Rasa- Ginger Flower of the Concrete Jungle

Rasa is a Malaysian restaurant nestled in the heart of Greenwich Village. It boasts the best of Malaysian street and comfort food. Camie and Tommy Lai, sibling chefs who established themselves as New York City’s premier Malaysian chefs, named Rasa after the town in Malaysia where they grew up. Tommy Lai was the chef behind Laut, a Malaysian restaurant in Union Square that received the first Michelin rating of any Malaysian restaurant in 2011.

Despite having ample space, Rasa seats only 52 people at any given time. The dining room is paneled with glossy wood and thin nets are draped elegantly from the ceiling. The pace of the restaurant, the soft, soothing music and the scents of piquant teas all lull the patron into a state of serenity.

The calmness of the setting contrasts with the boldness of the flavors. Each dish pops with an explosive tanginess. Tommy Lai will normally begin the meal with either a familiar Chinese or Indian dish.

“Gourmands who are not familiar with South Asian plates could dine on these side dishes and graduate to the main dishes,” Camie Lai said.

The preferred starter is the doughy flat bread roti canai ($7) that comes with a curry potato dipping plate. The bread is an apt meal by itself, and is carried to delight by the robust flavor the dipping plate. It is supple and filling all to its own and ought be recommended to split amongst any party.

Other dishes range from tangy curry beef to an assortment of flat noodle dishes that are filling and rich. The main dishes are full of powerful and surprising flavors. The Assam Laksa bowl ($14) is typically a Malaysian noodle bowl that mixes the flavors of peppers, tamarind, pineapple, mint leaf, apple juice and ginger flower petals into an unusually sweet and potent concoction that is unlike most foods offered in New York. However, like any rare thing of note, it strikes you in both papillae and soul with a brevity of inspiration as your mouth takes to a festival of firework sensation, holding you in a fixated minute where the novelty sits like monsoon lakes the space under your tongue. Wow, you think.

Camie Lai said the ginger in the assam laksa soup appears along the roads in Rasa, the town. “Here, they are very rare,” she said.

Rasa the restaurant promises to be a ginger flower in the concrete jungle, something new and beautiful in a familiar world on 25 W. Eighth St

An abridged and objective print edition of this review appears in NYU’s student run Washington Square News publication.


The Red Pepper: Sichuan Spice of East Village Life

(This is my first ever restaurant review, dating back to early 2013)

The Red Pepper is an authentic Sichuan style restaurant in the East Village, ensconced quietly underneath a residential building and snugged in between two South Asian style restaurants. When you walk in, because the ceilings hang so low, there is brisk coziness that takes you and because it is so wonderfully off the beaten path, it is unlikely to be crowded. It is quiet and cozy, a soft trickle of classic rock playing in the background that contrasts with the East Asian landscapes hung on the walls. It is very quaint.

What is unassuming about the atmosphere though, is immediately recouped with the boldness of its food. The mainstay of the Sichuan style is marked by its intense spices and striking flavors, and The Red Pepper, as its name would suggest, was no exception. I was served their most popular dish, the spicy stewed fish. After fumbling about with the chopsticks for a bit, as the restaurant gave no conventional utensils, I surrendered and used the porcelain spoon. This made eating messy and awkward.

However, the fish, served in a beautiful eggshell porcelain bowl, was spectacular. From the first taste, the spices were very playful in that it wasn’t horrid, but it certainly could clear your sinuses. The fish itself was tender, dancing the fine line between being raw and overcooked, and even the cabbage lurking at the bottom of the soup was delicious. If it weren’t so haphazard to my soft tongue, I would have drank the stew juices as well.

Then, my server, Alex, brought out sautéed eggplant for me to try. I do not like eggplant. Somehow, though, I loved this dish. The eggplant was cut into small bit-size strips that I jabbed with my chopsticks to eat and there was no rubbery texture there usually is with eggplant. It was crisp and had a small tanginess to it. At this point, I was near my limit, but then they brought out the Tan Tan Mian.

The Tan Tan Mian is a noodle bowl with a supple pond of scallion and pork packed broth at the bottom. The noodles, within themselves, have a buttery balsamic flavor, but mixed with the broth, it becomes instantly packed with a peppery punch. Mind also that I had already been full by the time I had reached the third option and, even sharing with a friend, had not been able to finish the fish stew or eggplant, so the food is not only immensely gratifying to the tongue, but also the stomach.

The entire experience was only refined more so by the warm staff, as it appeared to be a family owned restaurant, that constantly catered to their customer’s needs. The food was excellent, the atmosphere was so relaxed, and it was a very enjoyable outing. The Red Pepper is an excellent hidden gem tucked away on 324 6th Street. Albeit, it is a bit pricey and the water was bit lemony, it is worth overlooking those small flaws.

Mi Primi at Bar Primi

Primi is a word in Italian used to refer to the first dish of the main course in a classic Italian meal. It follows the antipasti and precedes the heavier secondi, formaggi entrees. Typically, this introduction will be a pasta dish. True to its name, Bar Primi adheres beautifully to this conceit and boasts a pasta-centric menu.

