THE ROIA TREATMENT
If I wasn’t the only person in the restaurant wearing a t-shirt, it was close. ROIA is a fancy establishment with an ambiance more suited to sweaters and loafers than to my usual ratty ensemble. The funny thing is that, despite appearing out of place, I didn’t feel it. With its high ceiling, blue-jeans-clad waitstaff and unpretentious menu, ROIA was a nice restaurant that still felt welcoming to college kids. Named for the river that separates France from Italy, it goes out of its way to cross borders in more ways than one, straddling the Yale Bubble and the Real World, French and Italian culinary traditions, haute cuisine and relaxed atmosphere. But for all this blending of traditions and identities, the food didn’t feel like a compromise.
My former co-editor Andy and I, however, did feel like compromise: As we read over the menu, we couldn’t decide what to order and so agreed to share two entrees, duck ragu pasta and pan-seared tuna with squid ink risotto. Our third co-editor, Jane, ordered squash pasta. For appetizers, Jane went with minestrone soup, I ordered mussels in broth and Andy chose caramelized fennel.
While we awaited our appetizers, a small plate bearing three spoons appeared on our table. Each spoon held a small slice of brie and a dollop of fig jam, to be eaten together in one bite. An unusual presentation but a delicious result: the subdued but distinctive flavors of the cheese and jam blended nicely, foreshadowing the meal to come.
As advertised, when our appetizers arrived it was hard to tell what culinary tradition might unify them all. Jane’s minestrone was the one clearly Italian dish on the table, and my mussels had been billed not as mussels but as “moules,” the French word. Whatever you called them, though, the “moules” were “tres delicieux,” as they say. I was a fan of the idea of shellfish long before I was a fan of shellfish, and when I was younger I was always sure to disguise the flavor of a clam or mussel with broth, butter or bread. But the mussels at ROIA, cooked in a light yet substantial lemon and ginger broth and topped with sea salt and garlic aioli, needed no such treatment. The result was a dash of seafood saltiness against a background of more mellow flavors, a perfect balance and a delicious appetizer — some of the best mussels I’ve had.
This probably wasn’t the case for the ginger and lemon in my appetizer, but ROIA sources much of their produce from the Yale Farm, spanning the gap between the world of fancy restaurants and the world of earnest student endeavors. So if you work at the Yale Farm and something you grew ended up in my dinner Friday: Thanks.
I doubt, though, that the Yale Farm grew the risotto, tuna or squid ink that constituted my entree. A plate of squid ink pasta is a rather intimidating sight — jet black isn’t a normal color for food. Combine that with the fact that I had never eaten squid ink pasta before, and I was second-guessing my selection as our waitress placed the bowl before me. I shouldn’t have worried: the flavor was intense but enjoyable, and I was happy not to have simply ordered pasta. That is, until I had a bite of Andy’s duck ragu. Next time, he can order the squid ink and I’ll have the duck. The tuna on top of my risotto, however, was delicious — still pink inside, dusted with just enough spice. Its subtle flavor was a good pairing with the bold squid ink risotto.
All in all, ROIA offers everything a good restaurant should, and its atmosphere won’t scare anyone away from enjoying a unique, satisfying and refined meal.
Contact David Whipple at email@example.com .
NOT PLAIN IN SPAIN
I had diarrhea a couple of hours before I went to Barcelona for its New Haven Restaurant Week event. Needless to say, I was ready for some light fare, some food that would allow for more conversation — and that’s the definition of a Spanish tapa.
I’ve traveled to Barcelona, Spain, twice in the past two years. Whenever I return to the States, I seek to recreate the sensationalism of Spanish tapas — those light snacks that strike a perfect balance to a midnight dinner. Spanish restaurants here usually leave me dissatisfied. No one makes croquetas like my host mom did, and I am certain nothing is comparable to the endless patatas bravas that revived my stomach — and feet — after long nights of dancing.
However, the restaurant Barcelona brought Spain right to the table. The entire meal was scrumptious. It was savory. Confident.
The room itself was terribly cozy. When the lights dimmed at 6:45 p.m., the chic interior became a scene from a Woody Allen movie, musky and intimate, with sangria and wine flowing everywhere. Music added to the ambience, though we were certain it was XM AltNation, creating a subtle indie vibe for the younger demographic. Our friendly waiter guided us to the best tapa dishes. His recommendations did not disappoint.
The Spanish tortilla reminded me of breakfasts on the Camino de Santiago with an inventive addition of chive sour cream. The pulpo gallego (octopus) and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs both stole my heart. I’m a sucker for good octopus, and this dish, with its pimento and celery, had as much flavor as Spain’s salty waters.
If the chorizo and figs tapa had been my main course, I would’ve left the restaurant utterly satisfied and craving more. I’ve never experienced figs that sapid, rich and melodious, and they provided the perfect complement to the chorizo that seeped in the balsamic glaze. (I continued to dip my bread in this leftover glaze, as a Spaniard would.)
