Xiao Ye

198 Orchard Street between Stanton and Houston Streets
no phone number yet
$50 for one, with one beer, with tip
wheelchair may enter; may be hard to get to the restroom
early review: ♥

I’ve never been to Taiwan, but it has always been on my list of places to go and do nothing but eat. When reports started coming in about Xiao Ye and its “Taiwanese night market” food, I knew I had to go. I have several friends who hail from Taiwan and my mouth waters whenever they talk about the food they eat back home. I love Southeast Asian food and I enjoy sweating over that flavor profile with a cold, cold bottle of beer. I walked in once last week with a friend only to be told that they were having a private event. We laughed and let ourselves out and promised to return when they officially open. The temperature hit 90-plus again this week and so I made a trip to the Lower East Side for one of their soft openings.

I really wanted to like it. When I visited, half of the published menu on BaoHaus owner Eddie Huang’s blog was not ready and none came with any descriptions except for the obvious homage to the Wu-Tang Clan. With names like Poontang Potstickers, She Bang Fish and Buddha Sex Cabbage, I had to get the bartender’s help to find out what each dish was all about. (Can you guess what Golden Taste Balls are?)

I was told by a friend of a friend that I should skip the cocktails, so I opted for Magic Hat’s Wacko summer ale as soon as I found myself at the bar. They got the Asian weather down all right; it was steamy and it was hot and all I wanted was to eat comfort food that reminded me of home. But there’s a reason why they call such nights “soft openings”, and in my case, Xiao Ye was having a very, very soft night.

I dove in the Extreme Taste Salt-Cured Pork, generous slivers of pork belly that didn’t warrant the name nor need anything else. The meat was naturally sweet and the fat was equally addicting, but they were impossible to eat with chopsticks. I requested for a knife and a fork just so I can cut through some of the chewy skin. It would have been unacceptable to most people, but unlike most people, I actually enjoy gummy pork skin. I would have preferred it crisp and crunchy, but I knew I didn’t order chicharron.

The Taiwan Most Famous Pork on Rice by name alone had so much promise. This is a Taiwanese joint, yeah? Wrapped in mustard leaves, my rice was hard and crackly as if it had been sitting out for quite some time. There may have been a trace of pork somewhere, but most of what I tasted was the pieces of scrambled egg that was mixed in. My ghetto Chinese take-out place in Harlem would have done a much better job. I tried to put up with it, but you just can’t fuck up rice like that, so I finally told the bartender that I needed a new serving.

In between bites of the Concubine Cucumber–cucumber chunks pickled in vinegar, salt, sugar and garlic–I finished the pork belly while I waited for my rice replacement. Luckily, the second time around was warm and just right, so I felt compelled to eat it with the Trade My Daughter for Fried Chicken after I got over its name. The breaded chicken fillets tasted of cilantro, crushed peanuts and chili powder but were also heavily salted. I understood the flavor they were going for and I would have liked them if the cook was a little bit less heavy-handed with his seasonings. I would have taken my leftovers home, but I thought they were beyond repair–even the single girl eating next to me agreed when I offered a taste of my food. And I love salt! she said, but that is burning my lips!

Past the silly dish names and the Fantastik spray bottle next to the drinking glasses at the bar, Xiao Ye could be something. It’s that kind of a place bloggers and wannabe-foodies tend to love because the price and location are right, but the taste and service need to be accounted for in the next several weeks if they want to be taken seriously.

Related post/s:
Fatty Crab has the same flavors, only more focused
This review elicited a very angry letter from the owner, only for the partner to apologize for his behavior later