Revel Hotel-Casino basically had everything you wanted from a culinary standpoint from Italian (Lugo) to seafood (Azure) to a Belgian roadhouse (Mussel Bar) to a steakhouse (American Cut) to a burger joint (Village Whiskey), even a Spanish tapas restaurant (Amada) and a taco truck (Distrito Cantina/Guapas Tacos).
But the one genre they were truly missing was an Asian concept of any kind. Now, thanks to Iron Chef Jose Garces, consider that gap filled.
In fact, his latest concept, Yuboka Dim Sum & Noodle, offers one of the best Asian food experiences you will have in Atlantic City.
Inexpensive, casual and certainly delicious, Yuboka shows the Philadelphia-based chef behind Amada, Village Whiskey and Distrito/Guapos having fun with a new concept for him. And, once again, he does not disappoint.
Located on the casino floor adjacent to Amada, Yuboka replaces Garces' Plancha Bar, which included his takes on American staples such as cheesesteaks. But, while that concept was solid, Yuboka makes much more sense on so many levels, particularly the fact that every other casino in town had at least one Asian concept, if not multiple.
"Plancha worked, but there was just more of a need for something like this, and we thought it was going to be a better fit," says George Atterbury, director of operations for Garces Group. "We actually looked at a number of spaces on property, and Plancha was one area we knew operationally that we could turn around and open by Memorial Day, which was important to us. And I think there's a lot of initial excitement. It was one of the things that was just missing at Revel. The clientele in casinos in Atlantic City expects a noodle bar in every casino, and Revel didn't have one. From a dining aspect, we are already seeing an increase of Asian customers, and Revel has big hopes for it … as do we."
With a seating expansion to now facilitate 36 diners, Yuboka debuted as a concept where you had to order from a window. Yuboka has been so successful, however, that it was recently converted to a full-service eatery, with takeout still remaining a popular option.
"We extended another 18 feet to double the space to 36 feet and matched the flooring and counters and extended it out to the casino floor," Atterbury says. "We completely changed every single piece of equipment except for one refrigerator so that we have a steam table for the noodles, a steamer for the dumplings, a separate flattop grill and oven, a stovetop, additional refrigeration and more. We did it right."
Garces is actually sourcing some of the menu from his favorite dumpling hangout, Dim Sum Garden in Philadelphia, a restaurant currently owned by chef Da Shizhou and her daughter Sally, who are making the family's signature Xiao Long Bao - Shanghai soup dumplings ($9) - for Yuboka.
In fact, it's the dim sum that makes Yuboka stand out from its competitors. Aside from the signature Shanghai soup dumplings, which are like eating wonton soup but inside a dumpling, other popular creations include chicken dumplings ($8), pork and chive dumplings ($9), mushroom and pork shumai ($10), vegetable dumplings ($10) and shrimp dumplings ($12).
"The dim sum is a perfect example of how we are different from other places," Atterbury says. "Our choices for dim sum are much larger and more diverse compared to other noodle bars in the city. Jose has been going to Dim Sum Garden for years and he always knew that he wanted to do a noodle bar and knew he wanted to incorporate them into what he was going to do. It's a fifth-generation family business, and making dim sum is very time consuming and labor intensive. And they are the best … just amazing. Why not have the people that can execute them the best make them for us?"
Garces' talented staff prepares the rest of the menu.
Standout small plates include chicken wings with with spicy garlic-ginger sauce ($12); mouth-watering, meaty BBQ pork ribs ($9) in an amazing Asian BBQ sauce; sesame cold noodles ($9) with creamy sesame, carrots, cucumber and mint; and the signature Dan Dan Noodles ($7), which is almost like an Asian Bolognese with ground pork, Zha Cal, chile oil and scallions.
"The chicken wings are actually brined, which makes such a difference because it keeps in the flavor and the moistness after we fry them," Atterbury says. "The bone-on ribs are just tremendous. The hoisin glaze is so flavorful. And the Dan Dan Noodles are just amazing. The crunch from the diced scallions just works perfectly with them."
Other menu items include the wok-fired lamb bun ($6), which is a lamb patty freshly breaded and fried to order; congee ($9), a rice porridge with pork belly, beef tendon, poached egg and hoisin; and Mouth Watering Cold Chicken ($7) with Szechuan, chile oil, scallion and sesame.
Open for lunch, dinner and late-night dining, Yuboka's noodles are also killer, particularly the beef noodle soup ($16) with tender braised short rib, beef tendon, bok choy, cabbage, Enoki mushrooms and thin Shanghai noodles; the wonton noodle soup ($16) with prawn and pork wontons, bok choy, cabbage and shiitake mushrooms; and the duck noodle soup ($15) with roast Peking duck, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, Kai-Lan, snow pea shoots and thick Shanghai noodles.
"We braise the short rib in a similar way we prepare the short rib at Amada," Atterbury says. "It's cooked for a really long time. We then slice it to order for noodle soup. If you slice it too early, it completely dries out.
"The duck noodle soup is great. The Peking duck is fresh and slow-roasted at a low temperature for a very long time. We roast the whole duck, take the breast off the duck and then slice that to order, too. It's a delicate protein and we use the thicker Shanghai noodles."
Atterbury says Yuboka isn't your ordinary noodle bar.
"I think for the Garces Group, it comes down the basic formula of great hospitality and great food," he says. "And we are always listening to feedback from our people. So we have already adjusted menu items and we will continue to do that as time goes on, just like our other restaurants. Jose and his culinary team have clear visions on how to execute food. This was a concept in culinary development for about a year. We have been talking about this for quite some time. And we think we got it right. It's a destination restaurant."