My sangria, which seemed to soak in the colors of that day’s fall leaves, had a delectable herbaceous taste. The drink left a pleasant taste in my mouth down to the last sip. Just as my boyfriend and I finished a small plate, the service placed new tapas on the table with impeccable timing. The fast service, unlike that which you might find in a restaurant in Spain, left me stuffed by the end of the night. In America, a fast meal is a reliable one (especially with our endless chores). Although I reminisced about the leisurely Spanish meals that lasted for hours, I appreciated the attentiveness of the waiters.
Our second round of tapas — we were hungry — included tuna carpaccio, topped with pickled onions, lemon aioli and cucumbers, and grilled hangar steak, with a truffle vinaigrette. Though I admit I was dubious about these dishes’ toppings, the ingredients harmonized into exciting bursts of flavor.
One of my favorite dishes in the world might be croquetas — or, in real Spanish, croquetas de jamon. I’ve tried making them before. It’s difficult. The fry has to be just so, and the inside of the roll takes a while to complete. To my surprise, the restaurant perfected its croquetas. They completely satisfied me.
And the flan for dessert? Amazing. I would go back just to have that soothingly sweet pastry again. Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar is the only substitute to the city itself.
Contact Natalina Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org .
FUN AT JUNZI
I walk into Junzi from the leaf-sodden sidewalk of Broadway and York, leaving the messy Gothic overcompensation of campus far behind. The bright and elegant interior is filled with an air of casual chic, and its stripped-back and clean decor feels effortlessly composed in a way that shrugs, “I woke up like this.”
The little seating area is strewn with low stools for the time-pressed student to perch upon as he or she digs into one of the various bite-sized meals that Junzi offers. Ideal for a quick pit stop between classes or a long night of studying, the fiery spices and crisp flavors make Junzi’s classic chun bing and noodle bowls an invigorating delight.
Junzi’s philosophy strikes a careful balance between loyalty to the founding concept of a joint serving chun bing — spring pancakes in the Northern Chinese street food style — and bold creativity in finding new ways of catering to Yale and New Haven as a whole. And recent grad and head chef Lucas Sin ’15, who grew up cooking at home and went on to be a pop-up restaurant pioneer on the streets of his native Hong Kong, knows exactly how to please his captive audience.
“I just want to eat all the time!” he tells me with a guilty smile as he neatly folds a thin pancake around a succulent assembly of shredded beef, seasonal vegetables and chili oil. “So the kind of food I want to make for myself and others is basically just … hedonistically pleasurable.”
Sin is just as true to his own word as he is to the core ideals that Junzi aims to serve to every customer. Its palate steers clear of the typical “American” preconception of Chinese food: General Tso’s chicken and the fare you might find at Panda Express. Instead, an abundance of clear vegetables, rich meats and tofu, and sharp chili spice on a bed of your own choosing — either the chun bing pancake or a bowl of flat rice noodles — stands out as popular staples on the Junzi menu, all of which prices at $9 or less apiece.
And the selection doesn’t end there. Walking me around the counter, Sin points out the daily selection of salads and tofu dishes, devised daily by his colleagues. Stacked nearby are dozens of bright cartons, containing juices, tea and soy drinks — all everyday refreshments that Sin grew up drinking in Hong Kong. Even this doesn’t touch upon the full extent of Chef Sin’s plans for Junzi over the coming months. The chun bing and noodle-bowl fillings of vegetables and garnishes will change regularly as the year goes on, he tells me, keeping apace with the fresh seasonal produce that gives Junzi its mouthwatering flavors. Drawing upon his time serving students in the Davenport Dive, Sin hints excitedly at his own big ideas for a new Late Night Menu, which grew out of a Junzi team tradition in which staff members used whatever supplies were left in the kitchen to make whatever they wanted.
Tim Lind ’16, former member of the Whiffenpoofs and the Yale Alley Cats who now also works for Junzi, puts this down to the work ethic: “There’s this great sense of community among the staff here, including the management.” Chef Sin plans to develop this fun and casual approach into a means of offering students some more familiar snack options in the small hours — nachos being the first point of order.
Perhaps most importantly of all: “On late-night weekends, we’re open when Toad’s closes,” he adds pointedly.
With its bombshell new flavors and creative entrepreneurialism, Junzi has set itself well on course to join the ranks of Yale students’ classic late-night snack haunts. I, for one, predict that the path to Junzi will become a well-trodden favorite of both Yalies and New Haven at large before the spring rolls around.
Contact Laurence Bashford at email@example.com .
ZINCIN’ ABOUT ZINC
I was stoked to snag a Restaurant Week dinner at Zinc. Not Kitchen Zinc, but its fancier counterpart located front-and-center on Chapel Street. I couldn’t wait to eat like an adult who has more than $14.20 in her bank account.
After my two dinner companions and I were seated in the back corner of the restaurant, we scanned the prix fixe Restaurant Week menu, determined to cover as much territory as we could. We ended up sampling eight of the 12 first-course, second-course and dessert options available.
