always packed.
Here’s what we ate:
- Uni with Yuba: This was a signature dish and also the namesake of the restaurant. Yuba is a tofu skin, but the way it is served here is much different than you’re probably imagining as it is silky, creamy and almost milky. It was served layered with uni from Santa Barbara and topped with freshly grated wasabi and tosazu sauce, which is a type of bonito infused vinegar. The combination of the creaminess of the uni and yuba was really good as the yuba doesn’t overpower the uni. The fresh grated wasabi and the tosazu sauce really flavor it nicely without overpowering the flavor of the uni and yuba. This was a great dish. 8.5/10
- Oyster Caviar: This was five Kumamoto oysters served with sturgeon caviar. Since they were served so simply you can really taste the oyster’s flavor and creaminess and the caviar really just adds a nice bit of salt of the dish. I really liked this although I think some people might be surprised that oysters have a certain amount of seafood flavor to them as most people don’t realize this because they tend to douse them in so much sauce they don’t actually know what they taste like. 8/10
- Sweet Corn Tempura: This was corn, maitake mushrooms and shiso leaf tempura. The corn kernels and diced maitake are mixed together and put on top of the shiso leaf and then fried. This was really nice, the sweetness of the corn and the crispyness of the shiso went really well together. It was perfectly fried and wasn’t oily at all. George said that in a month or so the corn will be in season and will really be sweet. I thought this was innovative and delicious. 8.5/10
- Duck with Foie Gras: This was like a Cantonese Peking duck bun as it was served in steamed white bun (mantou) with the duck meat, some type of very thinly sliced white vegetable, foie gras and topped with hoisin sauce. The major difference between this and a regular Cantonese - Peking duck bun was that there were no spring onions or skin served and there was foie gras. The buttery foie gras complimented the dish well. The meat from the duck was nicely cooked and quite tender. I guess this was paying homage to their Chinese heritage as this is clearly not a Japanese dish, but it was good nonetheless. 8/10
- Risotto with Uni: This was uni (sea urchin) from Japan on a bed of risotto. The risotto was good, it had a good al dente texture and the savory flavor went very well with the creamy uni. The uni from Japan was a good pairing with the risotto as it’s not quite as creamy as the uni from CA and has a slightly stronger flavor and the risotto would have overpowered the uni from CA. You can get it with shaved truffles, but we decided that we didn’t want that. 8.25/10
- Salmon: This was salmon sushi from Scotland. This was a great piece of salmon; it was buttery with great flavor. The rice was good, it had a nice al dente texture, it wasn’t quite Yasuda level and I’d say they use very slightly more vinegar, but it was good quality sushi rice. I was really pleasantly surprised by this first piece because I had no idea how the sushi would be and this compared favorably to the better places in the city. 8.5/10
- Shima Aji: Shima aji is stripped jack. This was another very nice piece of fish, clean tasting, soft texture and delicious. 8/10
- Kinmedai: Kinmedai is golden eye snapper. This actually tasted similar to the shima aji for some reason, but it was another very nice piece of fish. 8/10
- Tai: Tai is red snapper. Tai is a more mild tasting fish, but this was nice too. 7.75/10
- Sayori: This was needle fish. I once caught one of these in Costa Rica by accident and if I had known they tasted good I would’ve kept it! Oh well. This was surprisingly good with a nice clean flavor. 8.25/10
- Ika: This was squid with salt and lemon zest. Ika is one of those hit or miss because if it’s not from a good quality sushi place then it’s plain and sort of rubbery. Luckily, it was very nice here, it had a tender, but firm texture and the salt and lemon zest are my favorite way to have ika. 8/10
- Mirugai: This is giant clam. Mirugai is not my favorite sushi, but I will eat it at good places. It had good texture where it was firm, but tender enough (mirugai can be borderline hard if it’s not a good piece). This was a good piece of mirugai. 7.75/10
Hotate: This was scallop served with salt. The scallop was really sweet and very tender. I thought this was an excellent scallop. 8.25/10
- King Crab with Caviar: This was pretty self-explanatory, but king crab sushi is not my favorite sushi as I feel like crab meat has a hard time standing on its own. The quality of the king crab and caviar was very good though. 7.5/10
- Uni: This was sea urchin from Santa Barbara. It was creamy and briny and I love uni from Santa Barbara, so I almost always love this if its good quality. George said that it will be better in about a month or so when it’s a little more in season, but I thought it was delicious right now. 8.25/10
- Uni: This was sea urchin from Japan. I like Japanese uni, but not as much as uni from Santa Barbara as I don’t find it quite as cream and briny. However, it was still very good. 8/10
- Deep Sea Snapper: George said this was a special fish and that we had to try this. I’ve never had it before and he said it’s reasonably difficult to get. This was probably the star of the night. It had great flavor and was sort of buttery, but had a good texture at the same time. The flavor was hard to describe, but I really liked this cut of fish. 8.5/10
- Green Tea Millie Crepe: George said that this is from a local Japanese bakery that makes this only for high end Japanese restaurants and it is not available retail. I’ve actually had this exact dessert before in NY at other good Japanese restaurants. Its paper thin layers of cake with a green tea mousse in-between them with green tea powder and whip cream on top. It’s my type of dessert as I love green tea flavor and it’s not too sweet. I thought it was delicious. 8/10
Overall, I was really impressed by Yuba. I thought the appetizers / cooked dishes were wonderfully prepared and were a bit different than the norm. I was particularly surprised at the quality of the sushi as it was up there with the better places in the city. I also liked that an upcoming young duo of chefs is manning this place as it’s nice to see someone young with a lot of potential creating great food. I highly recommend trying out Yuba.
105 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003