Yuca Bistro's start was a little rocky.
Chef partners Roni Attari and former Sabor chef Jason-Paul Febres were about to open the Latin-fusion bistro in the former Quizno's spot at 602 N. Tyler when the two had a disagreement and parted ways.
Attari decided to go forward alone, though, and for four months now, he's been cooking a delicious menu that blends a little of the originally planned Latin fare with Attari's more traditional Mediterranean approach.
ON THE MENU: Attari, who once owned the short-lived but tasty Soleil downtown, has created a menu full of interesting appetizers, flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, Latin-style tacos and South American/Mediterranean appetizers.
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DON'T-MISS DISHES: Yuca (pronounced yoo-ka) doesn't have a lot of curb appeal, but when you step in the door, you know you're in for a treat. The air, fragrant with the smell of spices and sauteing meats, will make your mouth water. (It also might make your eyes burn due to some apparent venting issues.)
The best dish we sampled was a Latin-style flatbread, a thin, almost crackery crust topped with Spanish chorizo, corn, roasted poblano peppers, onions, black beans, smoked tomato crema, fresh cilantro and a tropical pico. The chorizo had a nice spice to it, and the vegetables were piled on in a very colorful, eye- and palette-pleasing manner. This one, the Madrid, was $9.
We also enjoyed a beef schwarma sandwich, made with marinated beef that had a nutmeggy profile and was dressed with red onions, tomato, lettuce, parsley and garlic tahini, all rolled up in a pita and served attractively with a side of hummus, pita and salad for $8.50.
Presentation is a strength at Yuca, and the hummus appetizer ($6) is one of the menu's true beauties. Attari positioned the creamy mixture in the middle of a white plate, topped it with bean sprouts, arranged decorative cucumber and watermelon radishes around the side, and lined it with a wall of giant, crisply fried pita. It tasted as good as it looked.
The seafood crepes also were pretty and delicious, though they weren't as exciting as our other choices. They featured tiny shrimp, scallops and lobster bites stuffed inside and scattered about two crepes. They were tasty enough, but topped with a double cream sauce, felt heavy and old-fashioned, especially alongside the other fresh and crunchy items we'd ordered. The St. Tropez seafood crepes were $13.
Next time — and there will be a next time — we will not leave without trying the Latin-style soft tacos, which come with fried grouper, grilled chicken or veggies as a filling. And we also want to sample the seared ahi tuna appetizer, which is so beautifully featured in the menu-front photograph.
Desserts are hit-or-miss at Yuca. They're not made on site, but we still opted to try a key lime cheesecake, which had more of the texture of Cool-Whip than cream cheese, but it was excellent and perfectly tart, nonetheless. We also sampled a chocolate cake, which was beautiful if not a bit dry and tasting of freezer burn.
AMBIENCE: The small dining room is comfortable, bright and decorated with local art. We would have preferred if the cleaning supplies and silverware stash were not in plain sight of the dining room.
PRICE RANGE: Entrees average about $10. Sandwiches are $7 to $8.50. Appetizers are $6 to $9.
SERVICE: Excellent. Attari has hired a friend to run the dining room, and he clearly cares as much about the restaurant as the chef.