Uluh is a Chinese restaurant and teahouse on 2nd Avenue in the East Village. But if someone were to walk in blindfolded, they’d assume they were somewhere with a cover charge and a 300-pound bouncer named Ronnie.
The space is giant, dimly-lit, and largely undecorated aside from a pop art portrait of Andy Warhol’s face that makes it feel like he’s Skyping in. There’s a long table in the back where there’s always a group celebrating, and hip-hop blasts from the speakers with bass levels similar to that of a Corvette rental. But instead of bottle service, Uluh has tea service. Instead of closing when the sun comes up, Uluh opens at 11:30am for dim sum lunch and closes after dinner. And instead of bathrooms Sharpied over with phone numbers, Uluh has bidets and heated toilet seats. If all of these aspects sound contradictory, that’s because they are. But, it’s these contrasting elements that make eating with a group of friends at Uluh a good time.
The menu lists about 100 Chinese dishes - ranging in region and style, from Shanghai pork soup dumplings and Peking duck, to lobster dry pot and other Sichuan specialties. Like most of the people you sit with in meetings all day, the food at Uluh is mostly good-not-great. But there are a few exceptions that stand out, like the excellent mapo tofu, and the spicy boneless pig feet. The best dish, though, is the fermented fish in cabbage stew. About five seconds after your first bite into the soft and sour fish, you’ll feel a slow creep of spiciness through your upper body. Suddenly the vibrations of atmospheric hip-hop might seem more intense, as if you’ve swallowed one of the restaurant’s speakers, and it may appear that Andy Warhol is staring directly at your table. But spice level aside, the fermentation from the pickled cabbage is the reason we’ll order this dish again and again.
Dinner at Uluh will cost about $40-$50 per person, without alcohol. What you’ll get, though, are portion sizes large enough to feed the current members of Fleetwood Mac and dainty pots of oolong tea in a space that plays music with an average of 130 beats per minute. So take stock of all the people in your life who would appreciate the unique experience of eating fermented fish stew at a clubby tea party, and make a night of it.
Tea is a big deal at Uluh, and there are tons of different high-grade varieties to choose from. Like matcha milkshakes, zang zang lattes, or a pot with a rose oolong tea bag shaped like a goldfish. Each tea comes on its own beautiful tray with a ceramic bowl of in-house simple syrup.
Imagine scallion pancakes made with half a dozen thin pastry layers. These taste distinctly lighter and flakier than a lot of other versions in the city, and they’re a must-order.
This mapo tofu is so soft it deserves its own thread count. You know that friend of yours who can’t get behind tofu? Feed them this.
This is the dish at Uluh that makes us quote nonsensical 1920s idioms. It’s the cat’s pajamas. It’s the duck’s quack. You get the point. Uluh doesn’t specify the type of mild white fish used here. But whatever it is, the fish soaks up all of the flavor of the spicy green-yellow broth. Despite carrying a lot of heat, you can still taste the cabbage and mushroom flavor in the stew.
These pig feet are braised in a tasty oily sauce, and the texture is fatty and delicious. You’ll probably see other tables ordering this, and it’s definitely worth trying a few. But the portion is huge, so make sure you recruit help (they’re very filling).
Our favorite vegetable at Uluh. Some pieces are cooked more thoroughly than others, so you’ll get a combination of crunchiness and squishiness and you’ll appreciate both equally, like two very different children.
These have just the right amount of nice salty broth. We recommend the straightforward pork ones over the truffle soup option because you can taste the porkiness in all of its glory. There are four per order, and you should do your best to claim two.
Uluh has a bunch of sweets to go along with their tea and dim sum options. We like the mini pumpkin puff best because it’s only a little bit sweet and comes fried to perfection. We also like that it’s shaped like a pumpkin with a sprig of mint for the stem.