Stepping into Yoku—operating out of Pure Fare—you’ll find warm, but fairly stripped back décor and, possibly, owner and Penn alumna Kriti Sehgal sitting at the singular wooden dining table finishing up some business with her team. That is to say, Yoku isn’t about smoke and mirrors or gimmicks, but a simple philosophy of balancing taste and nutrition. In keeping with Pure Fare’s spirit of healthfulness and transparency, Yoku offers simple, fresh, tasty, unpretentious and good–for–you eats.
Yoku follows Pure Fare’s logic of cutting out white sugar and white flour for more nutritionally utilitarian ingredients, but with Yoku it takes the form of Southeast Asian–inspired flavors and dishes (i.e. noodle/rice bowls, as well as soups, drinks and some dessert options). At this point you might find yourself thinking that anything this unabashedly health–conscious isn’t going to be good. How does it feel to be so, so wrong?
We started with Yoku’s main attraction of rice and noodle bowls, where you can either make your own or, if you’re still recovering from your midterm—or last night—and can’t think, try one of their curated creations ($8–10 depending on your choice of protein). Each bowl comes with a base, three sides, a protein, a garnish and one of several sauce options.
We loved the coconut jasmine rice and sweet potato noodles as bases. Don’t underestimate
a vegetable based noodle y’all; Yoku’s sweet potato noodle might as well be your normal noodle order, they held up when mixing up the bowl and were subtle enough in flavor to serve as a perfect canvas for all of the amazingness you can add on top.
When it comes to proteins, Yoku didn’t skimp on the portion sizes and offer vegetarian and vegan options. The ginger beef gives you the richness you want from red meat, but the slight cut of the ginger kept it from feeling heavy while the slightly crispy General Tsao’s Cauliflower adds some interest to a vegan bowl. The vegetable sides solidly contribute to the heartiness of the bowl as well, but the sauces are what really caught our attention and got our mouths watering (god, we hope no one noticed that).
While all of Yoku’s six sauce options are dynamic and layered, often with a bit of a kick at the end, we did have some favorites. The cashew sriracha aioli is creamy, spicy and will feel super familiar to anyone who loves a spicy mayo. Next, the lime vinaigrette, with just enough acid
to keep you interested without being caustic, would be perfect for someone looking to build a lighter bowl. Finally, the Hoisin sauce, with tomato, plum, coconut sugar and sriracha, surprised us, both savory and a little sweet, as if you could just barely taste the fruitier elements.
To wash the bowls down we sipped on Yoku’s Honey Tamarind Water and Matcha Lemonade, and for dessert we dug into black rice coconut milk pudding with mango. As for the drinks, the Matcha Lemonade—not your traditional lemonade—will wake up your taste buds and the Honey Tamarind Water offered a pleasant sweetness without overpowering the rest of the food. The black rice pudding truly deserves some attention here. It’s hard to explain, frankly, but the stickiness of the rice makes it feel substantial while the coconut and simple syrup lend just enough sweetness that you want one more bite until it’s all gone. It’s honestly a little addictive.
At the end of the meal, which Kriti joined us for part of—the staff at Yoku/Pure Fare are great—, we didn’t feel stuffed, but we weren’t still hungry either. Yoku will leave you feeling comfortably full, satisfying your hankering for Asian flavors without the unfortunate side–effects of delicious, delicious MSG.
Location: 119 South 21st Street
TL;DR: Clean, Asian–inspired food that won't leave you needing 30 ounces of water and a three hour nap
Don't Miss: The bowls; the black rice coconut milk pudding with mango (confusing but delicious).
Skip: Curried Green Soup, not bad, but not as good as the rest of Yoku's offerings.
When to Go: Early afternoon or when you're trying to get back on track with the New Year's health resolutions you lied about following through with.