Wayla, Wayan, Wayo. Confusing times for Google these days. Most confusing since Ilili, Leyla, Lilia, and Laila. I’m not making any of this up. These are all names of restaurants in NYC that sound and spell alike, and some of them opened around the same time. Naming your restaurant is as important as naming your child. I remember spending countless of
bathroom hours looking at baby names before finally finding the one that clicked. Its such a great feeling! Until she says no and puts you in your place. “Ugly Baby” should be a lesson to all future owners as that perfect name that is both meaningful, and easy to remember.
Restaurant owners should get into the habit of Googling the names before settling. Wayla opened close to a year ago, yet when I Google it I still get “did you mean Wayan”. Maybe Google simply figured me out, and tried to warn me. Its not far fetched AI to build an algorithm that will match you with the correct restaurants. But there’s not much AI can do to stop them from over-frying the noodles. For now.
Wayla, considered by some one of the best Thai in the city, still feels super buzzy today. Hence difficult to reserve, even though their website hints the opposite. “We accept a limited amount of reservations each evening and welcome walk-ins”. What that really means is.. “you see those two at the uncomfortable bar that looked like they havnt seen each other in decades and have much to talk about? As soon as they are done, we’ll text you. Meanwhile, go to REI and buy something you dont need”. I was surprised to learn that all tables are reserved, not just a select amount.
Much as been said and written about the Moo Sarong, fried noodle-wrapped meatballs that requires a unique set of skills possessed by only one person in the city. His name is Liam John Neeson. Its essentially one noodle wrapped around a pork meatball and if the noodle breaks in the process, you need to start all over. In Thailand this forgotten dish got a life boost after it was featured on a soap opera, but only the wealthy can afford to have this labor intensive dish. And here we are, eating it in a Lower East Side basement for 9 bucks. Spoiler alert: Its not good.
Its tough to criticize an appetizer that costs $9, but I’ll do my best. The balls are fried to such a crisp that none of the ingredients shine. It doesnt taste like anything really. After the meal, I looked at Insta to see if the colors matched my darker than expected, and saw 50 shades of brown. I can only guess ours spent an extra 30 seconds in the fryer. Its $1.50 a pop (you get 6 balls). For $1.50 you can get a nice plate of dumplings in every corner nearby. The Chicken Satay ($15) special however was more like it. Bulky, meaty skewers with an abundant, nicely balanced peanut sauce.
The crab fried rice ($24) is one of the better ones I’ve had. Heaps of chunky crab, albeit as expected for the price of a main course. The problem with this dish is that there are other attractive noodle/rice dishes on the menu forcing a carb fest. But I’ll make it easier for you. Skip the other signature, Lobster Pad Thai ($36) . The sweet, peanuty flavor of the noodles just doesnt play well with the other dishes and its just an ok use of expensive lobster. Its a far cry from Wayan’s terrific lobster noodles a couple of blocks away. Should have listened to Google I suppose.
The saving grace was a fried Branzino ($31). Normally I wouldnt order fried Branzino in any restaurant but the preparation here was intriguing. The fish is deboned, flash fried, and cut into cubes. While I found it much more aromatic than Mrs Z (meaning the fish, not her. She smelled like Orchids and white Alba truffles). The fresh herbs and spices was more like the best of Thai on a plate. The Mango Mousse Sticky Rice was good but could have used some cowbell. By that I mean something like coconut milk to give it another layer.
100 Forsyth St (Basement, Grand/Broome), Lower East Side
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Branzino, Chicken Satay