Zoob Zib – Aura Thai’s noodles with an Ewok name
When I first walked past Zoob Zib back in February (on 9th btw. 36+37th), my speculation was that its head chef either came from the forest moon of Endor or may have endorsed certain brands of gelatin-based desserts. Months passed before the name came up again – this time, a co-worker had ordered their duck broth and noodle soup. A quick glance at the menu yielded the Aura Thai logo next door, so it’s more than just a coincidental location. Known more for their duck broth noodle soup than their actual Thai fare, Is this just Aura trying to expand into a bar and noodle space and is it worth it? Or is it just more forgettable 9th Ave Thai?
Zoob Zib’s menu runs the gamut and seems to cover the basic Thai as well as some other noodle dishes. There’s plenty of offerings on most of ‘em, and some of the main menu items fall within the ML price range. That’s not too bad in case you want to break away from the lunch specials, which come with a salad and a bite-size appetizer (“amuse-bouche” if you’re a food rhymes-with-bouche that insists on perfection).
The salads were anemic, placeholder, iceberg-lettuce-driven salads with unsurprising food service tomatoes. The dressing, though, is a rare instance where it’s really, really worth having. It’s a peanut butter base with a little bit of tartness from some vinegar, definitely a tad bit of fish sauce, and a nice low-level warming spicy heat. It was on the thick side, though, and while it was a nice dressing, the salad still really sucked. I’d happily pay fifty cents less and have none of it, just for the mental reassurance of only paying $8.50 instead of $8.95. Today’s bite-size wonder appetizer was a little fried wonton or otherwise triangular shaped dumpling, filled with ground shrimp and veggies. My co-workers got ‘em, I didn’t, so be assertive – if you get the noodle soup and your day’s joy hinges not upon the soup but upon the appetizer and salad, you may well be disappointed.
The pad see ew went to a co-worker who’s a huge Thai food junkie. He was impressed by the meat quantity – it wasn’t just a few scrapings of chicken, but unfortunately it’s the same old white meat. I’m always disappointed when a restaurant caves to these anonymous animal protein delivery vehicles and doesn’t take a shot at other meats. Still, there’s a lot of it. It could have been a bit spicier, but the noodles were done perfectly with some springiness to them, just right in the al dente range. This seems to be a lost art amongst the broad rice noodle; they’re either too dry or too overdone to the point of falling apart. It also had a lot of ginger to it, definitely a plus, but there was some spiciness that felt like wasabi more than anything else.
My other co-worker’s pad kee mao ($9.95 off the lunch menu) retained the springy noodles but was copious in actual, decent fresh veggies to accompany. There’s plenty of whole fresh Thai basil in the mix and it had a fairly good kick to it, spicier than anything else we had. He said it felt more like three stars than one on the spicy scale. It had a good saltiness to it, a nice blend of soy and fish sauce. I preferred the pad see ew a little more in the end due to the denser, more varied flavor to it – these were just spicy noodles with chicken.
The real chink in the meal’s armor came out of the pad gra prow ($9.95 off the regular menu). A third co-worker ordered this, and despite him being a lukewarm, unemotional kind of guy, his response was really, really unenthusiastic. It was saucy enough but lacked some character, and didn’t really have a kick to it. It basically boiled down to a Thai chicken stirfry, and that was that. Nothing bad… but nothing outstanding either.
But the real star, as Thai food from Aura Thai seems to have trended, is the noodle soup ($9.95 off the lunch menu). The ped toon noodle soup is a rich, dark duck broth with a good balance of five-spice and just the right enough amount of sweetness to undertone a very savory broth, light in body but full in flavor.
The noodle component is standard Chinese-style egg noodles, drizzled with a little bit of garlic, and slices of steamed Chinese broccoli or mustard greens, scallions, and celery. While it’s a darn perfectly done set of egg noodles, it seemed a bit insubstantial. A little more would have been welcome.
This duck broth is a bit different from Aura Thai’s original duck broth. The sweetness in Zoob Zib’s isn’t present in Aura Thai’s, and the assortment of myriad toppings is different at Zoob Zib. Part of the sweetness was soaked up in the bean sprouts, which I wasn’t expecting. They were a bit gingery, too, maybe having been stir-fried a little on their own beforehand. The only real downside: the egg they put in. I’m not a hard-boiled egg kind of guy, and this didn’t do anything to convince me. Sure, they hard-boiled it in the broth, but that just means the white of the egg turns brown on the outer parts and picks up some five-spice. But the yolk was so dry and mealy, I ended up picking it out of the broth and throwing it away. Tabata manages to get soft-boiled eggs just PERFECT for takeout – there’s no reason Zoob Zib can’t do it either.
There’s more than a few slices of duck in there, enough to make a nice meaty component. I’d have loved if it was on the bone, and thus a little fattier, or if it was roasted instead of probably cooked with the soup to get some crispy skin happening. Alas, it was all boneless duck, but it was very nicely done duck. The fat wasn’t congealed, the skin was yielding, and the meat wasn’t at all overcooked and stringy. It wasn’t just sliced duck, though – there were crispy bits of duck skin on there too. Was some of it roasted to crispy and other parts not so much? Whatever the variation, it’s duck as good as you could expect from an anonymous Chinatown joint hanging the day’s duckiness in the window.
Overall, you could do a lot worse for Thai in the 30s on 9th. Could you do better for noodle soup? While it’s not fair to compare Tabata and the Aura/Zoob Zib one-two punch, it’s definitely fair to say that it’s worth a visit to all three, but only for the noodle soup. It spells doom for a space the size of Zoob Zib’s if the Thai food isn’t good, but the good news here is that their noodle selections (and presumably also their decent liquor and beer selection at the bar) is the saving grace here. Plus, it’s almost akin to instant tourist repellant, which is probably not so much of a concern on the 9th Ave side of Port Authority.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I don’t mind traveling a bit out of bounds for some amazing noodle soup
- Decent variety of options within ML ranges
- Nifty appetizers and worthwhile salad dressing
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say):
- I think I’ll just stick with Aura Thai
- Awful, useless salad
- Do we really need another Thai place on 9th Ave.!?
Zoob Zib, 462 9th Ave (btw. 36+37th). 212-971-8530