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Apr 12, 2011 05:36 PM

Yuba Restaurant – A New Generation of Chefs and Excellent Innovative Japanese in the East Village

**For full post and pics**:

Yuba is a new Japanese restaurant that opened in the East Village. I’d heard a little bit about it on, 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

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  1. I really appreciate your posts. You do good work. Thanks.

    3 Replies
      1. re: Lau

        Ditto. Gonna put this one on my list.

    1. Lau, excellent report- How much did this dinner cost?

      8 Replies
      1. re: sockster

        well i went a little overboard b/c i liked the food and i wanted to write a full post, but it was way wau too much food for 2 people. so it ended up being like $120 / person (including tax and tip) and that included a few beers. Realistically you should be able to get out of here for much less, somewhere between $50-80 / person all in (i know that is a bit of a wide range, but it depends how sushi heavy you go and exactly what you could not order any sushi in that case it probably would be on the lower end of that range). you can see the prices of their menu on their website

        its not cheap, but it was very good, so i think if you're going to spend some money this is worth it and it's not going to cost you and arm and a leg

        1. re: Lau

          Since they were of Chinese origin, they spoke fluent English? Japanese? Chinese?

          Just wondering what the interaction at the sushi bar would be like.

          1. re: villainx

            i dont know whether they speak japanese or not, but George speaks perfect english as he is from zhejiang, but I believe he came to NY when he was very young, so he's basically American. I didn't speak to the other chef so i can't be sure. I'm sure they speak chinese, but i spoke with them in english and my english is way way better than my chinese anyhow

            to answer your question though you can have a full conversation, which is much better than most top sushi bars in the city b/c even yasuda's english was just okay. The only top sushi place in the city that i've been able to have a full convo at is at 15 east

            1. re: Lau

              Hmm. Would love to know if they speak fluent Chinese...if I do end up coming here with my parents, they would certainly be more comfortable discussing specials.

              1. re: NancyC

                not sure about the other chef who is in the kitchen

                im pretty sure he speaks chinese although he did grow up here (born there) and so its unclear how well...he has a very slight accent, but i mean very slight

                1. re: Lau

                  The cooked or kitchen items are great. But I think it's their sushi that makes the place special.

                  Not sure about speaking, but I know they understand cause when I was telling a joke to my mom, in Cantonese, they understood enough to suppress a smile.

                  1. re: villainx

                    yah i agree, the sushi was a complete surprise in a very good way

                    george said he was from zhejiang, so he probably speaks mandarin

                    1. re: Lau

                      Perfect, we don't speak Cantonese anyway! My mom and I would be getting sushi, but my dad doesn't really like it (will generally only eat small amounts of salmon). I had to send him the menu because really what he usually gets any time we get sushi is a tempura bento box...I assume he'll eat their cooked fish dishes, though!

      2. Actually, “tai” is “sea bream” or a type of sea bream (different than snapper family) but it is often replaced with red snapper in the U.S….Deep sea snapper you say? I’m curious what that fish is. Kinmedai, which is one of my favorite fishies, should taste almost like butter. If it tastes like shima aji, something is uh, fishy…It may be interesting perhaps to compare this place with Wasan, a newly opened nouveaux Japanese neighbor restaurant in the EV. That place was opened by two Japanese chefs who are taking a more farm to table approach. Both menus seem laden with uni, foie gras, white truffle, caviar, wagyu, toro, etc. I guess it’s the “Au Pied de Cochon” indulgence approach to Japanese cuisine- although Wasan’s seems a little more restrained...Ironically, yuba, in Japanese, is noted for its’ subtle taste, interesting texture and is connected with refined Kyoto cuisine- which is really the antithesis of indulgence.

        108 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003

        11 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay

          i forgot what the deep sea red snapper was called in japanese as id never heard of it and he said its sort of rare

          well the kinmedai was buttery def more so than the shima aji (should've mentioned that in the review but i kind of rushed through writing it), but the flavor was similar for some reason. it was good on an absolute basis though

          there is a certain aspect of the restaurant's menu that is somewhat decadent (use of truffles, foie gras etc), but i didn't think flavor wise that the yuba dish was particular decadent. it was actually a pretty mellow flavored dish, but it was very good

          i haven't heard much about wasan but that was on my list as well

          1. re: Lau

            Glancing at the "tai" photo, in Northern California at the nicer Japanese restaurants, this looks more like sea bream (as Silverjay noted) and would fall into the general name of "madai" 真鯛 to make it sound more high end, if a quality specimen. The thing is that name does not infer anything else (whether it is farmed madai or the prized rare wild version(s).

            The same thing happens with "mouse grouper" 老鼠斑 deep sea rare & $$$ as hell fish in high end seafood restaurants in Hong Kong, where the same named fish in North America is probably some substitute.

            Sakamoto Kazuo's book, Sushi Techo, lists madai's English name as red seabream or red seabream snapper (which is another confusing matter). Madai sometimes has more toothy texture than the softer fleshed kinmedai (alfonsino).

            Salmon from Scotland? Could be from Loch Duarte...the good stuff.

