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.