Rethinking Japanese at Yuba

The namesake ingredient at Yuba is soybean skin, a staple of the Asian vegetarian cuisines developed over the centuries by Buddhist monks. The monks might not recognize their humble bean-curd by-product at Yuba, where it's paired with sea urchin and offered alongside dishes crowned with caviar, truffles, and other fancy ingredients. But Lau's a convert. That sea urchin dish, a signature appetizer, layers silky sheets of yuba with creamy uni from Santa Barbara and comes delicately seasoned with tosazu (bonito-infused vinegar) and freshly grated wasabi. Yuba is also crafted into a "pouch" filled with mushrooms—"amazing," sighs villainx.

Chefs George Ruan and Jack Wei may not be monks, but both put in time at the sushi temple Masa, where they learned to borrow freely from other cuisines and take traditional Japanese dishes uptown with unusual flourishes. At Yuba, Kumamoto oysters are topped with caviar, a simple but sumptuous combination that Lau says emphasizes the creaminess of the oyster. Chinese-style steamed buns get a luxe makeover, stuffed with tender roasted duck flavored with hoisin and enriched with foie gras. Grilled maitake mushrooms are brushed with truffle oil, an embellishment that villainx appreciated more and more as its earthy aroma blossomed. "Risotto-style" rice (similar to a popular dish at Masa) pairs happily with a dollop of sea urchin.

Yuba's sushi is "up there with the better places in the city," Lau finds. It's relatively traditional compared with the cooked dishes, focused on seasonal rarities like deep-sea snapper, which delivered slightly buttery flavor and pleasing texture. Other highlights of his dinner were rich, briny Santa Barbara uni; sweet hotate (scallop) with a sprinkling of salt; and clean-flavored shima aji (striped jack), kinmedai (golden-eye snapper), and sayori (needlefish), the last of which brings to mind a fish tale: "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."

Yuba [East Village]
105 E. Ninth Street (between Third and Fourth avenues), Manhattan
212-777-8188

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