            1. re: K K

              you guys bring up a good point, i know that some people refer to "tai" in english as sea bream and others as red snapper, i wasnt actually sure there was a difference between the two until silverjay brought it up and i forgot to respond to that in my response to him.

              i actually dont know which one it was b/c he said the name in japanese and i never asked him which one it was (also b/c i didn't know to ask him)

              the salmon was really good although i didnt ask specifically where in scotland it was from (sushi is always such a pain to write about b/c i envitably forget to ask about alot of the details of where everything is from etc as i'm usually pretty hungry)

              1. re: Lau

                In Cantonese or Chinese fish markets, depending on geographical location, you'll see a sea bream looking fish, but it isn't quite the one that would qualify as madai. But yet it gets bought up and consumed for home Chinese cooking



                and worst yet, they call it something like 蠟魚 in Southern China, which is like "wax fish" due to its "waxy" taste. Descale and de-skin it, and it looks like most sea breams with red stripes on the side, but tastes totally different (and not meant to be eaten raw). But yet they also call this red snapper in English. And if is resting on a bed of ice, could already have a smell of its own. On the low end of the sea bream/snapper spectrum, e.g. the all you can eat Chinese buffets with "soo-shee", the "snapper" is tilapia or izumidai, also seen on some of the nicer cruise ships pan-asian sushi joints.

                Some restaurants on the west coast are substituting "tai" with New Zealand snappers, more reddish/pinkish, but carefully not to call it madai. Tasty, but not sure if worth the price of a pristine piece of madai or kinmedai...

                Sounds like Mr Ruan is executing quite nicely and could be part of the future lineup of great non Japanese chefs with professional training. If you look at the older blogs and writeups, Urasawa in LA used to have a Korean sous/assistant chef, who supposedly left for a gig at the French Laundry, and I recall hearing something about one of Masa's (former?) assistant chefs (Korean I think?) who has some serious skills himself. These are definitely exceptions.

                10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019

                1. re: K K

                  interesting, i didnt know that about tai, didn't know there were so many "tai" type fish. i should pay more attention to the exact types of fish b/c i know the general types but i guess im more focused on whether i like it or not

                  they are definitely doing a nice job at a yuba, i was very pleasantly surprised as i wasn't sure what to expect

                  i dont think genetically anyone has any inate ability to cook, but i do think that training under someone who really knows the cuisine is key and 99% of the time it's someone of the given ethnicity, so training under Masa Takayama would fall under that category

              2. re: K K

                I don't think it would be sea bream from Japan. It's just too easy to pass Gulf of Mexico red snapper and it's accepted as a translation for tai at this point anyway. And to be honest, in my experience, tai/madai and kurodai aren't particularly highly prized as sushi and sashimi fish. They are better cooked. Now sayori, on the other hand, is often considered a good gauge for a sushi chef's skill.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  yah i dont get sayori all that often b/c most places don't have it, but it was very good here

              3. re: Lau

                I was at Yuba tonight and the description of the deep sea snapper was that it was really a type of perch. Most perch are fresh water, but what they had was a ocean variety. So ... either this helps or makes things more muddle. I also don't remember the Japanese name. As to the rarity, I don't eat at that many Japanese places, and especially high end Japanese places, but from the few that I've been to, yeah, the "deep sea snapper" was a first.

                By the way, the grilled miso yuba is pretty good. If you want an app recommendation.

                105 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

                1. re: villainx

                  oh nice so you've been there twice? glad you liked it! haha

                  interesting re: deep sea snapper, i really liked the "deep sea snapper", it was quite a bit different than most fish

                  hmmm grilled miso yuba, sounds pretty good and def different, will have to try....ill prob go back soon that place is very good

                  1. re: Lau

                    You (Lau) probably know this, but the deep sea snapper is applied with a light blow torch treatment and then with a little bit of salt. I agree with you that it's not easy to describe. But very good regardless. It's oceany, fatty and bright, but also, like you said, good texture.

                    I'll say this about some of the yuba preparation, I found it was not too difficult to reference it back to some Chinese dish. The yuba pouch thing reminded me of some Chinese Buddhist tofu dish, and the grilled miso glazed yuba reminded my friends of some deep fried tofu thing. But much more delicate. The grilled miso Yuba thing was quite good (spoiler: with some hoisin dressing), as healthy and tasty of a version of something crispy (I'm thinking pork skin) as it gets.

                    And yep, this was my second time at Yuba. I'll also add this, the first time I asked for the omakase portion for sushi, toro wasn't part of it. The second time, the opening sushi salvo was toro, and it was pretty amazing.

                    If you like saba (mackerel), I'd also say ask for it. This is the season for mackerel, and for whatever reason, they don't normally include it as the oily or fishy component might be too much for some dinners. They didn't serve either times I was there, but George said it was one of his favorites, and it hadn't been part of his repertoire as most people found it too much. But I'm interested enough to go again to see, as I really dig anything saba/mackerel.

                    105 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

                    1. re: villainx

                      yah i could see that although i think its fine as long as it's good and it sounds like it is

                      you're making me hungry, im debating eating there tonight

            2. Great review - I'm a big fan of Yuba though I'm always concerned about how quiet and empty it is in there! The Green Tea Mille Crepe comes from Lady M on the UES. They actually get all their desserts from Lady M save for the Butternut Squash Creme Brulee.

              105 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003

              2 Replies
              1. re: kathyyl

                yes that is the place, i couldn't remember the name of it...i also am concerned, so hopefully more people start coming here as it's a worthy addition to the food scene

                1. re: kathyyl

                  Lady M on the UES is pretty fatntastic for all sorts of deserts. Very amazing place. They supply Ushiwakamaru with their wonderful tea flavored Mille fuille. It's incredible as a separate afternoon tea place, or a very amazing alternative patisserie.

                2. Glad to hear that you enjoyed the food. I went within a few weeks of it opening and found the food to be pretty solid across the board. You mentioned you went on a Sunday and the picture made the restaurant seem pretty empty, I hope the restaurant gets enough foot traffic.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                    well we did go kind of early (630), but you are correct in that they def need more people in the restaurant. it would be a shame if they went under b/c of lack of food traffic.