Yerba Buena was one of the first four restaurants we reviewed on The (Immaculate) Infatuation back in early 2009, and we honestly hadn't been back since. This is an important detail, because what happened when we finally returned a few weeks ago completely blew our minds. More on that in a second. Let's set the table first.
It's late on a random Tuesday night, and Yerba Buena is popping. It might as well be Saturday night up in here, which is precisely why we love this place so much. While many restaurants come and go, Yerba Buena quietly hasn't skipped a beat. And while it may not look like much from the outside, Yerba Buena has tons of personality - it's got a little bit of a Miami in its DNA, but not enough to make us take points off the board. The room is small, the decibel levels are high, the drinks are good, and it's about as reliable as a restaurant gets. Safe to say we're enjoying ourselves.
Now, getting back to the whole mind being blown scenario. As our most recent meal ended, the manager of Yerba Buena walked up to me and asked how my Dad was doing. Being that my Dad was not with us at that moment, and also being that I was talking to a complete stranger, I was confused. But then I remembered, the last time I was at Yerba Buena, I was with my dad - FIVE F*CKING YEARS AGO. Yes he drinks a lot of wine, and yes he has a Tom Selleck mustache, so he's certainly a memorable fellow. But, come on, this guy actually remembers us from five years ago? That's insane. Also, we were a walk-in and never gave a name, so that kills any conspiracy theory that you might be considering. And this manager dude definitely doesn't seem like the type to keep up on his Infatuation, unless we happen to have been featured on a purple velour blazer blog recently.
Our point here is that, while the food at Yerba Buena has always been great, the real treat has always been the service. It's personal. They care about, and apparently remember, every damn person who walks in that door, mustache or otherwise. As far as we're concerned, that's something that goes a long, long way.
This is how you start off a meal at Yerba Buena. A small basket of finger food samplings like chorizo, tostones, yucca, and chicharron, with an excellent spicy salsa. You may need seconds.
There will always be a few ceviches on the menu, and you should go in hard here. Yerba Buena does special things with raw fish and olive oil. The Tuna Ceviche is phenomenal, and features a soy-based sauce with tamarind and sesame, some red onions, and jalapeño. The Hamachi Chifa is also delicious, with ginger, scallions, peanuts and avocado puree. Get 'em both.
Bottom line, if it has Yerba Buena short rib in it, you know it's going to be good. Ordering this Venezuelan style sandwich is not a bad idea.
It's tough to make calamari stand out, but that's exactly what Yerba Buena does. Their blue corn meal crusted calamari with sweet plantains and tamarind vinaigrette is insanely good, and is a staple on all YB menus. Order it.
I've always loved their fish tacos, but I'll admit, on our most recent trip, they weren't as good as I remembered. That said, the spicy slaw on these bad boys may be the best spicy slaw ever.
Classic Yerba Buena. The suckling pig entree is always popular, and you should get one to share amongst the table. This crispy skinned Wilber has tons of flavor, thanks to the sunchoke-black truffle puree, kale, and red chilies it's served with.
This is the short rib entree. The accompanying elements - quinoa, mushrooms, egg and scallions with a Latin salsa - are awesome, and the beef is moist and juicy.
Under the radar, Yerba Buena makes a damn good steak. The original location doesn't have the same beef selection that the one in the West Village does, but the 16-oz rib eye will certainly get the job done if you're in the mood.