Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to the latest from mini-chain Yaso.
Yaso Tangbao, which these days prefers to be called simply Yaso, thank you very much, is a mini-chain of fast-casual spots specializing in, and winning acclaim for, their soup dumplings. There's a Yaso near Grand Central, another in Downtown Brooklyn, and a third in Industry City. In other words, high-traffic areas filled with hungry workers looking for a quick meal. Which makes it all the more appreciated that they continue to put the time and effort into making food that's actually good.
Now a fourth Yaso has opened, this time in Greenwich Village, and a couple of key things are different at the new outpost. For one, it's located near the north end of Mercer Street, on a block that, though right in the heart of NYU territory, doesn't get a lot of pedestrian traffic, so they're going to have to work harder to get people's attention. And most interesting, the menu here consists almost entirely of dry noodles. They haven't dropped their beloved soup dumplings completely—you can get the pork ones, and they're great here, too—but basically this is 97% a noodle joint.
Astute observers will note, too, that Yaso Noodle Bar has simply taken over for the solid but short-lived Sichuan spot Peppercorn Kitchen. The layout, the furniture, the neon "Listen to your [mouth]" sign, all of it is exactly the same. And so, unfortunately, is the slight air of despair that fills the small space. The easy-listening playlist, played at just-audible volume like you're in a drug store, doesn't help, and it's too bad they can't fling open those windows onto Mercer and have some life waft in. As it is though, every time I've been here, in both incarnations, it's been hard not to wish I was eating somewhere else. Which is too bad, because the food itself at Yaso Noodle has a lot of energy, and is made with considerable skill.
The reason you're here is for the dry noodle bowls, and all four varieties I had were really good.
The noodles are slim, firm and slippery—it's called "dry" because there's no broth, not because the noodles are, say, fried to a crisp—and you can choose from among eight different meats to put on top, with their corresponding seasoning and different levels of spiciness. The Crawfish Tail bowl is thick with the little buggers, and they're wonderfully sweet and tender; the beef on the Yasi Rib bowl is also first-rate, if a bit scantily strewn.
The Minced Chicken bowl (like the two above, available only at the Mercer Street Yaso), isn't terribly visually appealing, but was possibly my favorite overall, a hearty dish that packs a lot of flavor and heat. The Lionhead Meatball was satisfying as well, with plenty of that sticky, porky loaf the whole way through. There are a couple of non-noodle dishes here, and you should definitely get the well-stuffed Spicy Seared Pork Soup Dumplings, but skip the Whole Chicken Wings which, while they tasted fine, are a bit of rip-off at three bucks each.
For dessert I enjoyed my plastic take-out container of Sweet Chinese Soy Milk, which they actually have in a can right at the register, so you should just drink from that and save the world yet another piece of trash. And if you're in more of a grab-n-go mood, Yaso Noodle Bar has a small case filled with Toofy Duck snacks, including ready-to-eat Chicken Feet, Duck Wings, Chicken Kidney, Squid, and Duck Head.
Yaso Noodle Bar is a great place to grab a quick meal, but they need to do something to bring some life to the joint, so it feels more a part of the neighborhood and not like some deserted Midtown lunch spot. Fingers crossed they pull it off.
Yaso Noodle Bar is located at 289 Mercer Street, between Eighth Street and Waverly Place, and is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on weekends from noon to 8 p.m. (website)