Eater NY is chronicling what we’re drinking right now in this occasional series on good drinks at restaurants. In our excitement over all of the other details of restaurants, we haven’t given drinks their due. Here’s to the good ones.
I planned to meet a writer I had been working with after not seeing her for months during COVID. She wanted to meet for tea, but as these things tend to go, when we arrived, the place we had chosen hadn’t yet reopened in the pandemic. That’s how we ended up at plan B, Uluh, at 152 Second Avenue, between ninth and 10th streets. Named for the Chinese gourd, open since 2019, the restaurant has since made its way into my repertoire. While it’s earned some attention for its regional Chinese dishes since opening, it’s a sleeper hit when it comes to tea.
We met close to 4 p.m. on a weekday, adjacent to the early dining hours people kept when they were still having to show their vaccination status. The thing about that time of day is, if you’re not in the mood for coffee, and it's not time for a cocktail, a teahouse really is one of the few welcoming hangout spots in the late afternoon, that still has plenty of atmosphere.
Normally, one might think of teahouses as quiet and serene, but at Uluh, the cavernous dining room — with its stone accent wall and giant portrait of Andy Warhol — would, within a few hours, become rather loud, with its hard surfaces, communal tables, and base-heavy tunes.
It’s not as common for a Chinese restaurant in NYC to have a vast selection of teas, but Uluh serves over 30 — most from China and Taiwan — in an extensive collection of pots and cups, matched to the styles, from herbals, high-mountain oolongs, green, black, and white teas and a lone pu’er from Yunnan. Would the selections please a tea snob? I asked a photographer friend who has a side hustle leading tea ceremonies at the Noguchi Museum. “Way more options than any Chinese restaurant I’ve ever seen,” he says, noting that while many selections are accessible, “there are a few bangers.”
On one visit, I tried the fragrant Li Shan oolong. Another, I got the herbal chrysanthemum blossom, served in a glass pot so I could watch the flower bloom. Servers know enough about tea, and assume I do, too. Their style of service is generally fastidious and reserved: qualities I sometimes miss in our have-you-dined-with-us-before moment.
Uluh is a surprisingly satisfying place to stop for just tea and a snack; there’s a selection of dim sum, which includes Shanghai seaweed dumpling soup, loofah dumplings, Sichuan-style pig ears, ice jelly, and other items I have yet to try. In addition to dim sum, Uluh displays some exciting small plates: beef and tripe in chile oil or Nanjing salted duck, for example. The rest of the menu is divided into signature dishes, stir-fry, the “Uluh ten,” spicy dishes, vegetables, soups, noodles, and dishes for a New Yorker. The latter isn’t your typical General Tso’s, though there is that: It also features chile fried chicken and Xinjiang cumin beef. In short, this is a menu that caters to Chinese students (or graduated Chinese students), and while I may be an interloper, I’m not made to feel that way.
After four or five visits, I started to develop a semi-regular order: stir-fried cabbage with soy sauce or Chinese broccoli with goji, a solid version of mapo, or maybe the beef with cilantro, with a heat that’s cumulative. And I can’t help but get the fish in green peppercorn for a dose of tingly numbing and the intense savoriness of the dish.
While Uluh stands on its own as a restaurant, for a midday pick-me-up, go for tea and a snack.