Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Yuba: Caviar, Foie Gras and Truffles! Oh My!
Named after the Japanese tofu skin, Yuba is a relatively new Japanese restaurant located in the East Village. Opened by two ex-Masa veterans, George Ruan (Masa) and Jack Wei (Bar Masa), Yuba hasgarnered plenty of media attention given the chefs impressive pedigree. Having spent years learning from Masa Takayama himself, Chef Ruan works the restaurant's small sushi bar while Chef Wei mans the kitchen in the back. Since I had never experienced Masa's $450 omakase (not including tax, tip, supplements, alcohol or a 20% service charge), MW and I were very interested in sampling the duo's luxurious cuisine, albeit at a much more modest price point.
Calling only a few days ahead, we were able to reserve two seats at the bar with ease. Located around the corner from ramen hot spot, Ippudo, Yuba seemed well positioned to catch some runoff from those put off by the noodle shop's legendary long waits. But much to our surprise, the restaurant was relatively empty when we arrived (who said the recession is over). Saying Yuba's interior was minimally decorated would be a gross understatement, as even the restaurant's white walls remained naked. However, our attention would soon turn towards Chef Ruan who, along with a sous chef, was busy preparing various cold appetizers and sushi. Since our visit preceded the restaurant earning its liquor license, we were relegated to tea. However, the extremely generous manager offered MW and I each a complimentary "orange juice," an extremely kind gesture that didn't go unnoticed.
We began our meal with a favorite of ours, Oyster Caviar. Being familiar with both ingredients from his time as Masa, Chef Ruan skillfully prepared these Kumamoto Oysters with a small mound of Sturgeon Caviar over a bed of ice. Although we both relish a good oyster by itself, there was no denying that the added salinity from the caviar, combined with the plump and briny oysters, helped form something truly special.
Next was another pairing of premium ingredients, Toro Tartare Caviar. Here, a luxurious Chu-Toro Tartare was paired with Sturgeon Caviar and served with Toast. What it lacked in inspiration, this dish made up for in taste, as the caviar acted as the perfect seasoning for the sublime chu-toro tartare which practically melted in my mouth.
Our first hot appetizer, Sweet Corn Tempura, was just not good. Literally a shiso leaf topped with loose, deep fried corn kernels, this tempura was woefully greasy and worse, nearly fell apart as we attempted to eat it.
Seeing how virtually everyone seems to be jumping onto the steamed bun bandwagon, at least Yuba's version proved to be the most decedent of the lot. A riff on Peking Duck, Yuba featured Duck with Foie Gras in Steamed Buns. Aside from the added foie, there was little deviation from what you would expect from your garden variety Peking duck. However, the bun still proved as delicious as ever as the unctuous liver provided an added depth.
With only three entrees available, it was basically a forgone conclusion that we were going to sample one of the restaurant's "risotto" style rices. We ended up ordering both. Showcasing his skills, Chef Wei's "Risotto Style" Uni Rice combined short grain rice in a vibrant orange sea urchin sauce layered with additional tongues of uni. And because it was truffle season we splurged and topped ours with White Truffle from Alba. Rich, creamy and redolent of uni, the rice was so good that it made the truffles seem superfluous.
On the other hand, the "Risotto Style" Lobster Rice benefited greatly from the earthy flavors of the fragrant truffles. While the rice tasted fine, the dish suffered from the large pieces of lobster meat being overcooked.
Seeing how Chef Raun trained under arguably the best sushiya in the entire United States, MW and I had to try something from the sushi bar. After debating on what to get, we eventually chose an Uni Amaebi Roll. The rice was well seasoned, the shrimp was impeccably fresh and generous with the uni, but ultimately the roll was good but not so great as to elicit transcendental bliss with each bite.
We initially declined dessert, but after chatting with both chefs about the restaurant, they insisted that we sample two on the house. First, was the Green Tea Crepe, that consisted of 20 Paper Thin Crepes Layered with a Light and Creamy Custard and a hint of Fruit Liquor. Honestly, neither of us could detect the liquor, but were happy nonetheless as the dish tasted strongly of green tea. The slightly bitterness of the green tea matched perfectly with the thin crepes and sweet custard.
The final dessert was the Pumpkin Nuage. A Blend of Pumpkin and Cream Cheese atop a Graham Cracker Crumb Crust, the nuage tasted like a refined rendition of a cheesecake. It had a smooth texture with a subtle pumpkin flavor, but was a fine choice for those looking to end the meal with something sweet.
Deciding to open a restaurant is always a risky proposition, especially in a city with as much competition as Manhattan. Take into consideration the fact that said restaurant uses many luxury ingredients, combined with the unfortunate reality that our economy still hasn't recovered fully, and you suddenly find yourself fighting tooth and nail just to stay afloat. Sink or swim, this is the harsh reality facing Chefs Ruan and Wei. With razor slim profit margins and fickle attitudes, these two Masa proteges are either courageous or clueless depending on who you ask. Only time will reveal their fate, but you can count on us hoping that they swim.
105 E 9th
New York, NY 10003
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.