The culinary team of Andrew Carmellini, Luke Ostrom,  Josh Pickard and Sal Lomboglia opened Bar Primi in September with the concept to serve primarily pasta dishes. This is the same team behind such hip locales such as Lafayette, The Dutch and Locanda Verde.

Main entrees are available, but not highlighted and certainly as well priced as the primi dishes. They vary on a daily basis and only for dinner and range in price in the upper 20s and low 30s.

The seasonal dishes, though, are what captivate the eye. They deviate from conventional Italian foods and offer curious experimentations, such as the Pumpkin Agnolotti ($17). This is a ravioli dish that piques the tongue with an earthy sweetness, maybe a bit too much, but rounds out the delivery with an amaretti and mostarda fruit glaze.

The Strozzapretti ($18) dazzles. The large, slightly twisting, pasta is concocted in a bowl with a meaty Bolognese sauce hiding luminous clouds of ricotta cheese in its depths, waiting to lovingly sucker punch the eater with its airy sensation. If the dish could change anything, it would be to let the Bolognese carry more impact than the ricotta, which tasted like feta cheese for some reason.

Then, broken into three sections of five to six each, are the antipasti and appetizers. the farro piccolo ($11) and the stuffed meatballs ($12) are certainly praiseworthy. They simmer at the tip of the tongue with the confidence of something homemade, from the countryside. The meatballs, stuffed with melted fontina cheese, are robust and filling and smooth. The piccolo, a risotto dish mixed with an avocado dressing and flowing with cauliflower, is refreshing with a slight piquant

Finally, the temperate freshness of the dishes, never harsh and never effete, give way to a cooling as the lifespan of the meal comes into its gentle twilight: desserts. The tiramisu ($9), in particular, is a bed of which we rest on our mouths and let it sleep, letting the mixing coffee and cream flavors blend into symphony. Then, the hazelnut torte ($9) is rich, slightly chewy and savory. The hazelnuts interfere the texture, but it is flavorful nonetheless.

The restaurant excels at its premise. It excels in captivating a rural majesty, the wooden interior so well kept and yet so vintage, which is odd since the restaurant opened recently this fall. The lighting of the oversized windows cast the most beautiful shadows over patron faces in an already rustic majesty. The bar was beautiful just to observe, embracing the space with a polished classicism. The restaurant whispers warmth in into the air with all the deep red hues that emblazon the wall and the terraces and the seats.

To say that Bar Primi is worth trying undercuts the tranquil acuity of the cuisine and the concept and the effort. On a list of favorite Italian restaurants, Bar Primi may just be my primi.

Bar Primi is located at 325 Bowery St. at the northeast corner of the intersection of Bowery St. and Bleeker St. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday- Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday. It accepts credit cards and is first come, first serve for parties under 6 people.

A Crush on the iPad: Pizza Vinoteca’s Daring New Menu.

There occurs a dilemma when entering a new restaurant, or even just entering the city’s culinary scene with fresh papillae and fresh ears: What do I get?

Surely, if you can pick out the most basic of your tastes, there is always what must accompany it. Which tastes compliment what and what won’t set off an allergic reaction and what something looks like. The traditional waiter, or at least the one in the American culinary scene, is only partially helpful; he is no Acheron nor Virgil nor AskJeeves at a restaurant.

Pizza Vinoteca does, however, provide you with a glowing guide: The iPad menu. One becomes floored by the modernity of this restaurant. That is not to mention the wine cooler dispenser along the right wall or the sound-absorbing ceiling installations, or just the sleek arrangement of seating.

But the iPad became my love interest from the beginning. It was opened on the menu page and you would navigate this page using tabs categorized by appetizers or side dishes or their impressive wine list, subcategorized by color and texture. It is beyond simplicity in its use; I imagine my two year old brother could order my family its dinner using this mechanism. Each dish is linked to a more descriptive page about the particular item itself which discusses its ingredients, allergy information, a gorgeous picture of the item and then, to top it off, a list of recommended drinks to pair with the item. Never was there an unwanted intervention by a nosy waiter, for you could call them using a button on the iPad, the “call waiter” button.

Now, the food was no slouch.

The food was artisanal, whatever that may mean but I’m sure that this pizza could be defined by that word, and it used clearly fresh ingredients. Particularly good were the Hawaiian ($15) and the Tarte Flambee ($12) pizzas. The former was piquant, with the very tangy tinge that you get from mixing prosciutto with pineapple cut correctly, and the latter was just an imposing flavor, robust and strong and slightly bitter with its crème fraiche. For dessert you either have Bombolonis ($2 each), Tuscan style donuts, or gelato sandwiches. Get the gelato sandwiches. Come here JUST for the gelato sandwiches and, while you’re at it, the gelato root beer floats. Gelato is the unspoken hero at this restaurant.

Although not all is perfect. If you plan on staying too long, get the plastic chairs and not the booths, as the booth seats are not the most gentle on one’s back. Also, the coffee appeared fantastic, but my tongue did not agree with my eyes.

All in all, the restaurant is a glorious find, a good eat, and a polished seeing glass to the future of restaurant service.

Pizza Vinoteca is located at 15 W Union Square and is open typically 7am-11pm. Pizza Vinoteca also delivers with a $15 minimum.