I chose the Belgian endive and radicchio salad, the butternut squash ravioli and the carrot cake parfait. My friends, meanwhile, ordered the grilled shrimp, grilled chicken and fennel sausage with apple cider butter sauce, salmon risotto with pancetta, pumpkin cheesecake and apple and cranberry crumble.
After our server finished taking our order, she uttered the three words every girl dreams of hearing: “Here’s some bread.” Sadly, the corn and fennel flatbread was a major disappointment. Picture a toasted rubber eraser about the size and shape of a Starburst, and you get the idea. I almost regretted not picking up that loaf of free bread I saw hanging out on the sidewalk outside Atticus on the way over.
Fortunately, the meal could only get better from there. The grilled shrimp was mouthwateringly juicy, the poached pear salad crisp and refreshing. The sweet, creamy, cheesy butternut squash pasta had me like, “Ravioli, ravioli, give me the formuoli.” There were some seriously tender peas and farm-fresh spinach all up in there.
The salmon and the chicken sausage were good. They were flaky, savory, smooth and crisp in all the right places, prepared and served with the finesse I expected from Zinc, and yet … they felt oddly uninspired as a whole. Interesting spices and fresh ingredients added a nice twist here and there — the date and lemon relish on the salmon, for example, or the harissa in the ravioli — but the majority of dishes lacked any element of surprise.
The desserts were Zinc’s saving grace. The pumpkin cheesecake, set off by just a smattering of gingerbread crumble, was delightfully light and airy. The carrot cake parfait was to die for. I could wax poetic about the fresh whipped cream custard plugging up the top of the miniature mason jar, the giant candied pecans underneath, the fluffy spiced cake, freshly grated carrots and best of all, the generous smear of local honey coating the bottom. Perhaps the cake and the whipped cream could have been layered more uniformly, but I think I enjoyed not knowing what I would taste each time I pulled up my long parfait spoon.
Overall, for the price tag, I expected to be blown away by fresh and inspiring dishes. Alas, the only surprising thing about Zinc is the fact that it’s simply not very surprising at all. Maybe next year, Zinc. Until then, I’ll be thinking of your carrot cake parfait, and trying to forget your “bread.”
Contact Erin Wang at firstname.lastname@example.org .
THE CUBAN SOUL OF NEW HAVEN
I’m forced to admit that as a result of my laziness and living over a block away, I had never visited Soul de Cuba, which is located at 283 Crown St. The walk, however, was worth it.
My first memory of Soul de Cuba actually took place during Bulldog Days 2014. After spending the day together, my parents and I split ways. Not long after, my dad texted me, “Who are you walking with?” And then I realized that even 1750 miles away from home, I would never be free from my parents. They later informed me that they had seen me from the window of Soul de Cuba, which did little to mitigate my confusion.
Soul de Cuba has been at the back of my mind since then, and while I’ve wanted to go for a while, the closer options on Chapel Street usually win out.
Accompanied by a friend who compromised her veganism for a first taste of Cuban food, I made my way to the restaurant. Its small size creates a homey atmosphere, but the prices immediately make it very clear you’re in a fine-dining establishment. The prix fixe Restaurant Week dinner menu includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for $32. The regular dinner menu has entrees ranging from $17 to $24.
In our quest for a food coma, my friend and I both ordered from the Restaurant Week menu. My tostones con camarones featured a green plantain with bruschetta and shrimp. While the shrimp and plantain were flavorful, the bruschetta felt hastily thrown on. The lettuce, in particular, was overabundant and unripe. My friend ordered the yuca frita, which is normally one of my favorite dishes. Here, however, in both and look and taste it felt like Tater Tots from an elementary school cafeteria. The usual bitter yuca taste was nonexistent, and without the menu, I couldn’t have guessed the dish.
The appetizers, unsurprisingly, left us desiring more. Luckily, the dinner continued on an upward trend. My entree, which our waiter recommended, was pargo a la cubana, a tender red snapper filet lightly simmered with cilantro, onion, tomato, white wine and garlic. Cooked to the perfect degree, the fish was soft and each bite tried to out-flavor the previous. The fish was placed upon a bed of rice and accompanied by beans, a Cuban staple. My friend opted for the motofu, one of two vegetarian entrees. It was essentially fried tofu served with an assortment of vegetables, rice and plantain drizzled in balsamic reduction. She noted that in comparison to other tofu dishes, this one was “smoky and well-seasoned.”
Dessert came in the form of tres leches and flan. We waited a while, so it was all the more rewarding when, topped with a ton of whipped cream, the spongy cake arrived. The cake was light and fluffy without being too sweet, and did not over-showcase condensed milk, as tres leches often does. The flan, albeit small, also elevated the level of sponge cake. The caramel syrup seeped through to the bottom, so every bite was equally delicious.
At the end of the meal, our quest for a food coma was more than surpassed. Overall, I left happy that I had made the trek. Was the three-course meal at Soul de Cuba worth the full $32 (minus tax) prix fixe? Not really, but it was a satisfying experience. If you’ve just gotten a job offer, want to celebrate your anniversary, or want to try something new, it’s a great place. For a broke college student, there are other options in the city.
Contact Rohan Naik at email@example.com.