Photo c/o R&B.

First Bite

First Bite: R&B’s Fast-Casual Fare Completes The Statler Hotel

You want these bao.

R&B opened a few weeks ago, the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is The Statler’s food and beverage offerings, which now include the diner Overeasy, the bowling alley Scout, the underground speakeasy Bourbon and Banter, the splashy rooftop bar Waterproof, and the modern Chinese restaurant Fine China.

Next door to Fine China, R&B is overseen by the chef Angela Hernandez. It’s the little bao and ramen shop that downtown needed.

They’ve kept the décor light and spare, with blond, unfinished wood and subway tiles, Edison bulbs (of course!) hanging from the ceiling, and a glorious view of Main Street Park. They’ve kept things trendy and casual, too, with bao that riff on other culture’s hand-helds: the cheeseburger bao, the edamame falafel; the bahn mi; and the hot fried chicken bao.

The glassed-in seating counter that juts out onto the sidewalk is a place to perch while you wait for your food, which you’ve ordered at one of two computer screens (as at Ten ramen in Sylvan Thirty). The wait is never long.

Try the chilled tomato mazemen, a cool, brothless ramen made creamy by a tofu sauce that gets its subtle umami lift from koji spores. When the springy, chewy alkaline noodles (Ten made you fall in love with these, too) meet the tofu cream, preserved lemon, Thai basil leaves, and tart heirloom cherry tomatoes, with a comment from shredded nori strips, you’ve found one of the most refreshing dishes you can imagine for a late-summer day. “This,” I murmured to no one in particular, “is one seriously well-composed to-go dish.” (Which is no surprise. Do you remember Hernandez’s bite-size offerings at Top Knot?)

The beef pastrami bao is excellent, too, with its cute little spicy shoestring onion rings sitting on top, fresh-cabbage sauerkraut and creamy, tender A Bar N Ranch Wagyu pastrami tucked inside. The bun’s fluffiness seems an invitation to find it all the more endearing. It’s a neat trick to make the flavors meld against a cloud.

The hours—11 a.m. to 4 p.m.—mark R&B as a downtown lunchtime slurping-and-nibbling spot. Though hours stretch to 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

I’ll leave you the surprise of the tater tots, okonomiyaki style (which if you’re familiar with Japanese izakaya mainstays, means fluttering with bonito flakes, molten, and delicious).