Rasa: Home-cooked Malaysian
in a Serene Space in the West Village
A lot of new spots have opened up in the last year on West 8th Street, just steps away from the West 4th Street subway station and the now defunct Gray’s Papaya storefront, a late- night staple for many West Villagers. Rasa sits in the center of all the new craft spaces and trendy snack and coffee shops, a tranquil and sophisticated dining space to enjoy authentic Malaysian national dishes with easy-on- the-wallet prices. Walking up to the restaurant, the scene is warm, inviting, and surprisingly calm. For a moment, I am taken back to the serenity of the spas in Malaysia after a glance around Rasa.Once at Rasa, Camie Lai, owner, proprietor, and visionary of Rasa greets me as soon as I walk in. She is energetic and enthusiastic, and also happens to be the sister of well-known chef Tommy Lai, who earned a Michelin star at his former venue Laut. Despite her brother’s fame, Rasa is her baby, and that love is reflected in every detail. Every recipe, from the beverages to the Malaysian national dishes, Camie tested and refined herself. Through a lot of research and collaboration, everything at Rasa is consistently at its best.I peruse the menu while I wait for our photographer to arrive. The wait staff is super attentive, not just to me, but all of the customers were treated to top notch service. As Camie flies by to greet another customer as if he/she were family, she points out that she made a fresh, homemade apple and tamarind cider today which piques my interest, but I opt to wait.
When we begin the arduous task of choosing the tasting dishes, I request Camie to select her quintessentially Malaysian dishes that represent Rasa, but maybe are not ordered as much as they should be. The bright and bold dishes come out in quick succession so that our bowls are never empty:
Lychee Cincau: Three multi-colored layers of classically cooling herbal jelly scented and topped with lychee. A great dessert beverage suited to break the oppressive heat of a New York summer.
Penang Assam Laksa: Friends who grew up on the island of Penang off the coast of Malaysia would be proud of this dish. The soft, chewy noodles contrast the spicy, sour fish broth. The toppings of fresh, sharp shallot and sweet, tart pineapple compliment the bold flavors of this nationally loved dish.
Hainanese Chicken + Chicken Rice: From the roadside food stands of Kuala Lumpur [KL if you’re in the know], the silkiest, most tender Hainanese chicken served warm instead of cold graces the table along with three distinct dipping sauces. A recipe from Camie and Tommy’s grandmother, the Hakka cilantro soy dipping sauce is not a typical complement to the chicken in Malaysia, but it really stands out. You could just have the sauce over rice and still be completely satisfied.
Char Kueh Teo: The name of this pervasive noodle dish comes from the Southeastern Chinese dialect of Hokkien (Fujian in Mandarin). The wide flat noodles are stir-fried with shrimp, chives, bean sprouts, eggs, soy sauce, and a homemade chili sauce. So flavorful that you can taste the wok and flame in every bite.
Ais Kacang: To round out the meal, Camie treats us to a massive bowl of shaved ice topped with sweet corn (that’s right, it says sweet corn), crunchy roasted peanuts, herbal jelly, red beans, and so much more. Just the dessert to cool our palettes!
For a better look at the menu, visit http://rasanyc. com, and if you are a seafood fan, try the Hokkien prawn mee. Trust me on this one.