Jonathan Moor's first NYC noodle restaurant, Republic, was a Union Square mainstay for nearly 20 years before closing up shop in 2018, when even a crowded house every night couldn't keep up with rising rents. His other venture, the upscale NoHo sushi spot Bondst, has endured, but as of last weekend Moor is officially back in the noodle game with the opening of the hard-to-Google Lower East, a casual place with a party vibe and some first-rate food on the corner of Stanton and Orchard Streets.
The Lower East menu is still in "preview" mode, and many of the dishes weren't yet available when we feasted last Saturday evening, but everything we had was very good, inspiring confidence that they'll be able to hang with their formidable corner-mates: the rowdy Hair of the Dog and the excellent Saigon Social across the street. Another plus: there are lots of vegan and vegetarian options at Lower East, and most of the noodles are gluten-free, so there are options for all.
As the website states, the dishes at Lower East "have no pretense to authenticity," but everything is firmly grounded in familiar Asian fare, with things like Pad Thai, Chicken Yakisoba, Ginger Beef, Miso Salmon, Crispy Tofu, Summer Rolls, and Tempura all making an appearance at various junctures on the menu. In other words, there are no gimmicky "chopped cheese ramen" type shenanigans going on, but there's certainly enough variety in all categories to keep your crew interested through multiple visits.
We ate three noodle dishes, and all were winners. The Peanut Noodles starter, a mass of chickpea noodles as fat as Udon and served warm, was surprisingly light and came studded with bits of crunchy Chinese broccoli. The Veggie Tofu Glass Noodles had some real heft to it, the slippery noodles holding up well to the salty sesame soy sauce, fried chunks of bean curd, and sweet and bitter vegetables. Maybe our favorite in this category, though, was the Charred Squid bowl, packed with tender cephalopod, black rice noodles, and pickled veggies in a zippy Szechuan peppercorn sauce.
In not-noodle news, Lower East's Duck Confit Bao were true jaw-stretchers, with a nice balance among the fatty bird, housemade hoisin, vinegary onions, and meltingly soft doughy bun. The Shrimp and Avocado Tart seemed like it might just be a sop to the more timid eaters, but there's some real love in this dish, the shrimp served ceviche-style and the togarashi seasoning adding plenty of pep. And for dessert, the humdrum-sounding Green Tea Yogurt was actually quite complex, and definitely delicious, especially encased in a dark chocolate shell.
Of course, there is booze at Lower East--this part of town didn't get nicknamed Hell Square for nothing--with a full slate of cocktails, punch drinks, something called Zen Sangria, as well as the expected selection of beers and wine. The interior layout will be familiar to anyone who went to the Pizza Beach that was here until last fall, though Moor and company have given everything a bright coat of paint and added tables to the bar area. Either way, it's an appealing, airy room, and overall a solid new option when you’re in the area.
Lower East is located at 167 Orchard Street, at the corner of Stanton Street, and is currently open on Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to midnight. Weekend brunch coming soon (646-719-1700; lowereastrestaurant.com)