Poontang Potstickers. Cheeto Fried Chicken. General Poke-Her-Face Prawns. That the menu at Xiao Ye reads like a juvenile prank makes perfect sense. Eddie Huang, the young Taiwanese-American behind the endeavor, is a sort of gastronomic Dennis the Menace. He's been needling the New York restaurant establishment since last fall, when he announced his first project, Baohaus—a cubbyhole specializing in Taiwanese pork buns—on his gangsta-chef blog (thepopchef.blogspot.com).
Huang, who grew up in the restaurant business in Florida, is a self-styled food rebel—the "OG Iron Chef," as he described himself in one early post—a cocky pretender to the David Chang throne. But while Chang is a genuine prodigy, Xiao Ye proves that Huang is just a kid with outsize ambitions—and a remarkable knack for grabbing the spotlight.
A sign that reads DERICIOUS FOODS hangs over the kitchen door at Huang's latest venture, and most nights you'll find him there cooking. But instead of chef's whites and a toque, he favors a hip-hop uniform of slouchy shorts and a baseball cap. Even by the relaxed standards of the Momofuku age, his narrow Lower East Side spot is radically chill, with slovenly service by young women in short-shorts, cramped seating on punishing wood cubes, and black walls adorned with his own travel snaps.
The restaurant's copious portions of East Asian drunk food are best consumed late, in the sort of fog that follows too many bubble teas spiked, as they are here, with Johnnie Walker and Baileys. Suitably sloshed, you may in fact have a fine time at Xiao Ye—failing to notice, for instance, how much the generic duroc-pork pot stickers ($8 an order) resemble the Chinatown classics, sold five for a dollar a few blocks away; or how the Princeton Review Bean Paste Noodles are like a milquetoast version of Grand Sichuan's dandan (more sweet than spicy); or that the clumsily hacked hunks of poached Hainan chicken are in fact an alarming shade of pink.
Despite Huang's shock-jock inclinations—he originally planned to call the place Crackhaus, and the opening menu featured big slabs of pork served in a dog bowl—his food turns out to be pretty tame. The "Poke-her-face" prawns are medium-size shrimp in the shell, simply slicked in a goopy General Tso's sauce with more fire than flavor. Even the Cheeto chicken—a bizarre but surprisingly tasty dish that might have been conceived in a dorm room at Taipei University—exhibits restraint, the tender, boneless hunks of crispy fried fowl sparingly dusted in snack-food crumbs with bittersweet orange sauce on the side.
The super-sweet desserts that follow—a fluffy stack of breakfast pancakes with fresh lychees; an insipid mountain of shaved ice with tropical fruit, mango gelatin and Day-Glo blue syrup—are also best suited to bingeing while liquored up. That's the only state, it seems, in which Xiao Ye may be a legitimate draw.
Drink this: Xiao Ye's well stocked bar offers a large selection of offbeat party cocktails. The Milk Skywalker ($12), sweet bubble tea with Irish cream and Johnnie Walker, goes down much too easy.
Eat this: Poontang Potstickers, Cheeto Fried Chicken, pancakes with lychees
Sit here: Better to pull up a stool at the bar than perch uncomfortably on the wood blocks surrounding the low-slung tables up front.
Conversation piece: Huang went to law school before deciding to follow his family into the restaurant business (his father runs a trattoria and a steakhouse in Orlando).
198 Orchard St between E Houston and Stanton Sts (212-777-7733). Subway: F to Lower East Side--Second Ave. Mon--Wed, Sun 6--11pm; Thu--Sat 6pm--2am. Average main course: $18.