When you think of Southeast Asian street food, you might instantly envision cheap, quick snacks of re-heated ingredients slopped into paper bowls. That’s not to say it isn’t tasty — but it’s probably not something you’d want to linger over on a special night out. But the people behind Sachi Asian Bistro have designed a street-food restaurant that’s perfect for lingering — a swanky, lounge-like spot full of healthy, delicious takes on Southeast Asian favorites. Chef duo Pichet Ong and Andy Yang have multiple James Beard Award nominations and a Michelin Star, respectively, but despite that top-notch pedigree, this Midtown East spot honors its menu’s casual roots.
When you and your date hit the entrance, you’ll hear sultry jazz or a bit of swing playing in the background. Give a nod to the miniature Tibetan twin pixiu (a mythical dragon-horse-lion protector) statues as you walk inside. If you can manage it, ask for a seat near the cascading stone waterfalls near the front, so the ambient sounds of flowing water provide the soundtrack to your meal. Take note of the sleek red booths, the zinc-topped bar, and the pinewood dividers that create sharp vertical lines amid the airy, open space — a layout designed to be calming.
Traditional touches infuse the menu, too. “The menu items are not new creations, nor are the recipes,” says chef Yang. Instead, they’re re-interpretations of the food Yang and Ong grew up on. But they all have a healthy spin, using high heat and little oil, so you taste a bigger range of flavors. You also notice atypical accents to enhance the meal. Order the rojak, a typical Malaysian fruit and vegetable salad, and you’ll find it arrives with both raw and cooked pineapple, for more varied flavor and texture. You should also try the bo luc lac, a traditional Vietnamese beef dish that’s flavored here with Chinese spices, butter, and tomato paste.
Chef Ong recommends the massaman short rib: a large hunk of marinated meat – steam-roasted in a combi oven to make it tender, then braised in curry – or the king prawn. It’s grilled to medium temperature to give it texture, dusted with aromatic curry, and served over grilled cauliflower and pineapple for a medley of classic Southeast Asian flavors.
“We cook the dish one order at a time in the wok, caramelizing each component, such as the aromatics, the noodles, and the shrimp, and then quickly toss it together like a warm salad,” explains Ong. “This is a bit different from how it is done on the streets of Thailand.”
But if you only order one item on the menu, head straight for desserts and get the honey miso parfait. A decadent, semi-frozen treat, it has a miso base mixed with white chocolate and house-made crumble, apple sorbet, and slices of Asian pear – with honey drizzled on the sides of the bowl for dipping. It has an almost cookie-dough texture and taste, but it’s doubtful you could find anything this wonderfully complex in the plastic tubes you buy at the grocery store.
But, what should you pair with it all? Yang suggests the jade lantern cocktail, which is a smooth, bright combination of vodka, Matcha green tea, lemon juice, and fresh mint leaves. It’s light – just like the food – and pairs well with everything on the menu.