I was hoping to have a second look by now, but it turns out Ace Eat Serve doesn’t in fact feed or serve before 2 on Sundays, so when I arrived at noon I had to mope around longingly instead.
Which means this will be updated eventually, but here’s what, IMO, you need to know in a nutshell: the place could not be cooler or more exuberant. Spacious, urbane yet earthy amid woods & metals recycled from the garage that used to occupy it, scattered with cool retro knickknacks (love those vintage flyers from Thailand)—a lot like Steuben’s, in other words, only with all the pingpong action that lends it its name.
The pan-Asian menu, meanwhile, is deceptively simple. It’s short, & so are the descriptions; you only have a general sense of what you’ve ordered until it’s in front of you. Take the chicken-thigh bao, for example.
Owner Josh Wolkon’s partner, Matt Selby, told me that one poor guy on the line has been making all the buns himself since day 1, & you can tell; mine was as good as any I’ve had on Federal, anyway—really—& the shredded dark meat that filled it turned bright with shreds of mango; as for the sweet pickled mustard seeds on the side, they, like the sesame-seed paste I touted last week, were worth the price of admission. In short, it’s the the unexpected add-ons & seasonings that bring Ace’s output to life.
As seasoned as Selby & exec chef Brandon Biederman are themselves, though, they’re still tweaking the menu; whether the bao will remain on the menu in their current form remains to be seen, I’m told. So get ‘em while you can. What’s more, I think the lovely stew I had might already have been axed; I could’ve sworn it was called “red-chili beef,” which I’m not seeing on the online menu right now. (UPDATE: it hasn’t gone anywhere! It’s called “red-curry beef.” Yay.) Anyway, the coconutty broth, brimming with herbs & chunks of beef, Thai eggplant, tomato & more, was deeply satisfying, complexly spiced & all that jazz, accompanied by proper sticky rice. The blistered long beans with garlic in back could’ve used a touch more salt or soy or something, but they were snappy for sure.
The celery salad, meanwhile, was as crisp & light as could be, studded with cubes of pickled daikon & gently dressed in a subtle vinaigrette. After having some gailan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce richly studded with chunks of salted fish from Jaya Asian Grill the other day, I may never again eat vegetables without them, but then I’d be missing out on something as refreshing & cleansing as this was. (On the other hand, should you be disposed to funk it up, that’s what the fermented black beans on the table are for.)
Damn, dessert was special. A scoop of lemongrass ice cream bobbing in housemade ginger soda—so clean, so effervescent not just in form but in flavor. Zing. And the mochi filled with strawberry ice cream—so much pure goodness in such a tiny thing! I don’t believe they’re made in house, which is no biggie—sourcing’s half the battle of a solid kitchen.
As for a solid bar program, I presume these guys have it covered, just as they have at Steuben’s—well before most in town seemed to know what bitters were. As evidence, though, I can only offer a virgin sipper for the nonce: this housemade bitter-lemon soda, bright & bubbly & nowhere near too sweet. (There’s also an array of fresh juices, including a cucumber-beet-kale blend that has my number.)
That’s the story so far; I bet it has a happy ending.
After Xmas, I finally got a chance to find out. I’m hearing mixed reviews out there, but I dig the place. They’re doing what they’re doing—a broad, mod interpretation of pan-Asian eats, not a strict imitation—& doing it well.
Sure, we’re all sick of brussels sprouts—until we’re not. In a special this week (pictured top right), they were tossed with shishito peppers, garlic, & sesame seeds, fried to a blistering crisp, & paired with a lime cream for dipping; hot & cold, salty & sour, crunchy & smooth. Really nice. So were those pork-chive shumai (bottom left); minus the tomato sauce, they reminded me more than anything of little lasagna blossoms, rich & sturdy (not heavy, mind you, just structured, like pasta rather than tissuey skins).
Whether the crispy tiger wings are always as pungent as the batch pictured below left were—not spicy, but smoky to the point of bitterness—I dunno. Either way, they weren’t my top pick of the litter (or brood or flock, as the case may be)—but the beef ramen special did me a surprise solid. I missed the part in college where I was supposed to develop a taste for ramen; whoever stocked it in the collective cultural pantry forgot to offer me my share. So this is a case—a rather rare case, I’d like to think—of my having no basis for comparison other than the goods at Oshima Ramen. There, the broth tends to be light & delicate—herbal, floral, lots of ginger & scallions; Ace’s version is earthier, favoring warm spices & bright veggies like carrots & chilies both fresh & dried. Gathering further savory steam from the ample ground beef, it coats the noodles in its sheen. It really grew on me.
As for the chicken-thigh buns with fried onions & pickled mango, they were every bit as delicious as last time. And while a tiny sip of my companion’s rum-&-Chartreuse-based cocktail, The Girl With Green Eyes, wasn’t for me—I’ve just grown to detest St. Germain; it’s a personal thing—look at that ice cube (or rather rectangle)! Must’ve been 8 inches tall, at least.
So have I been inordinately lucky? That would be a first. Perhaps I’ve been inordinately lunchy—both of my visits occurred in the daytime—& the reported problems are occurring when the joint gets slammed at night. Or maybe I’m just right that there are more hits than misses, & those who say otherwise are wrong. Or maybe they’re right & I’m wrong…Nah. But only one way for you to find out.