Rasa is a Malaysian restaurant nestled in the heart of Greenwich Village. It boasts the best of Malaysian street and comfort food. Camie and Tommy Lai, sibling chefs who established themselves as New York City’s premier Malaysian chefs, named Rasa after the town in Malaysia where they grew up. Tommy Lai was the chef behind Laut, a Malaysian restaurant in Union Square that received the first Michelin rating of any Malaysian restaurant in 2011.
Despite having ample space, Rasa seats only 52 people at any given time. The dining room is paneled with glossy wood and thin nets are draped elegantly from the ceiling. The pace of the restaurant, the soft, soothing music and the scents of piquant teas all lull the patron into a state of serenity.
The calmness of the setting contrasts with the boldness of the flavors. Each dish pops with an explosive tanginess. Tommy Lai will normally begin the meal with either a familiar Chinese or Indian dish.
“Gourmands who are not familiar with South Asian plates could dine on these side dishes and graduate to the main dishes,” Camie Lai said.
Tisch sophomore Jake Rogers explained the unique taste.
“It’s kind of like Indian food and Thai food, but then it’s not at all, because it’s spicy and sweet and it’s really delicious,” Rogers said.
The preferred starter is the doughy flat bread roti canai that comes with a curry potato dipping plate.
Other dishes range from tangy curry beef to an assortment of flat noodle dishes that are filling and rich. The main dishes are full of powerful and surprising flavors. The assam laksa bowl is typically a Malaysian noodle bowl that mixes the flavors of peppers, tamarind, pineapple, mint leaf, apple juice and ginger flower petals into an unusually sweet and potent concoction that is unlike most foods offered in New York.
Camie Lai said the ginger in the assam laksa soup appears along the roads in Rasa, the town.
“Here, they are very rare,” she said.
Rasa the restaurant promises to be a ginger flower in the concrete jungle, something new and beautiful in a familiar world on 25 W. Eighth St.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 25 print edition. Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]