Leave the Soup, Take the Bun: Your First Look at Sensebowl
I’ll admit to being very intrigued by Sensebowl, our latest Asian offering (on 52nd btw Lex+3rd). “Build your own bowl” can be hit or miss. For example: build your own salad? No thanks. Pay what it weighs? Even worse. But these bowls are sold at a set price (good), and they’re billing themselves as “Chipotle meets Momofuku”. But Momofuku is kind of great, and I could help but wonder if Sensebowl was setting my expectations too high.
The restaurant is fast-casual which I think means fast food, casually. I kid, I have no idea what it means. It is set up similar to a fast-food Asian joint with communal wood tables, lots of Sriracha bottles, Asian drinks, but with a large flat-screen showing the menu. So, here’s how the Build Your Own breaks down: 1 Base (four options) + 1 Protein (six options) + 3 Toppings (18 options) + 1 Sauce/Broth/Dressing (seven options) +1 Seasoning (three options). As is, the bowl is $8.25, but you can add in more at any of the steps for between 25¢ to $1.50.
I chose Asian noodle with shrimp, baby bok choy, bean sprouts, and snow peas in a savory vegetable broth topped with Furikake: Magic Sprinkle. How could I resist something described as “Magic Sprinkle”? If you’re taking it ‘to go’, they place the broth in a separate container to avoid spillage while also making it easy for reheating in your office microwave-it was a bit of a walk back to mine. I hadn’t added it to the bowl yet when I took the photo. All together the bowl was adequate enough for fast-food, but definitely not on the level of the Momo. The noodles are simple udon, there’s an average amount of shrimp and vegetables, and the broth had some seasoning to it to offset the lack of seasoning on my other ingredients. I wasn’t expecting a soup bowl to rival Menchanko Tei, but it reminded me of the udon bowls from Oms/b-which are $2 cheaper and five blocks closer. That’s not saying I wouldn’t go back for a rice bowl, I am willing to try one of those out.
Upon noticing the size of said bowls, I knew that it wasn’t going to keep me through the afternoon so I went over the $10 limit and got a $4 beef bun. Yes, $4 for a bun. (We’re still in Midtown, folks!) The filling of the bun ended up being the highlight of my meal: the beef was seasoned and tasty, and who doesn’t love anything slathered in hoisin sauce. If they took that and made it into a bigger sandwich, we’d really be talking.
When it comes to soup, with Hide-Chan just one block away I’m more likely to hike that extra 1,000 feet, but with menu expansions and tweeks, I not ready to give up on Sensebowl yet. And for those of you who can’t handle decisions, they do offer four “Signature Housebowls” for $8.75 each, same amount as BYO, but the flavor combinations should be guaranteed to work.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I get to choose my own ingredients, and most of them are Asian!
- The ingredients are pretty fresh, especially the vegetables.
- It’s the only place to get Chinese buns in that area.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- $4 for a bun!
- In less than three hours, you’ll be so dehydrated you’ll try to drink the entire water cooler.
- For another $1.50, you can get the black ramen at Hide-Chan, one block away. And you get double the amount of soup.
Sensebowl, 150 E. 52nd St (btw Lex+3rd), 212-702-9555