Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Uptown's Asian Invasion

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel
Ninja City Kitchen and Bar opened last month in University Circle. This Asian street food and fast food concept from Bac Nguyen, the owner of Bac, a bistro in Tremont, is a fun spot as long as you know a few things in advance. Ninja City a place for eating, not dining. Water is served in plastic cups and some dishes arrive in paper-lined baskets. The vibe skews toward youth in decor and style, which makes sense given the location on the fringes of the CWRU campus.

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel 
The operation strikes me as a cross between two other local creations. To order, guests fill out a form a la Happy Dog (soon to be opening a second outpost in the former Euclid Tavern down the street), with options to customize your own plates and combos. The small menu itself is reminiscent of items available at Noodlecat downtown — reinvented versions of ramen, gyoza, edamame, steam buns and chicken wings. I enjoyed everything I tried. The BBQ pork buns were my favorite — light, airy rounds of dough to wrap around bits of roasted meat accompanied by pickled carrot and radish, a toss of scallions and cilantro, and topped with chili aioli. The cold spring roll noodle bowl didn't stray far from tradition but it was nicely done with a tasty sweet garlic vinaigrette. The Banh Mi sandwich was big, mostly because of thick slices of crusty bread, but the filling of sliced pork, ham,  and veggies held its own. The portions were generous and the prices reasonable. I noticed that dishes were flagged for being gluten free, vegetarian or available without animal protein.

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel
There was something a bit too postmodern about the decor for my taste, a mix and match pastiche that strives a bit too hard to be hip. The comic book cute wall art is inspired by graphic novels. The chain link fence that fronts the mirror — for no obvious reason — metal ceiling fans, utilitarian tables and chairs and exposed ductwork have an urban industrial feel. But then there's weathered barn wood paneling opposite the bar and in parts of the upper level. I do like the fact that the front window is actually a garage door that can be raised in good weather, with access to a small patio on the sidewalk.
I don't think I'd make a special trip just for a meal here, but if I was hungry and in the neighborhood, Ninja City would definitely be on my list of possibilities.

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