Sookk – Yaowarat Thai on the UWS (review)
I’d seen this restaurant mentioned somewhere – NYT? Eater? – and scribbled the name down, as I’m always looking for places on the UWS for my first night in NYC (I’ve given up on red-eyes, so I usually end up getting in around dinner time). I’d never heard of Yaowarat Thai and was curious to see what it was. On the menu, it’s described as “a harmonious and loving marriage of centuries-old Thai, Szechuan, and Cantonese influences fused together to become a fascinating, unique Bangkok style.”
Since my friends weren’t home yet, I went out for dinner alone, which limited my ordering. I had:
Yaowarat Herbs Stewed Beef Soup – this was actually the perfect thing to settle my stomach, which was queasy after a bumpy flight, and an entire day of eating cold steamed Chinese buns and 100-calorie snack bars. The broth was great, like a really refined 5-spice braising liquid. The beef was a wee bit tough and would have benefited from a slower simmer. Good, fresh veggies (bok choy and bean sprouts), and while I’m generally suspicious of the sudden omnipresence of goji berries, I quite enjoyed the sweetness of the seeded berries that settled at the bottom of the bowl. $5
Spicy Yaowarat Noodles – I was torn between this and the Mussel Turnip Cake, and went with the noodles. They tasted uncannily like something I made at home last week, using random Chinese banquet leftovers, bok choy, and fresh egg noodles from Chinatown, finished with a generous squirt of sriracha. Tasty, but literally something I could make at home. The Mussel Turnip Cake (described as pan-fried turnip cakes, mussels, bean sprouts, eggs and scallions with Pad Thai sauce) sound like an interesting twist on the Chiu Chow style turnip cakes (usually with egg and pickled vegetables) that I love, and as I cook neither turnip cakes nor mussels at home… gah. Mistake. Someone *please* order this and tell me how it is. Noodles were $9 (with chicken)
Other things that look interesting to me are the Ba-Jangh (joong with Thai sausage along with the usual joong fillings of chestnuts, mushrooms, and pork, and served with a black sweet ginger sesame sauce), and the O-Nieh Paeh-Guay (warm, sweet mashed taro cake topped with gingkos, red dates, and lotus seeds, with a cinnamon and coconut milk sauce).
The interior surprised me… I thought it was going to be a sunny, hole-ish in the wall place, but it’s dark and stylish and has a stunning bathroom. Frankly, I’d prefer a hole in the wall with a few more street-food options at a lower price point, but I wouldn’t write this place off just because the walls are upholstered in raw silk. The vast majority of patrons seemed to be eating pad thai and curries, but there are definitely some interesting things on the menu that are worth seeking out.
2686 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
thanks a lot for this review, daveena. i've poked my head in, curiously, several times, since it's in my hood and the menu really is an interesting read. (was it rice filled omelettes that were invented for american soldiers during the vietnam war?) i'm meeting a friend for our regularly scheduled culinary adventure tomorrow night and will suggest that this be our pick. if successful, i'll report back on the chiu chow turnip cakes. they sound good!
btw, since you're up in the area already -- have you tried thai market? it's just a block east on amsterdam, and a few steps north (107th st.). their turnip cake appetizer is my favorite in nyc.
Looking forward to hearing your report... you know, for something that I didn't even know existed until two years ago, those turnip/rice cakes have been weirdly ubiquitous in my recent life... maybe because I keep looking for them now. First found them in a Vietnamese restaurant in Oakland Chinatown... then in a Cantonese restaurant, also in Oakland Chinatown... then went to an upscale Thai restaurant to try the rice cakes another CH'er raved about, to find a deep fried version of the same dish... then went to Singapore and tried the famous "carrot cake", only to find a dark sauced version of the same (I was really expecting the ham studded daikon cakes we eat for Chinese New Year).
Thanks for the Thai Market rec! I'm home now, but that's going into my little reference book for my next trip.
I went to Sook last night and as my friend indicated afterwards, "it sooked." I wasn't happy with any of our dishes, really: the chive cakes; curry puff, fiery Thai beef tartare (I'm afraid the fire was put out before it left the kitchen, although I thought it was the best dish I sampled)); a nicely cooked, generous serving of sea bass filet with a lemon ginger sauce that was so underseasoned as to be sleep-inducing; and worst of all, a cloyingly sweet and gloppy Pad Kee Mao.
Sook reminded me a little of Land Thai, insofar as the quality of the ingredients was high but the seasoning is deficient, with a tendency toward making everything too sweet (the chive pancake was the only exception, although its dipping sauce was sweet). I'm not much of a fan of Thai Market, but it is far superior to Sookk based on this one experience.
Sookk has a full bar but is still awaiting a liquor license, so BYOB is encouraged. I couldn't help but think that the kitchen was trying to turn out what they thought an UWS gringo crowd would like, and it has misfired.
re: Dave Feldman
I thought the menu looked full of land mines, but also thought there might be a few good dishes hidden in there (I did enjoy my soup, and I'm waiting on cimui's report on the Mussel Turnip Cake).
The menu seems to be split in two - the "classic" Thai dishes which are probably gringo-ized, from your report on the larb, and the Yaowarat dishes, which, as they are a fusion with Chinese, are probably going to be less spicy and somewhat sweeter to appeal to the Chinese (well, Cantonese, anyway) palate. From reading the menu, I couldn't find much recognizable Sichuan influence in the Yaowarat dishes.
hi daveena, i'm finally back with my report on the mussel turnip cakes. sorry it took so long!
i found the dish to be consistent with dave's assessment of the rest of the menu: overly sweet, not very complexly flavored, but made with high quality ingredients. (thai market makes a similar turnip cake dish in appetizer form, without mussels, which I like very much.) the mussels and sprouts were fresh and the turnip cake well textured -- but alas, the gloppy brown sauce overwhelmed the potential delicacy of the dish.
we also had the green papaya salad (very middling, on par with what you'll find at any other nyc restaurant), tom ka gai (not good and made with too much coconut milk), and pad kee mao (decent, tho again overly sweet).
in addition to using too much sugar and soy sauce, i don't think the restaurant uses much fish sauce, which leaves the dishes a bit flat tasting to me. i'm not sure whether it's the yaowarati style or a problem with this restaurant.
service was really, really nice, but the kitchen seemed a bit disorganized. my turnip cake came out long after all our other dishes arrived. decor is hip and attractive, and i really like the trip hoppy stuff playing, tonight. it's great dinner music. given that it's so close to home for me, i think i'll probably stop in at least once more to try some of the soups and fish preparations (i like simply seasoned fish, if it's fresh), and maybe to see if the kitchen can comply a request to make a dish with less sugar and more heat.
thanks, daveena and dave, for pioneering the way!
Yay! Thanks for the report, cimui. Now I don't feel so bad about not getting the turnip cakes. I wonder if it would be better without the sauce - if they just pan fried the turnip cakes and served it with nam pla.
The other dish I thought could be interesting was a Cantonese-sounding preparation of fish maws... maybe the more Chinese dishes on the menu will be better? From my experience in the Chinatown that I work (and lunch) in, when ethnic Chinese cook Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Korean, everything comes out too sweet and one-dimensional, so it makes sense that the same thing would happen with Thai as well.
Thanks again for reporting back - you know I've been curious about those turnip cakes since I came back to CA :)