Although anything can be romantic—a newsstand in the rain, the bow of the Staten Island Ferry, the Red Hook Ikea parking lot—relatively few restaurants and bars actually are. It takes a lot to conjure real chemistry. In love and hospitality, the right combination of lighting, aesthetic appeal and the yearning for more can make magic. Ye’s Apothecary, which opened in June, has all of the substance, style and intangible qualities that often kindle infatuation. It is New York City’s best new date place.
The Szechuan tapas spot follows the same team’s well-regarded Blue Willow restaurant, which opened in midtown at the end of 2020. Both are attractive, but Ye’s Apothecary is exceedingly pretty, even dark as it is before the sun sets outside the subterranean space. It has mild speakeasy proclivities (as is law in 2022), situated down a staircase on a relatively quiet (or at least less frenetic) stretch of Orchard Street, and ideally authored menus to turn "getting to know you" into a little more.
Descend and make a sharp right: a cinematic bar is over your shoulder, set with gleaming emerald tiles and a few seats facing illuminated shelves as studied as a still life. The expanse of the long, jewel-toned venue is to the left, where elegant light fixtures float above banquettes and candlelit, marbled tables. It’s all very intimate, both as a euphemism for manageably tight and as a mood. You will be able to hear surrounding conversations, which all seem to be following the same uneasily promising first date script, but expert design and brilliant atmosphere helps that chit-chat track cute. It’s all very polished but stops shy of feeling overproduced.
Ye’s Apothecary has as venerable and varied a dinner menu as any more languid destination, but tables here turn over much faster, indicating that those apparent dates went much worse or much better than they appeared. The excellently calibrated options are equally suited to order one or a few, or strain bear hug-sized two-tops with veritable banquets. The potstickers ($15) are wonderful in all scenarios. Goldilocks-density wrappers with swipes of pan-kissed gold encase juicy beef or pork for dual acts of texture in about as many bites. The chili filet-o-fish ($22) is also a stunner. Mild and moist cuts of seafood are coated in a sensational crust with a gently building heat that’s hard to stop returning to. And the Singapore duck fried rice ($24) is a nice, familiar, larger plate.
The architecturally arranged “thirteen spices” soft shell crab ($26) is serviceable. It's battered too thick to identify the typically unambiguous crustacean at a glance, and it tastes more of fried than anything else, which seems to be emerging as a theme at restaurants citywide. It is still adeptly executed even in the absence of that titular baker’s dozen of flavors. Though not unpleasant, and a better-than-bar-food comfort contender, it’s a little disappointing to bite into what could be almost anything during the starring item’s fleeting season. A pile of Szechuan beef ($16) is also even sweeter and more rigid than expected, landing like a candy apple. It still has some merits as a snack and could be fairly paired with something like a dry martini. Many of the drink menu’s great, detailed cocktails skew a sketch sweeter.
Beverage selections from the beautiful, boozy jewel box are as lovely as the area suggests. The plum martini ($18) is a vibrant joy, fragrant and blooming with stone fruit notes and bracing strength. The rye-based Lost Hours ($18) is also a kicky tipple, imbued with chile liqueur and star anise bitters. And a dedicated gin and tonic menu (each $18) suffuses the simple classic with interesting bitters, tea elements and herbs. It all creates plenty to talk about on a date, whether you’re destined to simply pass in the night, or one day purchase Swedish furniture together.
The Vibe: Exceedingly pretty, intimate and romantic with a quick pulse; NYC’s best new date destination.
The Food: Billed as “Szechuan tapas” with a sensational chili filet-o-fish and wonderful beef or pork potstickers, plus a great truffle mushroom salad and a nice larger plate of duck fried rice.
The Drinks: A wonderfully detailed dedicated gin and tonic menu, fragrant standouts like the plum martini, plus beer and wine.
Time Out Tip: Reservations are strongly recommended. A high two-top at the far end of the space is particularly intimate if you don’t mind the backless stools.
Ye’s Apothecary is located at 119 Orchard Street. It is open Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm-midnight and Friday-Saturday from 5pm-1am.